Welcome to the history page. Today we are going to deviate rather radically
from our usual format in order to report on an event which happened only last
week: The Archaeology Seminar 2001'. This annual lecture series is organised
and subsidised by Ibiza's Archaeology Museum and constitutes a veritable highpoint
for the island's ancient culture buffs.
This year the talks were held at Ibiza's branch university (located at the
former Island Council building) and featured the acclaimed author and lecturer,
Dr. Fernando Quesada Sanz. This award-winning scholar earned his doctorate in
Prehistory and Archaeology from the University of Madrid, and went on to do
further research at the universities of Oxford and Rome. Today Quesada is the
head of the Archaeology Department at his alma mater as well as a prolific contributor
to various historical publications, both scholarly and popular.
As usual, the seminar consisted of three hour-long presentations spread over
the course of three evenings. Dr. Quesada proved to be a captivating and extremely
well prepared lecturer whose seminar was entitled 'From Heroes to Mercenaries:
War and Society in Ancient Iberia'. Quesada is expert in this field of research,
having written three books on the subject and over 150 articles for specialised
journals. Although the talks did not touch on Ibiza, their content was so interesting
and so well presented that I cannot help but divulge a few of the choicest morsels.
The Classical World: An Overview
With a mind to historical synthesis, all of Quesada's arguments concerning
Ibieria were carefully prefaced by earlier trends in the Classical World, i.e.
social and political customs which inevitably foreshadowed the later developments
of the western Mediterranean. He led his audience along a fascinating road of
martial practices, beginning in Homeric times with the 'hero' or 'champion',
an exalted personage whose fighting skills were showcased, as it were, against
a backdrop of more or less anonymous colleagues.
Toward the 4th and 3rd centuries BC (the era of the Peloponnesian Wars between
Athens and Sparta) this 'cameo' style of warfare gave way to the phalanx, a
solid mass of soldiers, eight rows deep, which would advance machine-like on
the enemy. This battle tactic downplayed the importance of the individual warrior,
and also required significantly greater numbers to keep up the formations. Sweeping
social changes accrued in that a much larger slice of the population was admitted
into the prestige circle of the warrior. It could be said that city-states evolved
toward greater democracy with citizen militias as the basis of social organisation.
From the 3rd to the 1st centuries BC, the primary orbit of war revolved around
the western Mediterranean. The Punic Wars (which Quesada likens to the World
Wars of antiquity) dominated the international picture and demanded an intense
escalation of manpower: out of necessity, the mercenary was born. Naturally,
Ibiza was a staunch Punic supporter, however, in Iberia, there was a division
of loyalties. Some sectors fought in Hannibal's ranks, while others were won
over by Scipio and comprised the first non-Italic auxiliary troops to fight
on Rome's behalf.
My Favourite Bits: Bravery Exalted
Quedada's first lecture was my personal favourite. It dealt with the 'heroic'
values that dominated warfare from approximately the 7th to the 5th centuries
BC. At this stage in Greek society, warriors were exclusive to the aristocratic
class for the simple reason that only the wealthiest citizens could afford to
equip themselves with the expensive armament need for warfare. Even city-states
that did not display marked belligerence, Athens, for example, engaged in war
on an average of two years out of every three. Greek society was therefore dominated
by a philosophy of military virtues that included sacrifice, duty and competitiveness,
the redeeming values of the day.
Military Service Confers Civic Right
During this period, the concept of battle was fundamentally confined to hand-to-hand
combat between two noble adversaries who were honour-bound to prove their personal
excellence in the theatre of war. The privilege (in terms of both financial
station and physical prowess) of fighting for one's land was inexorably tied
to civil rights, for only those who were willing to shed blood for their 'polis'
were entitled to vote or to take part in the running of state. Interestingly,
sport was also an exclusively aristocratic activity, being considered a non-violent
extension of the competitive, honour-bestowing military drive.
Quesada went on to compare and contrast these mores to those that guided the
conduct of war in the Iberian Peninsula. Despite suppositions to the contrary
within the academic world, Quesada maintains that the elite quality of the warrior
class was also a feature of ancient Iberia. His arguments were well documented
with slides, maps and graphs of archaeological data, derived primarily from
Interestingly, burial rites are one of the most faithful reflections of ancient
societies; for, not only do grave goods report on the material aspect of a society,
but also on its deepest-held values. For example, all items of armament found
in Iberian tombs were deliberately smashed or bent so as to render them useless.
This practice reflected the belief that only he or that which has been broken
by earthly life will be restored to perfection in the afterlife. A certain symmetry
was thus maintained in the sense that when one is born, he is delivered new
and perfect. By inverse reasoning, only lifeless bodies and unusable objects
should pass into the spirit world where they will be made whole and new again.
One of the virtually omnipresent finds among warriors' funeral dowries (in
both Classical and Iberian necropolises) were combs. This item reflects the
common practice, throughout the Mediterranean, of warriors wearing long hair.
The comb also tells us that it was important to keep the hair well groomed.
Care in personal appearance, then, was clearly an important concept to the warrior
elite throughout the ancient world. This conclusion illustrates what it known
as 'historical convergence', that is, a common thread that runs through many
different societies and time periods.
There is so much more to tell, but no time to tell it. Anyway, that's about
all the excitement a body can stand in a single week of life! Next week we'll
get back to 'business as usual' with Santa Eulària's festival of flowers.
Please give us a read.