Month: November 2018

Second Iron Age: Iberians, Celts and other Pre-Roman peoples

This is episode 5 called Second Iron Age: Iberians, Celts and other Pre-Roman peoples and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • Everything about the Pre-Indo-European Iberians: Iberian alphabets, urbanism, warfare and weapons, society and politics, traditions, religion, burial costumes and trade
  • Everything about the Indo-European Celts: Celtic economy, social institutions, warfare, religion, urbanism, cultures and society
  • The Celtiberians, who were famous for being ferocious and brave warriors
  • The ancient Basques, the Vascones
  • Reflections on the manipulation about the Basque identity and ethnicity done by Basque nationalism

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 5, called Second Iron Age: Iberians, Celts and other Pre-Roman peoples. In this episode you will learn about the native cultures that were coexisting in the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman conquest of Hispania. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

The first thing I would like to mention is that we must understand the ethnic, linguistic or other kind of differences I will mention here not in a strict sense, but in broad terms. The Pre-Roman cultures and peoples I will talk about today didn’t have states as we think of them today, they didn’t have strict borders, instead they were very fluid cultures that were, to a higher or lower degree, interconnected, and that sometimes intermixed. There were two major ethnic groups in the Iberian Peninsula before the Carthaginian and Roman invasions, the Iberians and the Celts. We also have the Celtiberians that were a mixed group, and the proto-Basques whose origins are still under investigation.

Pre-Roman Iberia

The Iberians were Pre-Indo-European peoples of the Neolithic stock that populated the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsula, and their culture started around the 5th century BC. Iberian culture was a bit influenced by Phoenician and Greek cultures, as we can easily see in their artistic works. What we know as Iberians though is not a unified group of peoples, but different tribes of each area of the Spanish Mediterranean that shared similar characteristics. For instance, in the Iberian territory there were multiple languages and writing systems. We know the sounds of the characters of the Iberian scriptures, but not their meaning since archeologists haven’t found an Iberian Rosetta Stone. Apart from the Greco-Iberian alphabet that used the Ionic variant of the Greek alphabet, the rest of scripts, the Northeastern Iberian, Southeastern Iberian, Tartessian and Celtiberian scripts were semi-syllabaries, which means that their writing systems were a mix of an alphabet and a syllabary. The difference is that alphabets represent phonemes and syllabaries represent syllables to make up words. It was only between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD that the Iberian language disappeared, as well as the other paleohispanic languages, since they were all replaced by Latin.

To learn about the Iberian peoples, we need to rely more on archeology rather than literature, because all the literature about them is Greco-Roman and is biased. I mean, it’s not like the Romans or Carthaginians made an anthropological study about them before their conquests. So yeah, this episode will not be narrative, just like the previous one.

Anyway, let’s get started. Iberians usually settled and built their towns on heights to easily defend the territory, and their towns could have walls too. This kind of urbanism is called oppidum and was found all over Europe. A very interesting fact is that cities that had an influence over their region controlled the area nearby by founding small towns or building disperse houses. Cities even used sculptures that represented heroic acts to justify their expansion and influence. Their architecture and urbanism were not as advanced as the earlier Tartessian urbanism, but compared to their neighbors, the Celts, they were more urbanized and less pastoralist.

They didn’t have advanced military technology like catapults until the Second Punic War, but Iberians were known as ferocious warriors that attracted the attention of foreign powers looking for mercenaries. Iberian warfare was endemic and made between tribes, to raid and pillage. Iberians stood out for their ambushes and guerrilla tactics, and the infantry used hit-and-run tactics. Now talking about their weapons, the falcata stands out as it’s the characteristic Pre-Roman sword of the Iberian tribes. The falcata has a single-edged blade that pitches forwards towards the point, the edge being concave near the hilt, but convex near the point, and they don’t only surprise by their shape, but also by the quality of the iron. The famous Gladius Hispaniensis inspired the Roman military to adopt those swords after the Punic Wars in their Republican Army. See an image of a falcata in your podcast player, on thehistoryofspain.com or looking it up on Google. Iberian soldiers also used spears, javelins, they had both small and large shields, and Iberian horsemen were highly regarded.

iberian falcata

On another note, Iberian society was as stratified as any other urbanized society at the time, with its kings or chieftains, nobles, priests, artisans, peasants and slaves. The nobles met in councils and chieftains maintained their power through a system of vassalage and servitude. The nobility was a warrior class, as it’s evidenced by the sculptures and necropolis found that idealize aristocratic values. Iberian societies were extremely divided politically and led by caudillos, and only some united in confederacies to defend the territory from the Carthaginian and Roman invaders.

Among their customs, we find the Iberian devotio, a pact of vassalage where the devoti or clients swore to protect their caudillo or king, in exchange for protection and a higher social status. If the leader died, the devoti had to commit suicide as they also vowed to protect their leader to the gods. This social institution played a major role in some heroic last stands seen during the Roman conquest of Hispania, and it served Roman interests later because Iberians quickly embraced the cult to the emperor. The Romans had a similar institution, but their devotio was radically different, since in their case the Romans devoted to gods to guarantee a military victory in exchange for their life, while Iberians offered their life to protect a person.

ex vote iberian figurines religion

Archeologists haven’t found any big sanctuary, instead religious rites seem to have been performed domestically and in the open. Iberians didn’t like to represent their divinities like Greeks did, therefore we know very little about their religious beliefs. Nonetheless both the Greeks and Phoenicians influenced their religious practices, as some of their deities were known and worshiped. On the other hand, they used ex-vote figurines that were unique, which means that they represented a different individual each time. Iberians offered the ex-vote figurines to the gods in open air sanctuaries, usually for health issues, and animal ritual sacrifice was commonly performed as well.

About their burial methods, Iberians always incinerated the bodies of the dead, using a funeral pyre structure. In their necropolis we can observe how stratified their society was, with bigger tombs for the aristocratic families. Two good examples of their aristocratic burials are the Lady of Baza and the Lady of Elche. Both are beautiful sculptures that represented noble women, and they both had a hole in the back that contained the ashes of the women the sculptures represented. Therefore, thus sculptures functioned as funerary urns, and I encourage you to Google the precious works that are the Lady of Baza and Lady of Elche or to visit in thehistoryofspain.com the post of this episode, because I will post their images there as well as in a meta mark compatible podcast player.

Lady of Baza

Lady of Elche

On the other hand, Iberians traded extensively with other Mediterranean people, as Iberian pottery and metalwork can be found in France, Italy, Greece or North Africa. Horse breeding was important for the nobility, and the mining and metalwork activities were important in the Ebro Valley and the region of Murcia. Grain-producing agriculture was the most important economic activity though, and it was the base that sustained a demographic growth from the 5th century BC onwards. They also had livestock of small animals like sheep, goats and pigs, and again, Iberian pottery was demanded for its quality. Iberians imported luxury items, especially from the Greeks, like pottery, jewels and perfumes. It’s interesting to see how it’s almost impossible to find Athenian coins considering the amounts of Athenian pottery found in Iberia, something that indicates that trade with these items was done through intermediaries from the Greek colonies of southern Italy or France. From the 3rd century BC on, Iberians from areas near Greek or Punic colonies coined their own currency, which signals their increasing direct involvement in trade.

Focusing on a particular group of Iberians, we have the Turdetani that succeeded the Tartessians. They were Iberians, in the sense that they descend from the Neolithic settlers, but their language was quite different from those spoken by the Iberians. Instead, the Turdetani spoke a language closely related to the Tartessian language and they lived in the Guadalquivir Valley just as the Tartessians did. The Turdetani were the most urbanized and least warlike people of the Iberian Peninsula, as described by Greek geographer and historian Strabo. This is a quote from him about the Turdetani: “The Turdetanians are ranked as the wisest of the Iberians; and they make use of an alphabet, and possess records of their ancient history, poems, and laws written in verse that are six thousand years old, as they assert.” Every ancient geographer praised the wealth and fertility of the region of the Turdetani, even though they weren’t as wealthy as the Tartessians used to be. The Turdetani exported wheat, wine, oil, salt and of course they kept exporting silver, copper, gold and iron, although presumably not in the same magnitude seen with Tartessos. The era of Carthaginian and then Roman presence further developed the Guadalquivir Valley. In relation to their political organization, they seem to have been politically divided in monarchical city-states before the Carthaginians and Romans arrived. Even though they weren’t warlike, the political power was based on military power, as it happened in other Iberian societies. The Turdetani society was very unequal, with an aristocracy that lived the good life while most of the people lived in a state of servitude, working in agricultural and mining activities. That explains why Carthaginians easily used native slaves when they conquered southern Spain.

Moving on, we have the Celtic tribes of Indo-European origin that migrated to the center, north and west of the Iberian Peninsula during the first half of the 1st millennium BC and mixed with the natives that were already there. The development of those Celts was lower than that of the Iberians, primarily because they didn’t interact directly with Phoenician or Greek colonizers. Some tribes were predominantly agriculturalists, growing almost exclusively wheat, but the majority were semi-pastoralists. Something that really demonstrates how their society was is that the property of the terrain was communal, but the livestock was private. They had social institutions like the hospitium or devotio with the hospitium being a pact between equals and the devotio being a pact between unequals. Their basic social organization were the gens, which means relationships based on kinship. The gens represented a larger and more important group for the Celts than the nuclear family. We see the manifestation of this social institution in their homes, where they had big family meals and every relative slept under the same roof. That changed with the Roman conquest though, and the belonging to a city or the parentage mattered more.

ruins iberian celts town castro culture

The Celts were bellicose, therefore many served as mercenaries in foreign armies. Romans linked their belligerent society with their poverty, and they justified their conquests by saying that there was the need to pacify those barbarian and warlike peoples. We know that they shared some gods with the rest of the Celts of Europe, like Lug, the god of war, Cernunnos, the god of fertility, or Epona, goddess of horses that you may know because of Zelda.  Celts had many local deities, and they either had druids or the aristocracy performed the religious rituals. To end with the general description of the Celts, I wanted to add that their urbanization was based on the Castro culture, which means that they built walled oppida and hillforts known as ‘castros’.

