episodes

Hispania: Principate and Romanization

This is episode 8 called Hispania: Principate and Romanization and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • What does Romanization mean
  • What aspects Romanization involved
  • Which were the key elements or causes for the Romanization of Hispania
  • The internal elements that explain this process of acculturation
  • Which were the different phases of Romanization and why wasn’t the process geographically homogenous
  • Which were the key economic sectors of Hispania during the Principate
  • A discussion on the importance of the policies of colonization of Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus, as well as the Edict of Latinization of Vespasian
  • Why did Vespasian issue the Edict of Latinization and what consequences did that have
  • The reign of two Hispano-Roman Emperors: Trajan and Hadrian
  • The decadence of the Roman Empire with the Antonine Plague under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus
  • The Severan dynasty and how the Crisis of the Third Century started

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 8, called Hispania: Principate and Romanization. In this episode you will learn the political and economic history of Roman Spain up to the Crisis of the Third Century, as well as the process of Romanization. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

Okay, some of you may wonder what Romanization means. Romanization was the process of acculturation of the populations incorporated into the Roman Republic and later Empire. Nonetheless, Romanization was not a deliberate or conscious policy that attempted to eradicate indigenous cultures, and it was not a totally one-sided thing. It was a spontaneous and gradual phenomenon that resulted from the interaction and integration of Roman and native cultures. Cultures change and the Roman culture prior to the Second Punic War is different from the one of, say, the 1st century AD. In Hispania, Roman and indigenous elements blended together and formed the Hispano-Roman culture. Of course the Roman elements predominated, but characteristics of indigenous cultures remained or adapted to look Roman. This syncretism is exactly the same that happened later when Spain colonized America. Yes, Spanish culture predominated, but indigenous elements prevailed as well and new regional cultures emerged from the fusion of Spanish and native cultures.

But what aspects did Romanization cover? Language, religion, customs, material culture and technology, law and urbanism. Let’s start with language. Latin became the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, it was first adopted by the upper classes of Hispania to communicate with both the Roman administration and other tribes. Many natives of the elite sent their kids to Rome to learn the language and to get to know influential people. As you can see, it was in their best interest to adopt Latin. The poor didn’t receive a formal education, yet the language eventually spread from the top to the bottom of the society. By the late 1st century AD all native languages, except from Ancient Basque, had disappeared.

capitoline triad

Another important aspect of Romanization is religion. As you may remember, in Pre-Roman Spain there were many religions, and foreign religions had already influenced the natives before the Romans came. I’m talking about the Phoenician and Greek deities, that could and were easily adapted to those of Rome. As many of you know, Rome essentially changed the names of Greek deities and made them as their own. Yes, they were not very original. Iberians quickly embraced Roman religion during the Late Republic and Early Principate, although that didn’t exclude the possibility of believing in other deities. The most important deities were those of the Capitoline Triad, that is Jupiter, the god of gods; Juno, the goddess that protected the empire; and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. On the other hand, Iberians quickly adopted imperial cult, as I mentioned in the episode about the Pre-Roman peoples of Iberia Iberians had this social institution called devotio that connected strongly the patron and client, and imperial cult was just an evolution of that. Even when Augustus was still alive, the Spanish cities of Tarragona and Mérida built altars and later temples in his honor. Oriental beliefs, like Syrian, Egyptian, Phoenician or Persian gods had their followers in Hispania too, while Christianity didn’t expand into Hispania until the 3rd century. But we will see the history of Christianity in Hispania in the next episode.

The natives adopted Roman customs as well. They adopted Roman clothes and names, again starting from the elites to then expand to lower social classes; they abandoned the practice of human sacrifice; people started going to bathhouses to clean themselves and socialize; and Spanish people started attending the famous Roman spectacles. Spectacles were financed by the rich landowner class to please the masses, similar to modern sports like soccer or basketball. Greek and Latin plays spread Greco-Roman culture, but violent “games” like gladiator battles or elephants vs rhinos had a more important role spreading Romanization. I mean, just look at Mortal Kombat, that’s the real Roman legacy!

The process of Romanization also meant the adoption of Roman material culture, tastes and technology. The more economically integrated Hispania became to the Roman Empire, the more Spanish people adopted Roman currency, units of measure, taste for wine and olive oil, advanced farming technologies or Greek-styled techniques to build sculptures. The process of accepting Roman laws and judiciary system wasn’t easy, it took time and it wasn’t implemented immediately in all of Hispania. To illustrate this with an example, during the Late Republican period provincial governors started organizing assemblies in multiple locations during the winter to deliver justice within and between tribes. That created a stronger relationship of dependency towards Rome.

About the Romanization in terms of urbanism, the Romans founded the cities of Córdoba, Tarragona, Valencia, Palma de Mallorca, Pamplona, Seville, Mérida, Zaragoza, Barcelona… Rome, especially under Caesar and Augustus, founded many cities above native settlements following the Roman urbanist standards. It’s notorious though that some exclusively native towns eventually imitated Roman urbanism to look more Roman and improve their prestige.

Those were the aspects that involved the process of Romanization. But which were the key elements for this process? The first key element is the constant presence of Roman and Latin soldiers. There were between 20 and 25k soldiers permanently stationed in Hispania until the late 1st century, and if there was a campaign led by the consul you can double or triple these numbers. Many military camps later became permanent urban settlements, like it happened with León, Tarragona or the Roman neighborhood of Emporion. The importance of the soldiers in the Romanization process was not so much during their service, but after soldiers ended their military duties. Most received or were able to buy a land and farm it, and the majority married native women. The army’s role to Romanize Spain was twofold, Roman and Italic soldiers settled in Spain and Iberian and Celtic soldiers learned Latin and Roman costumes when they joined the army. Natives weren’t accepted as core soldiers for Rome overnight, during most of the Republican period natives served as temporary auxiliaries and fought using their weapons and tactics. But later they progressively integrated into the Roman army, as Italic soldiers started to serve in the legions and someone had to fill the vacuum left by the permanent Italic auxiliaries. Even before the Principate, there was already a legion entirely made up by Iberians. When native Iberians, Celts or Celtiberians returned to their towns, they returned knowing Latin and Roman costumes and they, in turn, Romanized their communities.

Hispania was to the Romans what America was to the Spaniards, a land of opportunities perfect to colonize. The fertile lands of the Guadalquivir and Ebro Valleys, the mines of Andalusia, Cartagena or the north, or the commercial opportunities attracted peasants, merchants, slavers and prostitutes alike. Why Romans and Italics migrated from their homeland? Since the 2nd century BC middle classes and free peasants became poorer due to the rise of patricians who bought lands and worked them with slaves. It was the increasing social inequality and poverty in Italy that encouraged Latin colonization in Hispania. Colonization was opposed by the Senate, but the army founded some colonies with both Roman citizens and Italic colonists, and later Caesar and Augustus promoted colonization with civil population too.

via augusta

The army not only had the task to expand the empire and suffocate revolts, they also did public works like the building of roads or bridges that were so important to integrate the empire. Roman roads were key for Romanization and to maintain the empire. Without them, armies would have had difficulties to move, trade would have been more restricted to the coastline, and Roman culture wouldn’t have expanded as much as it did through the inner regions of the empire. The Julio-Claudian dynasty finished the construction of the most important roads of Hispania, the Via Augusta that connected the coastline from the Pyrenees to Cádiz, and the Via de la Plata that connected Mérida in modern Extremadura with the mines of the north.

We have seen the key elements from the Roman side, but there must be internal elements that explained the acculturation of the natives, because not all conquerors leave a lasting legacy. This is an issue I have already talked about in previous episodes, but local elites faced a dilemma with the arrival of the Romans: they could either collaborate or oppose them. The elites needed to evaluate what was better for their interests. The smart native leaders understood that it was better to be friends with Rome instead of enemies. The smart ones survived and preserved or even improved their position of power within their community, the fools who opposed Rome perished. Soon the elites learned Latin and Roman customs and adopted an external Roman look. Eventually that gave them privileges, as they were rewarded with Latin or even Roman citizenship.

