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Verrco Sculpture from Ancient Iberia

Verrco Sculpture from Ancient Iberia

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The Phoenicians were a people from the eastern Mediterranean who were mainly traders from the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos. They established many trading colonies around the Mediterranean Sea and in the year 814 BC, they founded the city of Carthage on the north African coast in what is now Tunisia. After the fall of Phoenicia to the Babylonians and then the Persians, Carthage became the most powerful Phoenician city in the Mediterranean and the Carthaginians annexed many of the other Phoenician colonies around the coasts of the western Mediterranean, such as Hadrumetum and Thapsus. They also annexed territory in Sicily, Africa, Sardinia and in 575 BC, they created colonies on the Iberian peninsula.

After the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca crushed a mercenary revolt in Africa and trained a new army consisting of Numidians along with mercenaries and other infantry. In 236 BC, he led an expedition to Iberia where he hoped to gain a new empire for Carthage to compensate for the territories that had been lost in the recent conflicts with Rome and to serve as a base for vengeance against the Romans.

In eight years, by force of arms and diplomacy, Hamilcar secured an extensive territory, covering around half of the Iberian Peninsula, and Iberian soldiers later came to make up a large part of the army that his son Hannibal led into the Italian Peninsula to fight the Romans, but Hamilcar's premature death in battle (228 BC) prevented him from completing the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and was soon followed by the collapse of the short lived empire he had established.

The fall of Carthage's Iberian territories came in the Second Punic War. In the year 209 BC, after the Romans had landed on Iberia under the command of Scipio Africanus, they captured the centre of Punic power in Iberia, Nova Carthago (modern day Cartagena). They then moved south and faced the Punic army of Hasdrubal Barca in the Battle of Baecula but were not able to prevent him from continuing his march to Italy in order to reinforce his brother Hannibal. The catastrophic defeat of Carthaginian forces at Ilipa in 206 BC sealed the fate of the Carthaginian presence in Iberia. It was followed by the Roman capture of Gades after the city had already rebelled against Carthaginian rule. A last attempt was made by Mago in 205 BC to recapture Cartago Nova while the Roman presence was shaken by a mutiny and an Iberian uprising against their new overlords. But the attack was repulsed. So in the same year he left Iberia, setting sail from the Balearic islands to Italy with his remaining forces.

The Lady of Guardamar, found in 1987, is in the Museum of Alicante. When the Lady of Elche was found, it was thought to be of Hellenic influence, but since the discovery of the Lady of Guardamar in 1987, in the Phoenician (Carthaginian) site of Guardamar near Alicante (Lucentum), Phoenician would seem to be the appropriate designation.

This series of sculptures can be seen as types of funerary urns to hold ashes. There has been speculation that the Elche bust was originally full-length. Mythological animals of an earlier period – 6th–5th century BC: the Bull of Osuna, the Sphinx of Agost and the Bicha of Balazote, are in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, in Madrid.

Iberian Warriors

The Caetrati was an Iberian caetra bearer, a kind or relatively small round shield.
But the caetrati also belongs to a whole mozaik of cultures, called "the Iberians". There is a whole chapter to be made on the various peoples that inhabited the peninsula stretched between the Pyrenees and Hercules columns, the gateway to the Atlantic or at that time, the "external sea".

In terms of diversity, the same could be said of Italy, less so for Gaul. Populations diversity was indeed considerable: In short, by around 300 BC, the southern part was held by Phoenician-origin peoples like the Turdetanians (the Tartessanian culture), to the west coast by Iberians like the Bastetani and Edetani, Ilercavones and Ilergetes, Greek influenced Iberian peoples like the Indiketes centered around Emporio (Empurias today), north Aquitanian peoples like the Vascones, ad the whole central and eastern part of the peninsula under Celtic influence.

From the latest arrived, the Celtiberians, to the Vascones, Cantabri, Carpetani, Turduli, and Celts of a more ancient stock on the Western coast, the Lusitanians and Vettones in particular and the Callaeci, ancestors of the Galicians which culture is supposed to have "landed" in Ireland also, at that time called Goidel. They all had in common the use of oblong or rectangular shields (Scuta) and round shield (Caetra). We will focus on the latter in this.

Iberian Map

The Iberians left arguably more scripts, bas-reliefs, graffiti and vases paintings than the northern Celts to get a visual picture of what they looked like (see the examples below). In general these wore tunics, some with fringes, and various armor kits, among which the famous round bronze disc strapped on the thorax, that was the most distinctive pierce of armor of Iberian warriors as a whole, outside the scale armor apparently widely used.

Wether it was made of bronze scales of leather, it's still matter of interpretation of the vase painting, and therefore, of debate. No remnants of a bronze scale armor was never ever found in Spain. A few helmets were discovered, among which the most famous was the Celtiberian helmet of chalcidian type, found in the province of Zaragoza and featuring deep cheek-guards and a vertical fork to fix a horsehair crest. The standard bowl shaped model, probably in leather, and the flexible horsehair leather cap, flowing on the shoulders with many folds are favourite items to describe Iberian helmets, frequently associated with the falcata, pectoral disc, and caetra, whereas Celtiberian warriors usually had pantashorts, a Montefortino plumed helmet, chainmail, and straight Celtic longsword, plus the larger Scutum.