In the west, Lusitanians and Vettones were the most notorious peoples. They lived in the area that is Portugal today, in addition to Extremadura and the western provinces of Castile. It’s not clear whether they were Celts with strong indigenous traits, or Pre-Celts heavily influenced by Celtic cultures. The Vettones had a differentiated culture, the culture of the verracos, which consisted in erecting monuments and sculptures portraying animals like bulls or pigs. The meaning of their symbolism isn’t clear, it could have been religious, economic or funerary. The Lusitanians lived in more fertile lands than the Vettones, therefore agriculture had a more important role, and the mining sector was relevant too. Trade, metalwork and craft activities were marginal prior to the Roman conquest though, while fishing and hunting constituted important economic activities, as well as horse-breeding. The size of one’s livestock showed the power and prestige of a person. Due to social inequalities, some of the poor lived as bandits, and brigandage wasn’t precisely a minor problem in Lusitania or Celtiberia, especially during the instability of the Roman conquest.

The northern Celts of the Iberian Peninsula were the poorest of all. They drank water or beer instead of wine, they slept on the ground, men grew long hair like women, they ate acorn and chestnuts for half a year and they didn’t use coins. That’s understandable, since they were very far from the focuses of developed and urbanized civilizations. Apart from gathering fruits, they relied mostly on ranching to feed themselves, and there are some good mines in the north so northern tribes extracted some raw materials like gold, tin or iron and sold them. The social organization and costumes of the northern Celts have been an object of study, because Latin texts said that the Cantabri and Astures had matriarchal societies. The fact that Northern Celtic women farmed, inherited land and had the power to arrange marriages for their brothers shocked the Romans.

Now let’s talk about the mix of Iberians and Celts, the Celtiberians. When I say a mix here, it’s not a genetic mix in general, but a cultural mix. The Celtiberians were Celts, aka Indo-European, but with a culture influenced by that of the Iberians. They shared the same social institutions and religion with the rest of the Celts, but their material culture was strongly influenced by that of the Iberians. Ancient sources diverge while delimiting the region of Celtiberia, but they lived around the Sistema Ibérico or Iberian System that it’s located in the eastern part of the Meseta Central. The area apparently experienced a demographic and economic growth that also provoked a higher degree of urbanization and the emergence of walled towns in Celtiberia. Celtiberians were more pastoralists than agriculturalists, a particularity that has to do with the ecological conditions of their lands. I know that I have said the same about the others, but Celtiberians were especially famous for being ferocious and brave warriors, and archeological findings suggest that as early as the 7th or 6th century BC the area that corresponds to the Celtiberians developed a warrior and stratified society. The Celtiberians played a major role in the native resistance against the Roman conquest, but we will see that in an upcoming episode.

The last natives that need to be mentioned are the proto-Basques. The ancient Basques were called Vascones, and they lived a bit more eastwards than today, occupying the Western Pyrenees as well as the eastern half of modern-day Basque Country. Those people were related to the Aquitanians that lived in southwestern France, but we know very few details about their culture and even today the Basques are an object of study because their genetic and linguistic origins are a mystery. What archeologists and ancient sources say is that their culture was influenced by the Celtic cultures, so consider all the points I mentioned about the Celts and the majority of the characteristics would apply to the Vascones.

THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to discuss the historic manipulation done by Basque nationalists in relation to who they are. To talk about this issue, I must first define what an ethnicity is. An ethnicity is a complex issue, because it has much to do with how we perceive first ourselves as belonging to a certain group and then how the others perceive us. The identity of an ethnicity is built around multiple factors, where each factor can be considered of different importance according to each ethnicity. As factors, we have race, language, religion, material culture, ideology, among others. The thing with the Basques is that nationalism created an image of the Basques as an ancient, isolated and distinct race, and two important problems that create nationalism are the national myth that has little to do with actual, scientific history, and the fact that nationalism presents nations as fixed groups that don’t change, which of course it’s false. People interact with each other and no human ethnicity is isolated, therefore we can’t understand cultures or nations as fixed entities. Remember this, and this applies to all nationalisms, cultures are dynamic and that’s how humanity has advanced. And with that, The Verdict ends.

As we have seen, the Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula were quite heterogenous. We have the pre-Indo-European Iberians and Vascones, the Celts and the Greek and Phoenician colonies that heavily influenced the natives. It wasn’t until the Roman conquest of Hispania that all those people were unified. To end this episode, let me remind you that the podcast has a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes and a list of books about the history of Spain available on Amazon and you can also subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you learned something and enjoyed today’s episode, thank you for listening!

Sources

DE IBERIA A HISPANIA. Francisco Gracia Alonso

LOS PUEBLOS PRERROMANOS DE LA PENÍNSULA IBÉRICA. Manuel Salinas de Frías

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. DESDELA PREHISTORIA HASTA LA CONQUISTA ROMANA. Planeta

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. HISPANIA ANTIGUA. Domingo Plácido

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npurYRPN9Zo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8XirXeRitc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdZeIvFG-6s

https://es.slideshare.net/josecarabulense/iberos-y-celtas-en-la-pennsula-ibrica

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Book review: Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931-1936

Spain's First Democracy: The Second Republic 1931-1936 book cover

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Review Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931–1936

Hispanist historian Stanley G. Payne gives us his vast knowledge about the Second Spanish Republic in this book called Spain’s First Democracy: The Second Republic, 1931-1936. This book is a must-have if you want to understand the backstory of the subsequent Spanish Civil War. Payne explores the reforms, politics, church-state relations, education, culture, public works, military and society of this decisive period of Spanish history. Among other things, he explores the political polarization of the Left and Right and the political violence that was so relevant for the start of the civil war and the later downfall of the Republic.

This is what academic reviews say about this work:

“Because of the enormous attention that has been paid to the Spanish Civil War, Spain’s Second Republic has been generally ill-served by historians. Most have treated the period from 1931 to 1936 as the backdrop to the war itself, and therefore they have tended to judge the Republican experience in a negative light. Stanley G. Payne’s latest book is a welcome departure from this historiographical practice. By clearly establishing the historical connections between the Second Republic and the various reform and modernizing movements of earlier periods, Payne convincingly demonstrated that there was a substantial political and economic infrastructure on which a durable democratic government could have been built.” – American Historical Review

“The Spanish Second Republic, created in 1931 following the fall of the Monarchy, is often overlooked or simply dismissed as a prelude to the Civil War of 1936-9. But as Stanley Payne convincingly shows in the first overview of the Republic to be published in English for some time, this failed regime was no mere isolated parenthesis in the rush towards bloodshed. Rather, it was a complex democratic experiment comparable to that of Weimar Germany, part of the Europe-wide tide of liberalization that flowed and ebbed after the First World War.” – Tim Rees, University of Exeter

“Payne’s scope in this book is very impressive. The totality of the political and social struggle during this period is his greatest success – The Second Republic as a process.” – Robert Kern, University of New Mexico

 

Summary of reviews: there are few reviews available, but everyone recognizes that Stanley G. Payne is the greatest American Hispanist at this time. Consider buying this book if you want to better understand the 1930s of Spain.

Book review: The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy

The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy cover

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To find more books on the history of Spain, check out the List history of Spain books section.

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Review The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy

The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy is the greatest work of historian Peter H. Wilson. In more than 850 pages he tells us the story of the devastaiting Thirty Years’ War that devastated Germany, caused the decline of Habsburg Spain and the rise of France as the predominant European power and consolidated the split between Catholics and Protestants.

This is what editorials say about the book:

“Among continental Europeans, the Thirty Years War is etched in memory…A definitive account has been needed, and now Peter Wilson, one of Britain’s leading historians of Germany, has provided it. The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy is a history of prodigious erudition that manages to corral the byzantine complexity of the Thirty Years War into a coherent narrative. It also offers a bracingly novel interpretation. Historians typically portray the Thirty Years War as the last and goriest of Europe’s religious wars–a final bonfire of the zealots before the cooler age of enlightened statecraft. Mr. Wilson severely qualifies this conventional wisdom. It turns out that the quintessential war of religion was scarcely one at all…Wilson’s masterful account of the Thirty Years War is a reminder that war, and peace, are almost never the offspring of conviction alone.”- Jeffrey Collins, Wall Street Journal

“Peter Wilson’s book is a major work, the first new history of the Thirty Years’ War in a generation. It is a fascinating, brilliantly written attempt to explain a compelling series of events, which tore the heart out of Europe.” – The Times

“[It] succeeds brilliantly. It is huge both in its scene-setting and its unfolding narrative detail…It is to Wilson’s credit that he can both offer the reader a detailed account of this terrible and complicated war and step back to give due summaries. His scholarship seems to me remarkable, his prose light and lovely, his judgments fair. This is a heavyweight book, no doubt. Sometimes, though, the very best of them have to be.” – Paul Kennedy, Sunday Times

This is what buyers on Amazon say:

“This book is 851 pages long in the paperback edition. That said, it’s well-written and not at all a difficult read. If you want a complete history of the Thirty Years War in English that moves with ease and facility between detailed, blow-by-blow accounts of battles (with great battlefield maps!) and larger macro developments across Europe, this is your best option. If you are new to the Thirty Years War and/or want a shorter, even more readable account, consider CV Wedgwood’s classic narrative history The Thirty Years War. That book is about half the length of this one (and gives shorter shrift to the second half of the war).” – Nick Kapur

I purchased this book on September 15th, and it has taken me this long to digest the contents (while reading other books.) Make no mistake, the Thirty Years War was extremely complex, and reading about it will be necessarily slow to allow the reader to fully comprehend the subject. This work is extraordinary in that it starts well before 1618 to address the causes of the war, and ends well after 1648 with three chapters addressing the impact of the two treaties ending the war (Osnabrueck and Muenster, together called the Treaty of Westphalia,) the costs of the war, and the general population’s experiences and adaptations.

