Chronicle 7. AN IBERIAN PERIPLUS REVIVAL
THE PHOENICIANS started building their trading monopoly in the 11th century BCE, after the Sea Peoples‘ raids and the Bronze Age collapse, enjoying a free hand while their antagonists were passing through a “Dark Age”. Arriving at the other side of the Mediterranean, they became trading ‘partners’ with the ‘silver’ Tartessians. Profiting from the wealth of the region and also from the hospitality of the locals, a few Phoenicians settled in their cities. This was implied by Strabo when he wrote that “the best cities of Tartessos were inhabited by the Phoenicians”.
Later they obtained a harbour of their own nearby. It was Gadir, the ‘walled city’, called Gadeira by the Greeks and Gades by the Romans (modern Cádiz).(a) Its founding is dated traditionally to 1104 BCE although no archaeological strata there can be dated earlier than the 9th century. Thus we assume that in its earliest days it was merely a small seasonal trading post. According to Hellenic legend, the city was founded by Heracles on Erytheia, Geryon‘s island, after killing him. One of its notable features in antiquity was the temple dedicated to the Phoenician god Melqart, associated with Heracles by the Greeks. It was still standing during the 1st century, and some historians, based in part on this information, believe that the columns of this temple were the origin of the myth of the Pillars of Heracles.
Soon the entire coastline around this strategic area on both seas, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, as well as on both continents, Europe and Africa, was full of Phoenician settlements. However, they were more densely concentrated there in the south than further up the coast. Thus the Hellenes, when they finally re-appeared on the scene, were able to establish their own trading emporia along the northeastern coast before venturing into the Phoenician zone. Encouraged by the Tartessians, who probably desired to end the Phoenician economic monopoly, the Greeks founded Mainake (or Maenaca), very close to the Phoenician Malaca, on the coast of Málaga. The Massaliote Periplus, which gives an account of a sea voyage in the 6th century BCE, places Mainake under the aegis and in the dominion of Tartessos: Iberia was far too important for anyone to ignore…
Regarding the uncertainty on the whereabouts of Mainake, Strabo in his Geographica pointed out that its ruins, close to Malaca, could still be seen in his time (64 BCE – 24 CE); and collated the regular Greek urban plan versus the haphazard Semitic layout of the Phoenician site, whose location suggests it was a more dense and irregular urban cluster than neighbouring Mainake.(b) However, even if we are still puzzled about the latter’s exact site and life span, the Hellenic cities on the Mediterranean coast of Iberia probably appeared on the map after the foundation of Massalia (modern Marseille) ca 600 BCE by Phocaeans from Ionia in Asia Minor – something that the Punics had tried but failed to prevent. Massalia became a thriving trading centre and a major rival of Carthage for the Iberian markets and especially the tin trade through Gaul.
The Phocaeans then founded Alalia in Corsica ca 566 BCE, and later moved towards Iberia. There are certain popular theories that at least one of their settlements, Rhode (today’s Roses) at the northeastern tip of Iberia, goes back to the 8th century BCE, and that the colonists were from the Aegean island of Rhodes; but it seems more probable that it was founded in the 5th century BCE by Massaliotes, perhaps with an admixture of colonists from nearby Emporion (modern Empúries). Maybe, as in the case of the Phoenician settlement in Gadir, Rhode was nothing more than a small seasonal trading post in the 8th century; or perhaps the colonists that settled there three centuries later were mainly Rhodians serving in the Massaliote army, along with Cretans, in a special force charged with surveying the Carthaginian movements in southern Iberia.
Popular theories should not be discredited without serious thought and research just because they are ‘popular’; those about Rhode certainly were not born without a reason. Sailing towards Provence, we learn that traders from Rhodes were visiting the coast in the 7th century BCE. Rhodian pottery from that century has been found in the area of Marseille, near Istres and Martigues, and at Évenos, near Toulon. The Rhône (Greek Rhodanós), the main river of Provence, and the ancient town of Rhodanousia were named after the island of Rhodes. There is still a problem of a time gap of one century with the supposed Iberian settlement of Rhode; but at any rate the Rhodian traces in Provence precede those of the Phocaeans, the founders of Massalia. Hellenes from other cities of Ionia also traded in the western Mediterranean as far as Iberia, but very little remains from that period. It is obvious that the Phocaeans had arrived there not just to trade but also to settle. A foundation myth reported by Aristotle in the 4th century BCE as well as by Latin authors symbolizes the intermarriage between Hellenes and locals, recounting how a Phocaean named Protis (or Euxenus) married a local princess called Gyptis (or Petta), thus giving him the right to receive a piece of land where he could found a city. Contacts developed undisputedly from 600 BCE onwards between Celts, Ligures and Greeks in Massalia and other colonies such as Agde, Nice, Antibes, Monaco, Emporion and Rhode.