Okay, I’ve covered the aspects and causes of Romanization, now I want to take the perspective of the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula to imagine how they reacted to the arrival of the Romans. Let’s start with the Greek colonists, who were the first inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula to ask for Roman protection. Imagine you are a merchant who is an influential political leader in Emporion, the Greek commercial city located in modern Catalonia. News arrive that Hannibal desires to conquer the entire Iberian Peninsula. You know that if Carthage succeeds, your Greek countrymen will be driven out by Carthaginian merchants. At the same time, you know that Rome is an emerging power. From your perspective, Rome is the lesser evil, as Romans are closer to the Greek world. In addition to that the native Iberians control the plain while the Greek colony is pressed to the sea, so perhaps if Emporion shows unequivocal loyalty to Rome you and all your colleagues may be able to expand and stop feeling threatened by the natives you trade with. So you talk to your community and all of you decide to offer Emporion as the landing base for the Romans, and the Republic accepts the proposal.

emporion roman and greek city

After the Second Punic War Emporion flourished as a powerful city with expanded borders. Rome rewarded your city with the plains of the natives, tax exemptions and a monopoly for the production of bricks in Hispania. In your lifetime, Emporion grows economically and it’s clear that the decision to show a pro-Roman position was the right one. Yet, your grandson saw Emporion losing importance. The Romans established a military camp that soon became permanent. From this outpost the Roman town emerged, and waves of Roman and Italic immigrants arrived. They soon outnumbered the Greeks and the city lost its Greek identity, while at the same time Tarragona became the most economically powerful city of Hispania Citerior. A similar process happened in Cádiz, the most important Phoenician and Turdetani city of Hispania. The city had long been a friend of Carthage, but when they saw clearly who was going to win, they switched sides and made a treaty of friendship with Rome. In less than a century the city lost its identity and was Romanized, which isn’t surprising as Cádiz and the region of the Turdetani was the most urbanized of the Iberian Peninsula.

If we take the perspective of the Iberians, they only wanted to be left alone, to not be enslaved and to not have their lands devastated. But they soon realized that the Romans weren’t altruistic liberators, they were just other conquerors. The Celts and Celtiberians only had an economic interest in the war, the ones who served wanted to earn some money while maintaining their independence. They were left alone, for the moment.

I say that because during the first phase of Roman conquest, that’s between the Second Punic War and the Second Celtiberian War, the Republic had strong control over the Mediterranean coastline, but many inner regions were not controlled at all. The area above the Guadiana river and the region of the Celtiberians was out of Roman control. Rome could exert limited actual power over the territory conquered. Romans relied on pacts with the native elites, they constantly had to deal with rebellions and raids, and they could only recruit native auxiliaries on an irregular basis. A very illustrative example of the limited power the Romans had is seen in something as important as taxation. We can’t imagine a modern state that doesn’t directly tax its inhabitants, but that’s what happened during Republican Rome. The Republic leased the right of taxing to equites, for a previously set sum of money. In doing so, the Roman state avoided any risk of non-payment while the equites had all the incentives to do whatever was needed to cover their expenses and make money. Key cities like Emporion, Sagunto, Cádiz or the few Latin colonies founded during this period were exempted to pay taxes for their loyalty or status. Therefore, the tax burden fell on the native and less-urbanized communities, no doubt why Iberians started general uprisings against Roman rule. Roman and Italic colonizers started the Romanization in the areas that were more economically important, the Guadalquivir and Ebro Valleys, as well as the mineral-rich Cartagena, but again, the extend of the Romanization was quite limited.

In the second phase of Roman conquest, between the Numantine War and the Sertorian War, the Roman Republic had the Tagus River, in Central Spain, as the frontier of their Spanish possessions. With the defeat of the Sertorian supporters, Rome forced many native communities to use Roman currency and forced their relocation to plains to control more effectively the territory and prevent revolts. Those policies were adopted to pacify the conquered lands, but that in fact accelerated the process of Romanization. At this phase some tribes like the ones of modern Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon, and even some Vascones had their tribal unity substituted by local ties in urban areas. The Celtiberians still resisted Roman practices and their basic social institution, the gens, persisted. Latin was adopted to speak with the Roman ruling class and to speak with distant tribes, but to speak with others of their community they still spoke their language, and their laws were still the tribal ones.

The third phase and the pivotal point in the Romanization of Hispania was marked by the policies of Caesar, Augustus and his successors. Caesar granted, for the first time, the rank of municipium to entire cities, something that granted Latin citizenship. Caesar started the most ambitious policy of colonization yet, as Caesar saw in Hispania the perfect land to solve the social chaos and economic misery of the Italic peasants. Rome had been present in Spain for more than a century, there were fertile lands in the Mediterranean side of the Peninsula, it was relatively near Italy and during the civil war Hispania Ulterior was loyal to Pompey, so it was necessary to make the province loyal to him. All the conditions were aligned to take a step further to integrate Hispania.

roman and latin colonies

Caesar’s colonization policy was very successful, and his successor Augustus kept it and expanded it. But Augustus not only continued the policy of colonization and extension of Latin citizenship. If Caesar could conquer Gaul, he needed to complete the conquest of Hispania once and for all, submitting the sparsely populated northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria that raided from time to time their neighbors who were under Roman protection. The greatness of Augustus in Hispania didn’t only come from that conquest, he also started ambitious public works to transform Spain into a new Italy.

He then took the task of reorganizing the provinces. Augustus expanded Hispania Citerior and changed its name to Hispania Tarraconensis, and he also divided the province of Hispania Ulterior in two, the imperial province of Lusitania and the senatorial province of Baetica in Andalusia. Senatorial provinces were provinces that were controlled by the Senate instead of the Emperor, with little chances of rebellion and no legions stationed. You can imagine that Baetica was very Romanized at this point, as the newborn Roman Empire considered Baetica a core territory. The province was the richest region of Hispania, with its mineral resources and fertile lands for agriculture. But that’s not the only reason Baetica was the most Romanized region along the coasts of Hispania Citerior, I mean, remember, who inhabited those lands? The Iberians. And the Iberians, due to their location, had already interacted with other advanced civilizations, namely Greeks and Phoenicians. Their social structures and institutions were similar to those of Italy, only less advanced. That’s why the process of Romanization was easier in southern and eastern Spain.

On the other hand, Central Spain experienced a slower process of Romanization. How and to what extend were the peoples of Central Spain integrated into the Roman Empire? Roads, villas and urbanism were important elements to Romanize Central Spain. Villas were luxurious country houses built by landowners to control their states and show their wealth, and in heavily rural environments like Central Spain villas were the expression of Roman culture. Urbanism in Central Spain was a middle ground between the large cities of southern and eastern Spain and the sparsely populated northern regions. That’s why Central Spain took more time to Romanize, but it ended up Romanized anyway. A good indicator of how Romanized it was is that by the 1st century AD Central Spain could be demilitarized.

The other area is Northern Spain, that received little Roman cultural influence during the entire lifetime of the Roman Empire. Some Roman legions were stationed to protect the mines, but in most of those areas Romans only showed up every now and then. Because of that ancient tribal structures, native languages and local laws survived well into the Principate.

Before we get into the political history of Hispania during the Principate, I want to discuss the economy of Hispania of this era. The most outstanding sectors of the Hispano-Roman economy of the Principate were agriculture, mining and salting. Hispania was not anymore the breadbasket of Rome like Egypt, nor the wealthiest region of the empire. Yet Hispania presented opportunities to farm new lands and the greatest source of mineral wealth of the Roman Empire, with the far Britannia as the only province comparable in mineral resources. Hispania exported cereals, but also olive oil and wines that had an excellent reputation over the empire. Olive oil production was so important that in Rome they built the artificial Monte Testaccio with a height of 35 meters. They built it using a huge number of broken amphoras that mostly came from Baetica, modern-day Andalusia. In fact, the Romans were the ones who introduced olive trees and grapes on a large scale. While Baetica greatly increased olive oil and wine production, that meant that there was less land used to produce grain. Central Spain probably had the role of growing cereals for the rest of Hispania, as the dry Meseta it’s ideal for that. Grain must have been transported through roads or rivers to later be shipped by sea. Among the changes the Romans introduced in the Spanish agriculture, they made clearer distinctions between common and private lands and introduced new farming tools and more efficient agricultural techniques. All that allowed to have, to some extent, a market-oriented rural economy.

economy hispania industries

The second industry I mentioned was mining, and you may remember that Rome found very attractive the mineral wealth of the Iberian Peninsula. The mines of Cartagena, Andalusia and later northern Spain became very important for the empire. The mines of Baetica lost importance in the late 2nd century, as the mines of Britannia were easier to exploit and were very rich, but the mines of the north maintained their importance even in the Late Roman Empire. Mines were initially owned and exploited by the state, but later Rome leased mines to Roman businessmen. The exploitation of mines required skilled workers and the foundation of colonies, so we can say that mining was a pillar for the Romanization of Spain too.

The third outstanding industry I mentioned was salting, that involved the extraction of salt and fishing to later commercialize salted fish. Cartagena, Cádiz and other cities of southern Spain and Lusitania became famous for this activity. In addition to salted fish, Spanish salting factories produced a very popular sauce in Italy and Greece, garum. This may sound very disgusting, but this sauce was made from fermented fish intestines. There are only two reasons someone would consume salted fermented fish intestines, to use it as an aphrodisiac or as a medicine, and garum was used for both. To end this economic talk, I wanted to add that hunting, horse breeding and the manufacture of textiles and pottery were important industries as well.