This is only the third general book on the war I have read in English, the other two being Wedgwood, “The Thirty Years War” and Parker, “The Thirty Years War”, although I have read a number of books in German on the subject including Schiller and Jessen. There are also books more limited in scope that I could recommend like “Wallenstein” by Golo Mann. But so far, this work seems to me to be the gold standard.

It is impossible today to depict the utter devastation visited on the German population during this war, and the author frankly doesn’t try. The book is primarily concerned with the political and military maneuvering that allowed the war to break out and continue for so long. Even in Chapter 22, “The Human and Material Cost”, the focus is on the macro level. The discussion of populations deaths in Germany have ranged from fifteen to eighty-three (5/6ths) percent, although the author, after much discussion, adopts twenty percent in one place and thirty in another. Certainly the populations of many towns were extirpated, and killings by soldiers of civilians and vice-versa was endemic outside of the formal battles. Regardless of the true percentage which most authorities agree was around 40%, the effect on the civilian population was unbelievable, and a country with a promising middle class was reduced to desolation and want. Only in the last chapter does the author touch upon the subject, and then only lightly. As late as 1980, Germans rated the Thirty Years War as the most devastating event in their country’s history, World Wars I and II notwithstanding. Throughout the conflict foreign armies or armies of a competing religion passed through communities and regions looting, murdering, raping, and burning at every opportunity.

I found the author’s attempt to downplay religion most interesting although it was impossible for me to agree with his analysis. Many writers have cast the war as Protestant versus Roman Catholic, and indeed, armies were generally made up almost exclusively of adherents of one religion or the other. Certainly religious issues were paramount when soldiers murdered civilians, and it must be remembered that this was an age in which people died over the number of sacrements or the reality of transubstantiation. As the author points out, princes (most notably a number of Protestant princes) converted from one religion to the other for political purposes (politicians are always venal and opportunistic), but the general population tended to fight for their religion to the last extremity. I don’t mean to argue the point with the author, but this was essentially the only point where I felt he was in error.

The maps of the various battles are useful, but my volume lacked an overall map of the area of conflict. Actually, several are needed to reflect the situation at various times (consider a single map showing World War II.) Supposedly there was to be a map of Europe in 1618 in the end papers, but it was not present — instead there was s chart of the Habsburg Family Tree. This deficiency of area maps seems to be common in works on the Thirty Years War, but perhaps the next edition will add them.

This book is split into three parts, “Beginnings,” “Conflict” and “Aftermath.” The “Beginnings” contains eight chapters of the evolution towards the war and spans 268 pages. I found this part to be the best, not the least since it is usually skated over in other works. The “Conflict” part is somewhat mind-numbing (480 pages with 12 chapters) and most recommended for those interested in the military campaigns of Ferdinand, Wallenstein, Tilly, Gustavus Adolphus and the lesser lights. This is where one can become bogged down with the constant campaigning, shifting alliances, and ever-changing conditions. The analysis in the third part, “Aftermath” (90 pages) must be read carefully to understand the impact of the war of subsequent history. All parts are valuable but may appeal to different readers.

This is a very scholarly work, and the notes (73 pages) are extremely valuable. There is no bibliography or list of references, and the reader must use the notes for guidance.

I highly recommend this work to everyone interested in early modern times or the seventeenth century in Europe. In addition, this is an awesome reference work for one to be able to refer back to some incident or issue in the Thirty Years War. This conflict did not become fully resolved until Bismarck’s consolidation of Germany late in the 19th century, so its impact was far-reaching and important.” – Arkansaw Traveler

Summary of reviews: most are positives, but there are some that signal the fact that it’s a very dense book full of details that can make the reading difficult and too scholarly. Make sure you are really interested in the topic before you buy the book, but if you are this is the best one-volume English book about the conflict!

Book review: De Pavía a Rocroi

de pavía a rocroi los tercios españoles julio albi

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To find more books on the history of Spain, check out the List history of Spain books section.

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Review De Pavía a Rocroi

De Pavía a Rocroi is a Spanish book written in 1999 by Julio Albi de la Cuesta that has been recently republished by editorial Desperta Ferro. It’s a +400 pages book written in Spanish that tells the story of the legendary infantry units of Spain, the Tercios. The Tercios were a type of infantry organization that sought a parallel rise and fall with the Spanish Empire, and that certainly contributed to the period of Spanish military dominance. It’s not only focused on the military history of the Tercios, it also tells the kind of daily life that the soldiers of the Tercios lived and the spirit and discipline of this infantry.

This is what buyers say on Amazon.es:

“Fantastic book with everything related to the Tercios. Very good edition with an excellent carthography, and the author is very divulgative and pleasant. The only thing is that you should read beforehand something more basic like Esparza and Parker. From my point of view, it’s the best book about the Tercios, no doubt.” – Marcos75

“This book is wonderful, it describes perfectly how the Tercios were managed, plus the causes and consequences of their successes and failures.” – Iván A. Recio Cabrera

This is what users of Goodreads say:

“Anyone who wants to have a good idea of what the Spanish Tercios supposed (origins, organization, endemic problems, customs, evolution, decadence) should go into these pages. However, the interest must be genuine. The detailed descriptions of battles and number of contenders, along the military jargon, demand effort from the reader.

Those who seek an outrageous panegyric truffled with epic, exaggeration and patriotic nostalgia will find nothing to satisfy their hunger. The author deals with the phenomenon with objectivity and exhaustive encouragement, far from exaltation and mythology.” – César

“Great work of Spanish military literature. Despite having already heard his virtues and having high expectations, Julio Albi does not disappoint the least. With an exquisite Spanish, the author manages to make a study, at times surprisingly meticulous, of two centuries of practically continuous combat.

We could divide his work into two parts: the first half aimed at explaining the organization of the troops organically and internally. And a second, in which we delight in learning what were the Tercios in combat: both on land and by sea, without forgetting their great work in the trenches of Europe.

Essential work for those who want to know about what was, for two centuries, the best infantry of its time.” – Pablo de Angulo R-M

Finally, this is what Archivohistoria.com says about this book:

“Experts and ignorants in the field will be satisfied with this work, a classic already, that together with “The army of Flanders and the Spanish road” by Geoffrey Parker and “The Tercios” by René Quatrefages completes the perfect trilogy to know the rise and decline of the Tercios. An essential essay for lovers of military history that returns to the bookstores by the hand of Desperta Ferro.”

Summary of reviews: all are very positive, and I think it’s important to highlight that it’s not a work with a nationalist bias, it’s an objective work aimed to teach every aspect of the Tercios and their history. Very recommended to learn how Spain dominated militarily Europe and the New World.

First Iron Age: Tartessos, Phoenicians and Greeks

This is episode 4 called First Iron Age: Tartessos, Phoenicians and Greeks and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • The emergence of Tartessos in the Guadalquivir Valley area, the literary references and the possible location of their capital
  • The importance of mineral resources for the rise of Tartessian culture, that is a confluence between native and Phoenician cultures
  • The findings of El Turuñuelo led by Sebastián Celestino and Esther Rodríguez
  • The political system and myths of Tartessos
  • A quick overview to Tartessian history, from their rise to their fall in the 5th century BC
  • Where did the Phoenicians come from, where did they build their colonies and in what did they base their power
  • The peaceful collaboration between Tartessians and Phoenicians
  • What did the Phoenicians bring to Spain
  • The fall of Phoenician power after the fall of Tyre in 573 BC
  • The Greek Phocaean colonies like Emporion or Rhodes in eastern Spain (Catalonia and Valencia)
  • How and why were the Greek colonial expeditions organized
  • The rise of Emporion

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 4, called First Iron Age: Tartessos, Phoenicians and Greeks. In this episode you will discover the fascinating and mysterious Tartessian culture, and the Iberian colonies of Phoenicians and Greeks. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

The waves of Indo-European immigrants, and later Phoenician and Greek colonists, changed the ways of living, brought new technologies, new religious beliefs and burial costumes, and many other things that changed the societies that populated the Iberian Peninsula. The Iron Age started in Iberia in 700 BC, with important regional differences.

Around the Guadalquivir Valley a new culture emerged in 1000 BC, the Tartessian culture, that lived in a very fertile land suitable for agriculture and rich in mineral resources. The Tartessos have been a matter of deep investigation because they are surrounded by mystery. I mean, some even argue that the Greek myth of Atlantis was based on the fall of the Tartessos! In the Bible the word Tarsis is mentioned multiple times, and although it could have different meanings like long distance maritime trade or a type of precious stone, Tarsis could mean the land of the Tartessos. It’s mentioned in the Old Testament that the ships of Solomon and Hiram travelled to Tarsis in the 10th century BC and that they returned loaded with gold, silver and ivory, among other things. In the Greco-Roman sources we have more confusing information about them. According to some authors Phoenicians founded the Tartessian culture, in relation to their location some said that their capital was in Cádiz while others said it was nearby, and that Tartessos was the name of the main city and not their region of influence.

