1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Spain - Ancient History

(Part 18)


Ancient History

Hispania was the name by which the Romans called the great peninsula made up of Spain and Portugal, but we know nothing certain as to the origin of the name, or whether it was in general use among the ancient inhabitants of the country. [304-1]

To the Greeks Spain, or rather its coastline on the Mediterranean, was known vaguely as Iberia, a name we meet with in Herodotus (i. 163) in connexion with the Phoenician Tartessus, which is generally understood to have been the country about the mouth of the Guadalquivir and to be the Tarshish of Scripture. It was the Phocsans, a branch of the Ionian Greeks settled in Asia Minor, who according to Herodotus first opened up to the
Greek world this remote region of the extreme West, which had hitherto been a land of mystery and enchantment, imagined to be the home of the setting sun, and known only by the reports of adventurous Phoenician mariners. The hero-god Hercules, it was fabled, had left traces of his presence and mighty working here, and the twin rocks at the entrance of the Mediterranean were called by his name, "the Pillars of Hercules,"—the "world's end "to the Greeks, nothing but the all-encircling ocean-river lying beyond. The Greeks seem to have planted no colonies in Spain, with the exception of Emporium, on the coast just under the eastern spur of the Pyrenees, founded probably from Massilia (Marseilles) by the Phocs;ans, and perhaps of Saguntum. In fact they had but very hazy notions about the country, and Iberia, as they called it, was to them little more than a name for an indefinite extent of territory in the Far West, in the occupation of barbarous Celts and Iberians, with some Phoenician settlements for the purposes of trade on its southern coasts. Several of these places were just known to them by name ; but even of Gades, rich and populous as it seems to havebeen in quite early days, nothing but vague hearsay hadreached them, and Herodotus, who mentions it as Gadeira (iv. 8), merely defines its position as " on the ocean outside of (beyond) the Pillars of Hercules." Tarraco, one of the oldest and most important of the cities of Spain, and one of which we hear continually in the subsequent history of the country, was also in all probability a Phoenician colony. There are still here remains of very ancient walls, possibly Phoenician work. Gades, Tartessus, Tarraco, all seem to have been of Phoenician origin [305-1] and of unknown antiquity, and they were flourishing places in the 7th century B.C., when the Greeks first made a slight acquaintance with them,—an acquaintance, however, which they did not follow up. The result is that we really know nothing about Spain till the first war between Rome and Carthage (264-241 B.C.). There was indeed, in the 4th century B.C., an embassy to Alexander the Great from the remote West, of Gauls and Iberians, and from that time learned Greeks began to discuss the geography of Spain. But again the country drops out of sight till the 3d century B.C., when we find a close connexion established between it and Carthage, which, being itself a Phoenician colony, would feel itself almost at home on the southern shores of Spain. According to Polybius, Carthage (before the First Punic War) had acquired at least something like a protectorate over the Iberian tribes as far as the Pyrenees, the then recognized boundary between the Iberians and Celts,—between, in fact, Spain and Gaul. Spanish troops served as volunteers in Carthaginian armies. There must have been a good deal of Phoenician blood in the south of Spain for many centuries, and this no doubt prepared the way for Carthaginian ascendency in the country.

Carthaginian ascendency. Not, however, till after the First Punic and the loss of Sicily was there anything that could be called a Carthaginian empire in Spain. It was in 237 B.C. that Hamilcar Barca, the father of Hannibal, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and set foot in Spain, not, however, with any commission from the home Government at Carthage, but with the deliberately formed design of making the country, with its warlike population and great mineral wealth, into a Carthaginian province, and ultimately into a basis of operations in a future war with Rome (see HAMILCAR, HASDRUBAL, HANNIBAL). There were rich mines in the mountains, which had drawn the Phoenicians some way into the interior, and among the native tribes there were the elements of a brave and hardy soldiery. A good army might very well be organized and paid out of the resources of Spain. All this Hamilcar clearly saw, and in the true spirit of a statesman he set himself to the work, not merely of subjugating the country, but of making the Spaniards into loyal subjects of Carthage. He encouraged marriages between his officers and soldiers and the native women : his own son Hannibal married a Spanish woman. He showed them how to work their gold and silver mines to the best advantage; in every way, in short, he made them feel that he was their friend. The great work of which he had laid the foundation was carried on after his death in 228 by his son-in-law Hasdrubal, under whom New Carthage, with its fine harbour, founded probably by Hamilcar, became the capital of the country. It would seem that by this time the Carthaginian empire in Spain was as firmly established over the southern half of the country as the fickle and uncertain temper of the native tribes would admit. The Spaniard of that day, as indeed more or less throughout his whole history, was particularly amenable to personal influence, and an Hamilcar or a Hannibal could sway him as he pleased. From 228 to 221 Hasdrubal was extending and strengthening the Carthaginian rule in Spain, while the Romans were fighting in Cisalpine Gaul. One precaution, indeed, they had taken, an understanding with Hasdrubal, which might be regarded as a treaty, that the Carthaginian conquests were not to be pushed east of the Ebro. West of that river there was one town, Saguntum, a Greek colony, in aaiance with Rome; this Hasdrubal had spared. His successor, Hannibal, after two years' continuous fighting, which resulted in the submission of hitherto unconquered tribes and the undisputed supremacy of Carthage throughout almost all Spain, attacked and took the place in 218.

