Honorific Plaque .MNMC 150. 4th century
This inscription was found in 1888 during the reconstruction of a house in the Couraça dos Apóstolos, a street in the upper part of Coimbra.
The find confirmed the site of the Roman city of Aeminium referred to in the Antonine Itinerary as being 10 miles to the north of Conimbriga *, and included by Pliny amonst the opida stipendaria of Lusitania.
The Emperor’s attributes date this inscription to 305-306, which suggests that the improvements to this city granted by Constantius Chlorus could have been the construction of the defensive walls, entirely justifiable considering the political events in the Empire at that time.
Milestone MNMC 9
This fragment, found in 1774 in the medieval wall of Coimbra, appears to have been reused in the construction of the wall. It dates to 39 a.D., according to the attributes of Gaius Caesar Augustus (tribune for the 3 rd time and consul designate) mentioned in the inscription. As it indicates a distance of 4 miles it is possible to consider that it originated from Ademia, to the north of Coimbra.
Roman milestones indicate the distance to the nearest caput viae. The milestone from Ademia, similar to another in the same series with an identical chronology found in 1856 (or 57) a little to the south of the town of Mealhada which indicates a distance of 12 miles, refers to Aeminium.
This confirms the statute of capital of civitas, that is the centre of a political and administrative district within the reorganization of Lusitania initiated by the Emperor Augustus.
Little is known of the history of this city before and during the Roman Empire. The most decisive factor for the future of Coimbra, following the fall of the Empire was that by the end of the 6th century it replaced the sacked town of Conimbriga as the bishopric
Aeminium was situated on a navigable river, had an abundance of freshwater springs and excellent defensive conditionsthat it possessed everything that Conimbriga lacked. At that time Conimbriga was embroiled in a conflict of disputed domination between Swabians and Visigoths. The prestige which the presence of the bishop gave to the city was so great that the people of Aeminium saw the name of their city substituted by that of Conimbriga. Over time, this name became shortened to its present form, Coimbra.
The Urban Plan of Aeminium
Course of the Olisipo-Bracara Augusta road via the Praça do Comércio (as proposed by V. Mantas) Alternative course via the F. Borges and V. da Luz streets (usual proposal) 1 aqueduct; 2 necropolis; 3 forum; 4 domus; 5 theatre (?); 6 Belcouce gateThe Urban Plan of Aeminium
Urban plan proposed by J. Alarcão
Considering the location of the forum, built over a cryptoporticus, of the cardo maximus and of the decumanus maximus, the city’s two principal Roman roads that intersected at the south-eastern corner of the building, J. Alarcão proposes a substantial part of what might have been the urban plan of Aeminium following the subjacent plan of early streets still in use.
Following the contour of the hill, the urban network is orthogonal - as was the norm in cities of Roman origin - at the east zone and rather irregular and winding to the northwest, where the slope is steeper and the terrain uneven.
Vasco G. Mantas, Biblos, LXVIII (1992)
Interpretive drawing of a photogram of the old part of Coimbra ( CMC 21.4297): A: Probable plan of the Roman wall; B: Forum; CC: Cardo; DD: Decumanus; E: Roman theatre (?); 1: Largo da Feira; 2: Rua das Flores; 3: Rua do Loureiro; 4: Rua da Matemática; 5: Igreja de S. Salvador; 6: Cryptoporticus; 7: Rua Fernandes Tomás; 8: Porta de Almedina; 9: Rua dos Gatos; 10: Igreja de S. Bartolomeu; 11: Praça Velha; 12: Igreja de S. Tiago; 13: Rua Velha; 14: Mosteiro de Santa Cruz; 15: Porta Mourisca (?); 16: Igreja de Santa Justa (demolished); 17: Porta de Belcouce (demolished); 18: Porta da Traição (demolished).
It was most likely that the medieval walls followed very closely those of Roman times. However there is not sufficient archaeological research to prove that there is a total coincidence in the walled areas of the two periods. It is not known whether there was a wall during the Early Roman Empire and, in comparison with other walled cities of the Late Roman Empire, it would be reasonable to assume that the protected area of Aeminium at this time would have been inferior to the that of the Middle Ages.
However, the combination of all known data appears to show that this was not the case, allowing for the proposal presented by J. Alarcão
The course of the Roman road of Olisipo-Bracara proposed by V. Mantas is the most plausible - not only due to its direction in relation to the bridge but also because the level of those terrains was much closer to that of the level of the river port.
