Home / History & Culture / When in Menorca, Do as the Romans Do

When in Menorca, Do as the Romans Do

The island of Menorca has been conquered by literally dozens of invaders from all over the northern hemisphere in the past two and a half millennia.

The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Moors, Aragonese, British and Spanish have all left their mark on the culture and architecture of the island.

Rome is known for its ruins and archaeological gems.

An interesting chapter of Menorca’s history is the classical period, stretching from around 400 BC to the end of the first century AD.

Magón of Carthage 

As it sits in a prime location in the middle of the Mediterranean, Menorca was long used as a trade base by Phoenician and Greek merchants in ancient times. It was Magón (or Mago) Barca, the brother of the famous Carthaginian military commander Hannibal, whose arrival in Menorca really shook up the locals.

He had his eye on the island’s famous Balearic stone-slingers, or honderos, whose skill was known throughout the Mediterranean. The honderos fired stones at invaders attacking from the sea with such speed and accuracy that they could damage enemy ships from a remarkable distance. Their bravery and expertise was particularly beneficial to Magón at the Battle of Himera in 350 AD, when they protected the Carthaginian army from Agathocles, the tyrant of Syracuse.

Magón left his legacy on the island by renaming the ancient town of Mago (now the capital, Maó-Mahón)after himself.

Quintus Caecilius Metellus

Over 200 years later, the island was conquered by Quintus Caecilius Metellus on behalf of the Roman Empire. It was at this point that Menorca got the name we recognise today: “menor” means smaller in Latin, so-called because the island is a fifth of the size of its neighbour, Majorca.

The Roman military camp that Quintus Caecilius Metellus established on his arrival was located at what we now know as the Port of Sanitja. This site is easy to defend, being the highest point in the area, as well as providing the perfect vantage point for looking out over the northern coast.

Menorca remained under Roman rule for another half a century, until the Vandals – the East Germanic tribe that sacked Rome – invaded in the fifth century AD.

Roman Sites to Visit

If you’re interested in the island’s Roman past, our villas in Fornells are a perfect base from which to explore the Roman town of Cap de Cavalleria, which has a small outdoor museum with a wealth of archaeological finds. You could also take a look at the ruins of two Roman basilicas on the island, one of which is in Son Bou and the other is in Fornas de Torello.

RELATED POST

Menorca’s Age of Piracy

Menorca and its neighbouring islands haven’t always been the oases of calm that they are now. Find out more about their history of piracy.

Fiesta Season in Alaior

For a small town, Alaior knows how to throw a big party! Find out more about the fiesta season.

Traces of Menorca’s Ancient History

The island of Menorca holds a secret. Find out about the ancient structures that have the key to the island's past.