Discovery of 66 new Roman Army websites reveals clues about one of the most infamous contradictions of the Empire

Roman military presence in Castile. Credit:

The discovery of dozens of new Roman armies thanks to remote sensing technology provided more information about one of the most infamous conflicts in the empire.

An analysis of 66 camps shows that the Roman army was in the area more than it thought during the 200-year battle to conquer the Iberian Peninsula.

The discovery of camps of various sizes used for training and shelter allowed experts to map how soldiers attacked local groups from different directions and learn more about traces of Roman military presence on the northern edge of the Duero River Basin. León, Palencia, Burgos and Cantabria provinces.

Specialists analyzed aerial photography and satellite imagery, created three-dimensional models of the area from LiDAR data, and used drones to create detailed site maps. This included sources from the Spanish National Institute of Geography (IGN) and geographical portals such as Google Earth or Bing Maps. Field work was allowed to determine the exact location.

Roman Military Presence in Leon

The military presence of Rome in Leon. Credit:

These temporary occupations generally left brittle and delicate marks on the surface. These fortifications were filled with trenches or earth and stone barriers. Combining different remote sensing images and fieldwork shows the peripheral shape of temporary Roman military camps, often rectangular as a playing card.

These new places are in the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains, where the conflict between the Romans and the natives took place at the end of the 1st century BC. This shows that soldiers crossed lowlands and mountains, using mountain ranges to stay out of the area and protect themselves more.

The presence of a large number of army camps in the region provides great material and technical support that allows soldiers to conquer the region. The sites were used to help move to remote areas and to help soldiers stay in the area during the cold winter months. In some of the camps, soldiers may have been stationed for weeks or months and left overnight.

The purpose of the occupation was to expand the empire and to exploit natural resources such as tin and gold.

Tortolondro Roman Road Quintanilla de Riofresno

Aerial photos of Tortolondro (black) (A), Roman Road (white) and Camp Quintanilla de Riofresno. Credit:

Research published in the journal Geography, Andrés Menéndez Blanco, Jesús García Sánchez from the Mérida Institute of Archeology, José Manuel Costa-García from the University of Santiago de Compostela and Vector Vicente García, João Fonte from the University of Exeter and the National Research Institute of David González-Áv.

Dr. Fonte said: “We have identified so many sites because we use different types of remote sensing. Aerial laser scanning gave good results for some sites in more remote locations because the earthworks showed really good. Weather images worked better in lowland areas to detect planting marks. ”

“The remains are temporary camps set up by the Roman army as it passes through enemy territory or maneuvers around permanent bases,” he said. In the final stages of the Roman conquest of Spain, they reveal the intense Roman activity at the entrance to the Cantabrian Mountains. ”

Near the valleys of North Palencia and Burgos, there is a significant concentration of 25 areas of South Cantabria. In the province of León, up to 41 sites have been documented in various valleys. These range from small towers of several hundred square meters to large fortifications of 15 hectares.

Most of these Roman military bases were located near the later important Roman cities. In Burgos, Sasamón, a village where Emperor Augusto probably camped while on the front lines.

According to Greek and Latin sources, experts will continue to study the Romans’ connections with the local communities of Vaccaei, Turmogi, Cantabri, Astures and Callaeci.

The team is currently working on a project to better understand the development of a structure or protection situation to catalog and document all Roman camps in the province of Leon by drones. The settlement of Cerro de Castarreño and BC. Work continues in Burgos and Sasamon, including a work on the conquest in the first century.

Reference: “Following the Roman Army Between the Southern foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains and the Northern Plains of Castile and Leo (northern Spain): Archaeological Applications of Remote Sensing and Geographical Instruments” Andrés Menéndez Blanco, Jesús Gácézé Cáze-Gézé-Gáz, Gacía Fáczá, García Sán Vlvarez and Vittor Vicente García, 2 December 2020, Geography.
DOI: 10.3390 / geoscience10120485

The findings were shared with cultural and heritage organizations for future conservation.

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