The Beginnings of Spain—The Gothic Kingdom
[Authorities: Coppee: History of the Conquest of Spain; Hume: Spain, Its Greatness and Decay, The Spanish People: Their Origin, Growth and Influence; Hale: The Story of Spain; Lane-Poole: The Story of the Moors in Spain; Latimer: Spain in the Nineteenth Century; Prescott: Ferdinand and Isabella, Charles the Fifth, Philip the Second; Irving: Life of Columbus, Moorish Chronicles, Conquest of Spain, Conquest of Granada; Watts, Spain; Burke: A History of Spain; Meyrick: The Church in Spain; Ticknor: History of Spanish Literature.]
It has been said that nations like individuals have their birth, growth, manhood, old age, decay, and death. Many of the stories already told in these pages confirm this declaration. Perhaps the most impressive example of modern times is that of Spain. She came into being many centuries ago, climbed to the greatest heights of power, influence, and glory, and, though she still exists, she is in a condition of senility and decrepitude, which, like that of the tottering nonagenarian, suggests a collapse not far distant.
The earliest historical mention of Spain finds it inhabited by a people who sprang from a number of different races. To the Greeks and Romans the country was known as Spania, Hispania, and Iberia, and in the Scriptures the "ships of Tarshish" probably referred to those of the Phoenicians, which traded with Spain. The colony of Gadir, or Cadiz, was planted by the Phoenicians about 1000 b.c. , at which time they found the southern part of the country in the possession of the Iberians. It is uncertain where the latter came from. As a people, they were short of stature, with a swarthy complexion, and plentiful black, curly hair. Investigations seem to indicate an affinity with the Kabyl tribes of the Atlas instead of an Aryan origin.
Far back among the shadows of prehistoric times, a horde of Celts swarmed over the Pyrenees into this land of the Iberians, encountering possibly a still earlier race, whose descendants of to-day are the Basques. The Celts swerved to the west and settled in what now is Portugal and Gallicia. In civilization and physique, the invaders were much superior to the Iberians. As the centuries rolled on, the two peoples fought for mastery. They gradually blended in the central part of Spain, while the Celts continued dominant in the west and northwest of the peninsula, and the Iberians held their own in the east and south.
Such were the inhabitants of the country when the enterprising mariners of Phoenicia began planting colonies on the coast. They found the country fair and inviting, with fertile alluvial valleys; sheep with the finest of wool, and a soil rich with minerals, such as the quicksilver of Almaden, the silver and gold, the copper and tin from which bronze was formed, and the corals, pearls, and precious stones, which made the Phoenician colonies rivals in wealth of Carthage herself. It is said that the Phoenicians gathered such enormous quantities of gold that their ships would have sunk had they tried to carry it all away.
Cadiz was the most important settlement made by the Phoenicians, who induced the natives to develop the mines, whose richness became famous, and soon led other nations, among them the Greeks, to send expeditions thither. The strangers were welcomed, and since their only purpose was to procure all the gain they could, they made no attempt to interfere with the government of the country. We owe to the crude alphabet brought by them the more reliable history that has come down to us from those remote times.
Naturally, it was trade which gave the great Phoenician city of Carthage a foothold in Spain. At that time Carthage had no armies, but after her defeat by Rome in the first of their tremendous wars, the grand project of forming Spain into a Carthaginian province was conceived by Hamilcar. He was surnamed Barca or Barak, or "lightning," and when very young was given command of the Carthaginian forces in Sicily (247 b.c. ), at a time when the Romans had full possession of the island. He maintained a long and successful warfare against them, but the defeat of the Carthaginian fleet compelled him to withdraw from Sicily (241 b.c. ), and he became commander of the Carthaginian army. It was about 236 B. c. that he entered upon the campaign whose aim was to found a new empire in Spain, from which, as a base, he might attack the Romans. He advanced westward, while the fleet under command of his son-in-law, Hasdrubal, cruised along the coast. Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, Hamilcar attacked the natives, and steadily bored his way to the heart of the country. No force could be gathered to make a successful resistance, and he subdued many tribes and cities, and gathered such a stupendous amount of plunder that it interfered with the advance of his army. He spent nine years of conquest in Spain and then fell in battle.
