In this post we’ll observe peculiar roman vestiges in Lisbon. We’ll take you to the unusual Roman Inscriptions of the Pedras Negras.
Lisbon was roman between the 2nd century B.C. and the 5th century A.D. This is proved by the countless archaeological, linguistic and cultural vestiges there are.
Since 195 B.C. that the romans did incursions through the Iberian Peninsula, but only around the year 61 B.C. was the city of Olissipo definitively conquered. At that time it became Felicitas Julia, having the statute of municipality attributed by Júlio César.
Of this city remain today vestiges that indicate us the occupation of three main nuclei:
- The top of the highest hill, the one of São Jorge, the centre of power and sanctuary where today is the Castle;
- The hillside where the population nuclei and the proximity institutions, such as the forum, the theatre, the market and among others were located;
- And the waterfront where industrial and port activities were carried out.
The history of this period is told in several museological exhibitions, of which we highlight the two nuclei of the Museum of Lisbon – Teatro Romano and Casa dos Bicos and the Millennium bcp Foundation – Archaeological Centre, which we highly recommend our readers to visit.
We also suggest you read our article History of Lisbon: A Glimpse Through Thousands of Years
But it is an almost secret vestige, for being so discreet, that we’ll be talking about! It is in the light of day, in a place where daily thousands of tourists and locals pass without noticing.
Building of Almada in Madalena Square
In the heart of Lisbon Downtown, at the end of Rua da Conceição, in front of the Church of Madalena is a building that has an extraordinary story to tell.
This building, delimited by Travessa do Almada, Travessa das Pedras Negras, Rua da Madalena and Largo da Madalena, was built before the earthquake of 1755 although it already presented characteristics of buildings built after this same earthquake.
It was erected in 1749 by João Manuel de Almada e Melo, viscount of Vila Nova de Sotto de El-Rei, from the family of Marquês de Pombal, minister of King José, in his properties of the Pedras Negras.
When building the foundations for this and other buildings, several archaeological findings were discovered, which indicated the existence, in this place, of a temple dedicated to the Goddess Cybele, mother goddess that symbolised the fertility of nature.
Four roman inscriptions removed from this place were treated as a curiosity and surprisingly integrated in the façade of the new building, where they are still today.
In 1910 these roman inscriptions of the Pedras Negras were classified as National Monument.
Let’s get to know them.
The Roman Inscriptions of the Pedras Negras
They are four stones with inscriptions that the Lisbon specialist Norberto de Araújo in his work Peregrinações em Lisboa – livro II, in the end of 1930’s referred as perfectly visible and legible.
Today we can’t say that the inscriptions can be clearly read. For that reason we need to resort to other sources to satisfy our and your own curiosity.
Let us look at each of them in the ascending direction and according to the description in the Historic-Artistic Note of the Direção-Geral do Património Cultural (Department of Cultural Patrimony) that we will describe in open translation.
“The first inscription is incomplete, being only possible to read MERCVR…/ CAESA…/ AVGVST…/ C. IVLIVS F. IU…/ PERMISS V. DEC…/ DEDIT. F…, allowing to understand the name of Caio Júlio, the one who ordered this inscription, the invocations of the god Mercury and the emperor César Augusto.
The following is constituted by a stone with an inscription and by a part of a column and small pedestal, and in
In the biggest inscription, which has more than 2 metres of height, we can read L. CAECILIO. L. F. CELERI. RECTO. / QVAEST. PROVINC. BAET. / TRIB. PLEB. PRAETORI. FEL. IVL. / OLISIPO, which can be translated to Felicitas Julia Olisipo dedicates to Lúcio Cecílio, son of Lúcio Celeri and honest quaestor of the province of Bética, tribune of the people and praetor. The inscription of homage of the people of Lisbon to the praetor Lúcio Cecílio, of the today province of Andalusia, is mainly important because it is a testimony of the fact that the title of Felicitas Julia, conceded to Lisbon by César Augusto, was preserved during the following centuries.
The last inscription is topped with a small pediment and has in it written MATRI DE / VM MAG. IDAE / A FRHYG. T. L. / LYCH CERNO / P. H. R. PERN. IIVI / CASS. ET CASS. STA. / M. AT. ET AP. COSS. GAI, dedicatory of Caio Licínio Cerno, from Lycaonia, in Asia Minor, to the goddess Phrygia, mother goddess, in the epoch of the consuls Marco Atílio and Afrosiano, and of the governor Gaio.”
Thus we have two inscriptions that invoke the goddess Cybele, one that invokes the god Mercury and a homage from the city to the old roman magistrate Lúcio Cecílio.
A CuriosityThe specialists deduce the existence, in this place, of a temple dedicated to the goddess Cybele, also known as Idiae Frígiae,
namethat is directly linked to its origin in the Hellenic Asia Minor. This goddess was later on integrated inthe romanpantheon. The proximity to the Forum reveals the importance of this cult in the city of Lisbon. This fact surprises the Lisbon specialist José Sarmento de Matos, who in his work A Invenção de Lisboa, Livro I – As Chegadas, suggests the possibility that this adoration was already a reality before the romanoccupation. He also refers that the cult to this divinity includes the sacrifice of the bull, which immediately reminds of the tradition of the bull races in Lisbon.
Although these roman inscriptions are preserved, it would be interesting if there was an informational board, seeing that it is a National Monument.