Now let’s make an overview to the political evolution of the Roman Empire from the Julio-Claudian dynasty to the Severan dynasty. I’ve already talked about how Caesar and Augustus of the Julio-Claudian dynasty boosted the economic development, Roman colonization and integration of Hispania into the empire. Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the Flavian dynasty took the Roman throne in 69 AD. Emperor Vespasian issued the Edict of Latinization that gave not the Roman but the Latin citizenship to all the free Hispano-Romans, including the inhabitants of central and northern Spain that weren’t very Romanized. That was the definitive step for the integration of Hispania into the Roman Empire. This was the largest extend of rights given by Rome since the Republic gave Roman citizenship to all the freemen of Italy. But why did Vespasian take a measure of this magnitude? There are several reasons that explain the Edict of Latinization. One is purely political, Hispania helped Vespasian to reach his position, but the other was that Hispania was enough Romanized to at least give Latin citizenship, which was inferior to the Roman in theory but not so much in practice at this point. To mention another factor, as Italy grew wealthier, less Romans wanted to serve in the legions, and giving Latin citizenship to Hispano-Romans facilitated and encouraged recruitment.

Vespasian wanted to accomplish several objectives in Hispania: to reduce the size of the army in Hispania and relocate the legions to more problematic regions; to use more extensively Spanish manpower; to promote the mines of the north and the region of Lusitania; and to promote municipalities. By giving Hispano-Romans a more active role in the administration of the Roman Empire, Vespasian hoped he could purge the Senate and legions of disloyal Romans. It was during his reign that the administration of Hispania became civilian instead of military.

Because of the Edict of Latinization of Vespasian, a powerful faction of senators from Hispania emerged and that very same faction would soon promote, in the early 2nd century, two Hispano-Roman emperors, Trajan and Hadrian. Trajan became the first emperor born outside Italy and is considered to have equaled or even surpassed Augustus. He embraced the stoic ideals of the also Hispano-Roman Seneca to govern: austerity, kindness, self-demand, meritocracy, respect and tolerance without renouncing to authority and determination, and impassivity against adversity. That’s why he was called Optimus Princeps, which means best first citizen. He implemented social welfare policies, promoted an extensive public works program over all the empire and expanded the empire to its maximum extend with the conquest of Dacia and his campaigns in Mesopotamia.

trajan

Trajan favored Hispano-Romans in both administrative positions and the army, and that was criticized by some sectors of the Roman oligarchy. During Trajan’s rule recruitment in the wealthy Hispania Baetica diminished as it happened in Italy, while many auxiliaries came from the poorer north. To end the talk about him, it’s remarkable how Hispania benefited from his public works program. Trajan ordered the expansion of cities, the building of bridges and amphitheaters and the reparation and extension of Roman roads, with special attention to the neglected region of Lusitania.

His successor, Hadrian, adopted a policy of consolidating the gains and establishing defensible borders, as it’s exemplified by Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia, but also by the withdrawal of Roman troops from the recently conquered Mesopotamia. Hadrian continued the policies of social welfare and public works of his predecessor. The Hispano-Roman Emperor travelled throughout the Roman Empire to know the problems the empire had and to solve them. For instance, he gathered in Tarragona an assembly with representatives from all Hispania and asked them to contribute with an important number of soldiers to solve the problems in Britannia and Mauritania. His proposal was met with fierce resistance at first, but Hadrian and the representatives reached an agreement at last. Hadrian relied heavily at first on Hispano-Romans for key administrative positions and to fill the ranks of the army, but that changed as years went by. Overall the governments of Trajan and Hadrian are remembered for their prosperity, justice and relative peace.

Hadrian was succeeded by Antoninus Pius, who had a reign marked by peace. Antoninus proved to be a very good administrator, as he left the office with a huge surplus in the treasury. He also expanded access to drinking water and built Roman roads in Gaul, modern-day France. Nonetheless, the empire started showing signals of stagnation under him, and Antoninus Pius barely did anything in Hispania, although that may be reasonable since previous emperors had dedicated enough attention to the region. The reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus represented the end of the Pax Romana and the start of the slow decadence of the Roman Empire. The Antonine Plague desolated the empire, killing as much as 20 to 30% of the population, and to make things worse the Roman Empire suffered raids from Germanic tribes in the northern frontier and Berber tribes from North Africa in Hispania. The economy of Hispania resented from plagues and raids, but also from heavy taxes and levies. The population of Hispania is estimated to have been around 6 or 7 million people before the Antonine Plague, equal to that of the Italian Peninsula. But after that, population declined to around 5 million, and the population of Hispania remained more or less constant up to the Renaissance. Yep, more than ten centuries after the plague.

With Commodus the Antonine dynasty ended, and the Severan dynasty eventually seized power at the end of the 2nd century. The Severans sowed the seeds for an economic crisis, they exponentially increased the salaries of the soldiers, but since the state couldn’t pay for that they decided to devaluate the Roman currency. Eventually that generated high inflation, distrust in the Roman monetary system and in general an economic mess. Hispania specifically suffered more since landowners started spending more capital in North Africa. Regarding the military, the recruitment of Hispano-Romans massively decreased from the rule of Septimius Severus onwards, as it had happened with Italians.

The infamous Caracalla then conceded Roman citizenship to all the free peoples of the Roman Empire, not as an act of altruism but to tax more and to have more available manpower for the army. That didn’t affect much Hispania, as many already had Roman citizenship and every free Hispano-Roman had the very similar Latin citizenship. With that law Roman citizenship stopped being something to be proud of, because everyone had it, and for the ones who hadn’t they saw how they had to pay more taxes now, so they weren’t happy either. Severus Alexander became the last of the Severan dynasty, his reign was relatively peaceful, although with the rising Sassanid Empire and Germanic tribes threatening Roman power. What was worse and fatal for Severus Alexander was the breakdown of military discipline and continuous conspirations within the army. He was eventually assassinated by mutineers in Germania in 235, ending the Principate and beginning the Crisis of the Third Century that almost collapsed the Roman Empire.

THE VERDICT: I’m sure many of you had already heard about Romanization before, but it’s not an exceptional cultural phenomenon at all. There are actually many historical and current phenomenon of cultural assimilation that end with -zation. Hispanicization, Anglicization, Russification, even fucking Uzbekization and this is not a meme. But this is what happens with cultures, they can be transmitted in a more peaceful way, sometimes cultures can be imposed, but what’s common is that states try to expand their borders, their wealth and of course their culture. The desire to grow, expand and possess are the essence of human nature, and that’s how empires rise. And with that, The Verdict ends.

Many things to learn from this episode, right? What Romanization was and how it happened, which were the key industries of the economy of Hispania, how did Roman politics evolved and how that affected Spain… I hope you understood everything and learned things you didn’t know. If something wasn’t clear, relisten the episode or go to thehistoryofspain.com to read the script and see the images. In the website there’s also a list of books about the history of Spain and you can 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 enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA ANTIGUA. TOMO II. HISPANIA ROMANA. José María Blázquez and others

THE ROMANIZATION OF CENTRAL SPAIN: COMPLEXITY, DIVERSITY AND CHANGE IN A PROVINCIAL HINTERLAND. Leonard A. Curchin

https://memoriasdeuntambor.com/hispania-romana

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanizaci%C3%B3n_de_Hispania

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

https://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/GERI/article/viewFile/GERI9393110271A/14512

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

Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance

This is episode 7 called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • Why Rome took so much time conquering Hispania
  • What interests did Rome have in the Iberian Peninsula
  • What happened in the Iberian Revolt of 197-195 BC and why did Iberians revolt multiple times
  • What happened in the First and Second Celtiberian Wars
  • Which were the two major wars that were the turning point in the Roman conquest of Hispania: the pacification of Lusitania with the defeat of Viriathus and the Numantine War
  • The internal tensions in Italy and the causes of the fall of the Roman Republic
  • Why did Sertorius fled for Hispania
  • A brief talk about the civil wars that ended the Republican system
  • Why and how did Augustus completed the conquest of Hispania with the Cantabrian Wars in northern Spain
  • Reflections on the importance of the devotio

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 7, called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance. In this episode you will learn that the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was a long and arduous process that involved different rebellions and wars. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

We left the previous episode with the Romans winning the Second Punic War and Rome becoming the most powerful state of the Mediterranean. But the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was a process that spanned two centuries, being by far the region that took them the longest to conquer. Why was that the case? Well, first of all Rome didn’t even control the entire Italian Peninsula when the Second Punic War started, in the south there were Greek colonies and Italian cities that betrayed Rome when the city showed weakness during the war, and in the north the Gauls threatened the Roman borders. Then you have to consider the size of the Iberian Peninsula, if you look at a map of Europe it may not seem that way, but the Iberian Peninsula doubles the size of the Italian Peninsula! The last reason is that, as you know if you listened to episode 5, the Iberian Peninsula was extremely politically divided.

phases roman conquest of hispania

I answered the question of why, but that brings up another question. What interests did Rome have in the Iberian Peninsula? Truth is, the Roman Republic didn’t show any special interest of conquest before the Second Punic War. Yes, they made alliances with the Greek city-states of Iberia, but the Romans didn’t even actively seek those alliances, the Greek city-states were the ones that asked for Roman aid because they were afraid of Carthage. Therefore, Rome only became interested in Hispania because Carthage used it as a power base to attack Rome. With Hispania in Roman hands, Rome deprived Carthage from a fundamental base to recruit troops and extract natural resources. The Carthaginians weren’t a threat now that the Romans had part of Hispania, but the Romans realized that the Iberian Peninsula could be exploited not only for geostrategic reasons, but also economic.