Hamilcar, as you will recall, was the father of Hannibal, one of the greatest of all military leaders. You have not forgotten that the lad inherited from his father his hatred of Rome. In his later years, when in exile, he related the following anecdote: "When I was a little boy not more than nine years old, my father offered sacrifices to Jupiter the Best and Greatest, on his departure from Carthage as general in Spain. While he was conducting the sacrifice, he asked me if I would like to go to the camp with him. I said I would gladly and began to beg him not to hesitate to take me. He replied: 'I will do it if you will make the promise I demand.' He took me at once to the altar at which he had offered his sacrifice. He bade me take hold of it, having sent the others away, and bade me swear that I would never be at friendship with the Romans."
Hannibal, as we know, faithfully kept his youthful oath. After the death of his father, he was employed by Hasdrubal, his brother-in-law, in most of his military expeditions. He won the enthusiastic love of the soldiers by his heroism and noble character, and when Hasdrubal was assassinated, the army with one voice chose Hannibal their commander-in-chief, though he was only in his twenty-ninth year. Before entering upon his life work—that of fulfilling his pledge to his father—he spent two years in the conquest of Spain. Saguntum was a city in alliance with Rome, and Hannibal attacked it, on the ground that its inhabitants were making aggressions on some of the subjects of Carthage.
The story has been told of the fall of the city after a siege of eight months and after it had made a vain appeal to Rome for assistance. In capturing it, Hannibal violated the treaty made by his father, and in 218 b.c. brought on the second Punic War. The campaigns that followed were among the most remarkable in history, and brought to Hannibal a fame which places him among the foremost military geniuses of antiquity. After having maintained himself in Italy for upward of fifteen. years, he was recalled to Africa to defend his country against Scipio, who defeated him with great loss, and peace was concluded in the following year (201 b.c. ).
The capture of Saguntum by Hannibal seems to have drawn the serious attention of Rome for the first time to Spain. Its importance was seen, and the future empress of the world began to send armies thither. The Romans drove the Carthaginians from the Peninsula in 206 b.c. , and made the country a Roman province. The Romanizing of the country went on steadily for centuries, and to this fact Spain owes the basis of her language, and many of her customs, traits, and peculiarities.
Not until 25 b.c. , however, did the Cantabri and Astures, in the extreme north, lay down their arms to the Roman conquerors, one of whom was the illustrious Julius Caesar. The country having been finally reduced to subjection, was divided into the three provinces of Tarraconensis, which embraced the northern and eastern provinces; Baetica (Andalusia), and Lusitania, which included Portugal and certain of the western provinces. This division of Spain lasted down to the reign of Constantine the Great (306-337), and until his death her condition was highly prosperous.
The Roman occupation was of great advantage in every respect to the Spaniards. They were forced to cease their wasteful intestine wars, and to give their energies to industrial pursuits. They adopted the laws, language, and customs of their conquerors, and the population increased rapidly. In numerous parts of the country Roman towns sprang up, while many aqueducts, bridges, amphitheatres, and buildings were erected, whose ruins are the wonder of modern tourists.
For three hundred years Spain was the richest province of the Roman Empire. It was for a long time the granary of Rome, and gold and silver flowed thence like a river into the coffers of the imperial city. According to Gibbon, twenty thousand pound-weight of gold was annually received from the provinces of Austria (Asturias), Gallicia, and Lusitania.
Spain was withdrawn from military history for four hundred happy years, and then the shaggy warriors from the German forests came rushing down upon Southern Europe. These Goths did not have to occupy France long to discover the riches of neighboring Spain, and nothing was more certain or natural than that they should move forward to occupy it. Rome could do nothing, for she herself was besieged by Alaric, and purchased her ransom by paying two and a half tons of gold, fifteen tons of silver, and valuable silks and cloths in profusion. Then Alaric died most opportunely for the Romans, who began negotiating with Ataulfus, the brother-in-law and successor of Alaric. These negotiations recognized the mastery of the Goths in Southern France and in Spain, which were presented to them as a gift, the Goths having no objection to becoming nominal subjects of the Empire on the single condition of military service. Indeed, it may be said of these Goths and Romans that they mutually conquered each other, for, though the barbarians were wild and savage, and able to beat down the others in battle, they began to learn the wisdom of employing their minds and bodies in more useful pursuits than fighting and hunting.