The differentiation between both kind of shields was made in Latin, at a time wars between the Romans and Iberian Nations after 206 BC, up to 197 BC when the provinces of Hispania Citerior and ulterior were created, in the southern and western fringes of the peninsula. From that date, the campaign of Marcus Portius Cato (the Elder) started, ad Iberian resistance lasted until 182 BC.

The "Lady of Elche", the most amazing female sculpture in Iberia (Reconstruction by the Author). She was very closed to the Lady of Guardamar, discovered in 1987 while the Lady of Baza was a full seated sculpture with refined incrustations which survived until today, attributed to the Bastetani. The Lady of Cerro de los Santos had more pronounced Phoenician features

From then on a new era began, the first Celtiberian War (181–179 BC) in which the Lusitanian made an stand through Thurru. The Second Celtiberian War started in 155 BC and from there, appeared a Lusitanian folk hero, Viriatho, very much in par with Arminius for the Germans or Vercingetorix for the French today. The man was so bold, reckless and successful in guerilla warfare that the Romans named from 147 BC onwards this conflict as the "Viriathic War". Abd from 143 BC started the the Numantine War (after Numancia and the last bastion of the Celtiberians), just like Alesia for the Gauls.

Afterwards, conflict emerged once again sporadically as some tribes surged to war or rebelled, and 82 BC most of the Celtiberians rose at war again. There was also a conflict between Vascones and Celtiberians, and the Roman civil war led in Iberia to the Sertorian War, after Quintus Sertorius allied with local tribes, that rebelled against Silla and was eventually beaten by Pompey and Caecilius Metellus.


The Iberian culture developed from the 6th century BC, and perhaps as early as the fifth to the third millennium BC in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula. [2] [3] [4] The Iberians lived in villages and oppida (fortified settlements) and their communities were based on a tribal organization. The Iberians in the Spanish Levant were more urbanized than their neighbors in the central and northwestern regions of the Iberian peninsula. The peoples in the central and northwest regions were mostly Celtic, semi-pastoral and lived in scattered villages, though they also had a few fortified towns like Numantia. [5] They had a knowledge of writing, metalworking, including bronze, and agricultural techniques.

Settlements Edit

In the centuries preceding Carthaginian and Roman conquest, Iberian settlements grew in social complexity, exhibiting evidence of social stratification and urbanization. This process was probably aided by trading contacts with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians. By the late 5th and early 4th centuries BC a series of important social changes led to the consolidation of an aristocracy and the emergence of a clientele system. "This new political system led, among other things, to cities and towns that centered around these leaders, also known as territorial nucleation. In this context, the oppidum or fortified Iberian town became the centre of reference in the landscape and the political space." [6]

The settlement of Castellet de Banyoles in Tivissa was one of the most important ancient Iberian settlements in the north eastern part of the Iberian peninsula that was discovered in 1912. Also, the 'Treasure of Tivissa', a unique collection of silver Iberian votive offerings was found here in 1927. [7]

Lucentum was another ancient Iberian settlement, as well as Castelldefels Castle.

Mausoleum of Pozo Moro near the town of Chinchilla de Monte-Aragón in Castile-La Mancha seems to mark the location of another big settlement.

Sagunto is the location of an ancient Iberian and later Roman city of Saguntum, where a big fortress was built in the 5th century BC.

Greek colonists made the first historical reference to the Iberians in the 6th century BC. They defined Iberians as non-Celtic peoples south of the Ebro river (Iber). The Greeks also dubbed as "Iberians" another people in the Caucasus region, currently known as Caucasian Iberians. It is thought that there is no connection between the two peoples.

The Iberians traded extensively with other Mediterranean cultures. Iberian pottery and metalwork has been found in France, Italy, and North Africa. The Iberians had extensive contact with Greek colonists in the Spanish colonies of Emporion, Rhode, and Hemeroskopeion. The Iberians may have adopted some of the Greeks' artistic techniques. Statues such as the Lady of Baza and the Lady of Elx are thought to have been made by Iberians relatively well acquainted with Greek art. Thucydides stated that one of the three original tribes of Sicily, the Sicani, were of Iberian origin, though "Iberian" at the time could have included what we think of as Gaul. [8]

The Iberians also had contacts with the Phoenicians, who had established various colonies in southern Andalucia. Their first colony on the Iberian Peninsula was founded in 1100 BC and was originally called Gadir, later renamed by the Romans as Gades (modern Cádiz). Other Phoenician colonies in southern Iberia included Malaka (Málaga), Sexi and Abdera.