As Rome didn’t plan the annexation of the Carthaginian possessions of Spain, there were constitutional irregularities and hesitations at first. Even the command of Scipio Africanus in Hispania was irregular, but who would dare to speak up against the hero of Rome? What Hispania needed was a strong leadership, and that was made very clear when a revolt in modern Catalonia started during the Second Punic War. Scipio Africanus rightly stated that continuous military presence was needed, and he established permanent garrisons at Tarragona, Cartagena and Cádiz.

To better administer the newly conquered territory, Scipio Africanus divided Hispania in two provinces, Hispania Citerior or Nearer Spain with the capital in Tarragona, and Hispania Ulterior or Farther Spain with its capital in Córdoba. Roman administration was almost non-existent in the first decades, as they were mainly interested in the natural resources and economic exploitation through trade and taxes that the Peninsula could offer. Rome relied heavily on pacts with the natives and continuous military presence to keep Hispania in their hands. However, this control soon showed its weaknesses.

A new war started in Greece, a territory more important at the time that Rome wanted to control. Because of that and because the Second Punic War was over, the Republic decided to reduce the Roman legions in Hispania from 4 to 2. But the reduction of Roman military presence in Hispania proved fatal. The first proconsuls were changed every two years and lacked experience and interest to know the local population. That led to abuses of power, and soon the Iberians had enough. In 197 BC the peoples of the two Spanish provinces revolted simultaneously against the new power that conquered them. The uprising was general and massive, and with less than 20,000 Roman soldiers to face it, the praetor of Hispania Citerior was killed, and his army crushed.

Things didn’t look good for the Romans during 197 and 196 BC, but that year they won their war against Macedonia and the Senate was now able to focus its attention on what was happening in the West. Cato the Elder was sent to Hispania in 195 BC to solve the situation. For those who don’t know him, Cato the Elder was a traditionalist Roman who opposed the Greek ideas, and he represented the new landowner class that was ruthlessly exploiting the agricultural lands with slaves, something that would cause a social crisis during the last century of the Roman Republic. The situation was critical, so a total of between 50,000 and 70,000 Roman troops were gathered to put down the revolt. Cato entered the Iberian Peninsula through Emporion. There he achieved a major victory over the coalition of tribes, and because of that some tribes of the Ebro surrendered, gave hostages and freed the Roman prisoners of war. Then the praetors of Hispania Ulterior asked the urgent help of Cato the Elder and he used diplomacy to convince the Celtiberian mercenaries to not help the Turdetani of Ulterior in their revolt. The Iberian people were pacified at least, but Cato still had some time to send his army in unexplored Celtiberian territory to show the power of Rome.

cato the elder bust

A new revolt started in modern Catalonia, but he quickly put it down before leaving for Rome. There Cato the Elder received a triumph, as he had single-handedly finished the Iberian revolt and brought with him the greatest amount of gold and silver seen up to that moment. Cato is glorified in Roman historiography, and it’s not strange, since the path he opened was the one used in the future of Roman imperialism: Rome would use its military power to conquer new territories and systematically and brutally repress any resistance.

You may remember from episode 5 that Lusitanians and Vettones, as well as other natives of the interior and northern parts of Spain, were poor and had very unequal societies, something that encouraged brigandage. That’s a problem that the Romans faced early after their initial conquest, with constant attacks over the Guadalquivir and Ebro Valleys. Between 194 and 179 BC Roman legions pacified the conquered territories and made incursions into the Meseta and the homeland of the Celtiberians. Rome captured Toledo and advanced northwards along the Ebro Valley, making for the first time direct contact with the Vascones.

Eventually, the bellicose Celtiberians raised a confederate army of 35,000 men to oppose Roman expansionism, and the clash started the short First Celtiberian War. Even though this time the Celtiberians gathered an organized army of a considerable size, it wasn’t enough to stop Rome and they were continuously defeated. Tiberius Gracchus the Elder ended the war signing a series of treaties. Gracchus regulated for the first time tax collection to prevent abuse and established that the Celtiberian allies had to provide auxiliary troops and that they could not set up new fortified cities. You know, Rome was still organized as a city-state, and most expansionist actions were brought by the initiative and ambition of Roman generals. Generals administrated the territory in an authoritarian way, which allowed them to abuse the local population and that led to revolts. This continuous state of unrest in the Iberian Peninsula worried the Senate, but in this very same Senate praetors had friends and relatives that protected them. And not only praetors abused the locals, patricians and equites abused them as well. In case you didn’t know, patricians based their power on the ownership of land and equites, or knights, based their power on trade and taxation. Luckily for the Romans, the natives were very divided politically and exhausted after years of constant warfare, so most of the revolts against Roman power and abuses weren’t a threat to their interests.

After years of wars, it was time to stop expanding and focus on exploiting the two provinces of Hispania. Things were quiet for the next 30 years. Many natives started following the agrarian and urbanized lifestyle of the Romans. The Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula was on, and the presence of Italian soldiers and the arrival of settlers from Italy only accelerated the process. The Roman policy in Hispania in those peaceful decades focused on stabilizing the borders, preventing attacks from the tribes of the periphery to exploit economically the provinces. It’s paradoxical, because although the argument is defensive, you always have people that is bordering you, so by using this argument the militaristic and oligarchical Republic could expand indefinitely.

pre-numantine war map

Peace didn’t last long though. In 154 BC the Second Celtiberian War broke out, because a city of modern Aragon, Segeda, grew demographically and decided to expand their existing walls. Rome considered that Segeda was breaking the treaty arranged with Gracchus the Elder, even though that’s not what the treaty said. Why did the Roman Senate oppose that? The thing is that at the same time the Lusitanians and Vettones made an alliance to raze modern Western Andalusia, so the Romans feared a new widespread rebellion in Hispania. Before that could happen, Rome decided to declare war and fight a two-front war. Results were mixed at first, the Lusitanian coalition defeated the Romans in Hispania Ulterior and the Celtiberians effectively repelled the Romans in the first siege of Numantia. The praetor of Hispania Citerior decided to end the war, promising to return to the conditions of the previous treaty. The Celtiberians agreed, but the Senate refused to accept peace, as the Roman oligarchy wanted the total submission of the natives. Nonetheless, praetors and soldiers weren’t very happy to be sent to Hispania, as the land was famous for being dangerous. The new consul, Lucullus, was sent to Hispania to continue the war. He attacked the Celtic tribe next to the Celtiberians, a tribe that had never caused problems to Rome, that’s why Roman historiography qualifies his war as illegal and driven by greed for fame and money. And while he got nothing of that, he was never called to account for his illegal war either.

death of viriathus

The Second Celtiberian War ended then, but what about the Lusitanians and Vettones? The war there got really, really crude, as praetor Servius Sulpicius Galba, after being defeated, promised the Lusitanians peace and lands to make a living. With that proposal the Lusitanians agreed to meet Galba, but that son of a bitch ordered them to put down their weapons, surrounded the Lusitanians and massacred them. Very few survived, but among those who survived there was a man named Viriathus. In 147 BC Lusitanians attacked again but were defeated and sued for peace. But when the treaty was about to be sealed, Viriathus spoke to his people and reminded them that the word of a Roman was meaningless. The Lusitanians saw in him the leader they needed and elected Viriathus as their leader. Viriathus waged a long guerrilla war against Rome that proved extremely effective. But by 140 BC the Lusitanian peoples were exhausted and tried to make peace, a peace accepted by the praetor but not the Senate. Therefore, the war continued and in 139 BC the Roman praetor bribed three of Viriathus’ men to kill his leader while asleep. The action was considered shameful by the Senate, but the Lusitanian War soon ended after that. The pacification of Lusitania was a major step in the Roman conquest of Hispania, which allowed the Republic to advance towards Galicia. In 137 BC Rome achieved a major victory over the Galicians at the river Douro or Duero, although the Celtic region wasn’t totally conquered until the Cantabrian Wars under Emperor Augustus. With most of Galicia in their hands, many important mines of the Spanish Atlantic were now under Roman control.

