Mallorca Through the Ages - The Romans (123BC - 454AD)
After ignoring Mallorca for so long, the Romans decided it was time to include the island in its Empire. There are several theories why the Romans invaded the Balearics and the main one is that pirates used the island to attack ships sailing to and from Ibiza. Alternatively, the Romans had conquered southern France by 125 B.C. and Mallorca was the next logical step in their conquest of the Mediterranean Sea; the Mare Nartiam.
A fleet commanded by Quintus Caecilius Metellus sailed to the island in 123 B.C. and the Romans soldiers quickly established a beachhead. As there was no government to talk to, it took a year to conquer the island, a year in which many Mallorcans died fighting for their communities. With the 25,000 islanders part of the mighty Roman Empire, Metellus established an administration and returned to Rome with thousands of prisoners; many of who lived as slaves or died in the amphitheatres.
The Balearic Islands from ruled from Cartagena in what is now southeast Spain and they were called Insulae Baliarum. Balearis Major (Big) became Mallorca and Balearis Minor (Small) became Menorca. 3,000 Roman settlers relocated from Iberia to Mallorca and the island gained a reputation as a place to send to send exiles from Rome. They started building two towns, Pollentia (or Fortress), near Alcúdia and Campa Palmeria (Camp Victory), now Palma. At the same time small military garrison kept the peace and protected the islanders from pirates.
While the people in the towns embraced Roman life enjoying the trappings of Empire life, Roman governors divided the island into large estates (called latifundia ) and began working with the Mallorca community leaders to get their support. The farmers clung to their old ways and it took time before they became integrated into the Roman way of life.
While the Roman settlers retained their rights of citizenship, the Mallorcans had fewer rights. The lower classes were enslaved and young men were conscripted as Roman auxiliaries to fight in North Africa, Iberia, Gaul and maybe Britain, where they gained a fearful reputation as slingers.
When Julius Caesar's adopted son, Octavian, became the first Emperor Augustus in 27 B.C. and ended the Roman Republic, he reorganised Hispania into new areas.
The Balearic Islands were included in the new province of Tarraconensis and ruled from Tarragona. Emperor Vespasian again reorganised Hispania into 111 semi-autonomous districts in 73 A.D and Mallorca had two districts; Pollentia in the northeast and Palmaria in the southwest. The island started exporting wine, wheat and olive oil while lead was also produced by Bunyola's galena mines in the Tramuntana Mountains.
Mallorca's prosperity matched that of the Empire's but by the turn of the Millennium both had reached their zenith. Barbarians had started attacking the Empire's the northern borders and it was under pressure from several directions by the end of the 2nd Century.
The 3rd Century A.D. was a time of instability for Mallorca as the Roman Empire went into decline. Trade declined and people moved out of the towns and to scrape a living off the land. The fact that Pollentia was razed to the ground around 250 A.D. proves all was not well. At the end of the century the Balearics became part of the new province of Cartaginensis and was once again ruled from Cartagena.
Constantine was the first to accept Christianity but at the same time the Huns and the Visigoths were pushing back the frontiers of the Empire. Attila the Hun swept across Hungary, Gaul and then Italy between 450 and 452 A.D., killing Emperor Valens and defeating the Roman army.
While Theodosius became Emperor of the Eastern Empire, Valentian II became Emperor of the Western Empire. The Balearics was the province of Balearim from 385 to 395 and was then absorbed into the Western Roman Empire under Emperor Honorius when Theodosius died.
While Paganism was forbidden in 391 A.D., the Church absorbed its customs and pageantry to encourage the islanders to become baptised and it did not take long before Roman Catholicism was established on the Island. There are the remains of two 4th Century basilicas at Sa Carrotja and Son Pareto, near to Manacor.
The Roman Empire was under serious pressure by the 5th Century and the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 A.D. As the barbarian tribes crossed Gaul, the Visigoths entered Iberia in 415 A.D. only to withdraw after defeating the Vandals. The survivors collected in Andalusia, in the south of modern day Spain, before seizing Seville and Cartagena. In 425 A.D. they used captured Roman ships to attack the Balearic Islands and Pollentia was burnt down for a second time in a century. Those who escaped the raiders fled inland and founded the new Pollentia which is now the town of Pollença. The Suevi filled the power vacuum in Iberia while the Vandals captured Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearics in 454 A.D; the following year they sacked Rome. The Western Roman Empire came to an end in 476 A.D and after six centuries of relative peace, Mallorca once more faced difficult times.
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