This was the beginning of the Second Punic War. Spain was now for the first time entered by Roman armies, under the command of the two Scipios,—the brothers Cneius and Publius. Six years of hard fighting ended in the defeat and death of these two brave men, but in 210 the son of Publius, the elder Africanus, struck a decisive blow at the Carthaginian power in Spain by the sudden capture of New Carthage. The war, however, still dragged on till 205, in which year it may be said that Spain, or at least that part of it which had been under Carthage, was fairly conquered by the arms of Rome.

Roman conquests. Andalusia, Granada, Murcia, Valencia, Catalonia, Aragon, may be said to have become Roman territory. Rome had now to deal simply with the native Spaniards, without the fear of any foreign interference. Hence from 205 the reduction of the country into a Roman province was only a matter of time. It proved, however, to be a tedious and troublesome work, and more than once Rome's hold on Spain was seriously imperilled. An oppressive governor, or a governor without tact and sympathy, was sure to unsettle the restless and impressionable tribes, and to stir up all manner of dangerous jealousies and heart-burnings. The Scipios, the elder Africanus especially, knew how to manage the people, and yet even in 205, the year of those brilliant successes of Africanus, there was a great rising of several of the tribes, headed by a local chieftain, against the dominion of Rome. It was quelled after a sharp engagement; there was a general submission on the part of the Spaniards, and many of them became Roman tributaries. It was some time, however, before the country, or even the southern half of it, was really subdued into complete peace and order. The mountains and the forests were a formidable obstacle to the Roman legions, and favoured that guerilla warfare which makes conquest slow and laborious. For a long period many of the tribes were rather the allies and dependants of Rome than her subjects, and might at any moment be roused into war. In fact, Rome's dominion west of the Ebro—Further Spain (Hispania Ulterior), as the province was called—must for very many years have been little more than nominal. Rome's policy was to keep the native tribes disunited, and to have as many of them as possible under a friendly protectorate. There seem to have been wide differences between these tribes,—some, especially those in the interior and in the north, being fierce and utterly barbarous, and others in the south and south-west comparatively mild and civilized. The Celtiberi, in the interior, were a group of warlike tribes, and were always uncertain and intractable. At one time they would fight for Rome; at another they would serve as mercenaries for Rome's bitter foe, the Carthaginian. Continually were they breaking out into revolt and defying the arms of Rome. The "Celtiberian War" often figures in the pages of Roman histories, and it generally meant a war involving the greater part of Spain.

Cato. In 195 the elder Cato had to put down a rising in the country, in which the Celtiberi took the lead, but he offered them favourable terms, and showed himself particularly anxious to conciliate them. His Spanish campaigns were so far a success as to establish the Roman power east of the Ebro, and along with peace and order came better administration and a development of the resources of the district now known as Hither Spain (Hispania Citerior). Cato is said to have disarmed the inhabitants of this part of Spain, and to have even compelled the Spaniards, from the Pyrenees to the Guadalquivir, to pull down their fortifications, but still the smouldering fires of rebellion were not trampled out.

Gracchus. Some few years afterwards, in 179 and 178, we find the father of the famous Gracchi governor of Hither Spain, and fighting with the troublesome Celtiberi, winning victories over them, capturing one hundred and three of their towns, and then securing his conquests by showing himself as great in peace as he had been in war. He seems to have anticipated in Spain the work attempted by his sons in Italy, making grants of land on favourable conditions to the poorer natives. Much must have been accomplished by Gracchus towards producing contentment with the Roman rule, but in the west, in the valleys of the Douro and the Tagus, and in the region known as Lusitania, answering to Portugal, there seems to have been almost incessant fighting, and what one general won another general often lost.