Second Punic War and Roman conquest Edit

After the First Punic war, the massive war debt suffered by Carthage led them to attempt to expand their control over the Iberian peninsula. Hamilcar Barca began this conquest from his base at Cádiz by conquering the Tartessian Guadalquivir river region, which was rich in silver. After Hamilcar's death, his son-in-law Hasdrubal continued his incursions into Iberia, founding the colony of Qart Hadasht (modern Cartagena) and extending his influence all the way to the southern bank of the river Ebro. After Hasdrubal's assassination in 221 BC, Hannibal assumed command of the Carthaginian forces and spent two years completing the conquest of the Iberians south of the Ebro. [9] In his first campaign, Hannibal defeated the Olcades, the Vaccaei and the Carpetani expanding his control over the river Tagus region. [10] Hannibal then laid siege to Roman ally of Saguntum and this led to the beginning of the Second Punic War. The Iberian theater was a key battleground during this war and many Iberian and Celtiberian warriors fought for both Rome and Carthage, though most tribes sided with Carthage.

Rome sent Gnaeus and Publius Cornelius Scipio to conquer Iberia from Carthage. Gnaeus subsequently defeated the Iberian Ilergetes tribe north of the Ebro who were allied with Carthage, conquered the Iberian oppidum of Tarraco and defeated the Carthaginian fleet. After the arrival of Publius Scipio, Tarraco was fortified and, by 211 BC, the Scipio brothers had overrun the Carthaginian and allied forces south of the Ebro. However, during this campaign, Publius Scipio was killed in battle and Gnaeus died in the retreat. The tide turned with the arrival of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus in 210 BC. Scipio attacked and conquered Carthago Nova and defeated the army of Hasdrubal Barca at the Battle of Baecula (209-208). The war dragged on with Carthage sending more reinforcements until the Battle of Ilipa (modern Alcalá del Río in Sevilla province), which was a decisive victory for Publius Scipio Africanus. The Carthaginians retreated to Gades, and Publius Scipio gained control over the entire south of the peninsula. After this victory, the Ilergetes and other Iberian tribes revolted and it was only after this revolt that the Romans conquered the rest of the Carthaginian territories in southern Spain.

After the Carthaginian defeat, the Iberian territories were divided into two major provinces, Hispania Ulterior and Hispania Citerior. In 197 BC, the Iberian tribes revolted once again in the H. Citerior province. After securing these regions, Rome invaded and conquered Lusitania and Celtiberia. The Romans fought a long and drawn out campaign for the conquest of Lusitania. Wars and campaigns in the northern regions of the Iberian peninsula would continue until 16 BC, when the final rebellions of the Cantabrian Wars were defeated.

Iberian society was divided into different classes, including kings or chieftains (Latin: "regulus"), nobles, priests, artisans and slaves. Iberian aristocracy, often called a "senate" by the ancient sources, met in a council of nobles. Kings or chieftains would maintain their forces through a system of obligation or vassalage that the Romans termed "fides". [11]

The Iberians adopted wine and olives from the Greeks. Horse breeding was particularly important to the Iberians and their nobility. Mining was also very important for their economy, especially the silver mines near Gader and Cartago Nova, the iron mines in the Ebro valley, as well as the exploitation of tin and copper deposits. They produced fine metalwork and high quality iron weapons such as the falcata.

Art and religion Edit

The Iberians produced sculpture in stone and bronze, most of which was much influenced by the Greeks and Phoenicians, and other cultures such as Assyrian, Hittite and Egyptian influences. The styles of Iberian sculpture are divided geographically into Levantine, Central, Southern, and Western groups, of which the Levantine group displays the most Greek influence. Iberian pottery and painting was also distinct and widespread throughout the region. A distinct feature of the culture, the pottery was primarily decorated with geometric forms in red but in some areas (from Murcia to the south of Catalonia) it also included figurative images. [6]

The Iberian polytheistic religion was influenced by the Greek and Phoenician practices, as it is evident in their sculptures. The man-bull Bicha of Balazote (possibly a fertility deity) and various depictions of sphinxes and lions bear a resemblance to eastern Mediterranean mythological creatures. The Lady of Elche and Lady of Guardamar show clear Hellenistic influence. Phoenician and Greek deities like Tanit, Baal, Melkart, Artemis, Demeter and Asclepius were known in the region and worshiped. Currently few native Iberian gods are known, though the oracular healing deity "Betatun" is known from a Latin inscription at Fuertes del Rey. [12] There was clearly an important female deity associated with the earth and regeneration as depicted by the Lady of Baza and linked with birds, flowers and wheat. [12] The horse was also an important religious figure and an important sanctuary dedicated to Horses has been found in Mula (Murcia). There are many depictions of a "horse taming god" or "lord of the horses" (despotes hippon). The female goddess Ataegina is also widely attested in the inscriptions.

Iberians performed their rites in the open and also maintained sanctuaries in holy places like groves, springs and caves. [13] Archaeological evidence suggests the existence of a priestly class and Silius Italicus mentions priests in the region of Tartessos at a temple of Melqart. Evidence from pottery reveals some information about Iberian myth and ritual. Common themes are a celebratory ritual dance described by Strabo [c.f. 3.3.7.] and seen in a relief from Fuerte del Rey known as the "Bastetania dance" and the confrontation between the deceased and a wolf figure. [14] Ritual sacrifice of animals was also common.