The mainstream academic thought nowadays is that Tartessian culture is a confluence of native and Phoenician cultures. The most likely location of the capital of Tartessos is Huelva, in the west of Cádiz and Seville, as its red-colored river called Río Tinto contains high levels of iron and other heavy metals, and the nearby area has mines of copper, silver, gold and tin. Furthermore, the estuary of the Guadalquivir River was located more in today’s inland in the first millennium BC, and there’s a theory that locates the city of Tartessos in a delta of the river that is now underground.

What is clear is that the Tartessians were important producers of gold and silver. We not only have literary references about their mineral wealth, but also archeological evidence that confirms it. We have treasures of gold and silver that were decorated in detail, tools for extracting and working metals, beautiful religious artifacts… You should go and search it in Google Images to see how incredible their works were or visit thehistoryofspain.com where I will post some images.

tartessian treasure el carambolo

The Tartessians preferred small but dispersed towns rather than big urban concentrations. The location of Tartessian towns was based on the location of resources, like close to mines, or fertile lands, or rivers, which suggests that they had a complex and integrated economic system in the area of Western Andalusia. The lack of walls and weapons, and the easy-to-access location of towns suggests that their society was pacific and focused on trade instead of conquest.

The problem to learn more about Tartessos is that the cities that historians consider to be the most prominent of the civilization are Cádiz, Huelva and Seville. All of them are important cities of Spain so archeological research is complicated, because apart from the modern city we have the Medieval and Roman cities underground before the Tartessian cities. In fact, the majority of archeological findings of Tartessos have been found in what’s considered the Tartessian area of influence, in the interior rural region of Extremadura, along the Guadiana river. There are the spectacular rests of El Turuñuelo for instance, that is a very big and at least two-floor building that has yet to be totally excavated. The building was burned and sealed at the end of the 5th century BC, when Celtic tribes were invading the region. Archeologists led by Sebastián Celestino and Esther Rodríguez have found more than 50 sacrificed animals, half being horses, the bones of an adult man, and architecturally advanced structures, that only with 15% of the site excavated! In all Tartessian urban structures there were sanctuaries, and it’s important to mention here that sanctuaries were not only religious centers, but also commercial centers. A sanctuary was a neutral zone were merchants and customers had their interests protected by divinities. Furthermore, Tartessian altars were very unique, since those altars had the shape of a skin of bull spread out, and they could be found both at sanctuaries and homes.

el turuñuelo

Their political system was probably a confederacy of city-states ruled by several hereditary monarchies. Their religious beliefs and myths were quite complex, as advanced as those of the Greek civilization, and Tartessian mythology was influenced by Oriental ideas brought by the Phoenicians. You see, they had a pastoralist vision of the origin of humanity. The Tartessian people believed that their mythologic founder Geryon had three heads and that he had a herd of oxen. Yeah, this Geryon is the same that appears in Greek mythology, in the 10th work of Heracles aka Hercules. Later, King Gargoris founded the second dynasty and taught the Tartessians how to collect honey and trade. He was the father of Habis, a son born from an incestuous relationship of Gargoris with one of her daughters, and Gargoris tried to kill Habis but failed. Habis was breastfed by a doe until he grew up as a man. Then Habis became kind of a demigod that taught his people how to plow, he made laws to organize the society and he divided the society in social classes. Yeah, all those mythic kings resemble the Greek myths, I know.

The only historic king with literary references is Arganthonios, who reigned between the 7th and 6th century BC. Due to his longevity, he may not have been a single man but a dynasty, but who knows. Interestingly, his name, or nickname, reveals how closely linked was the silver wealth with the Tartessian civilization. According to Greek historian Herodotus, King Arganthonios offered the Greeks of Asia Minor, the Phocaeans, the opportunity to settle in Iberia. The Phocaeans refused his offer but accepted an envoy of money to build walls to prevent the attack of the Persians.

Okay, so let’s make a very quick overview of the history of Tartessos. From the 8th century BC onwards, Phoenician presence in South Iberia increased. The mineral wealth of Tartessos attracted many Phoenician colonists and those colonists influenced Tartessian politics, religion and culture. The Phoenicians brought with them new technologies, beliefs and urban planning. Tartessian trade with the rest of the known world increased, and that stimulated specialization and the stratification of their society. Tartessians quickly adopted the Phoenician religious beliefs, as well as their more advanced methodology to work with metals. But the fall of Tyre in 573 BC in the hands of the Neo-Babylonian Empire provoked a decline of Phoenician influence, while Greek and Carthaginian traders and colonists became more important. The 6th century BC is a period of instability for Tartessos, and the area started its economic and political decline at the end of that century. Tartessian culture disappeared in the 5th century BC, with the Turdetani culture succeeding Tartessos. Some researchers like archeologist Adolf Schulten defended the theory that Tartessos was destroyed by Carthage as they wanted to colonize and control the mineral riches of the region, but the causes of their fall are still uncertain. The interest for Tartessian mineral wealth fell, as Sicily and Sardinia became exporters of mineral resources, with the advantage of being closer to the wealthier Eastern Mediterranean states and the emerging Etruscans of Italy. In addition to that, geologists have recently discovered that there was an earthquake and tsunami in the area during that period, which could explain the disappearance of Tartessos and maybe the myth of Atlantis.

But from where did the Phoenicians, that I have mentioned so many times, came from? Phoenicia was the region that today Lebanon occupies, yes, in the Levant region of the Eastern Mediterranean. Imagine how important Tartessos was as a center of metal extraction and production that they came from that far! Well, because of that and because they didn’t get along with Assyria, so they were forced to make long-distance trade. The Semitic Phoenicians first founded Cádiz and they slowly built new colonies along the southern Spanish coast. Phoenicians always looked for islets or small peninsulas and settled there, as that provided a balance between easy access for trade and natural defenses. Their commercial colonies required docks and suitable lands for agriculture and ranching. Phoenicians based their influence over other civilizations like Tartessos not on military power but economic and cultural superiority.

What did the Phoenicians trade with the Tartessians? They traded wine, pottery and ivory for the metals and salt of the Tartessians. We must understand the Phoenician colonies in the context of increasing contacts and trade networks of the Mediterranean peoples, that traded from east to west and from north to south. They didn’t build that overnight, the Phoenician traders first made irregular contacts and then installed themselves in the most important cities of southern Spain before founding colonies of their own; and they didn’t build their trade networks alone, they used the help of Sardinian and Iberian Atlantic navigators that already traded in Tartessos. This is not even a Phoenician vs natives kind of story, many Tartessians actively collaborated with Phoenicians in their trade and with the construction of colonies because that benefited them as individuals. It’s in the 8th century BC, between 800 and 700 BC, that Phoenicians prioritized their interests in the coasts of North Africa and Southern Iberia.

Phoenicians brought with them the written word to Iberia, iron, coins, new weapons, new methodologies to extract and work metals and to produce clothes, the consumption of wine and the use of oil and ivory became more common, they introduced donkeys, chickens, lentils, chickpea, and of course their own costumes of urbanism, burials and religion.

After founding Cádiz, or Gadir as it was called, Phoenicians settled along the Strait of Gibraltar, and later they also expanded to the Portuguese coasts and to Mediterranean Andalusia. In Portugal Phoenician traders could buy gold and tin that was easier to find in the Atlantic than in the Mediterranean, and they exchanged their manufactured products at high prices since the journey was long and dangerous. Although their main interest was to get metals like silver or copper from Iberia, Phoenician traders diversified the products they imported during the 7th century BC. We see that by the fact that archeologists have found Phoenician products in towns with no mines nearby. Historians think that those Tartessian and Lusitanian towns probably exported salt, agricultural and livestock products, and wild resources like honey.

In the 6th century BC Phoenician traders lost their hegemony over the region of Valencia and Eastern Andalusia, and the local population learned to manufacture products with their own unique characteristics and gained more importance in trade. The Phoenician population either emigrated or integrated with the local culture, something quite different compared to the case of Western Andalusia. After the fall of Tyre, the Phoenicians lost their thalassocracy and the Phoenician colonies in the West Mediterranean had to take care of themselves. The city that emerged as the capital of the Western Phoenician world was Carthage. It’s important to note that each municipality was pretty independent from the metropolis, the Phoenician and later Punic colonies were organized as city-states. At the end of the 6th century BC Carthage and Cádiz, as well as other minor cities, made an alliance to dominate the Western Mediterranean. Phoenician presence under the protection of Carthage still continued for a very long time.