Mummius. Under Mummius, a governor of Further Spain (154),—the Mummius who in 146 took and sacked Corinth,—the Romans suffered a disastrous defeat from the Lusitanians, of which the Celtiberi took prompt advantage, and there was another Roman defeat, with a massacre of Roman citizens in one of the towns of the interior.

Marcellus. These losses were avenged in 152 by Claudius Marcellus, grandson of Hannibal's illustrious antagonist, during whose command in Spain Corduba is said to have been established as a Roman colony. Marcellus was too humane and considerate to the Spaniards to suit the ideas of the Roman senate, which we may well suppose to have been greatly provoked by the trouble which Spain had given them. The new governors, Lucius Lucullus and Servius Galba, by a combination of perfidy and extortion, drove the country into a most formidable revolt, with which the Romans, whose hands were tied by the Third Punic War, could not for some time effectually deal.

Viriathus. A guerilla chief of Lusitania (which had been specially ill-treated by the Romans), Viriathus, headed the revolt, and from 147 to 140 army after army of the Romans was cut to pieces ; the formidable Celtiberi had joined his standard, and Spain seemed well-nigh lost to Rome. A treaty was even extorted by Viriathus from one of the Roman commanders, declaring the independence of the Lusitanians, and it is said to have been acknowledged and accepted by the senate. The brave man, however, could not hold together his fickle Spanish levies, and he fell at last by native treachery, encouraged by or at least connived at by the Romans.

Siege of Numantia. The Celtiberi, however, were still in arms; the strong city of Numantia, the capital of the Arevaci, the most powerful Celtiberian tribe, witnessed more than once the defeat of a Roman consul before its walls (141 to 140). The besieging army became despondent and demoralized, and its commander, supplies failing him, had to retire, leaving his sick and wounded behind him. It was humiliation indeed for Rome to be thus baffled by a half-barbarous country-town of no great size, in the interior of Spain.

Scipio. She now sent her best general, the younger Scipio, into the country, and in 133 the capture and destruction of Numantia gave Rome a hold over the inland district of Spain which she had never before had (see SCIPIO). The province of Hither Spain was rendered safe from Celtiberian incursions. Shortly afterwards Lusitania and its towns, after some obstinate fighting, were reduced to submission by the consul Junius Brutus, and thus Spain, with the exception of its northern coasts, the home of its most barbarous tribes, was nominally Roman territory.

Spain under Roman rule. There must have been by this time a considerable mixture of Roman blood with the native population; there were several towns—Carteia, Valentia, Tarraco especially among them—with a Latin municipal constitution and with a number of Latin-speaking people. The growth of Roman civilization had fairly begun, and it was promoted by a commission sent out by the senate after Scipio's victories. Piracy in the Mediterranean was checked in the interest of native Spanish commerce, and the Roman administration generally favoured the development of the country's prosperity. The extensive mountain districts were still the shelter of banditti, but, on the whole, order was well maintained, and Spain from this time flourished under Roman rule. It abounded in flocks and herds, and had a number of thriving populous towns, particularly on its Mediterranean shores. It seems, too, that it was never oppressed and impoverished by some of those forms of tribute,—such as the exaction of a tenth of the produce,'—under which many of Rome's provincials smarted. Fixed money payments, and military service in the Roman armies, were the chief burdens which the conquered Spaniards had to bear. Rome on the whole, by comparison, dealt tenderly with them. Several of their towns had the privilege of coining the silver money of Rome; and the flourishing cities along the Mediterranean coast, which were so many centres of civilization to the adjacent districts, were treated rather as allies than as subjects. In these parts the Romanizing process went on rapidly and under favourable conditions, while the west and the north and a great portion of the interior remained barbarous, and Roman merely in name. In 105 it seemed possible that the Romans might be utterly swept out of the country; in that year a great wave of invasion passed over the inland regions from the Cimbri, who had destroyed two Roman consular armies on the Rhone. Spain to a great extent was cruelly ravaged, and Rome was too seriously menaced by the barbarians nearer home to be able to protect her. The country was saved by the brave Celtiberi, whose determined resistance forced the Cimbri back upon Gaul.

Sertorius. Again in 97 and 96 we hear of a rising of these same Celtiberians against Rome, and of campaigns in the interior, in which for the first time we meet the name of the famous Sertorius, a name almost as conspicuous in ancient Spanish history as that of Hamilcar or Hannibal. For the remarkable episode of the eight years' wars of Sertorius in Spain against the generals of Sulla and against the great Pompey, and his almost successful attempt to render the country independent of the home Government at Rome, we must refer the reader to the article SERTORIUS. It was to his skill in winning the hearts of the Spaniards, more even than to his very considerable military ability, that he owed his successes. Rome was financially most grievously embarrassed by this tedious and difficult war, and Spain, with its Roman civilization and its Latinized towns on the Mediterranean, suffered severely.

