Island off the coast of Murcia has been an important Roman trade centre

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Roman trade centre

A small island of 6.2 hectares off the coast of Murcia in Spain appears to have been a bustling trading centre in Roman times.

Researchers from the Institute of Archeology of the University of Granada confirmed this. This is Isla del Fraile, which is located off the coast of Águilas. The island has been inhabited for thousands of years. Águilas was founded after the Roman conquest of the area. During the Augustan period (between 45 BC and 14 AD) the city underwent important changes. The Isla del Fraile was a production centre for salted fish in ancient times. The island had its last inhabitant, the English spy Hugh Pakenham Borthwick, at the beginning of the 20th century.

Early prosperity

The team’s recent excavations and underwater research have shed new light on the island’s human occupation over more than 2,000 years. The peak of the site dates back to the 4th and 5th centuries AD. An extensive urban complex was then established with trade links to North Africa. Among the finds are mosaics and glassware from Tunisia. This indicates the prosperity of the community at the time. More than 30% of the products consumed during this period were imported from North Africa. This mainly concerned amphorae and fine pottery such as the red slip terracottas from Africa.

Trade centre

The researchers also documented basins for salted fish production, as well as net weights and bronze hooks. These finds suggest that Isla del Fraile served as a redistribution centre for food from North Africa. The excavation of six sectors in the northern part has revealed the nature of the construction. Two powerful retaining walls of approximately 2.37 meters wide that adapt to the terrain form the main element.

Cogesa Expats

Another notable find was an impressive destruction layer from the 5th century AD. This consists of at least eight complete amphorae from different parts of northern Tunisia. It demonstrates the island’s intense trading relationships during this period.

Role of small islands

The researchers hypothesise that Isla del Fraile housed an urban population centre with a Christian community. It may even have been an island monastery. This sheds new light on the role of small islands in the trade networks of the Roman West Mediterranean.

Also read: Forgotten Roman treasure found in Extremadura

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