The Roman aqueduct is still partially conserved in the reconstruction works carried out in the 16th century and financed by the king, Dom Sebastião; this can be deduced by an inscription on one of the commemorative plaques and by observing the features of the masonry.
The concentration of tombstones near the east gate of the walls suggests the site of a necropolis. The inscriptions are important as they characterize the society which produced them: names like Allia Vagellia Avita attest to the político-social rise of the local aristocracy through intermarriage between the local people and the Romans and shows that some of these families were equally connected with the economic development of both Aeminium and Conimbriga.
Built in the mid 1st century, the cryptoporticus had two levels over which laid the forum. It is the largest conserved Roman building in Portugal.
Overview of the excavation (Sondagem 1/IAPUC 2000)
Helena Catarino, A História tal qual se faz, Ed. Colibri fig. 1, p. 52
Beneath the university courtyard is a partially conserved house (domus) with heated baths, a cistern and a wine or oil press. This was excavated in 2000-2001 and dates to the mid 1st century.
Filipe Jorge, Coimbra vista do céu, 16, ARGUMENTUM
Archaeological materials found on this same site when the statue of the king, Dom João III was raised there in 1952, belong to the first phase of the occupation of the house that endured until the 4th-5th centuries.
Another domus was discovered in the Colégio da Trindade not far from the first one. Based on the interpretation of an aerial photograph of Coimbra, V. Mantas suggests the localization of a Roman theatre close to the Rua das Flores, a conjecture that awaits confirmation.
Site of the forum of Aeminium; ipsometric survey of the hillside.The Cryptoporticus of the Forum of AeminiumThe representation of the relief of the hill of Aeminium permits an easier perception of the advantages of the site chosen for the forum: it was a central point with the possibility of intersecting the two principal axes (cardo maximus and decumanus maximus).
After the fall of the Roman Empire and following the Swabian invasion of the region, the administrative and religious buildings of Aeminium fell into disuse, and, later, were to be modified or destroyed.
Only the infrastructure (the cryptoporticus) that supported the forum is conserved.
Site of the forum of Aeminium; ipsometric survey of the hillside.
The Cryptoporticus of the Forum of Aeminium
The representation of the relief of the hill of Aeminium permits an easier perception of the advantages of the site chosen for the forum: it was a central point with the possibility of intersecting the two principal axes (cardo maximus and decumanus maximus).
After the fall of the Roman Empire and following the Swabian invasion of the region, the administrative and religious buildings of fell into disuse, and, later, were to be modified or destroyed. Only the infrastructure (the cryptoporticus) that supported the forum is conserved.
The artificial platform that this created remained unaltered until the present day and the two levels of underground galleries were in use until the end of the 16th century.
View of the Bishop's Palace from the west, dominating the hillside.
The extensive remodelling works of the bishop’s Palace established there since the 12 th century included a colonnaded loggia, attributed to Filippo Terzi, and the filling-in of the cryptoporticus.
Pedro Carvalho, O forum de Aeminium>
In 1930, works carried out in the Palace, converted into a museum since 1911, attracted an awareness of the Roman infrastructure, where later (1955 to 2004), several campaigns of archaeological excavation and restoration were carried out.
Pedro Carvalho, O forum de Aeminium>
Adjoining at the North end of the cryptoporticus the foundations of the apse from a basilica with two naves located on this side of the forum, were found
<Árula votiva MNMC 10138>
This was confirmation of the existence of this important building, which was not only the seat of the tribunal but also the place of the Imperial cult and the politico-administrative centre of Aeminium as is revealed by the votive altar dedicated to the ‘Genius of the Basilica’ discovered in the cryptoporticus during the excavation works of 1955-56.
Pedro Carvalho, O forum de Aeminium, pág 34.
Direct access to the exterior of the cryptoporticus was by a stairway, discovered in 1993 at the southeast corner, near the intersection of the main cardo and decumanus.
Two Imperial female busts (Livia and Agrippina the Elder) and a bust attributed to the Emperor Nero (later re-used to represent his successor Vespasian) were found in the filling-in of the upper level of the cryptoporticus: this helped to date the forum as having been built during the reign of Claudius.
Adjacent and to the south of the cryptoporticus is a large sewer that flows in the direction of the river; this is probably the cloaca maxima of Aeminium. It has platformscarved in the rock to facilitate flow and maintenance and remained in use until the late 20th century.
The construction of the cryptoporticus is an impressive work of engineering; the flow of the subterranean water lines was carefully studied leading, inclusively, to the installation of a public fountain.