The Greeks travelled and founded colonies in the Iberian Peninsula for the same reason the Phoenicians did, to trade and to get access to more copper, silver and gold. The first Greek object found in Iberia was from the 8th century BC, a date 2 or more centuries later from that of the Phoenicians. The city-state that was more active in the colonization of Iberia was Phocaea. The Greeks called the region of Catalonia and Valencia Iberia, a concept that was of course used afterwards to refer to the entire peninsula. They founded colonies in Catalonia, like Emporion, modern-day Ampurias, or Rhodes, modern-day Rosas. Those may have been intermediate cities used both to trade with the natives close to the colonies and to trade with the Tartessos of southern Spain that were still relevant in the 6th century BC. While the Phoenicians dominated southern Spain, the Greeks dominated the poorer regions of Catalonia and Valencia. It’s important to highlight that Phoenician and Greeks weren’t like bitter enemies that monopolized those areas, Phoenician traders could go to the Greek areas of influence and the other way around too. In any case, after the fall of Phocaea due to the invasion of the Persians in 546 BC, far-away colonies like Emporion grew with an influx of refugees. As a matter of fact, I visited the archeological rests of Emporion and it’s pretty impressive, the site hasn’t been completely excavated but it was nice. Most of the remnants of Emporion were from the Roman period though, there were many Roman homes and even a wall with a dick chiseled on it.

greek phoenician and carthaginian trade routes and colonies

Myths of the 8th century BC like the story of how Hercules stole the oxen of Gerion in Iberia or how he obtained the golden apples of the Garden of the Hesperides, denote the mystical and mysterious image that Greeks had about the peninsula at the time. It was only later that Greeks traders and colonists made regular contacts with the Iberian Peninsula, since they focused more in the colonies of the Italic Peninsula. The legends told by the Phoenicians about a land wealthy in mineral resources attracted Greek traders. During the Peloponnesian War and the Greco-Persian Wars Greeks learned how to build massive navies quickly and with better durability than those of the Phoenicians. The colonial expeditions were usually organized by the Greek city-states during a time of demographic boom or in a year with a bad harvest, in order to prevent revolts and to lower the demographic pressure. Colonial expeditions were led by oikistes, which were men of aristocratic linage that represented the authority of the polis overseas. Oikistes had the power to perform the rites required to establish a colony, to choose the area to settle, to distribute the land among the colonists and to define the institutions of the new settlements.

The commerce in Greece was more private than in Phoenicia, and the political power only intervened if there was a political or economic crisis. To start commercial operations Greek traders usually obtained a financial credit to hire a crew and rent out a ship. Emporion, a Greek colony in Catalonia that literally means “market”, was not an exclusive Greek trade center, Etruscans, Phoenicians, Gauls and Iberians traded there as well, and the same happened pretty much everywhere in the Mediterranean. Around 535 BC, the Battle of Alalia took place between Greek Phocaean refugees that migrated to Corsica and Carthage and the Etruscans. The naval battle was a pyrrhic Greek victory and they had to migrate again, some went to mainland Italy, others to Massalia, modern-day Marseille, and a few to Emporion. Due to the population growth, Emporion expanded beyond the small island where the Phocaeans first settled. The colony grew enough to become a small, independent city-state of its own, as its evidenced by the fact that they started producing coins. The coins of Emporion were quickly adopted in the area of Catalonia and southern France, and the city was quite important between the 5th and 3rd century BC. After that, you know that the Roman Republic started overshadowing the Greeks.

THE VERDICT: Today’s verdict is a revindication of the Phoenician heritage, and I say that because the influence of the Phoenicians in Iberia has often been underrated. That’s because Spain is an heir of the Roman Empire, which in turn inherited the Greek culture. But following this process, the Classic Greek culture was influenced by the Phoenicians as well, not only in arts but even their alphabet is an adaptation of the Phoenician alphabet. Maybe it’s true that in the long term the Greeks influenced more modern-day Spain, but I find important to highlight here that during the First Iron Age Phoenicians had a much vaster influence than that of the Greeks. I don’t know if it’s because Spanish nationalism rejects our Semitic influences or because it’s cooler to say that Spain is the descendant of Greco-Roman cultures that gave birth to Western civilization. In any case, this kind of oversimplifications get on our way to know history, not mystified history, but real history. And with that, The Verdict ends.

I hope you enjoy the launch episodes, I know that the topics covered aren’t the most interesting of Spanish history but I wanted to start the history of Spain from the start. In any case, give me some feedback, I want to know if you liked it, if you think I’m boring or I don’t pronounce some things well you can also say that to me, no worries. In the next episode I will cover the cultures of the Iberians, Celts, Celtiberians and Basques, before we get into the Second Punic War that is when proper written history starts in Spain. To end this episode, let me remind you that the podcast has a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes and a list of books about the history of Spain available on Amazon and you can also subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, and follow the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. DESDE LA PREHISTORIA HASTA LA CONQUISTA ROMANA (SIGLO III a.C.). Planeta

DE IBERIA A HISPANIA. Francisco Gracia Alonso and others

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA VOLUMEN 1. HISPANIA ANTIGUA. Domingo Plácido

TARTESSOS AND THE PHOENICIANS IN IBERIA. Sebastián Celestino and Carolina López-Ruiz

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KC_zV64oFI

 

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age in Iberia

This is episode 3 called Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age in Iberia and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • How was the Iberian Peninsula during the Prehistory, except for the Iron Age
  • Remark that Prehistory is the less-known period of human history, and that new archeological or genetic findings are constantly challenging previous theories
  • The archeological site of Atapuerca, the most important Prehistoric one of Spain and Europe
  • The first settlers of the Iberian Peninsula
  • The Cave of Altamira
  • The slow process of Neolithization, first in the south and southeast and later in the north
  • The urbanized and stratified town of Los Millares of the Spanish Copper Age
  • Recent genetic studies that indicate that there may have been a big migration of Indo-Europeans between the Copper and Bronze Age
  • The Argaric culture of the Bronze Age
  • Important changes in the Late Bronze period

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 3, called Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age in Iberia. In this episode you will learn how was the Iberian Peninsula during the Prehistory, except for the Iron Age that we will see in the next two episodes. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

Okay, the first thing you have to know about Prehistory is that new archeological findings challenge the previous theories every time, and I’m not talking about Spain but in general. Therefore, take everything with a grain of salt because in the future some things that I will say may be refuted by new findings. For instance, the ‘Out of Africa’ theory has been challenged by recent evidence found in places like China or Morocco. We rely on a few skeletons and tools to determine the chronological and geographical evolution of the human species, so any new discovery made by archeologists, geneticists or anthropologists can change our entire paradigm of the origins of human beings. At least it’s safe to say, following the Out of Africa hypothesis, that the firsts Homo Sapiens went out of Africa much earlier than initially thought, in 120.000 BC, and that those Homo sapiens intermixed with the Neanderthals and Denisovan.

The oldest rests of a Homo specie in Europe was found in the most famous archeological site of Spain, Atapuerca, dating back 1’2 or 1’3 million years. The rests have yet to be identified with a known specie, but they could belong to a new one. Anyway, in the prolific prehistoric site of Atapuerca paleontologists found Homo species like the Homo antecessor, the Homo heidelbergensis, or the much more recent rests of Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

In the Paleolithic, Europe looked very different than how it looks nowadays. Elephants, rhinos and lions lived in Europe and the north and much of central Europe was frozen. That’s why the early humans used caves as refugees. Homo species lived as nomads and hunter-gatherers, and they were also scavengers and even cannibals. Let’s picture a group of those early humans. Some did the hunting, going where the animals went to drink or graze, attacking in group, preparing ambushes. Others had the task to transport the prey, skin the game, cook or to gather fruits. We can already see social structures and specialization before the discovery of agriculture.

The first settlers of the Iberian Peninsula presumably used the Strait of Gibraltar to come in. Around 200,000 years ago the Neanderthals started to move to the Peninsula, and they weren’t wiped out at least until 28,000 years ago. Homo sapiens entered the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the Paleolithic and they coexisted with the Neanderthals during a long ass time.

Along with France, the Iberian Peninsula is one of the top regions when it comes to Paleolithic cave paintings, with the famous Cave of Altamira as the most relevant of all. The Cave of Altamira was discovered in 1868 in the northern region of Cantabria, and it’s famous for the many parietal cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic, with some paintings made 36,000 years ago. Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the entrance of the cave, which helped to preserve the paintings. The polychromatic art displayed in the cave is astonishing, as visitors can enjoy beautiful images of steppe bison, horses and deer.  Google Cave of Altamira or go to thehistoryofspain.com because it’s impressive how humans made beautiful drawings back in the Paleolithic.

cave of altamira

Around 12,000 BC the Allerød Oscillation occurred and that changed the climate conditions, ending the last ice age. As the climate became warmer, there were technological changes and big animals like mammoths got extinct, so hunted animals became smaller and humans had to also start consuming seafood to survive. In this period called the Mesolithic we find regional differences in the industries of the Iberian Peninsula, a trend that was happening all over Europe. The most remarkable thing of this period is the rock art that can be found all over the Spanish Mediterranean Basin, especially in Valencia and Aragon. We are talking about more than 700 pieces of art from this period, which is the largest collection found in Europe. The Homo sapiens of this period didn’t only paint animals, they started painting humans as well. They showed how they used honey for instance to attract animals and hunt them, scenes of fighting and dancing, and how they already used skirts and even masks that were used by people of a certain role or status.

Moving on to the Neolithic around 6,000 BC, the Neolithic signified the widespread use of agriculture as a source of food. For the first time humans were trying to control and shape nature to satisfy their demands. The first agriculturalists probably came from North Africa with early forms of ships, as the southern region of Andalusia is the first to have signs of cultivation of food. It took more time to domesticate animals though. Later on, humans of the Peninsula started to build dolmen tombs around 4,800 BC, and to fabricate pottery. The invention of pottery is very important, as now humans were able to storage products and plan their future. All these things were signs seen pretty much everywhere in the world that indicated that societies grew larger and more complex. Nonetheless, the spread of agriculture was more limited in the interior and northern regions of Iberia.

In Cádiz, archeologists found an incredible necropolis while inspecting an area to build a hockey stadium. The necropolis is from around 4,300 BC and one of the most stunning things discovered in Cádiz is the burial of two humans, one man and one woman, intertwined and hugging, which suggests that they were lovers. Spanish archeologists also found that they incinerated domestic animals and buried them in the very same necropolis. Maybe because they loved their cats and dogs or maybe for religious rituals.