But let’s go back to 143 BC. In that year Viriathus’ resistance was still strong and Celtiberians decided to rebel too. Therefore, the Third Celtiberian War, also known as the Numantine War, started. The consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus, who recently earned the title Macedonicus for his victories in Greece, was sent to Hispania with a 32,000-strong army. On paper, a large army led by a competent leader like him should have earned a quick victory over the Celtiberians, but the war was very different from the one in Greece. In Greece the consul fought cohesive states, but in Hispania tribes and chiefdoms were politically divided, so there wouldn’t be a decisive battle, but a series of battles and skirmishes. The consul attacked the region of the Vaccaei to cut the possible aid that they could bring to the Celtiberians. His successor attacked Numantia, the most important Celtiberian city that had around 10,000 inhabitants. Numantia was strategically located in a hill to control the region nearby as well as a crossing of the river Douro, in the Castilian region of modern Soria next to modern Aragon. After the Romans were repelled in Numantia, they tried to take the second most important city of the region, Termantia, but they weren’t able to do that either. Again, the new incompetent praetor had the idea to divert the river to starve the city to death, but the men who had this job were attacked by the Numantines. Things didn’t look well, as the cold winter approached, and many men caught dysentery. The end of the annual term of the praetor was approaching, so the praetor decided to make peace with the Numantines. When the new praetor arrived, the previous one denied having made peace without the consent of the Senate, therefore hostilities restarted.

roman movements meseta

The next two years were more quiet, Roman attacks on Numantia failed so again Rome attacked the poor Vaccaei. Attacking this tribe became a habit when attacking Numantia was failing. In 137 BC consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus took charge of the situation. His leadership was a disaster, he lost multiple battles against the Numantines, then false rumors reached him saying that the Cantabri and Vaccaei were coming to aid the Numantines… And how did Mancinus react? Doing what Strategy 101 teaches not to do: panic. He ordered a retreat and the Roman army ended up surrounded by the Numantines. Luckily for the Romans, the Numantines were too noble and naïve, and offered the Romans peace when it was the perfect moment to destroy their army. Every treaty had to recognize the Roman supremacy, and in this one the Numantines stipulated that they had equal rights in relation to the Romans. The Senate couldn’t recognize such a humiliating treaty, even though the common people were unhappy and exhausted at home. The Senate ordered the new consul to hand Mancinus over the Numantines completely naked and with his hands tied behind his back. The Numantines refused to let him in and Mancinus returned to Rome and lost his citizenship.

The next three consuls didn’t attack Numantia and again they attacked the surrounding areas, without much success. The Roman army was undisciplined and discontented, and Rome needed a competent man to end the campaign. The man chosen for that mission was Scipio Aemilianus, a relative of Scipio Africanus. Scipio Aemilianus had already commanded the Roman Army in the Third Punic War and destroyed Carthage, and he had also participated in campaigns in Celtiberia, therefore he was the only possible choice in 134 BC. Nonetheless, the Senate was envious of the growing popularity of Scipio Aemilianus just as it happened with Scipio Africanus, and they didn’t give him the army he needed. Volunteers could join him though, and many prominent men did so: Gaius Marius who would become a very important consul, the future king of Numidia Jugurtha, historian Polybius or satirist Gaius Lucilius. The first thing Scipio did was restore discipline by strictly enforcing rules of austerity and by organizing though exercises. Once the army had the moral renewed, the Roman army attacked the Vaccaei tribes again to then build a circuit of fortifications to surround completely Numantia. The walls were three meters high and more than 2 meters wide, and while they were building that the Numantines of course attacked, but the Romans repelled their attacks thanks to a witty system of communications. Furthermore, Scipio Aemilianus ordered to close the affluent of the Douro. All the actions had one objective: to starve Numantia to death.

siege of numantia encirclement camps

A brave warrior called Rhetogenes was able to escape and ask the towns nearby for help, but all the major cities refused out of fear. Only one town offered to help, but the elders of the village warned Scipio and he ordered the amputation of the hands of the young people of that village. Yep, the Romans were brutal. After years of constant attacks and months under siege, Numantia was starving. The majority of the Numantines killed themselves, refusing to be enslaved as the few that didn’t commit suicide were. As I talked in earlier episodes, that can be seen as an act of patriotism, but it also could be explained by the social institution that was the devotio. In any case, the heroic last stand inspired both Roman and Spanish people for generations and even Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, wrote a playwright about the siege. The destruction of Numantia in 133 BC, together with the victory over the Lusitanians, were a turning point in the Roman conquest of Hispania. Now that all the major focuses of resistance were controlled, only the few northern tribes of Spain could offer resistance.

For the next 50 years, Hispania enjoyed relative peace. There were a few rebellions here and there, problems with Lusitanian brigandage, but nothing too serious. The only notable conquest was that of the Balearic Islands in 123 BC, under the pretext of fighting the pirates that used the islands as their base. Meanwhile, the Roman Republic had many social problems and other wars to fight, like the Servile Wars, the Social War between Roman and Italic cities or the Cimbrian War against the Germanic tribes that were migrating in allied Roman territories. With the populist policies of the Gracchus brothers of giving away grain to the plebeians, Sicily and Hispania became the breadbaskets of Rome. Apart from grain and mineral resources, Hispania provided a constant flux of slaves to the slave agrarian economy of Rome. A senatorial commission was sent during this period to reorganize Hispania, because the constant warfare caused the migration of peoples and devastation of many areas. The commission had to deal with very important matters like how to redistribute lands, delimiting the borders of the Roman provinces or how to tax fairly and efficiently. We have very little information about what was happening during those 50 years, but it’s clear that there were areas, especially the most economically important, that were very Romanized at this point.

As I mentioned earlier, social tensions skyrocketed after the Numantine War in Rome, social inequality was very high, and the patricians and equites were enriching themselves while the lower and middle classes were suffering the consequences of the Roman slave economy and expansion.  The Marian reforms issued by Gaius Marius improved the military capability of the Roman Army and accelerated the process of Romanization by giving lands to retired legionaries in conquered lands. At the same time, this helped shift the loyalty of the soldiers more towards their general than towards the Roman Republic, something that would ultimately lead to the transformation of Rome from a republic to an empire. The crisis of the Republic allowed someone like Sulla to march on Rome and become dictator. The political tensions were on a scale never seen before, that’s why many political leaders went into exile in Hispania. Why Hispania? Well, the Iberian Peninsula is relatively close to Italy, some parts of Hispania were very Romanized already and the provinces had enough manpower to raise an army if needed.

Quintus Sertorius was the most notable politician to flee for Hispania. He fled first to North Africa in the region of Mauritania, modern-day Morocco, as he was persecuted for being a politician of the Populares faction which favored the plebeians. His victories there earned him fame in Hispania, especially among the Lusitanians. The Lusitanians were tired of being plundered and oppressed, and they asked Sertorius to become the supreme general of their forces. Sertorius accepted, probably not because he cared about the Lusitanians, but because it was his chance to grow his power and challenge Sulla with a power base in Hispania. I highlight that because nationalists have sometimes presented Sertorius as an anti-Roman separatist, while that’s for sure not the case since he was Roman and he wanted to defeat Sulla to control Rome. As I said, for him Hispania was his power base but nothing more, just like the Peninsula was the power base used by Carthage in the Second Punic War to combat Rome.

sertorian war map

In Hispania he created a parallel political structure in imitation to that of Rome, challenging the legitimacy of the aristocratic government of Sulla. Populist politicians, victims of the dictator and Spanish oppressed natives felt that it was in their best interests to support Sertorius. Sertorius used guerrilla tactics to defeat forces larger than his, and everyone quickly noticed his great military skills. Soon he was known as the new Hannibal, and he went from victory after victory until he conquered most of Hispania Citerior. Lusitanians, Celtiberians and Iberians followed him, and Sertorius sealed their loyalty with pacts of devotio. Sulla died, but the aristocratic party remained in power by adopting some populist policies. A young and skilled Pompey assumed the mission to crush Sertorius, but it wasn’t as easy as he initially thought. The war was one of exhaustion for both sides, but after several years of war the followers of Sertorius were more exhausted than the other side and a general betrayed and assassinated Sertorius in 72 BC. Thus, the long nightmare of the Roman government ended.

