Archeologists in southeastern Spain have uncovered an exceptionally well preserved Visigoth coffin at a former Roman villa site. The stone coffin is about six feet seven inches long and has geometric decoration along its slanted lid interlaced with ivy leaves designs.
Researchers estimate that the coffin dates back to the 6th century AD when Spain was a part of the Visigoth Kingdom after the fall of the Roman Empire. The coffin was discovered at Los Villaricos, a Roman villa established around the first century near the modern town of Mula but abandoned by the fifth century. A team led by Rafael González Fernández, a historian at the University of Murcia, found the coffin earlier this month during a summer archaeological campaign.
‘We weren’t expecting this spectacular discovery,’ González told the Times of London—in fact, they initially thought they’d found an ornate rectangular column or pilaster. However, after some delicate cleaning, they found a crismón, or Chi-Rho, one of the earliest forms of Christogram, at the head of what turned out to be a coffin. A Christogram is a combination of letters forming the initials of Jesus Christ, often overlapping the Greek letters chi (X) and rho (P).
Although the Visigoths were initially pagan, by the 6th century, they had largely converted to Christianity.
In its heyday, Los Villaricos was a wealthy Roman villa with evidence of an olive press, storage for olive oil, and other agricultural activity.
The Visigoths repurposed the villa’s main reception room into a Christian basilica and the adjoining patio into a graveyard. During the Roman era, Los Villaricos was a stopping point along a trade route between Carthage and Complutum, a settlement northeast of Madrid. Later, it would have been strategic due to its proximity to the Visigoth city of Cehegín.
Who were the Visigoths?
An early Germanic people, the Visigoths first encountered the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries. While Emperor Theodosius I attempted to maintain peaceful relations, under Alaric I, the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 AD.
Previously nomadic, they began establishing permanent communities, first in southern Gaul, now modern-day France, and eventually in Hispania, the Iberian Peninsula.
In Spain and Portugal, they established the Visigoth kingdom, which lasted from the 5th to the 8th centuries, when they fell prey to attacking Arab forces. Along with other Gothic tribes, the Visigoths practiced Germanic paganism, and while they slowly converted to Christianity, aspects of their pagan traditions, art, and culture endured for centuries.