It was somewhere between the 5th and 4th millennia BC that the Balearic Islands started to be inhabited, while the first settlers of the Canary Islands moved there at the start of the Neolithic or even before, although they were Berbers from North Africa, not settlers from Iberia.

The pattern we see in the Neolithic is that Andalusia and Valencia, that is in southern and southeastern Spain, were always the first of the Peninsula to get the latest technologies, the center adopted technologies later and the north even later. I’m saying that because, even though the process of Neolithization began in the 6,000 BC, the Neolithic didn’t arrive in Asturias or Cantabria until 3,000 BC. That’s a very long time, I think that the dates matter here to get an idea of how limited cultural diffusion at the time was and how isolated the human communities were.

The main economic activity, agriculture, was focused on the cultivation of wheat and barley, although legumes were planted as well. Agriculture has two main advantages: many more people can be feed in comparison to hunting or gathering food, and it’s a safer option to be sedentary as cereals can be stored and it’s riskier to move around seeking food. It has some disadvantages as well, most notably the diet can be less balanced and less energetic, but the pros seemed to have overwhelmed the cons. Now talking about cattle, the usual domesticated animals to consume were, not surprisingly, cows, sheep, goats and pigs. Most of the rests of cattle found in the Iberian Peninsula belong the sheep and goats, I’m talking about 50 or 60% of the cattle, and that is very interesting because that means that many Neolithic Iberians were pastoralists, an intermediate step between nomadic and sedentary lifestyles. From this period, we have very well-preserved necklaces, bracelets, rings, combs, spoons and even espadrilles made of esparto. Those human-made tools and ornaments were definitely the basis for urban and developed societies.

The Neolithic also brought a change in the religious beliefs, as humans started to represent gods and to make all kind of rituals to bear a child, to have a good harvest, to have a good military campaign and so on. This time they painted schematically, in caves but more frequently in portable objects that gave them luck and protection. Regarding the burial of the dead, they did it collectively and in artificial structures.

The Chalcolithic or Copper Age follows the Neolithic. This period, that started around the third millennium in the Iberian Peninsula, is when humans started to develop this fascination for shiny things and began extracting and working copper, silver and gold. Metal goods became popular especially in the south and there is evidence that long-distance trade was a thing already. The Beaker culture, an archeological culture of Europe, was spread in many places of Iberia, where archeologists have found numerous bell-shaped beakers that were used for multiple reasons, one being to have a recipient to store alcoholic drinks. This Copper Age also sought the greatest expansion of megaliths to bury the dead for practical and religious purposes. Again, there are regional differences, as megalithism was common in Atlantic Iberia but not so much in the Mediterranean.

We find already relatively big urbanized towns protected by walls, like Los Millares in Andalusia that had an estimated population of 1,000 people. Los Millares relied primarily on agriculture to be a powerful city of the area, but it’s more significant for us their mining and metalwork industries. They divided the process of metalworking, indicating a considerable degree of specialization, and their society was stratified. The 70 beehive-styled tombs built, and the 4 lines of fortifications suggest that Los Millares was often at war. A very interesting question is why this town was so developed in Almería, a very arid region of Spain that is hardly suitable for traditional agricultural techniques. Archeologist Clay Mathers thinks that the agricultural limitations and the investment to build irrigation systems made the settlers look for an administrative warrior class that protected their land. There are other theories, but none can be contrasted with the empiric evidence we have.

Now let’s take a break and talk about recent genetic studies, because it was during this period between the Copper and Bronze Age that genetics changed substantially. During the third millennium BC, Iberia received newcomers both from the north and south. Apparently 40% of male Iberians descend from a common ancestor that lived 4,500 years ago, and around the same time there was a replacement of the native males of the Peninsula, according to the findings of a study of Harvard University published a few weeks ago. There are already archeologists and historians questioning the study, so the information I’m gonna talk about now could be wrong. According to the study, the Caucasian Indo-European people known as Yamna would have gradually substituted many people of the continent, especially men since they were conquerors, and, as conquerors, they wanted to have sex with the native women. The R1b haplogroup clearly dominates Spanish genetics, and this Y-chromosome was spread in Spain with the Indo-European invasion of the Yamna. As I said earlier in this episode, Prehistory is still the most mysterious and confusing period of human history, and we continually get new archeological or genetic findings that challenge the theories we have today, so take everything from this era with a grain of salt.

Around 1,800 BC the Bronze Age spread in Iberia. This period was characterized for, guess what, the spread of the secret to produce bronze, a material harder and longer-lasting compared to other metals available at the time. The firsts writings appeared in this age but only in Mesopotamia and the regions nearby. Most notably, the culture of Los Millares disappeared but was replaced by the Argaric culture in the same region of Almería and Murcia. The Argaric culture was characterized by the demographic growth of towns, an increasing stratification, individual burials under homes and towns built in areas of difficult access for defensive purposes, near sources of potable water or near mines. There is debate whether there was a state dominated by a singly king or the Argaric were numerous independent city-states with a common culture. The existence of large storages for cereals indicates that there was some degree of centralization, and archeological evidence suggests that production was specialized in each geographical zone, with mining and farming towns complementing their activities. That means that Argaric towns traded with each other and presupposes the existence of sociopolitical institutions. The Argaric region of southeastern Spain was the economic powerhouse of Iberia, producing weapons like knives, swords, arrows and axes, as well as glass, pottery and textile manufacture. We can see that with the Treasure of Villena, which is an incredible collection of gold from the European Bronze Age, with bowls, bottles and bracelets made of gold and worked in detail. From the Argaric region, the technique of producing bronze slowly spread over the Peninsula.

After 1,300 BC many changes occurred that opened the Late Bronze period. The old Argaric culture disintegrated, the degree of specialization fell, hunting increased and livestock production outproduced pastoral activities once and for all. The pattern of settlements changed, as there was a trend of occupying plateaus and low, better communicated areas, which helped to develop the economy but made them more vulnerable in case of military attack. The Late Bronze Age is considerably important for the Iberian Peninsula, because the previous politically centralized areas disappeared, while the focal urbanized and economically important area shifted towards the Atlantic and Southwestern Spain. For instance, Galicia provided tin and lead, necessary to make true bronze, while the Guadalquivir Valley exported bronze. Because of that, the Iberian Peninsula became an important commercial hub and link between the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Moreover, new waves of Celts arrived in the territories of northern and central Spain, something that would change the genetics and cultures of those regions.

THE VERDICT: This is the first episode with The Verdict section, and as I explained in the first introductory episode, here I will give my reflections, thoughts or just rhetorical questions about today’s topic. My reflection is, how little we know about our own origins and what’s more fascinating to me is how we, and by we I mean humans, are always revising our knowledge with new findings that arise new questions too. And that’s a good thing, right? If we didn’t have curiosity, we would still be living like our ancestors of the Paleolithic. And not only that, if there weren’t a few inquiring minds that would constantly seek “the truth”, we would still explain history using myths and religious beliefs. Humanity wouldn’t progress if there weren’t people with critical thinking and scientific aspirations, that’s why it’s so important to promote these kinds of values. And with that, The Verdict ends.

The Iron Age, starting around 800 BC, is the protohistory of Iberia. What that means is that we know from the peoples that inhabited the Peninsula not by the natives, but by other civilizations that had writing systems. I will talk about the First Iron Age and the Second Iron Age in the next two episodes, focusing on the native and colonial cultures that settled in the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman conquest. To end this episode, let me remind you that I built a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes and a list of books about Spanish history available on Amazon and you can also subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow and give feedback in the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. DESDE LA PREHISTORIA HASTA LA CONQUISTA ROMANA (SIGLO III a.C.). Planeta

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SkyHYKu4lg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prehistoric_Iberia

https://www.upf.edu/en/web/media/enoticies/-/asset_publisher/wdGAWZ7EMj53/content/id/97299019/maximized#.W7OY1lIp4wc

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2180923-every-man-in-spain-was-wiped-out-4500-years-ago-by-hostile-invaders/

 

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Geographical conditions of the Iberian Peninsula

This is episode 2 called Geographical conditions of the Iberian Peninsula and in this episode you will learn the following:

Show notes

  • How the geography of Spain has influenced its history
  • Why geography is very relevant to understand history
  • The main rivers and mountain ranges of Spain
  • The climate and terrain of Spain
  • The diversity in terms of climate between regions
  • Features like the lack of natural disasters or mineral resources
  • The political map of Spain
  • List of pros and cons of the geography of the Iberian Peninsula

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 2, called Geographical conditions of the Iberian Peninsula. In this episode you will learn how the geography of Spain has influenced its history. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

Geography is sometimes forgotten while we study history, even though it’s an important determinant of culture, demographics, economic development and more, so it obviously influences history too. Why has Afghanistan been so difficult to conquer? Why is Bangladesh so densely populated? Why were the ancient civilizations born along rivers? Why has Great Britain always developed more its navy than its army? All these questions are largely explained by geography. The connection between geography and history is very strong. Knowing that, how did geography influence Spanish history?

The first essential thing to know about Spain or Portugal is that they are not landlocked states, most of their boundaries are in fact water. The wide access to the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean is great for overseas trade and cultural and technological exchanges. Being the westernmost region of Europe helped in the discovery of America, and the narrow Strait of Gibraltar is strategically important and helps to connect Europe with Africa.

