FOUND: Caraca, An Ancient Roman City Described By Ptolemy

For decades, people have argued about the exact location of Caraca. Now, it seems that archaeologists have finally found it.

Using drones and ground-penetrating radar, archaeologists have pinpointed their search and revealed the perfectly preserved street-plan of an ancient Roman city that could easily have housed as many as 2,000 people.

The scans clearly show a dense layer of insulae (apartment buildings), the cardo and decumanus (main avenues), a forum (public square), a possible market and thermae (baths), and 112m of aqueduct. Several large blocks of decorated stone which are thought to have been part of an important public building like a temple were also found on the surface.

Just one hour east of Madrid, near Driebes, the location corresponds perfectly with descriptions in several classical works, including Ptolemy’s Geography and the Ravenna Cosmography.

A monumental city once ruled by the Carpetani people

Brooch from the Driebes hoard exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum. Photo by santiago lopez-pastor / CC BY-ND 2.0

The first hints of the city were found back in 1945, when workers unearthed an impressive silver hoard on the plateau. Weighing over 13 kilos, the hoard included nearly 1500 fragments of silver, including some exquisite jewellery, ingots and coins from 300 BC, all of which are now in the Spanish National Archaeological Museum.

These pre-Roman finds provide yet more evidence that this really could be Caraca; in Geography, Ptolemy listed this impressive ancient city as one of the many settlements originally inhabited by the Carpetani people who ruled much of central Iberia from 500BC until the Roman conquest.

Romans in your cereal?

Over the years, further discoveries were made by local farmers, who often complained about the huge chunks of stone, some as large as table tops, that kept turning up in their fields; they were planting their crops less than a metre above the ancient city and these chunks of stone were actually part of Caraca’s Roman buildings.

Although it now sits in the middle of a desolate plateau, it was once the heart of a trade route specialising in fossilized gypsum, a product that was used for making windows and exported to the whole Roman Empire. It is thought that the city was in decline by around AD200, when gypsum was substituted by glass.

The research team, lead by Javier Fernández (Complutense University) and Emilio Gamo (UNED), hopes to begin excavation work soon and verify whether these really are the remains of the lost city of Caraca of the Carpetani people.

This would end decades of archaeological debate about the city’s exact location, and enable researchers to tell plenty of new stories about this once famous city, its inhabitants and the Roman conquest of Iberia. We can’t wait to hear them!

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Ursula Neilson

Written by Ursula Neilson

Ursula is a journalist and archaeology-lover, with a passion for the impressive settlements of Iron Age Iberia. She's a great photographer and you're sure to spot her on many DigVentures excavations in 2017!

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