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Conquered by No Enemy
By Marc Alexander
The History PressCopyright © 2011 Marc Alexander,
All rights reserved.
The Pillars of Hercules
Mythological fable tells that the tenth labour of Hercules was to capture oxen belonging to the three-headed monster Geryones. After succeeding the task he arrived at the frontiers of Africa and Europe where he commemorated his feat by raising an immense monument at either end of the isthmus that joined the two continents. In the course of this he created an enormous trench through the land bridge, which allowed the Atlantic Ocean to flood a great valley to become the Mediterranean Sea. On the north shore of this channel, which we know as the Strait of Gibraltar, reared Mount Calpe, on the south Mount Abyla – as the Greeks and Romans called them – and these became famous as the Pillars of Hercules.
A theory linking the Rock with another legend from the realms of antiquity was investigated in 2003. Working on clues suggested in ancient writings, the Iberio-Marroqui Atlantic Expedition set out in search of a submerged island in the Atlantic side of the Strait of Gibraltar, which could have inspired the legendary story of Atlantis as described by Plato. Expedition divers seeking evidence of the lost land on the seabed were rewarded by the discovery of paving slabs, building blocks and other stone remains.
Myths often contain a glint of truth and it is a fact that Europe and Africa were once joined where the Strait of Gibraltar lies today. This is confirmed by fossilised bones of African animals, such as the rhinoceros and elephant, which have been discovered in some of Gibraltar's caves, which number over 140.
The geological record shows that during the vast vistas of prehistory sea levels rose and fell exceedingly as ice ages were followed by global warmings when glaciers and polar ice melted. During one of these interglacial occurrences the sea level rose to such an extent that the isthmus linking the two continents was broached and, like the bursting of a dam, the water of the Atlantic cascaded into the lowland with its chain of lakes that lay between northern Africa and southern Europe. It gouged out a channel whose length east to west is 38 miles; its width varies between 15 and 25 miles and has an average depth of 1200ft. It is tempting to speculate as to whether it was some faint folk memory of this cataclysmic deluge that inspired ancient stories of the Flood such as is told in Chapter 7 of Genesis when 'the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth ...'. Alas for such imaginative speculation, the great period of world temperature change and interglacial ages was the Pleistocene Epoch, which commenced around 2 million years ago, and though hominids appeared in the latter part of that age it was not until c. 30,000 BC that modern man replaced earlier man-like forms.
It was in the Jurassic Age, the age of the great dinosaurs and which is reckoned at commencing 195 million years ago, that great layers of lime-stone began to form on the bed of the ocean, which then covered much of what Europe is today. As the earth cooled and shrank, sections of the surface were gradually 'squeezed' upwards to form mountain chains. Over an immense length of time, difficult for us human 'newcomers' to imagine, such an upthrust of limestone was sculpted by geological shifts and eroding weather into the Rock of Gibraltar.
At some time after the great inundation it is likely that Gibraltar was an island but it has long been joined to the Spanish mainland at La Linea by a short isthmus no more than 10ft above sea level, and which was transformed by the RAF into a runway that now serves the compact Gibraltar airport.
In 1856, there was a dramatic discovery of fossilised man-like remains near Düsseldorf in the Neanderthal ravine, which caused a wave of scientific excitement around the world. It was said to be the world's oldest man-like relic, which gave the name Neanderthal Man to a race that had lived in Pleistocene Europe. Eight years earlier a woman's skull of similar antiquity was found in Forbes' Quarry at the base of the northern face of the Rock. It was kept in a cupboard after the Gibraltar Scientific Society had conferred over it without realising its importance. Had it been recognised for what it was we would now be referring to 'Gibraltar Woman' rather than Neanderthal Man. Today the skull is to be seen in the Gibraltar Museum.
The evidence that Gibraltar had inhabitants over 100,000 years ago was supported in 1928 when the damaged skull of a Neanderthal child was found at the Devil's Tower, an old lookout tower on the isthmus that was demolished during the Second World War.
