History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Ancient Iberia


Gadir / Gades / Cadiz (Phoenician Colony)

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast.

Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians of the first millennium BC were those Canaanites who still occupied the Mediterranean coastal strip following the Near East's climate-induced social collapse of the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC.

They became hemmed in on their long Mediterranean coastal strip by various more recent arrivals, such as the Israelites, Philistines, Sea Peoples, and Aramaeans. Still relatively unscathed by the chaos, they quickly prospered in their fertile coastal home. Each city state was self-governed, or looked to one of its larger neighbours for support and alliances.

Even so the Phoenicians worked towards a similar goal, with very little internecine strife. They created a trading empire which stretched across the Mediterranean, founding as they went seasonal trading posts along the sea's northern and southern shores. Many of these posts gradually developed into colonies, but the conquest of the homeland in the seventh century BC by Assyria forced many of the colonies to develop into self-governing city states of their own.

The settlement and later city of Gadir was one of the earliest Phoenician colonies in Iberia, in today's Spain, founded just after Utica in North Africa. The name 'Gadir' means 'walled compound', effectively referring to a stronghold. It was later rendered in Greek as 'Gadeira' (although variations existed which were based on dialect), and then Latinised as 'Gades', through which the modern 'Cadiz' descends. An alternative 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 located close to 'Tarshish' (probably Tartessos, chief town of the earliest advanced Iberian civilisation, the Tartessian), with which it traded and for which it provided an export outlet for high-quality metalwork. 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.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, William Smith, from the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, from Encyclopaedia of the Roman Empire, Matthew Bunson (1994), from The World of the Phoenicians, Sabatino Moscati (New York, 1968), from Geography, Strabo, from The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Volume III: AD 527-641, John R Martindale, A H M Jones, & John Morris (Cambridge University Press, 1992), from The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium: Niketas, Walter Emil Kaegi (Alexander P Kazhdan, Ed, Oxford University Press, 1991), and from External Links: The Princeton Encyclopaedia of Classical Sites, Richard Stillwell and others (Perseus Digital Library), and Carthage (Ancient History Encyclopaedia), and Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition).)

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 Near East. It also places it midway through the Atlantic Bronze Age, which may not have reached this part of Iberia.

Map of Late Bronze Age Cultures c.1200-750 BC
This map showing Late Bronze Age cultures in Europe displays the widespread expansion of the Urnfield culture and many of its splinter groups, although not the smaller groups who reached Britain, Iberia, and perhaps Scandinavia too (click or tap on map to view full sized)

No archaeological evidence for Phoenician 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 (by which time the Atlantic Bronze Age trading network has collapsed entirely).

600s BC

During this century the influence of Phoenician culture and advancement can certainly be seen in Tartessian culture. Two centuries of copying Phoenician pottery styles now results in the use of the pottery wheel becoming standardised in most Tartessian villages and cities, replacing the Tartessian tradition of creating ceramics by hand.

Trade is primarily through the nearby port city of Gadir, but Phoenician colonies at Malaka, Sexs, Abdera, and Carthago Nova (the latter especially) also form part of this highly profitable trading network. Gadir is also the most likely trading partner with the Balearic Islands.

Balearics slinger
The effective weapon of the Balearic warrior was the sling, with each man carrying three, wound around the head according to Strabo or, according to Diodorus, one around the head, one around the body, and one in the hand

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.

Smaller colonies such as Gadir are likely already trading heavily with their colonial peers around the Mediterranean, and very likely also with the culturally advanced Tartessians of south-western Iberia who require distribution centres to export their metalwork.

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.

Still, it is Carthage which is responsible for the resumption of trade in luxury items along the Atlantic coast of Europe. The Castro culture of Iberia certainly benefits from this after half a millennium of comparative isolation following the end of the Atlantic Bronze Age, but the Tartessians decline.

Ruins of Gadir (Cadiz)
The surviving ruins of the Phoenician city of Gadir are few in number although some signs of them 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?

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.

Ruins of Carthage
The city of Carthage existed in its original glory for at least four hundred and twenty-eight years before it was destroyed by the Romans - and possibly another two centuries before that as a developing colony which was founded by Phoenicians

FeatureThis 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. Hannibal benefits from assistance which is provided by Iberian Mercenaries (see feature link).

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.

Map of the Visigoth & Suevi kingdoms in AD 470
In AD 469/470 the Visigoths expanded their kingdom to its largest extent, reaching Nantes in the north and Cadiz in the south, but it was not to last (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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 terminology.

The new city of Gades later expands under Moorish rule, by whom it is known as Qādis, and then under Spanish rule to become the great early modern period naval base of Cadiz.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.