Spain History - Early History

The early history of known mankind in Europe is strongly linked to the Iberian Peninsular but the subject remains to most scholars as fragmented as different sections of a large puzzle with many pieces missing.

At the turn of the 19th Century evidence was discovered of human existence existing being around 800,000 BC at the Gran Dolina site near to the town of Burgos This species has been given the title of homo antecessor. They are considered to have been more advanced than the Neanderthals who were to follow about 100,000 BC. In 3.000 BC Neolithic settlements appeared originating from the eastern Mediterranean and can be termed as the first static Iberians and also the origins of the unique Basques who are considered the oldest nation of Western Europe. Five hundred years later there is evidence of a more advanced Neolithic offspring around the south-eastern area of Almería and there exists sparse evidence of their capital. In this period stone religious structures termed megaliths were created throughout Europe and especially in the Peninsular. An outstanding example of these structures can be seen in the caves near Antequera north of Málaga. However, with the emergence of the Bronze Age in about 2,000 BC religion changed direction and individual burial became the practice. The ore-rich area of Almeria on the east coast became a centre in this new style civilization. Some 1,000 years later this area began to lose its importance to that around the city now known as Cadiz and the lost civilization of the Tartessus. This famed tribe was possibly based in the area of Huelva and its capital has been recorded by a Greek scribe as being full of notable buildings.

About 1,000 BC the Basque tribes, who are recorded as having been generally dark with long skulls, were being infiltrated by the fair skinned Celts from northern Europe. With them the Celts brought the introduction of iron but this also coincided with the same move by the Phoenicians along the southern coastline. These Phoenicians originated from the area now know as Lebanon and expanded their considerable influence through trade and it is from their word i-schephan-im that the route of the word España can be traced.

Phoenician traders were found to have settled in Gadir (Cadiz), from around 1100 BC. Other colonies were started in Malaca (Málaga), Sexi (Almuñecar) and Abdera (Adra).These people are recorded as successfully destroying the previously strong Tartessus. During their influence Cadiz grew in wealth and temples were built for human sacrifice to the Gods. The local coastal Iberian inhabitants adopted the more advanced habits of Phoenician society and assisted them to exploit the plentiful deposits of ore to be found in Andalucía. This period lasted until the fall of their Kingdom and the infiltration of the Carthagians who quickly filled the trading void and set up coastal centres for inland produce and minerals. Evidence of their mark on Iberian culture is typified by the introduction of their alphabet and the famous Dama de Elche sculpture unearthed near Alicante in 1897. It is the Carthagians that gave the name hesperia which today is the foundation of word Iberia. This Greek influence was devastated by the naval battle of Alalia in 535 BC when their fleet was destroyed. At their height of influence at this time they held control over the coastline from Valencia in the northeast to the Algarve in the Atlantic. After suffering a later defeat at home by the Romans they again turned their attention to Iberia and in 237 BC General Hamilcar Barca with his young son Hannibal landed at Cadiz and took control by force of the southern part of the Peninsular. Strong inland defence by descendants from the Tartessus caused his death but his son escaped to later leave his own mark on history. As soon as Hannibal was old enough he led his army into the interior of the Peninsular and conquered as far north as Salamanca. A treaty was made by the two parties which basically divided the Peninsular at the River Ebro in the north. The brother-in-law Hasdrubal Barca is recorded as being the founder of the town of Barcelona and Cartagna (Cartago Nova). All territory to the south was under the control of Hannibal with the exception of the coastal town of Saguntum which claimed special trading protection from Rome. Hannibal saw the chance to provoke the Romans and took the town which gave rise for the Second Punic War (218 - 201 BC). The Romans landed two legions at Emporion but Hannibal had already left on his historic march across the Alps into northern Italy. The Romans led by General Publius Cornelius Scipio successfully defeated their opponents in a series of battles which included the taking of Cadiz. Hannibal was subsequently driven out of Spain in 206 BC and the following year finally defeated in North Africa by Scipio at Zama. From 210 to 50 BC successive waves of Roman forces slowly occupied Iberia and in 61 BC Julius Caesar became the governor of the area now named Andalucía.


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