The first named dwellers of the area were the Tartessians whose ancestry went back to the Bronze Age. Then, nearly 3,000 years ago, the seafaring Phoenicians established a port they named Carteia where an oil refinery stands today at Algeciras. Protected from the eastern Levanter wind by the Rock, it was a safe haven for ships in what is now called the Bay of Gibraltar – or Algeciras Bay, depending upon your viewpoint.
In those days the Pillars of Hercules marked the end of the known world – the Non Plus Ultra. Beyond them was the River of Ocean, as the Atlantic was then called. Unimaginable terrors lurked in those uncharted waters and once out of sight of land a vessel might sail over the edge of the world. Mons Calpe itself was a place to beware of as it was believed that here, in its western rock face, was the entrance to the Kingdom of Hades, the underworld Realm of the Dead. It is thought that this sinister entrance was the spectacular St Michael's Cave, which today is one of Gibraltar's main tourist attractions.
If to sail out beyond The Pillars of Hercules was to court disaster, one wonders why the Phoenicians established Carteia so close to them. The answer was that these daring traders did risk sailing beyond them to follow the Spanish coastline north and on as far as the island of Britain in quest of what was the most valuable commodity of the age – tin. Then the metal used for weapons and armour was bronze, an alloy of copper and a small amount – usually around 4 per cent – of tin. There was no shortage of copper but tin was a different matter. Understandably the Phoenicians wished to keep the lucrative trade to themselves and no doubt exaggerated the terrors real and imaginary of the River of Ocean to deter competitors.
The first man recorded as sailing out through the Strait of Gibraltar was one Kaleus who braved going into the unknown in the seventh century BC. The Pillars of Hercules became part of history after the remarkable Necho II became the Pharaoh of Egypt. Apart from attempting to construct a canal to link the Nile to the Red Sea, he was responsible for one of the earliest voyages of discovery. In the fifth century BC the Greek historian Herodotus wrote:
The Egyptian king sent out a fleet manned by a Phoenician crew with orders to sail round Libya (Africa) and return to Egypt and the Mediterranean by way of the Pillars of Hercules.
The Phoenicians sailed from the Red Sea into the southern ocean, and every autumn put in where they were on the Libyan coast, sowed a patch of ground, and waited for the next year's harvest. Then having reaped their grain, they put to sea again, and after two full years rounded the Pillars of Hercules in the course of the third, and returned to Egypt. These men made a statement which I do not myself believe, though others may, to the effect that as they sailed on a westerly course round the southern end of Libya, they had the sun on their right, to the northward.
In later centuries their statement on the changing position of the sun was proof that they had actually sailed in the southern hemisphere.
One can imagine the elation of the Phoenician sailors as the Rock of Gibraltar appeared on their horizon and that thanks to their courage and endurance 'Libya was first discovered to be surrounded by sea,' as Herodotus said.
In the course of time other people settled in the lands surrounding Gibraltar. Phoenician influence in the western Mediterranean waned when Tyre, the seaport city of Phoenicia (now Lebanon) and the great market place of the Mediterranean, endured a thirteen-year siege by Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon. Carteia became a Carthaginian city and allied Greeks settled there. When the struggle between the two Mediterranean superpowers – Rome and Carthage – ended with the destruction of Carthage by Scipio in 146 BC, Carteia and the surrounding region came under Roman domination. It was to remain a Roman colony for nearly six centuries.
Other towns were established that have survived to the present times such as Portus Albus, situated on the west shore of the Bay of Gibraltar, and which is known today as Algeciras. Across the Strait Saepta Julia (now Ceuta) and Tingis (Tangier) were established. Twenty miles west-ward along the coast from Gibraltar Julia Traducta was built on the most southernmost tip of Spain and in due course became known as Tarifa. Later, when the Moors held Tarifa they levied fees on vessels entering the Mediterranean at that point, from which comes the word 'tariff'.
Although there were settlements and towns in the Gibraltar region, the Rock itself was then regarded as too inhospitable for habitation or fortification.