In Iberian eschatology, "death was seen as the starting point for a journey symbolised by a crossing of the sea, the land or even the sky. Supernatural and mythical beings, such as the Sphinx or the wolf, and sometimes Divinity itself, accompanied and guided the deceased on this journey". [6] The Iberians incinerated their dead and placed their ashes in ceremonial urns, the remains were then placed in stone tombs.

Iberians venerated the war god Cariocecus.

Warfare Edit

Iberian soldiers were widely employed by Carthage and Rome as mercenaries and auxiliary troops. A large portion of Carthaginian forces during the Punic wars was made up of Iberians and Celtiberians. Iberian warfare was endemic and based on intertribal raiding and pillaging. In set piece battle, Iberians were known to regularly charge and retreat, throwing javelins and shouting at their opponents without actually committing to full contact combat. This sort of fighting was termed concursare by the Romans. [11] The Iberians were particularly fond of ambushes and guerrilla tactics.

Ancient sources mention two major types of Iberian infantry, scutati and caetrati. Scutati were heavily armored and carried large Celtic type scutum shield. The caetrati carried the caetra, a small Iberian buckler. [11] Iberian armaments included the famed Gladius Hispaniensis, a curved sword called the falcata, straight swords, spears, javelins and an all iron spear called the Soliferrum. Iberian horsemen were a key element of Iberian forces as well as Carthaginian armies. Spain was rich with excellent wild horses and Iberian cavalry was some of the best in the ancient Mediterranean.

Fortified settlements

"At least in the east and the south-east, we see a change in the settlement patterns. which lasts until the arrival of the Romans," said co-author Dr Carles Lalueza-Fox, from the University of Barcelona.

In this region, the Iron Age Iberian culture established fortified settlements on high ground.

"The Iberians lived in hill settlements and were a violent society, structured along tribal lines. Something clearly changes the social structure that existed in the late Neolithic."

Looking at human remains from an earlier period, the study found that Stone Age hunter-gatherers who traced a significant percentage of their ancestry to some of Europe's earliest settlers, survived in southern Spain until the spread of farming 6,000 years ago.

The team also studied genome data from Moorish Spain (AD 711-1492), when parts of the peninsula were under the control of Muslim emirs of North African origin.

North African influence was present in Iberia from at least the Bronze Age. But the researchers found a dramatic shift in the genetic make-up of people from Moorish-controlled regions after the medieval "Reconquista", when Christian armies seized back control of the peninsula. The conquerors expelled many Muslims, although some were allowed to stay if they converted to Christianity.

While many Moorish individuals analysed in the study seem to have been a 50:50 mix of North African and Iberian ancestry, North African ancestry in the peninsula today averages just 5%.

Modern Iberians derive about 50% of their ancestry from Neolithic farmers, 25% from ancient hunter-gatherers, and 20% from the steppe people.

The men from the steppes

Beginning in the Bronze Age, the genetic makeup of the area changed dramatically. Starting in about 2,500 B.C., genes associated with people from the steppes near the Black and Caspian seas, in what is now Russia, can be detected in the Iberin gene pool. And from about 2,500 B.C. much of the population’s DNA was replaced with that of steppe people.

The “Steppe Hypothesis” holds that this group spread east into Asia and west into Europe at around the same time—and the current study shows that they made it to Iberia, too. Though 60 percent of the region’s total DNA remained the same, the Y chromosomes of the inhabitants were almost entirely replaced by 2,000 B.C. That suggests a massive influx of men from the steppes, since Y chromosomes are carried only by men.

“It looks like the influence was very male dominated,” says Miguel Vilar, a genetic anthropologist who serves as senior program officer for the National Geographic Society.

Who were these men—and did they come in peace? Vilar, who was not involved with the study, speculates that the steppe men may have come on horses bearing bronze weapons, hence ushering in the Bronze Age to the area. He compares the migration to the one the indigenous peoples of North and South America faced when the first Europeans landed in the 1490s.

“It shows that you could have a migration all the way across the whole continent (of Europe) and still have a heavy influence on this far extreme,” he says.

Although bronze came into use in Iberia around that time, no other distinct traces of steppe culture have yet been found. The study did show that people in present-day Basque, who speak Western Europe’s only non-Indo-European language, carry genetic markers closely related to those of the steppe people. And unlike modern Spaniards, modern-day Basques don’t show the same amount of genetic mixing that happened on the peninsula over the centuries.

The team also found a single individual with North African DNA from a site in the middle of Iberia. His bones date to about 2,500 B.C.

“At the beginning I thought it was a mistake,” says Iñigo Olalde, a population geneticist who led the study.

When he replicated his work, it checked out. The presence of that lone African suggests early, sporadic interchange between Iberia and North Africa, making sense of archaeological discoveries of African ivory at Copper-Age Iberian digs. But the team thinks that North African ancestry only became widespread in Iberia in about the last 2,000 years.

Iberian Citadel of Calafell

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People who visit ancient remains often see a few stones or broken walls. But the Iberian Citadel of Calafell offers a chance to immerse yourself in a village as it was some 2,500 years ago.

