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Spain: Historical Setting
Library of Congress Country Study


The people who were later named Iberians (or dwellers along the Rio Ebro) by the Greeks, migrated to Spain in the third millennium B.C. The origin of the Iberians is not certain, but archaeological evidence of their metallurgical and agricultural skills supports a theory that they came from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The Iberians lived in small, tightly knit, sedentary tribal groups that were geographically isolated from one another. Each group developed distinct regional and political identities, and intertribal warfare was endemic. Other peoples of Mediterranean origin also settled in the peninsula during the same period and, together with the Iberians, mixed with the diverse inhabitants.

Celts crossed the Pyrenees into Spain in two major migrations in the ninth and the seventh centuries B.C. The Celts settled for the most part north of the Rio Duero and the Rio Ebro, where they mixed with the Iberians to form groups called Celtiberians. The Celtiberians were farmers and herders who also excelled in metalworking crafts, which the Celts had brought from their Danubian homeland by way of Italy and southern France. Celtic influence dominated Celtiberian culture. The Celtiberians appear to have had no social or political organization larger than their matriarchal, collective, and independent clans.

Another distinct ethnic group in the western Pyrenees, the Basques, predate the arrival of the Iberians. Their pre-Indo- European language has no links with any other language, and attempts to identify it with pre-Latin Iberian have not been convincing. The Romans called them Vascones, from which Basque is derived.

The Iberians shared in the Bronze Age revival (1900 to 1600 B.C.) common throughout the Mediterranean basin. In the east and the south of the Iberian Peninsula, a system of city-states was established, possibly through the amalgamation of tribal units into urban settlements. Their governments followed the older tribal pattern, and they were despotically governed by warrior and priestly castes. A sophisticated urban society emerged with an economy based on gold and silver exports and on trade in tin and copper (which were plentiful in Spain) for bronze.

Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians competed with the Iberians for control of Spain's coastline and the resources of the interior. Merchants from Tyre may have established an outpost at Cadiz, "the walled enclosure," as early as 1100 B.C. as the westernmost link in what became a chain of settlements lining the peninsula's southern coast. If the accepted date of its founding is accurate, Cadiz is the oldest city in Western Europe, and it is even older than Carthage in North Africa. It was the most significant of the Phoenician colonies. From Cadiz, Phoenician seamen explored the west coast of Africa as far as Senegal, and they reputedly ventured far out on the Atlantic.

Greek pioneers from the island of Rhodes landed in Spain in the eighth century B.C. The Greek colony at Massilia (later Marseilles) maintained commercial ties with the Celtiberians in what is now Catalonia (Spanish, Cataluna; Catalan, Catalunya). In the sixth century B.C., Massilians founded a polis at Ampurias, the first of several established on the Mediterranean coast of the peninsula.


Spain: Historical Setting
Library of Congress Country Study

Historical Setting <<< Contents >>> Hispania

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