Melilla la Vieja is built over Roman Rusadir
ršʾdr (Punic: 𐤓𐤔𐤀𐤃𐤓) was a Punic name meaning "Powerful" or "High Cape", after its nearby headland. (It can also be understood as "Cape of the Powerful One", in reference to Baal, Tanit, or other important Punic god.) It was hellenized as Rhyssádeiron (Greek: Ῥυσσάδειρον). It appears in Latin as Rusadir, Rusicada, and Rusadder. As a Roman colony, it was also known as Flavia.
Like Abyla (present-day Ceuta), Rusadir was located on a small, easily defended peninsula connected to mainland Africa by a narrow isthmus. Its namesake cape is small but includes a large rocky hill, which was fortified. It lies at the northern end of a small bight which formed its harbor, itself part of the eastern shore of a much larger bight that stretches across the southern Mediterranean coast from Cape Three Forks (the classical Metagonites Promontorium) to Cape Figalo west of Oran. Rusadir's own small bight lies beside a kind of natural amphitheater on the eastern slope of a steep rock 500 meters (1,640 ft) high, where modern Melilla has grown up.
Rusadir was established as a Phoenician colony along the trading route between Phoenicia and the Strait of Gibraltar, itself guarded by the colonies of Tinga (Tangier), Abyla (Ceuta), Kart (San Roque), and Gadir (Cadiz). Like other outposts in the west, Rusadir eventually fell under Carthaginian dominion.
After Carthage's defeat in the Punic Wars, Rusadir passed into the control of the Roman client state Mauretania. It minted its own bronze coins, with Punic text and a bearded head (possibly Baal Hammon) obverse and a bee between ears of wheat reverse.
Caligula assassinated the Mauretanian king in AD 40 and proclaimed the annexation of his kingdom. His successor Claudius organized the new territories, placing Rusadir within the province of Mauretania Tingitana. Pliny describes 1st-century Rusadir as a native hillfort (oppidum) and port (portus). It was made a colony in AD 46.
By the 3rd century, Rusadir was fully Christianized and quite prosperous. Emperor Diocletian made it part of Hispania in 385. In the 4th century, Rusadir was the principal port for the Mauro-Roman kingdom.
The Vandal king Gaiseric, probably invited by Count Boniface, crossed from Spain to Tingis (Tangier) in 429. Some of his tens of thousands of followers besieged and conquered Rusadir around 430, while others overran the rest of northwest Africa. Focusing his attention of the Roman province of Africa, Gaiseric allowed Berber rebellions to remove most of his western territories from his control. Rusadir became part of the Berber kingdom of Altava.
The Byzantine general Belisarius restored Roman control around the year 533 as part of Justinian's Vandalic War. By that time, Rusadir had fewer than 3000 inhabitants. The Exarchate of Africa established by the Byzantines also focused most of its attention on the area of present-day Tunisia and did not expand into the Mauretanian hinterland. Instead, it oversaw its fortified ports from the easily protected stronghold of Septem (Ceuta). The Visigoth king Sisebuto conquered Rusadir in 614. He strengthened and rebuilt its city walls and gave it its own bishop. The Byzantines subsequently recovered the city.
The Umayyad Caliphate conquered Rusadir around 701 as part of its invasion of the Maghreb. After that, Rusadir remained a small village known to the local Berbers as Mlila. It was conquered by the Spanish nobleman Juan Alfonso Pérez de Guzmán in 1497 and—under the name Melilla (q.v.)—was formally annexed by Castile in 1506.
- Melilla, for the town's subsequent history
- Tingis, Abyla, Lixus, & Tamuda
- Roman 'Coloniae' in Berber Africa
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