8 Major Cities Founded by the Romans

The Roman Empire, at its height, spanned across Europe, Asia, and Africa, leaving behind a rich legacy of urban development. Many of the world’s major cities owe their origins to Roman foundations, which were strategically established as military outposts, trade hubs, and administrative centers. This historical narrative will explore several prominent cities founded by the Romans, focusing on their origins, development, and lasting impact.

Rome

Undoubtedly, Rome itself is the most famous city founded by the Romans. According to legend, it was established by Romulus in 753 BC on the banks of the Tiber River. Rome began as a small settlement and evolved into the heart of an empire that dominated the known world. The city was the epicenter of Roman culture, politics, and economics, influencing all aspects of life from architecture to law, setting standards that are still revered today.

Image: The famous Colosseum, located in the center of the city of Rome.

London (Londinium)

Londinium was founded in 43 AD as a settlement on the north bank of the River Thames. It was part of the Roman Empire’s strategic expansion across the British Isles. The city quickly grew as a commercial hub due to its position on the Roman road network and its access to the sea. London’s early development included a basilica, forum, and baths, showcasing typical Roman urban features. The city’s Roman walls, parts of which still stand, underscore its historical significance.

The Roman Empire spanned from 27 BC, following the Roman Republic, until 1453 AD with the fall of Constantinople. During this era, the Romans founded many cities including Istanbul, Turkey (originally Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople) and London, UK (established as Londinium). Image: The Tower Bridge in London.

Paris (Lutetia)

Lutetia, the precursor to modern-day Paris, was originally a small Gallic settlement that was expanded by the Romans after their conquest of the region in the 1st century BC. The Romans built roads, aqueducts, and baths, transforming it into a flourishing city. Over centuries, Lutetia gained prominence, ultimately becoming the famed city of Paris. The influence of Roman architecture and urban planning is evident in the city’s historical core.

The cities that Rome founded were integral to the Empire’s administration and commerce. For example, Paris, France, originally known as Lutetia, was founded earlier by the Romans in 52 BC during the Republic period, thus predating the establishment of the Empire. Image: The Eiffel tower, situated in Paris.

Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)

Founded in 50 AD as a Roman colony, Cologne was named after the Empress Agrippina the Younger, born in the city. It quickly became a major trading and production center in Germania Inferior. The city was notable for its large harbor, Roman roads, and aqueducts, which facilitated trade and growth. Cologne’s Roman heritage can still be seen in its ancient city walls and gates.

Image: A photo of the Cologne cathedral.

Barcelona (Barcino)

Barcino was established in the late 1st century BC under Emperor Augustus. Though smaller than other Roman settlements, its strategic location on the Mediterranean coast facilitated its role as a maritime and trade center. Barcelona’s Roman grid plan, defensive walls, and remains of the temple dedicated to Augustus highlight its Roman past.

Image: Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Família.

Constantinople (Byzantium)

Though Byzantium was not initially founded by the Romans, its re-establishment as Constantinople in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine the Great marked a new era. Positioned strategically between Europe and Asia, it was declared the new capital of the Roman Empire.

Known today as Istanbul (in modern-day Turkiye), Constantinople’s design incorporated Roman engineering and architecture, and it stood as a bastion of the Roman (and later Byzantine) Empire for over a thousand years, influencing art, culture, and politics throughout the region.

Istanbul, originally founded in 330 AD by Emperor Constantine the Great, was intended as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and was initially named Nova Roma (New Rome), reflecting its role as a continuation of Roman grandeur. Image: Blue Mosque in Istanbul. 

York (Eboracum)

Founded in 71 AD, Eboracum started as a military fortress for the Roman legions conquering the north of Britain. It grew into a significant civic center, featuring typical Roman amenities including baths, an amphitheater, and a strong network of roads. York’s continued importance through the ages can be traced back to its strategic origins under the Romans.

Image: Clifford’s Tower in the city of York.

Seville (Hispalis)

Hispalis was significant in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica. The city flourished under Roman rule, serving as a cultural and economic center. Roman influence is evident in Seville’s urban layout and numerous ancient ruins, including the remnants of aqueducts and amphitheaters.

Image: Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See, located in Seville.

Other interesting facts

  • Constantinople’s (present-day Istanbul, Turkiye) founding involved an Etruscan ritual, mimicking Rome’s legendary origins. Despite the official name, it was commonly known as Constantinopolis (Constantinople), after its founder. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the name Istanbul came into widespread international use, marking the city’s evolution in identity over centuries.
  • London was established by the Romans around 47 AD as Londinium, a Latinized version of a pre-existing local name. By the 2nd century AD, it had become a major city in Roman Britannia. The construction of the London Wall in mid-third century AD significantly shaped the city’s layout, marking the boundaries of what is now known as the ‘City of London.’ This wall delineated the city’s area for centuries, underscoring its historical and strategic importance.

The Roman model of urbanization, characterized by strategic location, robust infrastructure, and comprehensive civic facilities, set a template that influenced the development of cities throughout Europe and beyond for millennia. Image: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

READ MORE: Greatest Cities of the Persian Empire

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