Before Ataulfus could occupy his new empire, he had to drive out the Sueves and Vandals, who were devastating it, but he and his lusty followers completed the work, and in Narbonne he established himself with a Roman bride. She was Placidia, sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius, and was among the captives taken in the siege of Rome. Ataulfus fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. The tawny chieftain had already captured the heart of the Roman maiden, and she consented. The Emperor held this mighty warrior for the time in awe, and to win his friendship approved the marriage. Ataulfus was anxious to retain the good-will of the Emperor, and, therefore, devoted his energies to warring upon the Vandals and Sueves, who were the enemies of both.
There was a Roman who had also wished to marry Placidia, and he persuaded the Emperor Honorius to attack the Goths. They were driven out of Gaul, and retreated into the Spanish country. Ataulfus withdrew to Barcelona, where he established his court and made the city the capital of his kingdom, to which he gave the name of Hispana-Gothia. Still anxious to conciliate the Emperor, he strove to introduce among his people the manners and civilization of the Romans, thereby offending his own followers, who thought his course weak and womanly.
You can understand that Ataulfus did not hold the most enviable situation in the world, and he must have had a hard time of it; for it was all important for him to keep the good-will of his turbulent warriors and to retain the regard of his high-spirited wife. He succeeded in the latter, but not in the former. Six bright, affectionate children were born to the couple, and received careful training, but the soldiers and officers were soured at sight of their leader becoming Romanized. They were angry when ordered to fight beside the Romans, whom they hated, and this made the trouble still greater.
One day, while the King and his family were watching the evolutions of his cavalry in the court yard of his palace at Barcelona, a dwarf stole up behind Ataulfus and drove a sword into his back. So intense was the resentment against the assassinated monarch, that the agonized Queen could find no one to avenge his murder. A relative, Sigeric, succeeded the dead King, and showed his anti-Roman ferocity by slaying the six children of Ataulfus, and compelling his widow to walk barefoot through the streets of the city. Such fiendish cruelty turned the anger of the people against Sigeric, who, a few days later, also fell by the dagger of an assassin.
The Goths were more fortunate in selecting Wallia as their next king, for, though he detested the Romans as much as his predecessor, he was tactful. He pleased his own people by sending an expedition against the Roman possessions in Africa. His fleet, however, was baffled by a tempest and his soldiers scattered. Before he could bring them together, a Roman army advanced against him, and he found himself in imminent danger.
A singular solution of the difficulty resulted. Constantius, the commander of the Roman army, was the admirer of Placidia, who had been won away from him by Ataulfus. Constantius had been told by the Emperor that he might wed her if she would agree, and the general, therefore, came rather to woo than to war. As soon as the two armies encamped within sight of each other, Constantius sent a proposal to Wallia that they should make peace, the condition being that the Gothic leader should surrender Placidia, widow of the dead chieftain.
You may be sure that Wallia was glad enough to do this, and he proved his wisdom by winning the ardent support of his followers in the step. He led them against the barbarians of the north, who had dared to occupy a country that the Goths claimed as their own. The campaign was successful, and the Vandals were compelled to withdraw into Gallicia, while the Sueves saved themselves by claiming the protection of Rome. The grateful Emperor gave the lands in Southern Gaul, from Toulouse to the sea, to Wallia, who made the city his capital, and lived there until his death, a few years later.
The successor of Wallia was Theodoric I. (418-451), son of the great Alaric who lost his life in the bloody struggle against Attila at Chalons, leaving his throne to his son, Thorismund (451-452), who was assassinated by his brother Theodoric II. (452-466), and he, after reigning a number of years, fell by the hand of an assassin, who was also a brother, named Euric (466-483). What a condition of affairs, when two rulers obtained their power by each assassinating a brother!
Yet the reign of Euric was brilliant and successful. He greatly extended the power of the Visigoths both in France and Spain, introduced the arts of civilization among his subjects, and drew up a wise code of laws for the government of his people. It will be seen that the Goths had made great advancement in civilization. Euric doubtless considered himself the equal in all respects of the Roman Emperor. The language of the kingdom was Latin, but corrupted by the tongues of the earlier tribes, to which confusion the Goths added by a mixture of their own words, though their books were written in Latin. The government had the form of an absolute monarchy, though the prelates of the church possessed so much influence that it was really a theocracy. Since there was no royalty or nobility of descent, every chieftain considered himself as good as the King, for there was always the possibility of his becoming one.
