Spain: History for Young Readers - Frederick Ober

Phoenicians and Carthaginians

The native Iberians knew of silver and gold ore in the hills of southern Spain, which the Phoenician merchant-sailors from Tyre taught them to utilize, giving them in exchange the products of their skill, and in course of time a great trade was carried on between distant Phoenicia on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and Iberian "Tarshish" beyond its western end. Does not the prophet Ezekiel say, speaking of Phoenician Tyre, "Tarshish was thy merchant, by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches?"

Tarshish, sometimes called by its Latin form, Tartessus, was the name applied, probably, to the region about the mouth of the river Guadalquivir, and perhaps to all that portion of Spain now known as Andalusia. Here the Phoenicians founded the city to-day known as Cadiz, and which they called "Gaddir," or fortress, subsequently named Gadez by the Romans. Although the Phoenician sailors had long traded here—for the founding of cities is not the first occupation of explorers or traders—yet the probable beginning of Cadiz, about 1100 B.C., or three thousand years ago, is the first date that we can even approximately establish in Spanish chronology.

Two centuries later, or about 900 B.C., Greek sailors arrived at the Catalonian coast of northeastern Spain, and there founded a colony which became prosperous through its traffic with the natives. The Greeks had already sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and declared that they had reached the extreme verge of the habitable globe. In token of this their great Hercules, or the Tyrian hero, had set up two monuments, one on the European and the other on the African coast, which even to-day are known as the "Pillars of Hercules." There are other traditions referring to Hercules and his connection with Spain, for it is thought that in this country he sought the oxen of the triple-bodied Geryones, as he was on his way back from Gadira (or Gaddir), when he killed the monster Cacus. And further, there is not much doubt that the famed "Hesperides" were located here, from which, as one of the Herculean "labours," the son of Zeus was to fetch the golden apples. Hence it will be seen that the early traditions of Spain are very respectably connected! And, moreover, we should not forget that the Pillars of Hercules are perpetuated in the American "dollar mark" ($), the two upright columns, wreathed within a scroll, according to a fanciful legend.

In the seventh century B.C., Gaddir, or Cadiz, was a flourishing city, as also was another Phoenician settlement on the north-east coast, Tartessus, or Tarracco, the modern Tarragona, since famous for its wines and Roman ruins. During the first centuries of Phoenician commerce with Spain, traditions tell us, silver was so abundant that the Tyrians not only loaded their vessels with the ore, but hammered it into anchors and ballast for their ships. Gold, silver, and copper coins were minted and ornaments wrought; and these, together with other objects of antiquity, are frequently found to-day—relics of the ancient Gaddir, or of Phoenician "Cadiz under the Sea." Some have held that, while the first city was founded here, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, yet the mines of gold, silver, and copper were those we find today more northerly, in the province of Huelva. From the port of Huelva, at the mouth of the Rio Tinto, vast amounts of copper have been exported in mode times; and, moreover, this same river, down which the caravels of Columbus sailed at the very beginning of their first voyage to America, derived its ancient name from the copper colour of its waters.

The Phoenicians came here as merchant rovers; perhaps at times they had acted as pirates of the sea, but had carried on no war of conquest. At the most, they colonized a few seacoast cities, and in exchange for the natural products of Spain they bestowed upon the natives the benefits of their civilization, including, it is thought, the alphabet and the art of writing.

It was left for the Phoenician colony of Carthage to bring the Iberians directly tributary to another people, soon after the close of the first Punic war. Though, according to tradition, an embassy of Gauls and Iberians was sent to Alexander the Great, in the fourth century B.C., yet they still existed in obscurity when the great Hamilcar Barca turned his attention to Spain as a possible recruiting ground for his depleted armies. Rome had conquered him in Sardinia and Sicily, which provinces he had lost to Carthage, and he had been compelled to sue for peace. But his hatred of Rome was implacable, and, foreseeing the futility of waging further war from Africa direct, he passed over into Spain, and there again built up his forces with recruits from the wild but fearless Celtiberians.

Hasdrubal, Hamilcar's son-in-law, who founded the city of New Carthage, or Cartagena, in Spain, after Hamilcar was killed, in the year 228 B.C., carried on the conquest of Spain until himself assassinated seven years later.

Hannibal, son of Hamilcar, was but eighteen years old when his father died, and twenty-six when Hasdrubal was killed, but he had been bred to war from, childhood, trained to fight with the Spanish levies, and taught to hate the archenemy of Carthage. When, as a boy, he had pleaded with Hamilcar to be taken with him to Spain, his father had consented only after he had sworn, on the altar of Jupiter the Great, eternal enmity to Rome. Not only was he brought up in camp, sleeping and eating with the native troops, but in early manhood he was married to a Spanish woman,. and by this act had won the native soldiers' regard, as well as by his valour.

Chosen by the troops as Hasdrubal's successor, Hannibal began his real campaign against Rome two years later, 218 B.C., laying siege to Saguntum, a Greek city under Roman protection, in the province of Valencia. Famous in history has become that siege of Saguntum for the valor of its defenders and the persistence of its foes, lasting nearly a year, and ending in its total destruction; for, finding themselves hemmed in by Hannibal's army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, and their fortifications crumbling beneath the terrible battering-rams, the Saguntine soldiers made a vast heap of all their valuables, gathered around it their women and children, and sallied forth to meet their death without the walls. At the same time the women set fire to the pile and cast themselves into it, along with their children; and thus perished the last of the heroic Saguntines.

You will not find Saguntum on the map of modern Spain; but in its place, and on its site, Murviedro—meaning the old walls—on the east coast, north of the city of Valencia.

Thus was ushered in what was known as the second Punic War—for Rome promptly resented this destruction of a colony in alliance with her; and for the first time sent an army to Spain. To forestall his enemies, Hannibal resolved to carry the war into Italy. That same summer he left the city of Cartagena with twelve thousand horsemen, thirty-seven elephants, and ninety thousand foot soldiers, for the conquest of Rome. He had been drilling his soldiers and husbanding his resources for years, in anticipation of this momentous event; but even then it would seem that he was poorly prepared to meet a nation that could put in the field an army of trained soldiers three times as great as his. But, after the wonderful passage of the Alps, when his force had been reduced to less than six thousand horse and twenty thousand foot soldiers, Hannibal still pushed on, to that long and terrible campaign against Rome, lasting fifteen years, and not to end until this great commander—declared to have been the greatest of his age—was recalled. to Carthage to assist in its defence.