Pompey put down many rebellions and pacified entire provinces of the Roman Republic. He was a caudillo that wanted to earn the admiration of both the Republic and the plebeians to gain power. But after fighting against pirates in the Mediterranean and conquering multiple areas of the Near East, the oligarchical Senate refused to recognize his victories. He was a hero, much like Scipio Africanus or Scipio Aemilianus, that’s why he was a threat to the Roman political system. What’s paradoxical here is that the opposition of his former patrons brought the ambitious Julius Caesar and Pompey together. The end of the Republic was coming. Not only Pompey had many important friends and the support of the common people and the army, he had also developed strong personal loyalties in Hispania. Nonetheless Julius Caesar was appointed propraetor of Hispania Ulterior in 62 BC, and he also created a network of loyalties by being generous to his soldiers. But going back to the point, Julius Caesar, Pompey and the richest man of Rome were the members of the so-called first triumvirate. During this period Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and Pompey became worried about the growing popularity of Caesar. Despite that, Pompey decided to stay in Rome because he took for granted his network of loyalties in Hispania. Fatal mistake.

There were too many cooks in the kitchen and only one could be the leader of the Republic. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, starting a civil war. Pompey and the Senate fled to Greece, Caesar marched to Hispania and the Pompeian legions of Hispania were defeated or switched sides. The decision of Caesar proved correct, he marched against a leaderless army before attacking a general without army. The victory of Julius Caesar benefited greatly Hispania, but more on that in the next episode. After the famous assassination of Caesar in 44 BC, Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus formed a triumvirate. There was a civil war later between Octavian and Mark Antony, but that civil war didn’t affect Hispania at all since there was complete loyalty to the heir of Julius Caesar, Octavian. Octavian won the civil war, he founded the Roman Empire in 27 BC and the rest is history.

But wait there, don’t leave, because the Roman conquest of Hispania had yet to finish. The north of the Iberian Peninsula had to be conquered, and Octavian Augustus had many plans for Hispania. The conquest of the Peninsula had to be completed, if Julius Caesar conquered in less than a decade Gaul, Augustus needed to achieve something greater than Caesar. He already did something great, he incorporated a rich country like Egypt into the new-born Roman Empire. But the conquest of all Hispania would end two centuries of continuous war and problems. How great was that? In addition to that, the northern region was rich in mineral resources, that were indispensable for the exhausted finances of the empire. He had to be the one achieving that.

cantabrian wars

Much like the Lusitanians or Celtiberians earlier, the Astures and Cantabrians razzed their neighbors because they were poor. They attacked tribes under the protection of Rome and that gave Augustus the perfect pretext to start a war. The Cantabrian Wars started in 29 BC, and the war there was going to be long and complicated, because the region is mountainous and the locals had the important advantage of knowing the terrain. Since that region doesn’t have many suitable agricultural lands, it was a complicated campaign in terms of logistics. Augustus personally led the campaign in 26 BC, and more than 70k soldiers loyal to the Emperor joined him. The Cantabrians used guerrilla tactics that irritated Augustus, and he left ill the campaign. For two years Tarragona, in Hispania Citerior, became de facto the administrative capital of the empire. That widely benefited the city and to thank the Emperor it was the first city to erect a temple in his honor, starting the imperial cult. In 24 BC Augustus considered Hispania pacified and held a triumph march in Rome. Despite that, the war continued, or at least local resistance existed. In 22 BC thousands of Cantabrians were surrounded and many killed themselves while others were captured and sold into slavery. Resistance and attacks continued, and Augustus said enough is enough and decided to send Agrippa, his close friend and general, to end the resistance. Agrippa exterminated the Cantabrians in military age, and the Astures surrendered. The conquest of Hispania was completed in 19 BC. It was time to reorganize Hispania and triple down on the integration of the region into the Roman Empire.

THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to highlight the importance of the devotio both in the wars of native resistance and in wars side by side with Romans. Large networks of patronage explain last stands like Numantia or Calagurris, a town that was loyal to Sertorius until Pompey completely destroyed it. The massive suicides of the Cantabrians can also be explained by the devotio, probably some patrons were killed or decided that it was better to commit suicide than to be enslaved, so the devoti had to kill themselves too. Roman generals realized how useful Spanish soldiers were for that and many employed devoti as personal guards. Romans used that social institution to their benefit in other ways, by convincing a patron to swear allegiance to Rome Romans could gain hundreds of allies with little effort, and imperial cult was very strong in Hispania because of devotio. Better to have a loyal and devoted soldier than thousands that can abandon you any time. And with that, The Verdict ends.

As I said, the next episode will be focused on the Romanization of Hispania and the political and economic evolution of Hispania during the Principate, the imperial period before the Crisis of the Third Century. 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, a list of books about the history of Spain and 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 enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. VOLUMEN 1. HISPANIA ANTIGUA. Domingo Plácido

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA ANTIGUA. TOMO II. HISPANIA ROMANA. José María Blázquez and others

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

Roman Conquest of Hispania: Second Punic War

This is episode 6 called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Second Punic War and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • Which were the two rising Mediterranean powers: Carthage and Rome
  • Why was Carthage interested in controlling Spain
  • How and why the Second Punic War started
  • Which was the Hannibal’s strategy to win the war
  • How did Rome almost fall
  • About the hopes of winning with the campaigns of Scipio Africanus in Spain and the decisive Battle of Illipa in 206 BC
  • How did the Second Punic War end
  • How the war affected Spain and the long-term impact of the Second Punic War for Rome and Hispania
  • Reflections about an alternative scenario where Carthage wins the war

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 6, called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Second Punic War. In this episode we abandon the Prehistory and Protohistory and start the Ancient Era. Because of that it’s going to be a very narrative and entertaining episode compared to the previous ones. You will learn the story of the Second Punic War, a war between two emerging Mediterranean powers, Carthage and Rome, and the implications that that had for Spain. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

Two powers emerged between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC, one in each side of the Mediterranean, Carthage and Rome. After the fall of the old Phoenician metropolis of Tyre, Carthage, in modern-day Tunis, assumed the leadership of the Phoenician settlements of the Western Mediterranean, and they expanded their power through both trade and military action. Rome, on the other hand, relied more on the military and land-property interests to expand themselves rather than trade and naval power. Already in 509 BC, when the Roman Republic was founded, Carthage and Rome made a treaty to determine their areas of influence. At that time, Carthage was much more powerful than Rome, the Punics had influence over the entire North African coast, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and of course the southern and levant regions of the Iberian Peninsula. Meanwhile Rome didn’t even have complete control over the Italian Peninsula.

Nonetheless the weak situation of Rome changed during the course of the 4th century BC, and by the 3rd century BC Rome was a threat to Carthaginian interests. The clash of interests over Sicily resulted in the 23-years-long First Punic War that exhausted economically and demographically both powers, but the Roman Republic won. Carthage lost first Sicily and then Sardinia and Corsica as well. But even worse was that Carthage couldn’t pay its mercenary soldiers due to the economic exhaustion and the high indemnities imposed by Rome, which caused the Mercenary War that almost destroyed Carthage. Punic naval power declined as well and the Carthaginian oligarchy had to do something to make up the territorial and economic losses, so the Punic oligarchy debated about what should they do next. The landowner class wanted to renounce to any military action that could cause a new conflict with Rome, they preferred to focus their attention in controlling North Africa and maybe expand westwards to Numidia and Mauritania, modern-day Algeria and Morocco. But then you had the powerful families that had enriched themselves with maritime trade that wanted to expand overseas. The mercantile faction led by Hamilcar Barca of the Barcid family won the debate and the Carthaginian senate allowed the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

map second punic war

Therefore, in 237 BC Hamilcar Barca and his army got ashore Cádiz and started their military conquest in southern Iberia. He came along with his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair and his son Hannibal, who was at the time 9 years old. Hamilcar focused his initial campaign in conquering the territories that used to be Tartessos, with its fertile lands and still important mineral resources. There they fought the Iberians and Turdetani. The Turdetani who opposed Punic expansion hired Celtic and Celtiberian mercenaries. Carthaginian troops defeated them, killed the leaders of the confederate army and incorporated 3,000 of them into their army. Hamilcar gained control over the mines of Sierra Morena and the lands of the Guadalquivir River in a year. That allowed Hamilcar Barca to pay his army, pay part of the indemnities imposed by Rome and buy loyalties. But Carthaginian expansion eastwards proved more difficult. It took 4 years to control the area that is now Murcia and Alicante. Rome already warned Carthage in 229 BC to not advance towards the Iberian Levant because the cities of Emporion and Sagunto asked for Roman aid. Hamilcar replied saying that he was collecting the booty to pay the indemnities, and the Romans left the Carthaginians alone for some years.

