Around ancient and modern Lisbon

Though this series is on ancient Lisbon, I wanted to add a few notes on surrounding places before publishing the last post with the bibliography and caveats for visitors or tourists. At the risk of stating the obvious, Olisipo was not an isolated urbe, but part of a vaster political and economical network that also included other gods and religious sites.

Alcácer do Sal
Located south of Lisbon, past the Tagus and by the banks of another river – the Sado – the name of the city derives from the combination of the Arab al-Kassr (the castle) and the Portuguese word for salt, so Alcácer do Sal literally means Salt’s Castle. In that sense, it’s in tune with the ancient Roman name of the settlement: Salacia. Named after the Roman goddess of salt water, it makes pretty obvious what was and, to some extent, still is the city’s best known produce: salt! And because it was and still is close to the sea and would have been integrated a network of commercial harbours, traces of cults to sea gods are only to be expect.

Unsurprisingly, Neptune may have been worshipped in Salacia, though, to my knowledge, no traces of a temple have been found. One coin from the Roman period, minted in the city, shows on one side the text IMP(eratoria) SAL(acia) accompanied by two dolphins, while the other side depicts a bearded male head with a trident (Leite de Vasconcelos 1913, 250-1). Another coin is perhaps a good indicator of the city’s trade contacts with the East – if not its origin altogether – since it shows a male head wearing an animal skin next to a club, in all likelihood Hercules, but the text on the other side, decorated with two fishes, is not in Latin characters. Instead, it is as follows:

Leite de Vasconcelos reads in it as evoim (perhaps an older or Eastern name for the city?) and believes the figure depicted on the coin to be that of the Phoenician hero Melqart, sometimes identified with Hercules (1913, 288). Again in an oriental note, according to the records of an 18th-century Galician archaeologist who travelled through Portugal, a votive inscription to Isis has also been found in Salacia, carved at the request of a freedman and in fulfilment of a vow (Leite de Vasconcelos 1913, 341-2).

The capital of the Conventus or administrative region where Olisipo was located, Scallabis or modern-day Santarém is yet to give us significant traces of its pre-Christian religious life. The podium of a Roman temple has been discovered inside the medieval castle, but to which divinity it was sacred appears to be unknown. The nearby rural parish of Pombalinho is the place of origin of a statue of Fortuna, recorded in the late 19th century or early 20th, which depicts the goddess with wings and a crown (Leite de Vasconcelos 1913, 306-7).

Not a Roman city, even if smaller settlements may have existed, but nevertheless a place of religious importance since the earliest human presence. And with good reason, given that it’s a highland area where the westernmost point of Europe is also located. Ptolemy called Sintra’s mountain the Moon Mountain (Geography II, 4) and the remains of a temple to the Sun and Moon were found in the early 16th century in the parish of Colares, near the cape. The ruins were analysed several decades later by André de Resende in his De Antiquitatibus Lusitaniæ, including the text of the three inscriptions found on the site. One of them, as depicted in Hübner’s work, says the following: SOLI ET LUNA CESTIVS ACIDIVS PERENNIS LEG. AVG. PR. PROVINCIAE LUSITANIAE, which translates as “To the Sun and Moon, Cestius Acidius Perene, augustal legate, praetor of the Province of Lusitania” (1871, 15). This inscription was eventually taken to the Pena convent, today’s Pena Palace, and little traces of the temple are left to be seen.

2 thoughts on “Around ancient and modern Lisbon

  1. Hi Helio: on that Phoenician inscription, it looks as if the first letter is -ch- instead of -e-. Out of curiousity, could you point me to a photograph of this inscription on line? I’d like to take a closer look. I’m not at all surprised that the Phoenicians made it to Portugal, since we know they made it to Gades/Cadiz and Cartagena/Qart Chadat (“New City”) in Spain. Lovely article. Thanks for sharing!

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