Calafell is located in an area near the coast that is popular with tourists, but it offers something different than most beach towns. The settlement was first built in the sixth century B.C. It is a fortified enclosure with several watchtowers. In the inner of the town there are houses of several sizes which can be visited.

The village belonged to the Cessetani, ancient Iberian people settled in the coast of Catalonia. One of their most important cities was Tarraco (now known as Tarragona). The village was abandoned in the second century B.C., mainly due to the second Punic war and rebellions of anti-Roman resistance.

Excavation of the archaeological site started in 1980 by Joan Santacana and Joan Sanmartí. It was rebuilt using the same techniques that the original inhabitants would have used. Red lines can be seen painted on the walls in the reconstructed village: These lines mark the line between the original ancient structures and the parts that have been rebuilt.

Visitors can enter the houses and climb by ladders to reach the roofs. One of them, the biggest, is believed to have been the leader’s home. The rooms are decorated with functional furniture, pottery, curtains. Dishes filled with nuts and dried fruits are out for visitors to taste. Outside, there are animals like goats and sheep, which would have been important to their economy. There is also a Roman siege tower, which may have brought the end of this town.

Know Before You Go

By train, near to Calafell rail station (1 mile). By car, from Barcelona: C-32 towards TV-2126, take exit 6 from C-3.

Spain — History and Culture

Like many European countries, Spain’s history dates back to the pre-Roman times and is characterized by warfare, conquest, great ages of Empire, and slow declines followed by independence. The development of their rich heritage began with the Celtic/Iberian settlements and was strongly influenced by the 900 years of Moorish rule.


Celtic/Iberian Spain was originally conquered by the Roman Empire in 200 AD, with the overlords remaining in power for almost six hundred years. The country became an important trading and agricultural hub and, as Rome faded, vandals from the north forced their way across the entire peninsula. Christianity was established in the 2nd century AD and continued despite conflicts resulting in a Visigoth takeover of the region.

A Moorish invasion of the Umayyad Caliphate took place in 711 AD, which would change the face of Spain forever. Christianity and Judaism suffered, and conversion to Islam was encouraged, particularly in Andalusia. By the end of the 10th century, the great city of Cordoba was the caliphate’s capital and the wealthiest, largest and most sophisticated city in Europe. Trade and rich intellectual traditions of North Africa formed a unique culture in the region.

However, the Reconquista, attempts by Christian armies to expand their Spanish holdings, had been chipping away at Moorish dominance since the late 8th century, and by the early 11th century had gained more land than was held by the Muslims. In spite of a major Muslim resurgence in the 12th century, by the 14th century Islam’s hold on Spain was consigned to history, leaving only magnificent architectural treasures such as the Alhambra as a reminder.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in America. At the same time, persecution of Jews and Muslims began, and Imperial Spain became the leading European power, spreading its incredibly wealthy tentacles all the way to South America and the Far East. The Golden Age of Spain lasted until the early 17th century, when the empire began facing threats from Barbary pirates, English corsairs and the powerful Ottoman Empire.

Religious wars and the plague hit Spain hard and, by the European Thirty Years’ War, its decline was irreversible, hastened by the early 18th century War of the Spanish Succession. Wars with Napoleonic France followed, with Spain defeated and forced to become a French colony controlled by the Bonapartist regime. A revolt against French dominance in 1808 resulted in the War of Independence and the return of the monarchy to Spain.

The disastrous Civil War in 1936 brought the dictator Franco to power, supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, causing half a million deaths and a similar number of migrations. Spain remained neutral during WWII, and became economically and politically isolated as a result, a position which changed quickly due to its strategic position as the Cold War ramped up. Franco died in 1975 and the monarchy under King Juan Carlos was revived with much celebration.


The rich culture of Spain is based on diverse historical influences from Celtic and Iberian times, centuries of Roman rule and the 900 years of Moorish dominance. Other flavors were added during the troubling Middle Ages, with intriguing language, cuisine, music, art, literature, folk traditions, and Catholicism and in the diverse ethnic communities. Spain’s Christian and Moorish architectural contributions are monumental, and its distinct regional cultures are strong, especially in the Catalan and Basque regions.

Flamenco music, dance and the controversial bullfights are easily recognizable elements of Spanish heritage, but the fierce national pride shown by the people are at the heart of the country’s identity. “Spain is different” is an often-heard statement, emphasising their position as a melting pot for centuries. Family values dominate and, the culture of machismo is slowly declining. Friendly, but somewhat formal in their approach to strangers.


Centauro de Caravaca, Región de Murcia. Museo Arqueológico Nacional de España, Madrid

Phoenicians were merchants and sailors who came from the eastern Mediterranean, from the place where today the Lebanon is located. Along with Greek settlers, a few centuries later, they were the first adventurers who crossed the Mediterranean from East to West, expanding their influence in many coastal areas of the southern Mediterranean and even the Atlantic Ocean, with special attention being given to its presence in Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. From the Iberian Peninsula, they should have been attracted by its mineral wealth, among it the so-called Iberian Pyrite Belt, to which the mining area of Huelva (Minas de Riotinto, Alosno, etc.) belongs, among other regions. This belt stretches from the Sierra de Sevilla to the Portuguese Atlantic coast.

