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By Tartessos the literary sources mean a city, a river, and a region. Avienus (Ora maritima 85.270, 290, 297) calls it a rich city surrounded by walls and watered by a river. For some authors (Avienus, Ora maritima 85.269-70; Just. 44.4.14; Plin. 4.120, 7.156; Sall. H. 2.5; Val. Max. 8.13.4) Tartessos is identical with Cádiz. For others (App. Hisp. 63; Plin. 3.7) it is Carteia. It was on an island (Schol. of Lycophron 643), in the middle of the ocean (Schol. of the Iliad 8.479), or near the Pillars of Hercules (Steph. Byz. voz. Tartessos). Tartessos is localized at the mouth of the river of the same name (Avienus, Ora maritima 284-90; Steph. Byz. voz Tartessos; Paus. 6.19.3), between the two arms of the river (Poseidonius in Strab. 3.140, 148). It was two sailing days distant from Cádiz (Scymn., Ephebos 161-64). The description of Stesichorus (Strab. 3.2.11) on the sources of the river Tartessos agrees to an astonishing degree with the origin of the Rio Tinto in the Cueva del Lago (Cave in the Lake) (Avienus, Ora maritima 291-95). Scymnus (162), in describing the river Tartessos, mentions tin, but none of the rivers identified with Tartessos contains tin. The only river that could attract attention because of the peculiar substance contained in it is the Rio Tinto.

The Tartessos region probably embraced the whole S part of the Iberian Peninsula S of the Sierra Morena as far as Mastia Tartessiorum, the E border of the kingdom of Tartessos (Strab. 3.2.11). This entire region was under the cultural influence of the Phoenicians, and then of the Etruscans and Greeks, beginning in 1100 B.C. when Cádiz was founded by Phoenician traders. They established a series of trading posts on the coast of the Straits of Gibraltar: Sexsi (Almuñecar), which contains the oldest Phoenician necropolis in Spain, dating from 700-670 B.C., Los Toscanos (Málaga), dating from the 8th-6th c. B.C., and the necropolis of Cabezo de la Esperanza (Huelva); both the latter have produced Phoenician material of the 7th-6th c. B.C. The Phoenicians and Greeks traded with the S of the Iberian peninsula and established an orientalized culture such as that existing in Etruria, Carthage, and N Africa. This culture, called Tartessian and of Phoenician origin with Greek and Etruscan influences added, is known through a great and varied quantity of archeological material now distributed through a number of museums in Spain and the U.S.A., and in the British Museum, London, and the Musée St. Germain, Paris.

About 630 B.C. Kolaios of Samos traveled to Tartessos and took home riches estimated at 60 talents; the wealth in metals was the attraction behind the Phoenician and Greek trips to Tartessos. With one tenth of these riches the Samians made an Argolic style caldron which they placed in the Heraion of Samos (Hdt. 4.152). Two ivory pieces like those from Carmona, confirming such journeys, have been found in Samos. Pausanias (6.19.2, 3-4) refers to a chamber from the treasury of Myron in Olympia weighing 13 tons, made of Tartessian bronze, according to the Elians. The Phokaians established relations with King Argantonius (670-550 B.C.) of Tartessos, who gave them money to erect a wall around Phokaia (Hdt. 1.163); later they founded Mainake on the Malaga coast (Strab. 3.4.2). Tartessos was governed by kings, some of whose names are known, such as Theron (Macrob. Sat. 1.20.12), Habis (Just. v.4), who taught agriculture, promulgated laws, and finally converted himself into a god. Other legends, such as the references to the cattle of Gerion (Strab. 3.148) and the wealth in gold and silver of his father (Diod. 5.17.4), clearly show the two axes of the economy of Tartessos: metals and cattle. Another king was Gargoris, mentioned in the myth of Habis. Many poems and laws in Tartessos were written in verse, and the Tartessians claimed they were 6000 years old. A syllabic writing with Greek vowels was developed ca. 700 B.C. Tartessian culture disappeared in the beginning of the 5th c. B.C.


A. García y Bellido, Historia de España. España Protohistórica (1952) 281-308MPI; M. Gómez Moreno, “La escritura bástulo-turdetana (primitiva hispánica),” Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos 69 (1961) 879-948MI; J. M. Blázquez, Tartessos y los orígenes de la colonización semita en Occidente (1968)MPI; J. Maluquer et al., Tartessos y sus problemas (1969)MPI; id., Tartessos (1970)MPI.


hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.163
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.152
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.19.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.19.3
    • Strabo, Geography, 3.2.11
    • Strabo, Geography, 3.4.2
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 3.7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 4.22
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 5.17.4
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