According to Charles Ebel writing in the 1960s, “Massalia was not an isolated Greek city, but had developed an Empire of its own along the coast of southern Gaul by the 4th century”. This idea of a Massalian Empire, nevertheless, is no longer accepted by several skeptical scholars in the light of recent archaeological evidence, which shows that Massalia’s chora (agricultural territory under its direct control) was never large enough. The same skeptics also dispute the idea of a Hellenization of southern France due to Massalia. However, its influence was felt all through France to Brittany because of the Massaliotes’ trade relations with the Celts, especially for the transport of tin from Brittany and even Cornwall. It seems that a Tin Route, indispensable for the manufacture of bronze, was established at that time from Cornwall, through the Channel, along the Seine valley, Burgundy and the Rhône-Saône valleys to Massalia. During his conquest of Gaul, Caesar reported that the Helvetii were in possession of documents in Hellenic, and all Gaulish coins used the Greek script until about 50 BCE. By that time the Massaliote coinage circulated freely in Gaul, influencing coinage as far afield as Britain. Hellenic Marseille eventually became a centre of culture which drew several Roman parents to send their children there to be educated.
A Tin Route, indispensable for the manufacture of bronze, was established from Cornwall through the Channel, along the Seine valley, Burgundy and the Rhône-Saône valleys to Massalia.
In our Massaliote Periplus revival, we set sail from Massalia, leaving Rhode and Emporion behind, and drop anchor between Barcinón and Callípolis. Legends say that Barcinón, modern Barcelona, was founded either by Heracles in the middle of the 12th century BCE,(c) or Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father, in the second half of the 3rd century BCE. At the same time, the Laietani, a Thracian–Iberian people, settled in the area where since the 6th century there had already been the small Greek colony of Callípolis, referred to by Avienus in his Ora maritima, and sometimes identified with Barcinón. However, Callípolis should have been at some distance off, between Tàrraco (Tarragona) and the Hellenic port of Salauris (Salou), in the Costa Daurada (Golden Coast) of Catalonia.
Sailing on while keeping a steady southwestward course, we arrive at Zákantha or Arse, founded by Greeks from the island of Zákynthos in the 7th century BCE. It was captured and destroyed by Hannibal in 219 BCE during the Second Punic War after eight months of heroic resistance related by Livy, and was rebuilt by the Romans who transcribed it as Saguntum, hence its current name of Sagunto.
Back from the European to our Iberian periplus. After Valentia (Valencia), our course turns to the Southeast due to a land projection along the coast of Iberia. Sailing past this peninsula formed by Montgó Massif, we visit the first port marked on the map of Tartessos, Hēmeroskopeion, located in modern Dénia, in the Valencian province of Alicante. Its name means Watchtower in Hellenic and it reflects the first use of the lofty promontory as such. According to Strabo, the town was also called Artemisium, from the cape where it was situated, together with a temple of Artemis. It was another colony of the Massaliote Greeks along with two more small settlements in the area, the names of which have not survived. The Romans called it Dianium, whence the modern name, from Diana, as Artemis was called in Latin. Apart from its strategic location, the city was equally important for some iron mines nearby. Next stop is Akra Leuké, also founded by the Massaliotes ca 325 BCE on a White Promontory or Acropolis as its name indicates. The city passed to the Carthaginians who used it as a military base and trade post. Its Punic name is not known, but the Romans called it Castrum Album, which means almost the same. Most archaeologists agree that the Roman Lucentum (Luminous city) is Akra Leuké and also the modern city of Alicante.
Helice, modern Elche (Elx in Valencian), was founded around 600 BCE near Akra Leuké to the South. The Achaean settlers named it after their native city.(d) Destroyed by Hannibal, it was rebuilt by the Romans as Ilici. A small walled coastal settlement, the Roman Portus Ilicitanus, or Harbour of Elche, cited by Claudius Ptolemy in his Geography, is today’s Santa Pola. It was constructed with a regular layout in the Greek tradition near the Vinalopó River in the 4th century BCE, and served as an emporion oriented to Greek-Iberian exchange. But it had a brief life (around 80 years), which is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the Massaliote colony Alonai or Alonis was there. So, despite Ptolemy’s mention that creates more confusion, attention was recently turned to the nearby town of La Vila Joiosa as a possible location of this colony. Anyway, the increasing amount of archaeological evidence for a Greek presence in Santa Pola, combined with the Graeco-Iberian script used in Alicante and Murcia, confirm the long direct contact between Greeks and Iberians in the region. The celebrated Lady of Elche, a once polychrome stone bust of a woman, is the most important find. It is considered as an example of Iberian sculpture with strong Hellenic influences.