The date when the Phoenicians began their journey is not clear but, according to Velleius Paterculus (History of Rome, Book I, 2), the city of Cadiz, the Phoenician Gadir (Greek Gadeira and Roman Gades), would have been founded 80 years after the fall of Troy, which might be more or less in the year 1100 BC. However, there would be no archaeological data to confirm the Phoenician presence on the Iberian Peninsula beyond the 9 th century BC. (See: Los Castillejos de Alcorrín, Manilva). In Cádiz the archaeological record of the site of the Teatro de Títeres dates back to the 8 th century BC.

As a comparative fact, if we listen to the written sources, the city of Carthago, in present Tunisia, would have been founded in the 9 th century BC, thus, after the founding of Cádiz. Both would have been colonies of the Tyrians (of Tyre, present Lebanon).

Note: Although historiographical sources are useful to know some history data, they will not always be reliable and their «integration» with archaeological records is fundamental to give some light on the past.

In spite of the references to Gadir as an established town from such a remote date, according to some authors, there would have been a precolonial stage of Phoenician presence, but without stable settlements, between the 12 th and 8t h centuries BC, and the actual colonial period would have started in the 8 th century BC or even already in 9 th BC, which is when the first factories are scientifically dated. The Phoenicians had a predilection for islands (Gadir – Cadiz) or promontories by the sea (e.g. Toscanos and Torre del Mar in Vélez-Málaga, Abdera = Adra, Seks = Almuñécar or Tavira).

Its stable presence further into the interior of the Peninsula is not discarded, but it is more likely to be confined to the realm of commerce. There is talk of a Libyan-Phoenician, Punic-Phoenician, or Bastulo-Punic region, which would comprise the area of greatest penetration of the Phoenician-Punic culture in the southern part of the Peninsula. It refers more or less to the Mediterranean strip (going somewhat inland) from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Cabo de Palos. However, it should not be forgotten that Phoenicians were present in other places, such as the peninsular Atlantic coast.

Phoenician colonies would have their peak between the 8 th and 6 th centuries BC. The abandonment or decay of many of them by the 6 th century BC, according to archaeological records, as a consequence perhaps of the so-called crisis of the 6 th century BC, that would have produced the decline of the mythical Tartessos (which would have been hugely influenced by the Phoenician culture) when Carthaginians might have closed the Greek commercial route with this region. The conquest of the Tyrian metropolis by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in that same century could have also contributed to the decline of the Phoenician factories. From that moment on, a progressive relay takes place in the control of the western area of the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians’ cousins, the Carthaginians.

To the Phoenicians we owe the knowledge of writing (the Iberian script is based on the Phoenician’s) or the potter’s wheel (a great innovation). Besides, they will also have contributed to expand their knowledge in the arts of agriculture, navigation and iron metallurgy. In relation to iron metallurgy, it is frequently referred to as to have been introduced by Celtic migrations of the first millennium BC. Nevertheless, it is necessary to consider that Phoenicians would have reached the Peninsula at the end of the “peninsular” Bronze Age, and iron was already known in the Middle East for a long time before (here the Iron Age would have started aproximately in the 12 th century BC ). And it would not be unreasonable to think that iron metallurgy was also introduced in the Peninsula by Phoenicians.

On the other hand, traces of the Phoenicians and Greeks in the Peninsula are also reflected in the so called Orientalising Art, which spread throughout the territories of the Iberians, which has resulted in a good number of examples of Iberian sculpture (the Bicha of Balazote, several sculptures of sphinxes, many thymiateria of bronze, the Astarte of Galera, the Centaur of Caravaca [see picture above], etc.).


During the Bronze Age tin mines were coveted, because bronze was obtained from an alloy of copper and tin. Tin was only found in certain regions, abounding in the Atlantic coast: in Galicia (Spain), in Brittany (France) or in Cornwall (United Kingdom). Apart from a commercial land route, which would link these mines with the Mediterranean, there must have been another sea route, which would start from the Mediterranean, bordering the Atlantic coast and reach these lands rich in tin.

The classical Greek authors pointed to the Cassiterides “the islands” a region (or regions, if it turns out that they really did not refer only to one, but to a generic concept of tin-producing places in the Atlantic), which could refer to any of the aforementioned . Herodotus in his 3 rd book of History (Talia), paragraph 115, when referring to the confines of the western world, mentions the Cassiterides and identifies them as islands from where the tin of the Greeks would come, but he assures that he can not confirm their actual existence. Nor does Strabo, in his Geography, clarify exactly where they are located (Book III, 2, 9 and 5, 11), placing the islands north of the port of the Artabri (which would inhabit the region around present-day A Coruña in Galicia). Nevertheless, he seems to prefer to locate them near Great Britain, to judge by what he indicates in his book II 5, 15.