The beginning of the fifth century saw the decline of the Roman Empire with the legions in Britain being withdrawn to protect Rome against the threat of Alaric's Visigoths. At the same time Vandal hordes crossed the Pyrenees and moved west, sacking Carteia in 409 AD and establishing themselves in what they called Vandalucia – Andalucia today. They did not remain long for they were looking across the Strait to the rich Roman province of Mauritania, which covered what is Morocco and Algeria today. Nineteen years after the fall of Carteia the Vandal king Gaiseric led his subjects – one account gives their number as 80,000 – out of Vandalucia to invade Mauritania and within a decade establish an empire stretching across North Africa. The Vandals' place in Spain was taken by the Visigoths whose Arian Christianity differed from Roman Christianity with the doctrine that Christ was not equal to God the Father.
The Christian Visigoth kingdom was to last for three centuries but it had an inherent weakness due to the fact that its kings did not inherit the throne through primogeniture but were elected. This resulted in political disunity, which ultimately weakened its defences against the next wave of invaders.
Around 625 the Prophet Muhammad began to dictate the Koran and such was the unifying effect of the new religion upon the Arabs they began what H.G. Wells described as 'the most amazing story of conquest in the whole history of our race.' Within eight decades the warriors of Islam, fervent to spread the new faith, had won an empire larger than that of Rome, stretching east to the borders of China and west to the Pillars of Hercules, which they reached in 681. Here they failed in an attempt to capture Saepta Julia (Ceuta), which was governed by the Christian Count Julian who was allied to Visigoth Spain through his marriage to the daughter of King Witiza. By-passing Saepta Julia, the Arabs and Berbers who they had converted to the new faith, and were collectively referred to as Moors by the Christians, took Tingis (Tangier), which they garrisoned with 10,000 troops.
A widely told version of events that led to the Arab invasion of Spain is that Count Julian's beautiful daughter Florinda became a maid of honour to Queen Egilona at the court of King Roderick, who succeeded King Witiza after his death in 710. It was said that seeing her in a palace garden one evening, Roderick became so passionately attracted by her beauty that when he was alone with her he 'violated the chastity of that lovely virgin'. When Count Julian learned of the rape he determined to avenge his daughter's dishonour. There was also another reason for the Count's anger against the King. Following the death of Witiza his eldest son Aquila had his hopes of succeeding his father dashed when the nobles elected Roderick to the throne. This led to a civil war between those who supported Aquila and those loyal to the new king who soon routed the rebels.
In desperation Aquila appealed to his brother-in-law Count Julian for support. With Saepta Julia in constant danger of attack by Moors in the surrounding territory, the Count was not in a position to become involved in a civil war but he devised a plan to overthrow his enemy. He made contact with Musa ibn Nasayr, the brilliant Arab general who had planted the banners of Islam across North Africa, and suggested that with his help the Moors could cross the Strait. There they would find support among those loyal to the memory of King Witiza and those whose dislike of Visigoth domination was greater than their fear of Islam. Musa agreed and obtained permission to make a reconnaissance raid across the Strait from his master the Caliph Al-Walid in Damascus.
Using ships provided by Count Julian, Musa sent a 500-strong force across the Strait in 710. It was led by one of his lieutenants, Tarif abu Zarah, who landed at Julia Traducta, which became known as Tarifa in his honour. After pillaging the area the raiders returned laden with loot, captives and stories of the wealth and fertility of the land they had ravaged. When this was supported by a further raid, the Caliph agreed to Musa mounting a full-scale invasion.
Commanded Tarik ibn Ziyad, an army of Arabs and Berbers, estimated by some historians at 12,000 fighting men, set sail from Tingis and, according to Arab historians, landed under the shadow of the Rock on 27 April 711. Following this, Mons Calpe – the name by which the Rock was known – was changed to Jebel el-Tarik ('Mount Tarik'), which evolved into 'Gibraltar'.CHAPTER 2
The Moors' Gateway
It did not take long for Tarik to capture Algeciras from where he was to launch his campaign against the Visigoth king. In the July of 711 a decisive battle took place beside the Guadalete River that was said to have lasted nearly a week before Tarik was victorious. The defeat of King Roderick, reputed to have had great numerical superiority over Tarik's army, was not entirely due to the invaders' military skill but in some degree resulted from the discord that appears to have been customary among the Visigoths.
