History Files


European Kingdoms

Ancient Spain




Gadir (Gades / Cadiz)

The settlement and later city of Gadir was one of the earliest Phoenician colonies in what is now Spain. The name Gadir means 'walled compound', effectively referring to a stronghold. It was later rendered in Greek as Gadeira (although variations based on dialect existed), and then Latinised as Gades, through which the modern Cadiz descends. An alternate spelling is Agadir. Traditionally, the colony was founded in 1110 BC, probably as a trading post, located on Iberia's southern coast, a relatively short distance to the west of the Straits of Gibraltar. As with the colony of Utica in North Africa, no archaeological remains have so far been dated to this period, but this may be due to such posts being very seasonal in nature at first, and therefore temporary. Only some centuries later did they grow into full cities.

Gadir was joined in Iberia by Tarshish (probably Tartessos, a Phoenician city state which has never been conclusively located but which may lay near the River Guadalquivir). The unusual and ancient design of fishing boats at ports such as Aveiro, Ilhavo, and Nazare along the modern Portuguese coast may be a vestige of Phoenician influence in the region, as they plied their way north to tin mining concerns in Cornwall in Britain.

(Additional information from Geography, Strabo, the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, and from the Life of Apollonius of Tyana.)

1104 BC

This is the traditional date of founding for Gadir, which puts it at the very beginning of the appearance of Phoenician culture in the Middle East. No archaeological evidence for occupation at this date can be found but, as with Utica, this is probably because these posts are temporary at first, and are not permanently occupied until the ninth century.

539 BC

All of Phoenicia is submerged within the Persian empire. As a result, many Phoenicians emigrate to the colonies, especially Carthage, which quickly rises to become a major power.

Ruins of Gadir (Cadiz)
The surviving ruins of the Phoenician city of Gadir are few in number although some signs of it can be found, but did these pillars provide a name for the nearby Pillars of Heracles (the modern Straits of Gibraltar) thanks to Hercules himself supposedly completing one of his labours here?

c.500 BC

Gadir becomes dominated by the increasingly powerful city of Carthage. In part, the acceptance of Carthaginian dominance may be a necessity for survival, following the Persian dominance of Phoenicia, and the early appearance of rival Greek colonies in the Mediterranean.

264 - 241 BC

The First Punic War erupts between Rome and Carthage. It starts in Sicily and develops into a naval war in which the Romans learn how to fight at sea and eventually gain overall victory. Carthage loses Sardinia and the western section of Sicily. It also has to quell dissent from Utica and its neighbouring city of Hippocritae.

237 BC

Hamilcar leads an expedition to expand Carthage's interests in Iberia and conquer the native peoples. Using Gadir as his base of operations, he pursues this policy until his death in battle in 228 BC. Hasdrubaal takes command, and pursues a policy of consolidation. He signs a treaty with Rome whereby both parties agree to maintain the River Ebro as their mutual border, with neither crossing to pursue gains in the other side's territory. However, this means that the Roman settlements in the north pose a potential threat despite this treaty.

221 - 219 BC

Hannibal assumes command and spends two years consolidating Carthage's conquest of Iberia south of the Ebro. Rome perceives this as a threat and makes an alliance with the Iberian city of Saguntum (near modern Valencia), south of the Ebro. This is a clear violation of Hasdrubaal's treaty, so Hannibal besieges the city until it surrenders, eight months later. Rome affects outrage and demands justice from Carthage. Instead, Hannibal is supported and the Second Punic War begins.

218 - 202 BC

The Second Punic War is fought by Rome and Carthage. Using Gadir as a base, Hannibal Barca sets out to attack Rome, leading his armies over the Alps into Italy. He has to fight off resistance by Gaulish tribes such as the Allobroges along the way but is supported by other Gauls such as the Insubres. At first he wins great victories at Trasimeno and Cannae which all but destroys Roman military strength, but he is denied the reinforcements to pursue his victory by an opposing political faction back at home. The majority of Rome's Italian allies remain loyal and Rome is able to rebuild its strength. In 206 BC, Roman forces under Scipio Africanus enter Gadir and are welcomed by the populace.

Western Alps
The Celtic tribes of northern Italy were large and dangerous to both Carthaginians and Romans, unlike their fellow Celts in the Western Alps, who were relatively small in number and fairly fragmented

The city of Gadir flourishes as a Roman naval base in the years to come while the war ends in Carthaginian defeat. During Rome's early empire period, Gadir, or Gades in Latin, becomes Augusta Urbs Iulia Gaditana ('The August City of Julia of Cadiz').

AD 409 - 429

The Vandali move into Iberia, disrupting the Gallic empire of Constantine III. According to Roman reports, the Vandali lead the devastation of areas of Gaul and Iberia, earning themselves a reputation which has survived to this day. They settle themselves to control the former Roman provinces of Lusitania and Baetica (the latter of which includes the city of Gades, the former Gadir).

In 429, under pressure from the newly settled Visigoths, the Vandali are forced out of Iberia. Instead they invade and conquer Roman Carthage, and form their own powerful kingdom along the North African coast. Gades is now a Visigoth possession.

469 - 475

The Visigoths have to fight a combined imperial army consisting of Romans, troops from Soissons, Burgundian foederati, and joint federate Britanni in 469 (470). After successfully holding them off, the Visigoths expand their holdings to take in more of Gaul and much of Iberia, so that the kingdom stretches from Nantes to Gades (Cadiz). The expansion sees the destruction of the Phoenician city and few remnants of it exist today.

A new city is founded nearby apparently using the same name, making it not so much a new city as an 'exciting new development designed to bring the existing city into a new century' in modern parlance. The city later expands under Moorish rule as Qādis and then under Spanish rule to become the great naval base of Cadiz.