Where was Munda?

Photo of the plain of Munda
The plain of Munda: the western location. © Jona Lendering

By Jona Lendering

In August 48 BC, Caesar defeated Pompey's army at the Battle of Pharsalus. In hindsight, it was a decisive battle for Pompey, who fled to Egypt and was put to death there. But it was hardly the end of the war for Caesar. On March 17, 45 BC, Caesar fought the Battle of Munda. It was a far bigger battle, and Caesar, as he put it, had to fight for his life there. It was also more consequential, ending the Civil War against the Optimates.

There's just one problem. Nobody knows where Munda is. After the battle, the small city was no longer important, and it's hardly discussed ever again. In a list of Andalusian coloniae Pliny the Elder already talks about it in the past tense. The narrative of the battle mentions a river and a ridgeline, but in Andalusia those are as common as fish in the sea. There is an inscription (EDCS-21300310) which states that Emperor Augustus, “son of the victor of Munda” ordered the repair of the walls of Astigi (modern Écija) for its services during the Spanish War. That inscription has been called a forgery as there is a better candidate: Montilla, 40 kilometres to the east of Écija.

Map of Munda in Kromayer & Veith
The Munda campaign according to Kromayer & Veith

East: Montilla?

Miguel Cortés y López, father of historical geography in Spain, was the first to suggest Montilla. He convinced Eugène Stoffel, the French archaeologist of Alesia. Adolf Schulten, the excavator of Numantia, agreed to this interpretation, and that is what turns up in the 1923 volume of the Schlachten-Atlas by Johannes Kromayer (abridged version published in English as the Atlas of Ancient Battles). See the map above.

The routes followed by the two armies seems logical, though the distances marched seem short compared to the overall reported length of the campaign. Montilla remained the current site for the battle, and even made it into Asterix, where Caesar imitates Napoleon.

A cartoon from Asterix
“Legionaries, I am satisfied with you” © Dargaud

West: Between Écija and Osuna?

The Spanish researcher Manuel Angel Ferreiro López (Cadiz university) located Munda some 25 kilometres to the southwest of Écija, in the direction of Osuna. To be more precise, in the 1980s he posited a hill named Alto de las Camorras. At one time, a metal object had been found there bearing the stamp “A VAR” which he interpreted as Attius Varus, one of the Pompeian commanders. That was rather a stretch.

A photo of two lead sling bullets
Sling bullets from the Pompeian army, inscribed CN MAG and IMP, now at the Musée d'Archéologie nationale, Saint-German-en-Laye, France. © Jona Lendering

In the meantime, another clue has turned up. Two sling bullets were found in the area between Écija and Osuna in 2006. They are comparable to the bullets shown above that come from Osuna. Though they cannot be tied to any combat, they do prove that Pompeius' army was in the area.

The 2006 sling bullets also carry inscriptions of CN MAG and IMP. It's very tempting to read the former as Gnaeus Magni Filius ("Gnaeus, son of Pompey"). The other refers to the title Imperator that Caesar's opponent had assumed in the meantime. These new slingshot were found at a village La Lantejuela, a few hundred metres from the Alto de la Camorras.

It now seemed certain that the battle was fought halfway between Écija and Osuna. Nor is the accusation of forgery still levelled against the aforementioned inscription about the city walls of Écija. A paleohydrological map of the course of the various rivers in the area would help to get a more precise idea of the location, but the issue seemed to have been resolved. So, last summer, I went to take a look at the spot.

Montilla after all?

Recently an article appeared in an academic journal about another slingshot, this time marked CAES. It'd be perverse to read something other than Caesar. That bullet, however, was found at… Montilla. And so the discussion starts anew. Before any definitive decision is made that it is Montilla after all, I'd like to point out that the item was not found during a professional archaeological dig, but was found by a farmer on his land.

A Roman sling bullet
Slingshot from Montilla, inscribed CAES and IPSCA. The latter might be a reference to a city name. © STILEarte

It might be too cynical to consider the new finds forgeries. Surface finds exist and can be entirely legitimate. But the campaign included quite some manoeuvering and skirmishing, and the presence of a slingshot in a region where there was combat, proves the presence of Caesar's army, but not that it was loosed during a specific battle. The same, obviously, goes for the other slingshot mentioned above. They do come from Pompeius' army, but it is not sufficient to decide in favour of the location of the battlefield as laying between Écija and Osuna. The inscription from Écija, no longer a forgery, is a stronger piece of evidence.

In short, the slingshot from Montilla is a great find, and it shows us the limits of what we know once again.

Further reading

1 comment

Two questions.
1. If the battle of Munda was fought halfway between Écija and Osuna, or near Montilla, where are the ruins of town Munda?
2. Where are the walls of the camps of Caesar and his opponents?
They, and the remains of Munda, should be seen by lidar.

Markku Iskanius

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