Hamilcar moved his campaign to the northwest, in what’s now northeastern Andalusia, where he fought the Oretani tribes led by Orissus. Orissus apparently offered him an alliance to later betray him, as he killed Hamilcar in battle in 228 BC. His son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair succeeded him and founded the most important strategic base of the Carthaginians in Iberia, Carthago Nova in the region of Murcia. Hasdrubal preferred diplomacy rather than war, so he arranged pacts and marriages with the native elites to pacify the conquered territories. He even signed a treaty with the Roman Republic in 226 BC that delimited the boundaries of the two powers in the Iberus River, which is not clear whether it means the Ebro or the Júcar, which would make sense since the city of Sagunto that is below the Ebro asked for Roman protection. In any case, Hasdrubal was killed in 221 BC by a former slave of Celtic king Tagus, who avenged his dead master. Yeah, a truly moving story of loyalty.

Before I continue with the narrative, let me talk a bit about how the Carthaginians managed the occupied territories to fuel the war machine. The conquered regions were forced to give soldiers, hostages and slaves to the Carthaginians. Punic advanced techniques were implemented in agriculture and mining to increase production, and they also developed the shipbuilding, salting and minting industries in Cádiz and Carthago Nova. Their way to govern the conquered lands is clear: they brought their technologies with them to improve the efficiency of production and either enslaved the local populations or arranged pacts with the local elites.

At the age of 25, Hannibal Barca became the Supreme Commander of the Carthaginian Army, an army made up of professional North African, Balearic and Iberian and Celtic soldiers. Really makes you think that great commanders like Alexander or Hannibal accomplished many things while being young, while most of us haven’t done shit at that age. Anyway, he started his campaign by marching north, where he fought and defeated the Celts and Celtiberians of the Meseta. In the winter of 220 BC Hannibal was planning something no one was expecting. He planned with his brothers the invasion of Italy to revenge the Carthaginian defeat of the First Punic War.

The Second Punic War started in 218 BC, because Hannibal attacked the city of Sagunto that was somehow under the protection of Rome. The causes of the attack and the justification for the war have been a matter of controversy for centuries. The citizens of Sagunto weren’t saints, they raided territories that were under Punic control, so it’s understandable that the Carthaginians could be pissed off. The Romans declared war claiming that Carthage had violated the Ebro Treaty signed a few years before, but it’s not clear if Sagunto was included in the treaty. In any case, the siege of Sagunto lasted 8 months and the Carthaginian troops sacked the city. The city wasn’t destroyed though, as Roman sources try to make us believe. Another very interesting fact is that Rome didn’t aid their supposed allies, they only declared war on Carthage after they heard that the city had fallen and, more importantly, after they had come up with a strategic plan.

About the strategic plans that both sides came up with, we first have the Hannibal strategy that consisted in marching fast and undetected to the Roman homeland, crossing the Alps to then destroy Rome. Hannibal split the army, the majority followed him, but some soldiers needed to remain in Iberia and Carthage. The Carthaginian plan depended on speed and the surprise effect to be successful, but also on the capacity of Hannibal to provoke a revolt among the Italian cities and towns to give a final blow to Rome. On the other hand, the two Roman consuls planned to march one to Iberia through the coasts of southern France, while the other would move to Sicily to then attack Carthage itself. Here is an important detail to know about Roman politics, the senate elected each year two consuls that had the same power, and those consuls were also the supreme commanders of the Roman military. This dual system of course caused disagreements and all sorts of problems, but worse was the yearly term, especially in times of war, because that generated incentives to make stupid military moves for the sake of personal glory. More on that in a second.

hannibal crossing the alps

So, Hannibal marched from Carthago Nova northwards, first defeating the tribes of Catalonia and then crossing the Pyrenees. The Carthaginian Army took an inland route to travel through France, because they didn’t want the Romans or their Greek allies of Massalia to notice them. But the Romans did detect them, and Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul that had to attack Carthaginian possessions in Iberia, returned to Rome to protect the Roman homeland. The Carthaginian Army was able to cross the Alps under the leadership of Hannibal, something that no one was expecting considering the difficulties of the terrain and that they crossed it when the cold winter was approaching. Take into account that Hannibal was brining thousands of men with him as well as war elephants, so it was a real accomplishment and that’s why it’s a very epic event of world military history. When the news of such an unthinkable action reached Rome, the Roman Senate panicked and the plan to invade the core North African territories of Carthage was aborted. Consul Sempronius Longus joined Scipio and they faced together Hannibal, in a desperate attempt to defeat Hannibal before they were replaced as consuls. The Battle of the Trebia River was the result of that impulsiveness, and of the 42,000 soldiers of the Roman Republic that participated in the battle, only 10,000 managed to retreat. 218 BC was a fantastic year for Hannibal, not only had he defeated the Romans but he was also making alliances with the Gauls, Celts and other people who had recently been conquered by Rome or that felt threatened because of them.

In the following year, new consuls were elected but they were also defeated, most prominently in the Battle of Lake Trasimene. This battle is one of the largest ambushes in military history, and it’s because of his creativity that Hannibal has been so praised in military history. With around 50 or 60,000 men, he killed or captured the entire Roman Army that was made up of 30,000 men. Hannibal held captive those who were Romans and released those who weren’t, to brand himself as a liberator and fighter for freedom against Rome. After the Battle of Lake Trasimene, the Romans panicked, and the Senate decided to appoint Quintus Fabius Maximus dictator. A dictator for the Roman Republic, that is before the transition to the Roman Empire, was a man entrusted with full authority but with some limitations to avoid the end of the Republican system. Within months or a few years, the dictator abandoned that position and everything got back to normal. Fabius famously adopted the so-called Fabian strategy of avoiding pitched battles and open battles, and instead provoke skirmishes that exhausted the enemy. He was called a coward for that and some thought that he only adopted this kind of strategy because he couldn’t come up with anything better.

Due to his unpopularity, new consuls were elected in 216 BC, consuls that adopted a more aggressive approach. The Roman Republic raised an army of 86,000 soldiers to confront Hannibal, who was failing to get support from the Italian people. But all that was for nothing, because this very large army by Ancient standards was led by incompetent generals. The Battle of Cannae is the most well-known victory of the Carthaginians. Hannibal accomplished his greatest military feat, destroying most of the Roman Army with his powerful cavalry and superior tactics. Estimates of the casualties vary, ancient historians like Livy said that Rome suffered more than 60,000 casualties, while modern historians lower that number to maybe 20,000. In any case, the battle was a disaster for Rome and many feared that Rome would fell. The city was on the brink of collapse. The Roman Legions had suffered defeat after defeat, some Italian regions were devastated due to the supply needs of both the Carthaginians and Romans, their morale was very low, and Romans were so desperate that they briefly restored human sacrifice. The Greek colonies and some Italian cities of southern Italy, Macedonia in Greece and the small independent Sicilian state of Syracuse all joined Hannibal. Few believed that the Roman Republic could survive, and everyone wanted to divide the spoils of the Roman Republic.

Yet Hannibal believed that he couldn’t attack Rome yet, because he had an army of around 40,000 and Rome itself had 200,000 inhabitants and still many allied cities and towns. Hannibal offered peace, but the Roman Senate rejected it. With the alliances Hannibal made with some coastal cities, Carthage was able to send reinforcements for the first and only time. Hannibal was basically acting without the support of Carthage, he used the manpower that was left from the initial expedition plus the natives he could ally himself with. Meanwhile, the Roman Senate turned again to Quintus Fabius Maximus and elected him consul in 215 and 214 BC. His strategy may have been the right one, they thought. Even though Carthage was conquering some cities, the Romans at least defeated the Carthaginian expedition to Sardinia, an island that was important to feed Rome, and they also prevented Hasdrubal, brother of Hannibal, to join him, since the Romans defeated Hasdrubal in Iberia.

In 213 and 212 BC two good things happened to Rome: they allied with Syphax, a king of Numidia, and they laid siege and captured Syracuse in Sicily. The Carthaginians were losing the initiative and the momentum they used to have. There were hopes for Rome. Oh, but wait because now there is an unexpected and dramatic turn of events, Hannibal captures the largest Greek city in Italy, Tarentum. Furthermore, the Romans are being defeated in their homeland and the Roman legions located in Iberia are struggling to maintain their position in Catalonia.

Now to continue with what was happening in Spain, the old Scipios captured Sagunto and they were able to hire 20,000 Celtiberian warriors. They launched a major offensive in 211 BC and Hasdrubal and Mago, brothers of Hannibal that led the Carthaginians in Iberia, had to not only keep their position but to try to decisively defeat the Romans in the Peninsula. Remember that Carthage wasn’t sending any reinforcements to Hannibal in Italy, so to have the chance of destroying Rome Hannibal needed the armies of his brothers. The Barca brothers actually managed to crush the Roman Army of Hispania and to kill the old Scipios in the Battle of the Upper Baetis. For the time being, the remaining Roman Army had to go back to its initial position in Catalonia. Who was going to lead them now? Although they were stabilized and reinforced by a general named Gaius Claudius Nero, it was the young son of Publius Scipio the one who replaced him. He would be known as Scipio Africanus, but he hadn’t earned that nickname yet.

