The Empire of Tartessos (16a)

For further information look at "The Excavation of Tartessos"

by Karl Juergen Hepke

The knowledge of the empire of Tartessos comes from Greek sources. So contains the "Geographica" of Strabo important passages from the Greek poet Stesichoros of Himera. Also fragments from Anakreon and Hekataios and some passages from Herodot mention the south of the iberian peninsula.

Over that has the Roman poet Rufus Festus Avienus (4th century B.C.) in his fragmentary preserved poem "Ora maritima" took down again a Greek text from the 6th. century B.C. about a coast description from Massalia (Marseille). This description is one of the most important sources for the knowledge of the South Iberian coast at which was founded the branch Mainake (today Torre del Mar near Malaga).

The dates from the 6th. century B.C. , taken from the poem, are as follows:

"Tartessos is situated on an island in a gulf of same name into which flows the river Tartessos, which flows round its walls after having passed the "Laguna Ligustino".
The river forms in its mouth area several arms, of which three flow to the East and four to the South. The latter are flowing round the town. They are carrying in their water pieces of heavy tin and bring rich metal to the town of
In proximity is situated the mountain of the Tartessians, full of woods, and the "Silvermountain" which lies above the "Laguna Ligustino",at the shore of which is sparkling the tin.

The town of Tartessos is connected with the region of Tajo, or Sado, by a way of four days and at the other side with Mainake by a way of five days. There the Tartessians are possessing an "island" which is consecrated to their inhabitants of "Noctiluca".

The east border of the reign of the Tartessians was at times the region of Murcia and the west border the region of Huelva. "

The name "Tartessos" was with that valid for a town, an empire and a river. Tartessos was in all sources an important business center, rich of ore in the south of the Iberian peninsula. Attempts of digging up at Huelva , Cadiz and at the Guadalquivir could not solve the secret of the position of the town.

Joined with the search after the town is especially the name of the German historian Adolf Schulten (1870-1960), who invested his life work and property into the search for the town and rested at last without success. Numerous archaeological finds have nevertheless proved that the remarks of the named authors must mean this area.

Probably was the previous mistake that mainly the area of the rivers Guadalquivir, as the biggest river of the region, and the Rio Tinto, as the river next to the ore regions of the Sierra Morena, were examined for possible places for the situation of Tartessos.

The more southern situated river Guadalete, which is much more convenient situated to the street of
Gibraltar, was not closer examined. Possibly because on a peninsula before its mouth was situated the Phoenician and later Carthagenian town of commerce Gades (Cadiz).

A capital of an empire which was situated behind another good known town had probably no sense for a historian fixed at the time 700 B.C. until 400 B.C. and so nobody searched here. Although river, terrain and hill must have had a good impression for an archaeological trained eye, which knew the places of other towns of the Bronze Age like Mykene and Tyrins. Over that some cuts of the spade into the Tell de la Dona Blanca behind
Puerto de Santa Maria would have been sufficient to find the walls of the town.

But back to the literatur about Tartessos and its ancestor Tharsis. The Greek legend of Herkules tells, that the giant with three bodies Geryoneus ruled the island Erytheia (island of the sunset), that was situated far in the west near to the Hesperids. He was killed by Herkules and robbed of his cows. His ankle Norax went to
Sardinia and founded there the town of Nora.

Justinus tells in his excerpt of the historical works of Pompejus Trogus, written in the 3th. century about two legendary kings of Tartessos. Gorgoris taught the apiculture to the people, While Habis taught farming and cattle breeding. Habis was abandoned as new-born and was brought up by a hind. A story typical for the states of the beginning.
Habis issued laws, forbid any work to the nobility and shared people into seven classes. That remembers the stories of culture bringing persons in other states of origin.

Historians suppose by this legend, that Tartessos was at the beginning a theocratic monarchy as other states of the beginning. Probably they were not wrong in that, if you take the story of Atlantis as valid for Tartessos as for Tharsis. Because the lack of proof for this thesis they agreed to the assumption of a divine admired king (similar to the Pharao of Egypt) as you find it in many nations of the Bronze Age.