Phoenicians would have known and followed this trade route, at least to certain points in Galicia, where their presence would have been verified through some artifacts found, which have been identified as belonging to these people. Special attention must be given to the possible Phoenician altar of the hillfort of the Punta do Moinho do Vento (Alcabre, Vigo, Pontevedra). However, the more northern Atlantic Phoenician settlement established by some as such, would be situated a few miles upstream from the Mondego mouth and would be the Castro of Santa Olaia or Santa Eulalia (Figueira da Foz, Coimbra, Portugal).

Note: Beyond Galicia, to the east and north, the presence of Phoenician materials in the Atlantic vanishes. And now, a curious, but complex study: There is a great resemblance between the Nordic runes and the Phoenician alphabet.


After the Phoenicians, the Greeks also began to found colonies along the Mediterranean and their trade prospered. The classical sources (Herodotus, among others) relate the Greek contacts with the mythical and rich kingdom of Tartessos, next to the mouth of the Guadalquivir (called Tartessos by the Greeks and later Betis by the Romans). Greeks and Phoenicians would then have established fruitful commercial exchanges in the Iberian Peninsula, judging by the large number of Greek materials found alongside the Phoenician peninsular archaeological sites (for example in Villaricos, Almeria or Toscanos, Malaga).

Another remarkable fact are the numerous examples of Iberian grave goods that included valuable Greek ceramic materials, which have been found especially in the Iberian or Tartessian necropolis of the Peninsula:

• Cabezo Lucero and Les Casetes (Alicante).
• La Hoya (Huelva).
• Castellones de Ceal and Toya (Jaén).
• Cerro del Santuario in Baza and Tútugi (Granada).
• Pozo Moro, the Llano de la Consolación and Los Villares de Hoya Gonzalo (Albacete).
• The Cigarralejo (Murcia).

The Greek influence has also been noted in the Orientalising art, as already mentioned.


At the moment, there are only two Greek colonies in the Peninsula which were archaeologically verified, one next to the other: Emporion (Ampurias) in L’Escala and Rhode in Rosas, both in the province of Gerona / Girona. They would have been founded by the Greek Phocaeans in the 6 th century BC. Years before, Phocaean travelers would have already established the colony of Massalia (Marseille, France). On the other hand, Strabo does not rule out the possibility that Rhode was founded by the Rhodians.

In contrast, ancient writings (Geography of Strabo: Book III, 4, 6, Geography of Ptolemy: II, 6, 4) speak of other Greek foundations north of the Sucro (Segura) river:

  • Akra Leuké(that could correspond with the Ibero-Roman city of Lucentum in the Albufereta of Alicante).
  • Allonor Alonis(which would be located somewhere on the coastal strip from Villajoyosa to Calpe [Alicante], although there are authors who locate it in Santa Pola [La Picola], which Romans called Portus Ilicitanus.
  • Hemeroskopeion(which could be Denia).

To the south of the Segura the settlement of Mainake or Menace, another Greek foundation according to Strabo (Geography, III, 4, 2), could have been located (somewhere near Malaga, perhaps nearby the Cerro de los Villares, where a Phoenician settlement was established before).

Archaeology has not been able to verify Greek settlements on these places – hence, they are sometimes called ghost Greek towns- but the Greek influence was still present by way of the trade of Greek articles and the traces of the Greek alphabet in the Greek variant of the Iberian Script (look up: Leads of Alcoy, Alicante).


Phoenicians and Greeks got necessarily in touch, sometimes friendly, sometimes in a hostile attitude. Pressure exerted by Babylonians against Greek and Phoenician polis in the East, during the 6 th century BC would have had several consequences. On the one hand, the focus of Phoenician power would have moved from ancient Phoenicia to Carthago in northern Africa and, on the other hand, Greek settlers – who would have increased in number as a result of their exodus – and the «western» Phoenicians, known as Carthaginians, allied with the Etruscans would have fought in the battle of Alalia (Corsica) in 537 BC. Although the Greeks would have won this battle, their losses would have been so great that that event would have marked a before and an after in their colonial expansion. The new Carthaginian power (also called Punic) certified its hegemony in the western Mediterranean, falling the Phoenician factories in the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, among other Mediterranean settlements, under its direct influence.

The Greek presence in the Peninsula, which would not disappear, would be limited to the north-east coast (Gulf of Roses, with Emporion and Rhode). It is likely that there was a division of influences between Greeks and Punics, establishing a probable border near the mouth of the Segura River (where the town of Guardamar del Segura, Alicante is currently located). Precisely in Guardamar del Segura the most northern Phoenician remains of the peninsular Mediterranean have been found to date. Punics might have remained south and Greeks to the north.


The main Greek and Phoenician archaeological sites (and museums with Greek and Phoenician artifacts) that we can find in the Iberian Peninsula are listed in the previous post (there is a map, too). Note that you will not find information on Punic or Carthaginian settlements that were created ex novo or starting from previous outposts from the 6 th century BC onwards, after the fall of Tyre. In this regard, special mention should be made to: Cartagena, the Qart Hadast of the Punic period, the city of Lucentum (possibly the ancient Akra Leuké), Carteia in the Bay of Algeciras (a Phoenician founding at the neighboring Cerro del Prado) or to the necropolis of the Puig des Molins in Ibiza.