The second most important thing to consider is how mountainous the peninsula is. Spain is one of the most mountainous countries of Europe, with an average height of 660 meters or 2,165 feet, it’s only surpassed by Switzerland, Austria and the microstates of Liechtenstein and Andorra. In the heart of Spain we have this big plateau called Meseta Central, which occupies most of the peninsula and is surrounded by mountains ranges, the Cantabrian Mountains to the north, the Iberian System to the east, Sierra Morena to the south and the Galician Massif to the northwest. The Meseta Central is split in two parts by the Central System, which is a mountain range that stretches from Portugal to the Iberian System of Aragon. As it’s surrounded by many mountains and the average elevation is 600 meters, the climate is Mediterranean with Continental characteristics. That means that there’s a sharp contrast of temperatures between day and night, summers are short and warm, and winters are long and cold. In addition to that, rains are not very frequent, so the climate is even more dry than the Mediterranean climate and the terrain is arid. Think about the climate and lands of California and that’s how most of Spain is. What does all of this imply? To start with, agriculture is quite difficult and water is a bit scare, so that is a limitation to develop economically and to sustain a large population. The mountains complicate communications like building roads and railways, as well as trade and migrations within the peninsula, which partly explains why there are strong regional identities in Spain.

Then you got the Baetic Depression where the Guadalquivir River flows, between Sierra Morena and the Baetic System, and the Ebro Valley where the Ebro River flows, between the Iberian System and the Pyrenees. These regions are very fertile and suitable for agriculture. The highest mountain of the Iberian Peninsula, the Mulhacén, can be found in the Baetic System, with an altitude of 3,478 m, or 11,413 ft, and the system actually continues underwater until it emerges again in the Balearic Islands. On the other hand, the Pyrenees form the natural border between Spain and France, that extends from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea. Again, the Pyrenees have made trade and other kinds of exchanges more difficult, but at the same time the mountains of Spain have prevented invasions or at least made them more difficult. It’s all about pros and cons, Spain has a defensive advantage and a privileged strategic location to control the Mediterranean and Atlantic access, but at the same time the orography makes trade, communications and cultural unification more difficult and expensive.

A good thing about the Iberian Peninsula is that natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes or floods are extremely rare. But water scarcity and desertification are a very serious threat in many regions of Spain, and climate change can only aggravate the problem. Most rivers in Spain are short and carry small volumes of water on an irregular basis. The south-eastern region of the Iberian Peninsula always has problems of water shortages, and other Mediterranean areas are being affected by saltwater intrusion due to the overuse of aquifers. Northern Spain has an Oceanic climate with regular rains, the problem is that the mountains are too close to the ocean and it’s impossible to make use of that rain. The current water consumption, especially in agriculture, is unsustainable but it’s incentivized by the funds of the European Union.

The lack of mineral resources is a prominent feature of the geography of the Iberian Peninsula. At the time of Roman Hispania, the peninsula was the major source of silver and cooper, and it was only behind Dacia, modern-day Romania, in the extraction of gold. But after that the extraction of mineral resources hasn’t been very profitable. In the 19th century the mines of Asturias extracted coal to provide energy to the factories. Problem was that, compared to Great Britain, coal was difficult to extract and of a lower quality. Then fuel and natural gas became indispensable and Spain completely lacks these resources, so more energy that the country has to import. Nowadays the mines are exhausted and the mining industry is not enough profitable considering the labor costs and the quality and quantity of mineral resources. All the hopes are placed upon renewable energies, especially solar energy since Spain has plenty of that. Hydroelectric power produces a considerable amount of electricity, but there is little room to grow that, and no new nuclear plant has been built since the 80s due to the protests against nuclear energy.

With a size of 500,000 square km or 195,000 square miles, which is between the size of California and Texas, it’s the fourth largest country of Europe by area. This is, of course, including the North African possessions, the Balearic Islands and the volcanic Canary Islands, which has the highest peak of Spain with the 3,718 m or 12,198 ft of the Mount Teide. Spain has very diverse landscapes, fauna and flora due to the orography and the influences of both the Mediterranean and Atlantic and Europe and Africa. There are deserts, dense forests, snowy mountains and beautiful beaches. All in one country.

As for the political map, we have Catalonia in the east, Valencia and Murcia in the south-east, and Andalusia with Granada, Córdoba, Málaga, Cádiz or Seville in the south. Then we got the region of Extremadura in the south-west, bordering Portugal, Galicia in the north-west, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country, Navarre and Aragon in the north and north-east, and finally in the center we got cities like Madrid, Toledo, Valladolid or Salamanca. To understand much better Spanish political and non-political geography I strongly encourage you to check out the maps in Google or the website thehistoryofspain.com

aerial image iberian peninsula

To end this episode, let’s quickly make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of the geography of the Iberian Peninsula.

Cons:

  1. Orography that complicates economic development and cultural and linguistic unity
  2. Lack of hydrocarbons and mineral resources
  3. Agriculture is sometimes difficult due to the quality of the soil and the little rainfalls
  4. Threat of water scarcity and desertification

Pros:

  1. Control over the access of the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean
  2. The fact that being the westernmost region of Europe with access to the Atlantic Ocean encouraged the exploration of America and other trade routes by sea
  3. Defensive advantage with the Pyrenees in the north acting as a natural border and with the mountains that can be found all over the peninsula
  4. It would be easy to use solar energy to power the country
  5. Natural disasters are very rare
  6. Diversity of landscapes, fauna and flora

I think I have mentioned all the relevant geographical aspects that had and still have a strong impact on the history of Spain. I hope you liked the perspective I gave today, because I think it’s indispensable to know the geography of a country before getting into the history of any country. I built a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes and a list of books about Spanish history available on Amazon, and you can also subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow and give feedback in the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed today’s episode and thanks for listening!

 

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Introduction to The History of Spain Podcast

 

Finally, after months of preparation, The History of Spain Podcast launches! This is the first episode, a very short one where you will learn the following:

Show notes

  • The History of Spain Podcast is focused on Spanish history following a chronological order
  • I will cover the history of Portugal too, until the 17th century due to the Portuguese Restoration War. Maybe in not the same detail as the rest of Spain though
  • The podcast is biweekly, at least at first
  • Each regular episode will last between 20 and 40 minutes
  • There will be a section called The Verdict at the end of each episode, where I will give my reflections, thoughts or rethorical questions about an issue related to the episode
  • I will cover Spanish Prehistory, Protohistory and Roman period in less detail than the rest of periods
  • In this website you have a monumental list of books of the history of Spain available on Amazon, in Spanish and English

Script

There are thousands of history podcasts out there, some are more generalists, others are longer and more specialized, some give a very unique perspective and others focus on a period or a country. Now let’s look over the podcasts focused on a certain country. We have The British History Podcast, The History of Rome, The History of Byzantium, The History of China, The History of Japan, heck there are even podcasts on the history of Bulgaria and Poland. It amazes me how there is no finished or ongoing podcast focused on countries that have been very influential to the world, like France or Spain. I’m not French, I don’t speak French and I’m not especially interested in the history of France, but I’m Spaniard and I find very interesting and worth to tell in English the history of Spain. This is not my first history podcast, though. I became a podcaster in May with a podcast called Sapiens History. My first show had a bad name for SEO, it wasn’t focused on a certain age or country or even a certain perspective, and to be honest it was quite bad. The good thing is that I have learned many things from that experience, or that’s what I would like to think.

So here I am, introducing to the world my new podcast, The History of Spain Podcast, where I will narrate, explain and interpret the history of Spain in a chronological order. For Spain I mean the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, so the history of Portugal will be somehow included as well up to their War of Independence against Spain in the 17th century. Of course, I will also talk about the states and colonies that were under Spanish kings and queens, the evolution of the Spanish society, religion, economy and stuff like that. Each episode will last between 20 and 40 minutes and there will be a section in the end of every episode called The Verdict, and in that section I will give my reflections, thoughts or rhetorical questions about something related to the episode. The show will be biweekly, which means that I will publish an episode every two weeks. The History of Spain Podcast would take several years to be finished at that pace, but hopefully I will be able to make the show weekly in the future. I think that in the next 2 years it will be almost certainly impossible to make the podcast weekly, unless I get someone else to join the project. In any case first I will focus on growing the audience, but if you like the content I deliver, please spread the word and recommend it to friends and history nerds.

Talking more in detail about the content, as I said I will follow a chronological order, but I will not dedicate the same amount of time to Prehistoric Iberia and, say, the Imperial Age. In this episode I’m making the introduction and in the following I will talk about the geography of the Iberian Peninsula, where you will learn the advantages and handicaps of the Spanish geography. From episode 3 to 5 I will explain the Prehistory and Protohistory of Iberia, with the focus on the native people and foreign colonies. From episode 6 to 10 or 11 you will learn about the Roman conquest of Hispania, the process of Romanization and the Germanic invasions. From episode 12 or 13 on, I will talk about the time periods much more in depth. In the first year I calculate that I will cover the history of Spain from Prehistory to the fall of the Visigothic Kingdom and the Muslim Umayyad conquest of the peninsula.

On another note, I wanted to thank fellow history podcasters that have given me support and advice, like Flash Point History Podcast, The History of Ancient Greece Podcast, History of the Papacy Podcast, Pontifacts and The Age of Napoleon, just to name a few.

The last thing I need to talk about is about the website, thehistoryofspain.com. There you will find for free the scripts of the episodes and the sources I used for each episode. In the website there’s a section with an enormous list of books of the history of Spain that you can find on Amazon, books both in English and Spanish. You have a short description in English of every book, please consider to take a look because there is very interesting stuff there. Moreover, you can subscribe to the weekly newsletter where you will get a reminder of the new episodes, Spanish history books and history podcasts recommendations, and more stuff.