The trading contacts of southeastern Iberia with Tartessos, Hellas, Magna Graecia and Phoenicia, with the influences absorbed, gave rise to an Iberian culture called the Contestani by Pliny and Strabo. Cartagena, originally named Mastia or Massia, was in this territory. Mastia (or Massia) was also the name of an Iberian tribe allied to the Tartessian confederation. The first description of the city of Mastia with high walls appears in the Massaliote Periplus and then in Avienus’ Ora maritima. There is also a reference to Mastia in a treaty between Rome and Carthage in 348 BCE, marking the boundary between them in Iberia. Its mineral wealth, fisheries, agriculture, and harbour, one of the best in the Western Mediterranean, attracted the Punics who re-founded it in 228 BCE as Qart Hadasht (‘New City’), identically named to its metropolis. The Romans renamed it as Carthago Nova in order to distinguish it from the mother city. The importance the Punics attached to this “new city” to serve as their Iberian capital and a springboard for the conquest of the peninsula proves that Gadir could not serve this purpose, also because of their antagonism with the Phoenician Gaditanian aristocracy that would explode later in open hostility.
Entering the Punic sphere, we come to realize the way the Phoenician colonial network was created: through infiltration of already existing settlements that soon passed under their full control – without excluding the use of violence in case the locals resisted. By contrast, the Hellenes, especially the Ionians such as the Phocaeans and the Massaliotes, contrary to the tactics of the Dorians, had a quite different approach. Referring to the foundation of Emporion, Strabo wrote:
“The Emporians lived before on an islet off the coast that now is called Palaiápolis [old city], for they live now on the mainland. Emporion is a double city, being divided by a wall, having before, as neighbours, some Indigetes [an indigenous tribe]… For they became united after some time in a single state, consisting of barbarian and Hellenic laws, as it also happened in many other cities.”
Therefore, there were three phases of colonization: a) a separate settlement; b) peaceful coexistence as neighbours after a spirit of mutual trust had been established through cooperation; c) a commonwealth.
The Greeks and the natives “became united after some time in a single state, consisting of barbarian and Hellenic laws, as it also happened in many other cities.” (Strabo)
The Contestani’s neighbours to the Southwest were the Bastetani or Bastuli. Their main towns, Baria, Abdera, Sexi, Malaca, Carteia, and Bailo, are mostly mentioned as Phoenician colonies. Baria, the present-day fishing village of Villaricos, is said to have financed Hannibal’s campaigns from the local silver mines. As for Abdera (today’s Adra), it was a seaport town used by the Carthaginians as an emporium. Very few present it as a former Greek colony.(e) Ex or Sexi is modern Almuñécar; some of its inhabitants still call themselves sexitanos. The Phoenician colony was planted there in about 800 BCE.
Democritus, the “father of modern science”, was ignored in Athens; Plato, though he never mentioned him, is said to have disliked Democritus so much that he asked from his pupils to burn all his books!
Sailing past the Greek Mainake and the Phoenician Malaca, we arrive at the Bay of Gibraltar. Carteia was established at the most northerly point of the bay, about halfway between the modern cities of Algeciras and Gibraltar, overlooking the sea on elevated ground at the confluence of two rivers. According to Strabo, the colony was founded ca 940 BCE as the trading settlement of K’rt, meaning ‘City’ in Phoenician (compare Qart Hadasht, that is, Carthage, ‘New City’). The area had much to offer a trader; the hinterland behind Carteia was rich in wood, agricultural products, lead, iron, copper, and silver. Dyes were another much sought-after commodity, especially those from the murex shellfish, used to make the prized Tyrian purple. Due to its strategic location, the city played a significant role in the Punic Wars. In the Battle of Carteia in 206 BCE, the Punic fleet was defeated by the Romans, who captured the colony ca 190.
Sailing through the Straits into the Atlantic, we are surprised to hear that the town of Bailo was none other than Gadir. The report, however, cannot be verified, and the closest to the name ‘Bailo’ one can find is Baelo, near the present-day village of Bolonia, in the area of Tarifa, the southernmost point of Europe, which is rather far from Gadir. The town served as a trade link with northern Africa (Strabo: “hence the crossings to Tingis of Maurusia”), but was finally abandoned because of earthquakes.