Iberians and Early People

Prehistoric Cave Paintings in Altamira[/caption]The caves at Atapuerca, in the Sierras east of Burgos, Castile Leon, have long been regarded as a key site for world palaeontology. At the Gran Dolina site fossils and stone tools of the earliest known hominids in Europe have been found. As recently as June, 2007, what scientists claim to be ‘the first European’ was unearthed, in the form of the jawbone and teeth of a skeleton estimated at between 1.1 and 1.2 million years old.

It is known that modern humans in the form of Cro-Magnons began arriving in the Iberian Peninsula around about 35,000 years ago. The Stone Age hunters at Altamira, near Santander, painted some of Europe’s most sophisticated cave art – colourful paintings of bisons, boars, horses and stags. Another popular Cro-Magnon site still open for people to visit is the Nerja Caves, in Andalucía.

The New Stone Age, the Neolithic era, which brought new technologies such as the plough, pottery and textiles to Spain from Mesopotamia and Egypt, came at around 6000 BC and was followed some 3000 years later by a culture of metalworking, Spain’s first site probably being near Almería at Los Millares, where local copper was made into tools and weapons. It was around this time that the impressive megalithic tombs known as dolmens were constructed – the best preserved examples are those around Antequera, in Andalucía.

The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean coastline over a period of centuries, founding various trading colonies. Around 1100 BC, the Phoenicians founded the colony of Gadir – later to become Cádiz, making this impressive and fascinating place probably the oldest continually inhabited city in Europe. Somewhere near Cádiz, perhaps underneath the marshes near the estuary of the Guadalquivir river, was the fabled, immensely wealthy city of Tartessos – Spain’s own lost city of Atlantis. Other colonies known to have been established at this time were the modern day cities of Huelva, Málaga and Almuñécar. It was from the Punic language of the Phoenicians that the modern word of España originates – coming from Isephanim, or the island of the rabbits, which was what the Phoenicians called Andalucía. At around the same time fairer skinned Celts from northern Europe were starting to settle in the north of Spain.

In the 9th century BC the first Greek colonies were founded along the eastern Mediterranean coast, including the modern day Empúries. It was the Greeks who were responsible for the name Iberia, after the river Iber – now known as the Ebro.

In the 6th century, the Carthaginians arrived in Iberia, pushing out the Greeks and establishing Carthago Nova (Cartagena) as their main city alongside Cádiz. The Carthaginians struggled for control of the peninsula with Rome during the Punic Wars of around 260 to 201 BC – which contained the famous, and futile, march of Hannibal and his elephants over the Alps towards Rome.

Although the Romans defeated Carthage, and controlled Spain for 600 years, they took much longer to overcome some of the native tribes. The Basques in northern Spain were especially troublesome to the Romans with the famous siege of Numancia being just one of the many examples of their ferocious resistance. Eventually, by around 50 BC, Hispania had become fairly Roman and was enjoying what was known as the Pax Romana period of stability during which time Hispania provided Rome with food, olive oil, wine, grain, garum (a spicy sauce seasoning) and metals – alongside such notable Spanish born Romans as the emperors Martial and Theodosius I and the philosopher Seneca. Rome, in turn, brought to Spain a road system, aqueducts, theatres, circuses, baths, temples, a legal system and, of course, the basis of the modern Spanish language.

Because Rome organised the peninsula into various sections, there were several distinct principal cities – Cartagena, Córdoba, Mérida and Tarragona. There are Roman ruins worthy of exploration all over Spain perhaps notably at Tarragona, Segovia, Itálica and Mérida – arguably the greatest Roman city outside of Rome.

Pre-historic sightseeing

Avila: Los Toros de Guisando (Celtic stone figures).
Antequera (Malaga): Menga and Viera chambers and Romeral dolmen.
Benaojan (Malaga): La Pileta Cave (Cave art).
Nerja (Malaga): Nerja Caves.
Puente Viesgo (Cantabria): Iberian images at the Castillo Cave outdate Altamira.
Santillana del Mar (Cantabria): Altamira Cave

Realigning the History of the Kilmartin Valley

What is being regarded as the most remarkable aspect of the carved deer at Dunchraigaig Cairn is the high level of anatomical detail, according to Dr. Barnett. But don’t for a moment think this was achieved because hunters gazed at their prey while it roasted over a glowing cave fire. The anatomical detail results from the fact that our ancestors were most often up to their elbows in torn animal carcasses. Through repeatedly chopping, carving, slicing and stripping, ancient hunters became highly tuned to how the muscles and bones of deer worked, and this knowledge was projected into their rock art .

HES are most interested in the fact that Neolithic communities in Scotland carved animals as well as cup and ring motifs. While to find both types of art together is relatively common at Scandinavia and Iberia Neolithic sites, until now, none were known of in Britain. With both types of carvings present at Kilmartin Glen, big questions arise pertaining to the relationship between these distinct types of carving and their significance to the people that created them.

Top image: Detail of the 5,000-year-old deer carvings discovered inside Dunchraigaig Cairn in Scotland. Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Watch the video: The Genomic History of Roman Iberia (August 2022).