Scipio Africanus wanted to avenge his father, keep his legacy alive and save the Roman Republic. He raised a 31,000 strong army, marched south and captured the base of Carthaginian operations in Iberia, Carthago Nova. He slaughtered its inhabitants, its riches were sacked, and the Spanish hostages were liberated to gain more allies. Moving to Italy, the Romans were successful in securing their control over Sicily and in the Italian mainland the war was essentially in a stalemate. Meanwhile, remember that Macedonia also declared war on Rome, and the Roman Republic relied on their Greek allies to fight for them. As in Spain, the Macedonians couldn’t breakthrough and that prevented them from aiding Hannibal in Italy.

It was clear that the Romans had their composure back, while the Carthaginians were making little progress. Hasdrubal was defeated by Scipio, but he was able to cross the Pyrenees and march towards Italy to reinforce the army of his brother and decisively crush Rome. I briefly mentioned Gaius Claudius Nero earlier, but it’s in Italy where he critically participated. This consul prevented the existence of a combined Hannibal and Hasdrubal army that would have been almost impossible to defeat. He tricked the master of tricks and while the lion was distracted, Claudius Nero joined forces with another Roman general and defeated and killed Hasdrubal Barca. The Battle of the Metaurus was a turning point of the Second Punic War, as Hasdrubal was killed and Hannibal was forced to retreat to the Southern Italian region of Calabria.

With Hannibal in a weak position in Italy, the Romans decided to leave him alone, avoid a costly frontal battle and focus on the other major theatre of the war, the Iberian Peninsula. The young and smart Scipio had been forging alliances and hiring native warriors for some time, and the time for a critical action in Spain had arrived. The Iberians, Celts and Celtiberian tribes were massively defecting the Carthaginian side, and the only territories the Punics still controlled were the lands of the south. They were soon to even lose those territories as well. Scipio had a combined Italian-Spanish army of around 50,000 men when he faced and defeated an equally large Carthaginian army led by Hannibal’s brother Mago. The defeat in the Battle of Ilipa of 206 BC was catastrophic for Carthage, and it was the decisive battle that sealed the outcome of the war. Even the old Phoenician colony of Cádiz revolted against Carthage at this point. Scipio had to face an Iberian revolt led by Indibilis and Mandonius, but they were quickly put down. The Iberians had to accept their new rulers, because nothing would be like it had been before the Second Punic War started. Mago Barca attempted to recapture Carthago Nova, but he failed. Scipio didn’t wait to pay a visit to the Numidian Kings Syphax and Masinissa. Syphax used to be an ally of Rome but switched sides, but Masinissa did the reverse, giving Rome the Numidian cavalry that was so highly regarded.

But what was next? Should Rome sign a treaty in favorable conditions? Should they focus on annihilating the remaining forces of Hannibal in Italy? Or should they attack Carthage itself in North Africa? The Roman Senate had disagreements, in part because Scipio was elected consul at the age of 31 in 205 BC, and many senators, including Quintus Fabius, were envious and questioned the ambitions of Scipio. He was already very popular because he secured the former Carthaginian possessions of Hispania for Rome, but what if he campaigned in Africa and destroyed Carthage? The glory of such an action would make him extremely powerful. Therefore, the Senate decided to not give him more troops that the ones stationed in Sicily. But due to his popularity, Scipio was able to hire more men and ships that the ones Rome gave him.

Scipio get away with his desired African campaign, he landed near Carthage, put the city of Utica under siege and set on fire the camp of the Carthaginians and Numidians of Syphax, slaughtering most of the Carthaginian army with a not very honorable but effective move. Scipio Africanus then chased down another Carthaginian and Numidian army, capturing King Syphax and helping King Masinissa unite Numidia under him. The Carthaginians were very worried, and some wanted to sue for peace while others wanted Hannibal and the rest of the Carthaginian army of Italy to go back home and protect the motherland. Carthage and Rome were arranging an armistice in 203 BC and Scipio proposed moderate peace terms, but Hannibal was recalled from Italy and once he arrived the Carthaginian senators that wanted to keep the war going won popularity and peace negotiations stopped. Hannibal and Scipio fought a final battle in 202 BC, the Battle of Zama. In this battle, Rome had for the first time cavalry superiority thanks to the Numidians, and although the battle was fierce and bloody, Scipio Africanus managed to win. After the battle, Hannibal convinced the few that still wanted the war to continue to stop and negotiate peace.

The Roman Senate wanted the destruction of Carthage and the death of Hannibal and his family, but Scipio instead offered more acceptable terms. The Carthaginians were banned to raise an army without Roman permission, their naval fleet was severely limited and they would have to pay an indemnity. Carthage lost all their Spanish possessions, and the Romans were able to keep the former Carthaginian Spanish territories under their control, except for the Balearic Islands that would take a little longer to conquer.

Now, since this podcast is called The History of Spain Podcast, let’s focus on the influence the Second Punic War had in the Iberian Peninsula. The conquered part of the peninsula was divided in two provinces, Hispania Citerior in the north and Hispania Ulterior In the south. The tribes that lived in what used to be Carthaginian Hispania lost their political autonomy, they had to pay taxes to the Romans and the Senate could ask for extraordinary contributions or the recruitment of auxiliary troops any time. Only Ampurias, Sagunto and Málaga maintained their status of free cities for some time as a reward for their collaboration. Nonetheless, the Romans in the initial phase of the conquest were very respectful with the local oligarchies. Rome essentially practiced exploitation colonialism, which means that with few colonists they kept the Iberian territories under their control to exploit the natural resources, manpower and trade opportunities to benefit the metropole. And how did they do that? Mainly using military force but also with the arrangement of pacts and marriages. But we will see in the next episode that the domination of Hispania wouldn’t be easy for Rome.

THE VERDICT: Okay, I know that this is alternate history stuff but, what if Carthage won the Second Punic War and destroyed Rome? The entire history of Europe would be incredibly different, I mean, the consequences of that are of such a magnitude that are almost unthinkable. Maybe more Oriental ideas would have influenced Europe, or maybe trade, instead of militarism, would have influenced more heavily European cultures. Would we even have Christianity and Islam, or Latin languages? But the survival of the Roman Republic and the conquest of the Carthaginian territories of Hispania provoked the rise of an unstoppable Roman imperialism that would eventually transform the Republic into an Empire, and change Europe, North Africa and the Near East forever. Carthage was a bit like Germany in the Second World War. They lost the first, they sought revenge and they were crushed again, this time much more decisively. In the end, I think that the chances of Carthage winning were lower than thus of Rome. The fact that it was mostly a defensive war for the Romans also created stronger loyalties, which is easy to understand because if you saw those foreign Carthaginians sacking and razing your region, would you be happy to collaborate with them? Would you see them as liberators? Carthage didn’t treat the rest of North Africans as equals and relied on a less-devoted mercenary force to combat, while Rome had more citizens and strong alliances with other Italians. That’s why Hannibal, speaking in broad terms, didn’t succeed in convincing the Italians outside Rome to join him, and that’s also why the Roman Republic could raise a new army every time they were severely defeated. And with that, The Verdict ends.

The Second Punic War supposed the unstoppable rise of one Mediterranean power, the Roman Republic, and the critical defeat of the other one, the Republic of Carthage. Never again Carthage supposed a serious threat to Rome, even though there was the Third Punic War, but that one was very asymmetrical and supposed the existential destruction of Carthage. Anyway, Rome consolidated its presence not only in Italy, but expanded or critically gained influence in Hispania, Africa and Greece. With the decline of Carthage as a trading power, Rome grew economically too, even though many parts of Italy and especially the south had been razed by the Carthaginian Army. That also brought social changes like the rise of the equites, a social class that unlike patricians could participate in trade, more and more poor common people and slaves moved to Rome, which increased social tensions, and Greek culture started influencing substantially Roman culture. Only time showed how relevant was the Second Punic War and how important would be Rome for 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. 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 enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. LA ESPAÑA ROMANA Y VISIGODA. Planeta

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. HISPANIA ANTIGUA. Domingo Plácido

“EL IMPACTO DE LA CONQUISTA DE HISPANIA EN ROMA (218-154 a.C.)”. José María Blázquez Martínez

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KydeB-faeE8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueiAqnVD3IQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a3-KsyyJR8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf0-Yki5p40

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT_rev5VAQc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT_rev5VAQc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McT1H-NVCMQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3yIiAZgQLI

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

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

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!