Then we realize we are sailing in an area colonized by Heracles: not only Abdera (or Abderos) and Carteia (Carpeia, Carpaea or Carthaea), but also Bailo-Baelo or Belón seems to be linked to Heracles and, therefore, to the Mycenaeans. Carteia, says Strabo citing Timosthenes of Rhodes, was previously called Heraclea, after its founder. Some identify it with Algeciras, Paco de Lucía’s hometown, on the west side of the bay, others say on the contrary it was located on the east side, on Calpe, that is, the Rock of Gibraltar, while some connect it to Tartessos, noting that once the latter disappeared, many confused it with Carteia. Other settlements associated with the Herculean colonizing “labours” were Mellaria or Melouria (modern Tarifa) and, as we have seen, Gadir, while sometimes even Tartessos is included in the list.
As for the Pillars of Heracles, the northern one on European soil is Calpe or Alybe (Gibraltar), small in size but rising sharply to a great height and looking like an island from afar, while the southern one, Abyle (Ceuta), is rather low. Their peculiarity is that nowadays their sovereignty is exercised by foreign powers: Gibraltar, on Spanish territory, is controlled by Britain, while Ceuta, on Moroccan soil, by Spain. The Phoenician Abyla, founded there in the 7th century BCE, passed under the control of the Phocaeans who renamed it as Hepta Adelphoi (‘Seven Brothers’). As usual, the Romans transcribed the Greek toponym into Latin as Septa, hence the current name, and used Ceuta almost exclusively as a military post. The strategic importance of the Straits was obvious to everyone.
Outside the Pillars there is another settlement, presented as a Punic colony of the early 5th century BCE, possibly with a prior Phoenician presence, called Tingis (or Tingenis, today’s Tangier). Taking advantage of Carthage’s crashing defeat in Sicily in 480 BCE, the Phocaeans should have taken control of this city, as well, dominating entirely in this area of strategic importance during the Punics’ long isolationist period after their defeat, before they recovered and imposed a blockade on the Straits. Like so many other settlements, Tingis was neither Phoenician, nor Greek, but, in this particular case, Berber. According to a Graeco-Roman mythological tradition, cited by Plutarch, Tingis was the wife of the giant Antaeus, king of Libya and son of Poseidon and Gaea, who was killed by Heracles. In Berber mythology, the founder of the city was Syfax, son of Tingis and Heracles. The tomb of Antaeus with his giant skeleton was discovered in Tangiers by the Roman Quintus Sertorius in the 1st century BCE, while the “cave of Heracles”, where the hero supposedly slept before he stole the apples of the Hesperides, is located 14 kilometers far from the city to the west.
The colonizing activity apparently continued even after the Trojan War, since we are informed that, despite the many reports to the contrary, there were Hellenic (later Roman) settlements even beyond the Pillars of Heracles. One of them was between Gadir and the city of Tartessos, at the mouth of the Río Guadalete: it was Portus Menesthei (ὁ Μενεσθέως Λιμήν) and is probably the present-day Puerto de Santa María.(f) According to Strabo, even the Phoenician Gaditans offered sacrifices in the oracle of Menestheus, one of the suitors of Helen who fought in the Trojan War. Afterwards, according to Homer’s Odyssey, he was expelled from Athens by Theseus’ descendants and found refuge with his entourage in Iberia. Another settlement was next to Huelva to the West: it was Kalathousa, today’s Aljaraque.
Portus Menesthei, in “historical terms”, may not be that old, because the Greeks of the Homeric era – or their products at least – arrived at Iberian ports in the 8th century BCE. Those that transported the Hellenic ware and other goods might very well have been the Phoenicians and the reason was their artistic quality that the Canaanites were unable to achieve. One such excellent ceramic, an Attic kylix, a type of wine-drinking vessel, was found in Medellin of Badajoz, in Spanish Extremadura. The presence of this beautiful cup so far from the coastline is explained by the so-called Silver Route that most probably crossed western Iberia from north to south to facilitate the transport of the mineral wealth from Galicia to Tartessian harbours.
What the Phoenician ships could not transport and, therefore, made the Greek presence absolutely necessary in Iberia, was Hellenic culture, art, ideas, architectural models, burial habits, and so on. Taking into account that the Minoans were probably not Greeks, it seems that the first period Iberia received Hellenic influences was during the time of the Mycenaeans. This, however, is half-true and therefore (at least) half a lie, given that the Mycenaeans were civilized thanks to the Minoans. Thus the Minoan and the Mycenaean influences on Iberian cultures were very similar, if not identical. At that time, of course, there was no Tartessos. The Minoans and the Mycenaeans inseminated the local cultures they found there and the Tartessian civilization germinated some time later, when there were no Greeks around anymore. It took them at least half a millennium to wake up from their lethargic “Dark Ages” and reappear in the peninsula. The rich rewards were in the meantime reaped by the Phoenicians…
What the Phoenician ships could not transport and, therefore, made the Greek presence absolutely necessary in Iberia, was Hellenic culture, art, ideas, architectural models, burial habits, and so on…