This was demonstrated by the defection to Count Julian by Don Oppas, the Archbishop of Seville, the brother of the late Witiza and uncle of the ravished Florinda, who was in command of a large number of Christian troops. The example of a Christian dignity aligning himself with invaders of a rival faith in order to see Roderick overthrown led to other significant defections and the triumph of Tarik. The fate of Roderick remained a mystery. Arab sources claim that Tarik slew him with a spear and sent his head to Musa. Some Christian legends tell that he was drowned while trying to cross the Guadalete, and others that he escaped and spent the remainder of his life in a monastery. Whatever his fate, it seems that the dishonoured Florinda was avenged.
Meanwhile the increasing ascendancy of the Crescent over the Cross was further secured when Tarik captured Cordoba and then the Visigoth capital of Toledo. Here Sephardim Jews, who had settled in Spain before the arrival of the Visigoths and who made up a large proportion of the population, opened the city gates to the conqueror preferring the authority of Islam to that of their previous Christian rulers.
Tarik not only ended the civil war in favour of the supporters of the Witiza family but opened the way for the Moors to occupy most of Spain for the next eight centuries.
In June 712, Musa entered Spain with a mostly Arab army of 18,000 men. He captured Seville and Mérida and after wintering at Toledo he and Tarik continued the advance of Islam across Visigoth Spain. It is said that with Tarik's continuing success Musa became concerned that his lieutenant's military reputation might eclipse his own. He therefore accused Tarik of exceeding his orders, claiming that he had been sent merely to spy out the region, not defeat the king of the Visigoths. For this act of disobedience he was humiliated with a whipping and imprisoned while Musa arrogated his fame and continued the conquest until the only surviving Christian states were in the Pyrenees and on the northern coast of Spain. Musa was now so confident of his position that he arranged for his son to marry King Roderick's widow.
When the Caliph summoned him to Damascus he set out gladly in anticipation of a triumphal reception such as was accorded to victorious Roman generals. In order to play the role of the conquering hero he took with him several hundred noble captives, suitably chained, and cargoes of treasure looted from Spain. But instead of receiving honours he was given the decapitated head of his son, and instead of a life of ease he was reduced to beggary for the rest of his days. The Caliph had been enraged by Musa's treatment of Tarik and a marriage between his son to the Visigoth queen suggested that the general aspired to a combined Moorish and Visigoth dynasty separate from the caliphate.
Yet despite his fall from favour Musa's military achievements in North Africa passed into legend and the southern Pillar of Hercules, up to then Mons Abyla, became known as Jebel Musa.
Meanwhile the march of Islam continued across Al Andalus, as the Arabs called Spain, and on into central France until 732 when a Moorish army was decisively defeated by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours.
Excerpted from Gibraltar by Marc Alexander. Copyright © 2011 Marc Alexander,. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1 The Pillars of Hercules,
2 The Moors' Gateway,
3 A Chapter of Sieges,
4 The 'Catholic Kings',
5 'Most Loyal',
6 Habsburg or Bourbon?,
7 Rooke Takes the Rock,
8 Enemies Within and Without,
9 The Treaty of Utrecht,
10 Pawn rather than Castle,
11 Alliances, Treaties and Secrets,
12 'Imperious Cupidity',
13 'Britons Strike Home!',
14 A Glorious Occasion,
15 The Junk Ships,
16 The Grand Attack,
17 'We are all friends now',
18 Peace and War,
19 Peace without Pride,
20 A Right Royal Governor,
22 Friends and Foes,
23 Crown Colony,
24 The Great Mystery,
25 'Utterly Profitless',
26 Changing Times,
27 The Panther's Leap,
28 War and Peace,
29 Sanctuary on the Rock,
30 Preparations for War,
31 Bombs and Spies,
32 The Felix Threat,
33 Operation Torch,
34 From Colony to City,
35 The New Gibraltar,