Remember to follow The History of Spain Podcast in social media, it’s on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, with stuff published every day. Please subscribe to the podcast, share it with friends and leave a review. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Review: The Spanish American Revolution 1808-1826

cover the spanish american revolutions 1808 1826 john lynch

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Review The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826

The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826 is a 480-pages book written by Hispanist John Lynch and it’s a great overview about the Spanish American Wars of Independence of the early 19th century. The book isn’t extremely detailed, but it’s useful to get a general idea of the multiple wars of independence. John Lynch really did a good job, because it’s a complex issue and there were substantial regional differences.

This is what buyers say on Amazon:

Published decades ago, this book remains an unusually fine narrative and overview of the great Spanish-American revolutions of the early 19th century. This is a relatively difficult topic for a survey volume given the regionally dispersed and frequently parallel events occurring across the whole Spanish Empire in the Western Hemisphere. Lynch’s solution is to describe events regionally. He describes the events and course of the revolutions and ensuing civil wars in regions based roughly on political divisions within the Empire. His narrative opens with a set of chapters on events in the Rio de Plata, encompassing not only modern Argentina but also what became modern Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia. This is followed chapters on Chile, Peru (both modern Peru proper and Bolivia), Venezuela, Colombia (including modern Ecuador), a return to Peru for the conclusion of events in South America, and Mexico. These narrative sections are bookended by two analytic chapters, the first setting the background in Spanish-Colonial history for the revolutions, the final chapter a summation of the effects of the revolutions. Lynch’s narrative structure results in some redundancy across individual chapters but the overall effect is very successful. A more chronological approach would require constant jumping from region to region, probably producing greater fragmentation of the narrative. In addition, the quality of writing in excellent, which significantly enhances the readability of this book.” – R. Albin

John Lynch wrote a classic in Spanish-American Revolutions 1808-1826. He masterfully describes all the events that led to the independence of Latin America from Spain. The book starts in Rio de La Plata and ends in Mexico and Central America. Curiously one can note a common pattern of highly stratified societies lead by Spanish officials and merchants in not complete harmony with the Creole ruling class. The reluctance of Spanish Monarchy (and later even of liberals) led to independence basically motivated for the economic and social interests of the Creoles (Spanish born in America). For all of those who are interested in a better understanding of Latin American societies of today this great book is a must. Lynch cleverly combines historical and economic facts about the Hispanic American societies looking for free trade and in such a way clashing with the status quo of monopolies imposed by the decaying metropolis. Two thumbs up!” – Landser 08

This book was a very well written and looks at every aspect of the revolution. If you want to learn and understand the latin american revolution, then this book will be a good read. But, if you are looking for a creative book that exhibits insightful opinions, then look farther than this book. This was a very well written, but was brought down by its lack of flavor.” – Jamie Lynch

And this is what members of the Goodreads community say:

“The Spanish American Revolutions” is a traditional history originally written in 1973 and updated in 1986. The author, John Lynch, was professor of Latin American History at The University of London. I read this book because it gets high praise from Carlos Fuentes in his wide-ranging survey of the relationship between Spain and Latin America, “El espejo enterrado”.

With 50 pages of notes, and a 25 page bibliographically essay, Spanish American Revolutions is the result of extensive research and is packed full of information. It is not always an easy read, and can be dense and academic. Lynch concentrates on the underlying causes of the spate of revolutions and wars which resulted in the independence of most of Spanish America in the early 19th century. Many of those causes are economic, and Lynch dives right in with descriptions of trade deficits, taxation, capital investment, etc. Not always light reading, but very informative.

I found that the best way to engage with the book was to read sections out loud. This caused me to slow down and read carefully, and let me appreciate the clarity and precision of the author’s descriptions. For example:
“Mexico was pure colony. Spaniard ruled creole, creole used Indian, and the metropolis exploited all three. Liberation would be arduous in this the most valuable of all Spain’s possessions. In the course of the eighteenth century Mexican silver production rose continuously from five million pesos in 1702, past the boom of the 1770s and an increase from twelve million to eighteen million pesos a year, to a peak of twenty-seven million in 1804.”

The book is fairly encyclopedic, and covers the multiple revolutions that took place in the early 19th century. Beginning with Rio de la Plata, from which emerged Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, then moving west to Chile, then to the Northern part of South America, from which emerged Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, then to the Spanish stronghold of Peru, which could only be liberated from Spain with military pressure from Chile and Argentina in the south, and Colombia in the north. Bolivia was originally known as “Upper Peru”, and spun off as a separate country basically because its mine owners could not bear to be controlled by either Peru or Argentina. Mexico followed its own path to independence. Spain was not interested in keeping Central American colonies without Mexico, so they became independent by default, initially attempting to form a federation with its capital in Guatemala, which broke apart after only a few years. The only Spanish colonies that remained after 1826 were the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico.

For me, the most interesting figure in the book is Simon Bolivar, a sort of South American George Washington. He was one of the few Latin American revolutionaries who seemed to be motivated by idealism and patriotism as opposed to pure self and class interest (though he was very wary of giving power to Blacks and Indians, believing that they had an understandable hatred for ruling class whites). He was the son of a rich Venezuelan creole family, with a brilliant mind and a great talent for leadership. Bolivar had the idea of forming one nation called Gran Colombia, comprised at least of Venezuela, New Granada, and Guayaquil in Northern South America. But his idea quickly gave way to the reality of suspicion and differing interests between the powerful groups in the various regions. In the end, Venezuela remained as a separate nation, Guayaquil came to be known as Ecuador, and all that remained of Gran Colombia was New Granada which was re-named Colombia and ruled for a time by Bolivar.

Bolivar also led troops in the liberation of Peru, and later, as one of the few trusted figures in the region became ruler of Upper Peru which was named Bolivia in his honor. Bolivar’s second dream was to form a federation of the Andean nations: Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. This too was not to be.

I highly recommend John Lynch’s work for anyone who wants a detailed understanding of how Spanish America gained independence from Spain. Although there were separate wars for independence in the various regions, this book does a great job of stitching them together and giving a clear view of the common factors and interactions that caused the entire hemisphere to become independent in the course of less than twenty years.

I want to note that the version of this book I got from the New York Public Library, published by W.W. Norton & Company, is probably the worst printed book I have ever read. The font is tiny, blurry and faded in places. It seems to be the result of several generations of photo-copying, or maybe a reject from a defective printing press. Not sure how a reputable publisher could put its name on this.” – Adam

The vastness of its subject matter hardly makes it for an easy read, but the craftsmanship of the good historian, John Lynch, saves it from the oblivion of the masses. Lynch goes by geographical areas starting at the southern cone up, ending with Mexico and, last of all, the Central American countries; and on these last nations very few pages are used. As one might expect the multitude of names, facts, and the different analyses that apply to each case does not help with the entertainment department, so to speak; but the idea is there to pick up. The general idea comes forth from the reading, as from a bird’s eye up above the scenery we see how different races and social echelons compete for a place in post-colonial Spanish America; how there is a lack of plan, in the sense of a revolution of the people (as in America or France) and it is only a fight to fill the vacuum left by the Peninsulares, a fight to take the reigns of the whatever-comes-after, whether it be a Republic, a Monarchy or whatever. The outcome, and this is the main point I gather, was not what mattered to the people in general; what mattered was who was going to rule: who was to be favored and who was to stay the same or get worse. The story is not a bit idealistic or romantic, I’m afraid: on liberty and justice for all, etc.

But that’s Spanish America, I mean, no Burke, no Jefferson, no Franklin, nobody. The Catholic Church and the aristocrats of Spain had for so long kept the hearts and minds of the spanish people in ignorance, isolated from the heretic Protestant world of northern Europe, that the word civilization did not quite apply to the cultural state of the Spanish people, in Spain or in America. Oh, you are thinking of Bolívar… of course, Bolívar, how could I forget. But Bolívar isn’t my cup of tea, either …yes, he did have some ideas, and he did look up to Britain and hoped to be in good terms with them. But he was not a democrat at heart; perhaps he was even a racist, definitely he was of the stuff despots are made of: arrogance, paternalism, elitism… and this guy was one of the few “good guys” you can find in the book. At least Lynch gives him the “good-guy” treatment. But here are Bolívar’s own words about Americans, so judge for yourself:

“I am convinced to the very marrow of my bones that America can only be ruled by an able despotism … we are the vile offspring of the predatory Spaniards who came to America to bleed her white and to breed with their victims. Later the illegitimate offspring of these unions joined with the offspring of slaves transported from Africa. With such racial mixture and such moral record, can we afford to place laws above leaders and principles above men?”

The last few pages are a brief overview of the aftermath of independence: petty countries, or countries-still-to-be, were the victims of caudillos, regional chieftains who warried among themselves for their own piece of turf: like the independence war before but on a neighborly scale. To milk the resources of the country and to curve any appetite for knowledge among the servile masses, that was -and still is- the only aim in Spanish-speaking America. Know any better recipe than tequila, mate, cocaine, and telenovelas to keep people dumbed-down for ever?” – JoséMaría BlancoWhite

Summary of reviews: all reviews are positive and the book has an average of 4/5 stars both on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a highly recommended work from John Lynch to know about the Spanish American Revolutions of the early 19th century. ‘The Spanish American Revolutions 1808-1826’ isn’t a very detailed work for an academic audience, rather it’s a work for the general public to get the general idea of the Spanish American Wars of Independence.