Pompey. By the year 71 the country had been reconquered by Pompey for Rome, and the two provinces of Hither and Further Spain were reorganized under a somewhat more stringent rule, the tribute in some districts of the latter province being raised, and some of the towns in both losing their municipal independence.

Caesar. In 61 the great Caesar was governor of Further Spain, and carried the arms of Rome into the imperfectly conquered regions of the west and north-west, the country of the Lusitanians and of the Gallaeci, and with a fleet from Gades is said to have occupied a point in the north-west answering to Coruña. But he was too short a time in Spain to reduce these barbarous regions to permanent subjection, and the work still remained to be accomplished. In the civil war with Pompey in 49 he was in Hither Spain, winning decisive victories over Pompey's generals, Afranius and Petreius. Once more, in 45, he had to enter Further Spain at the head of an army, and to defeat his rival's sons at Munda, somewhere probably in the neighbourhood of Cordova, a victory which made him undisputed master of the Roman world.

The north unconquered. Spain, however, the northern part at least, was not thoroughly subdued—" pacified," in Roman phrase, —till the reign of Augustus, whose ambition it was to advance the boundaries of empire to the ocean. In the north was a wild and warlike highland population, a collection of tribes known as the Astures in the northwest, and their neighbours the Cantabri to the east, between a mountain range and the coast, "the last," as Gibbon says (Decline and Fall, ch. i.), "to submit to the arms of Rome and the first to throw off the yoke of the Arabs." Cassar's flying visit in 61 had done something to cow these tribes, but ever and again they would assert their independence.

Augustus. In 27 the emperor Augustus himself penetrated their strongholds, and he passed two years in Spain; decisive victories were won over the northern tribes, and their towns and villages were converted into military posts in the occupation of the legionary veterans. Such was the origin of Saragossa, a modern survival of the name of Caesar Augusta then given to an old town on the Ebro, henceforth an important Roman centre in Spain. The successes of Augustus were commemorated by the same title bestowed on other ancient Spanish towns, Bracara Augusta (Braga) in the north-west, Asturica Augusta (Astorga) still further north, Emerita Augusta (Merida) on the Guadiana, which became a Roman city of the first class,—"the Rome of Spain," as it has been called,—and Pax Augusta, perhaps the modern Badajoz. The work of consolidating the Roman dominion in Spain was completed in 19 by his friend and minister, Marcus Agrippa, and now at last the "Cantaber non ante domabilis," as Horace has it, acknowledged Rome's supremacy.

Roman conquest complete. Spain was fairly conquered; the warlike peoples of the north were cowed and broken ; the south was thoroughly Romanized, the population having adopted Latin manners and the Latin tongue. Some of the best specimens of Roman architecture, some of the finest Roman coins, have been discovered in the cities of Spain, which from the time of Augustus became rapidly prosperous, and were famous for their schools and their scholars. Spain, in fact, was more completely Roman than any province beyond the limits of Italy. The country which had hitherto harassed Rome with incessant risings and insurrections was at last peaceful and contented, a happy land which for the next 400 years may be said to have had at least no military history.

Three Roman provinces. Under Augustus the old political constitution into two provinces, Further and Hither Spain, of which the Ebro had been the boundary, was set aside, and exchanged for a division into the three provinces of Lusitania, Baetica, and Tarraconensis, sometimes spoken of as the "Three Spains." Of these Baetica, so called from the Baeetis (the Guadalquivir), and answering nearly to Andalusia inclusive of Granada, was the smallest; Tarraconensis, which embraced Hither Spain and the interior and all the north, was much the largest. Lusitania corresponds to modern Portugal. The centres of administration were—for Tarraconensis, Tarraco; for Baetica, Corduba; for Lusitania, Emerita Augusta. We may see, in part, on what principles this division of the country was adopted. Lusitania and Bastica had tolerably distinct features, the latter having been from the earliest times the most civilized and the most tractable district of Spain. North of the Tagus came a much wilder region, the home of excitable and warlike tribes; this in great part, so as to include the country of the Celtiberi, was thrown into Tarraconensis, which, and also Lusitania, were under the empire " Caesaris provinciae," the governors of them being nominated by the emperor. The smaller and quieter province of Baetica was a "senate's province and its finances were under the charge of the old republican official known as a "quaestor." The governor of Tarraconensis seems to have held decidedly the first position in the country; he had as a matter of course the greater part of the army under his command, and he was usually, it may be presumed, an ex-consul. The governorship, indeed, of this province must have been one of the best appointments in the emperors' gift.

