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Historical Analysis of Guadalquivir Valley, Spain

Updated on May 23, 2015

Guadalquivir valley is a rich agricultural landscape that reveals a Romanized archeological site in traditional Baetis. The valley has an excellent water and transport system characterized by a Mediterranean climate and productive lands. All these features have sustained a favorable economy in the region. Some of the crops grown in this valley include olive oil and wheat for domestic and export purposes. They also make wine for export. In the northern part of Cordoba and Bujalance, villas have dominated the landscape of this valley in the Southeast and the Southwest parts. In the west and northern regions, small towns characterize the settlement patterns, which are spaced 10km a part. From these small towns, individuals cultivate their lands on a daily basis. This paper presents the history of human settlement in Guadalquivir valley.

Geographic Location

Guadalquivir valley is found in the modern day Jaén province, in upper Andalucía. There is a unique topography along the main River Guadalquivir, which has its roots in Sierra de Cazorla found in the eastern side of Jaen province. This river has caused an occurrence of the Baetic or the Great Central Depression, which deepens to the western part. On the upper section of the river, the valley constitutes landscapes formed by a confluence of two divergent morphogenic units. On the northern side, there is Sierra Morena, which is part of the traditional Massif of the Iberian Peninsula that lies in the new relief of range of Subbetica range. These specific ranges have led to the establishment of a central basin or depression; a basin that is rich of agricultural resources in the upper side of the Guadalquivir valley.

The Hillock of Ubeda or the “La Loma de Ubeda” is also found in the central basin. This Hillock separates river Guadalquivir from its main tributaries. Between the Southern Mountain Ranges and the Guadalquivir lies a flat area of cultivable land, which is identified as Campiña de Jaén (Castro & Choclan, 1988).

History of Human Settlement in Guadalquivir valley

According to Rodriquez and Molino (1993), the economy of Guadalquivir valley was based on the existence of Oppida network. This network controlled the economical and political territories within the valley. Evidence from studies reveals that the valley harbored peasant rural sites, which were mainly used for agricultural purposes (Hornos et al, 1998). Hornos et al states that most of the towns in this valley constituted simple architectural entities that emerged from the native community. Consequently, it can be assumed that the culture of people in this valley could be compared to a façade. Their culture was not only influenced by the Roman civilization but also hierarchy that existed then. These assumptions underpin a consistent view of the Roman period in the Guadalquivir valley, which can still be found in many parts of the region.

Approaching culture Romanization in the Guadalquivir valley from an economic and social perspective depicts this region as socially backward prior to the arrival of the Romans (Barbero and Vigil, 1974). In particular, the southern part is believed to have undergone the process of Romanization swiftly compared to its northern counterpart. Romanization resulted in the reduction of indigenous communities to a superficial aspect. A perfect example is characterized by the introduction of the Latin language. Others include the recruitment of the local people into the Roman army, adoption of specific Roman artwork and their architecture (Arteaga and Blech, 1987).

González (1981) explains that the emergence of the Roman town was hugely connected to how production was imposed. It is worth noting that the conventional perspective that emphasizes the interdependence of the political and economical institutions of the city is incorrect. This implies that the political institutions were not only the determinants, but also key to the economical and social transformation of the Roman Town. An understanding of how the new political framework and constitution of the city helped in comprehending the process of production in the area.

Gros (1988) points out that the Roman Republic was focused in promoting urban institutions. The development of the local communities did not necessarily result into establishment of Roman towns but because of various divergent groups. On the other hand, some key politicians in the Roman governance wished to retain their local power when the Roman conquest ended. Consequently, the existence of the town in this valley could be understood as an immediate result of the Roman conquest. In this perspective, the town almost behaves as an independent entity, which served to heighten the social relations crisis among the natives influenced by the Roman concept of possession and property. As time went by, this resulted into the establishment of the mode of production that was slave oriented in an agricultural based economy. It developed into a framework of crop specialization that aimed at increasing the regional market exchange (Funari, 1986).

In the event that the Roman towns did not develop within the perspective of the political, and social transformation, they could simply resemble archeological sites that were empty (Gros, 1988). This plays a key role in comprehending the role that Romans played, which does not lie in any judicial or morphological definition. Rather, it lies in analyzing their spatial organization and the means in which it reproduced the new Roman urban society. The form taken by this could simply be reduced into the sanctity or orthogonal layout imposed by the walled enclosures since they had been available on the indigenous sites before the arrival of the Romans in this region. The apparent contradiction between Oppida and the Roman towns that preceded them lies in the manner in which the former projected itself in the surrounding environment. The physical existence of the town in this valley cannot be separated from its function in structuring the economic and administrative management of the surrounding environment and the agricultural extension.

The Role of the Native Communities

The cooperation of the local communities was required in paying tribute to the Roman State, as well as their agents in the provinces. Those who paid their tribute gained Rome’s gratitude. This was made more explicit by the granting of the full Roman citizenship to specific individuals. This implied that the pre-existing production systems and taxation could be aligned with the mechanism of Roman system of administration. It points to the reason why majority of them were largely retained. In this manner, development of the local aristocracy under Roman governance was determined by their role of being subordinate with the wider interests of Rome (Rodríguezet al, 1992). In an economic perspective, this would have included management of key stockpiles in this area. In political perspective, it implied that the main features of the local society at the end of the 3rd century could have been fossilized. Apparently, the critical social relationships could have been underpinned by a combination of military control and taxation.

The main economic fruits derived from the military occupation in this region were largely the spoils from the war. According to Rodriguez et al (1992), this could have accounted to a significant part of the Roman activity particularly during the period of Second Punic War as well as the subsequent years of military occupation of the region. Further, this intervention was necessary in having some kind of influence throughout the second century B.C. On the other hand, there was an establishment of the political and social conditions in sustaining a systematic and regular exploitation. The main members of the local native nobility, the princeps and the rugulus acted as links between the indigenous communities and Rome. This arrangement ensured a consistent predominance of the Oppida in the Guadalquivir Valley during the Roman dominance in the region. This is in regard to its role as a fortified center for residence of the upper class and the surrounding people involved themselves in agricultural activities.

The occupation of the Guadalquivir Valley by the colonizers during the period of the republican could be perceived as a double strategy used by the Romans to continue its exploitative tendencies. The destruction or abandonment of some type of Oppida created another form of military exploitation in the valley. On the other hand, the continuation of others was one way to continue the regular taxation after the conquest. For the latter to be successful, there had to be active participation of the native nobility. To some degree, this implied a new order, which the colonizers had established.


From this discussion, it is apparent that Guadalquivir valley had been greatly influenced by their colonizers. For instance, the Romans instigated the development of towns in the region alongside facilitating many types of civilization. The influence Rome had to the culture of Guadalquivir valley popularly referred as Romanization actually changed the settlement patterns in this valley. Stated differently, the Romans brought life in the valley. This is because prior to their arrival, this part of the world was described as empty settlement, although people were actively participating in cultivating the land. For instance, towns, infrastructure and the amenities that are common today were absent initially. The culture of people in this valley could be compared with a façade. It was not only influenced by the Roman civilization, but it was hierarchical in nature. These assumptions underpin a consistent view of the Roman period in the Guadalquivir valley, which are still evident in many parts of the region.


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