While it would take too much space to give the particulars of the rule of all the different Gothic kings, we must dwell for a brief time upon the career of Roderick, who, through various difficulties, became ruler of all Spain in the year 709. This was a century after the amazing success of the Arab Mahomet, who had set in motion that wave of conquest, in which the Mahometan hosts declared their purpose of conquering the world, and soon swept over Northern Africa and Western Asia.
Roderick was fiercely threatened by rivals for the throne, who were favored by the Church under the Bishop of Toledo. Count Julian, one of the foes of the King, held a virtually independent command in Africa, where the Goths had the posts of Ceuta, opposite Gibraltar, of Tangier, and of Arsilla. Julian had defeated Musa, the Saracen leader, who to his astonishment one day received a visit from the victor, with an offer to surrender all the Gothic posts, on condition that Musa would use the Saracen army to aid the enemies of Roderick.
Musa was so impressed by the magnitude of the treason that he sent the Count to the Caliph in Arabia. The Caliph was highly pleased, and directed Count Julian to return to Musa with his approval. To test his sincerity, Musa sent a number of his troops to the northern shore, where under their leader, Tarik, they were allowed to plunder as they chose without molestation.
The glowing reports brought back by these visitors led Musa to send Tarik once more with a larger force. The name of this leader is perpetuated in the name given the town where he landed, Tarifa. Indeed, he has supplied all modern governments with a word by which he is likely to be forever remembered. Our "tariff "comes from the duties collected by the Mahometans at Tarifa on all goods entering Spain. Gibraltar is also "Gebel-al-Tarik," the Mountain of Tarik.
Despite the treason of his officers—and history contains few instances of equal perfidy—Roderick prepared to make the best resistance he could against the invaders. He hastened against them with a force so numerous that the Moors of Tarik were terrified. They were only some twelve thousand in all, and it was said the Goths numbered ninety thousand.
This battle of Xeres, fought on the plains of that name, near Cadiz, more than a thousand years ago, ranks among the decisive struggles in the world's history, for its results were of momentous importance. The disparity of numbers by no means indicates the true relative strength of the armies; for many of the Goths had no defensive armor, and their weapons consisted of short scythes, clubs, axes, slings, bows, and lances. Worse than all, was the disaffection among a large number of the officers and troops. Some who dared not act openly, merely waited to see which way the battle promised to go, with the purpose of joining the successful side, so as to claim a part of the reward. The army itself was too large to be handled well, and there was no commander equal to the task. In the height of his great career Napoleon Bonaparte expressed the doubt that there were two generals in France capable of effectively handling a hundred thousand men.
Exactly the opposite state of affairs existed in the Moslem army, which was compact, ardent, well armed, highly disciplined and fanatical in its heroism. Tarik, their commander, was idolized, for, as his own Caliph declared, he was one of the best swords in Islam. It is said the battle lasted eight days, but probably several were spent in preliminary skirmishing, and the severe fighting lasted but a day.
The struggle opened at dawn on Sunday, July 19, 711, and for the first day or two inclined to the side of the Goths. One inspiring cause that nerved the Saracens was the fact impressed upon them by Tarik, that he had burned their ships, and they must win a victory or be utterly destroyed; for the Goths were in front and the sea was behind them. All that mortal men could do they were certain to do. They hurled themselves upon the ranks of the Christians with irresistible fury. Tarik himself singled out a knight clothed in brilliant armor, and, believing him to be Roderick, fought a way through the defenders, and slew him with his own hand. The Moslem soldiers were fired to enthusiasm by the deed, which, in the Gothic ranks, caused dismay, confusion, and panic. At this critical moment a strong body of Roderick's foes is said to have drawn off and joined the Moslem troops. Be that as it may, the Gothic army was utterly routed and fled in wild, headlong confusion, with the Moors in merciless pursuit, cutting down and slaying the terrified fugitives, until no more food remained to the dripping swords. The losses on both sides were frightful, but that of the Goths must have been more than double—perhaps three or four times as great—as that of their conquerors.
It was never known what became of Roderick. By some it is said he was indeed slain on the field, though his body was never found. Another legend is that he was swept along with the frantic army, and that, exhausted from his wounds and exertions, and oppressed by his ponderous armor, he reached the marshes of the River Guadalete, where he was either slain by his pursuers or drowned. His riderless steed was found, and near the spot a royal crown, a purple mantle, and a sandal embroidered with pearls and emeralds.
The end of it all was that Spain was delivered helpless and bound to the Moslem invaders, and the whole current of her history abruptly changed.