Spain under the empire. Under the empire Spain was divided for the general purposes included under the head of local administration into fourteen " conventus," that is, provincial parliaments or assemblies made up of a union or combination of so many communities or townships. The town or city which was the centre of each "conventus" was the place where justice was administered to the inhabitants of the district, and would, so far, answer to our assize-town. In Tarraconensis there were seven of these "conventus,"—Tarraco, New Carthage, and Caesar Augusta being the chief; in Baetica, four,—Gades and Corduba being of the number; in Lusitania, the least populous and civilized district, three —Emerita Augusta the principal, Pax Julia, perhaps the modern Beja, and Scalabis not far from the mouth of the Tagus. Pliny (the elder), to whom we are indebted for these details, enumerates 360 cities in Spain in the time of Vespasian. These included every variety of township,— the "colonia" which originated in a camp or a settlement granted to old soldiers, the town whose inhabitants had all been made Roman citizens in the fullest sense ("municipium" in Roman phrase, under the empire), the town that had the inferior franchise ("jus Latii"), the "free town," which might at any time have its freedom taken from it, and the "tributary" town ("civitas stipendiaria"). Spain presented types of all these various communities till Vespasian, it is said, gave them all the "jus Latii," which opened an easy door for the provincials to the full privileges of citizenship. A native-born Spaniard might now rise to the imperial dignity, as Trajan did; and the Spaniards generally must have felt themselves to all intents and purposes Romans.

Rearrangement of provinces. The provincial constitution of Spain was revised and modified to some extent in the 2d century in the time, it would seem, of the Antonines and Hadrian. The vast and unwieldy province of Tarraconensis was subdivided, and the divisions distinguished as Gallaecia (the north-west), Carthaginiensis with New Carthage for its capital, Tarraconensis (the old name being then still retained for one division) with Caesar Augusta for its capital, and the Balearic Isles, which had always been regarded as Spanish territory. Constantine accepted this arrangement, including, however, in it a strip of the western coast of Africa, part of the old Mauritania, which, from an ancient Moorish town, Tinge (Tangier), took the name of Tingitana among the later Roman provinces.

Frankish invasion. Spain in 256 A.D. was invaded and ravaged by the Franks; Tarraco was almost destroyed, and several flourishing towns reduced to mere villages. It was, however, but a passing storm,—the only interruption, in fact, to the peace and prosperity of the country during 400 years. With the departure of the Franks Spain soon recovered herself, and when we next hear of her early in the 5th century we find commerce and civilization well established, and cities ranking among the finest and richest in the Roman world. In 409, however, the year of the sack of Rome under Alaric, a tide of barbarism swept over the country; Suevi, Alani, Vandals "ravaged," says a writer of the time, quoted by Gibbon (ch. 31),-"with equal fury the cities and the open country." Spain, long so quiet and prosperous, was brought down to the lowest depth of misery. At this point the precise order of events is not quite clearly ascertainable. It seems that in 414 or 415 a Visigothic host entered Spain under their king, Ataulphus, Alaric's successor by election, who had married Placidia, the sister of Honorius, emperor of the West, son of the great Theodosius. Ataulphus was now Rome's ally, and fought as her champion in Spain against Suevi and Vandals. A new era seemed to have opened, and we may see in this alliance a prophecy of the ultimate fusion of Latin and German peoples,—the beginnings, in fact, of the modern world. To Ataulphus, who was murdered at his new capital Barcelona, succeeded after a brief interval in 415 Walia, a warlike and ambitious chief, who may be said to have established the Visigothic or West-Gothic kingdom in Spain on the ruins of the old Roman province. Walia concluded a treaty with the emperor Honorius, and, putting himself at the head of his brave Goths, in a three years' war he destroyed or drove into remote corners the barbarous hordes of Vandals, Alani, and Suevi that had settled down in the country. Spain, thus reconquered, was nominally subject to Rome, but soon became really independent and began to be the seat of a Christian civilization.


304-1 Humboldt derives it from the Basque espana (border), as signifying the part of Europe bordering on the ocean, but his conjecture seems strained and fanciful.

305-1 For the Phoenician colonization of Spain, see PHOENICIA, vol. viii. p. 806.

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