As most famous ruler of Tartessos is regarded the nearly historical vouched Arganthonios to whom Herodot awards a long life of 120 years and a period of rule of 80 years. As ruler over a rich and peaceful country with a gigantic wealth of metals he represented for the Greek a kind of Kroesus of the West.

The citizen of Samos Kolaios came to him in the 7th. century B.C. cause of a terrible thunderstorm and was received benevolent as a Greek. The king donated the means for the construction of the town wall of Phokaia in form of an immense amount of silver. Phokaia was founding town of Massalia and Mainake and with that representative of the Greek extension to the western Mediterranean.

But the good relations to the Greek were soon interrupted. In the sea-battle of Alalia at Corsica the united fleets of the Etruscians and the Carthagians defeated crushing the fleet of the Greek and terminated with that the further extension of them into the western Mediterranean. Since 500 B.C. Tartessos disappears from history. Probably it was completely cordoned off from the outside world by the Carthagians.

By the meanwhile advanced digging up at the Tell de la Dona Blanca, the results of which will be reported at the bottom, is proved that the Romans conquered in course of the second Punic war the town and destroyed it partly. Probably they demanded the complete destruction and flattening of the town by the population to make impossible a repeat of settlement. This was an usual proceeding of the Romans to act with defeated towns. It prevented a regaining of forces of defence of the beaten country.

Because the Romans were not able to control the destruction for they had further jobs, the driven out inhabitants filled only the area of the town inside the town wall with earth and hid also the wall with an earth bank. With that the demand of the Romans was fulfilled and the town could be dug up again when the intruders had returned to their country. But the Romans were contrary to this expectations for 400 years ruler of the country.

The harbour of Puerto, the town of commerce Gades and the settlement Jerez, better protected against the wind, took the functions and the inhabitants of the disempowered town Tartessos. At its with earth covered barrow prevented the occupying power any attempt of rebuilding.
A not to high to judge present to modern archaeology. Probably it appreciates this gift in the right way, as you can see from the following leaflet of Puerto.


Leaflet to the archaeological place of finds, "Castillo de Dona Blanca" in the area of
Puerto de Santa Maria (state of March 2003). At first originally in Spain, than translation in English by TOLOS.

Yacimiento Arqueológico Castillo de Dona Blanca

Situation geografica y relieve

El Castillo de Dona Blanca está situado a los pies de la pequena Sierra de San Cristobal en El Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz). Ante el yacimiento se extiende una extensa llanura de marisma y salinas, en gran parte rellenada por los aluviones del rio Gualdalete. En sus origenes esta llanura fue un amplia bahia en cuyo fondo se situaba el estuario del rio. La ciudad fenicia se asentó en este lugar en el siglo VIII a.C., muy proxima a la desembocadura y aprovechando una antigua ensenada protegida de los vientos.

El punto elegido para crear la ciudad era muy favorable: Esta abierto al mar y muy cerca de los estuarios de los rios Guadalete y Guadalquivir, rutas de penetración hacia el interior, hacia territorios agricolas y mineros. En el zona habia abundante agua dulce, canteras de piedra, masas forestales, etc.

El aspecto que presenta actualmente el yacimiento es de colina amesetada de forma casi rectangular y de unas 6,5 hectáreas de extensión y elevándose 31 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Este aspecto es el resultado de su historia. Se trata de un relieve artificial formado por la acumulación, unos sobre otros, de los diversos asentamientos y edificaciones que se han ido sucediendo a lo largo de tiempo, llegando a tener en algunas zonas hasta 9 metros de estratos arqueológicos superpuestos.

La secuencia cronologica

Los primeros asentamientos humanos conocidos en el yacimiento son de una fase tardia de Edad de Cobre, al final del III milenio a.C. Este periodo está documentado con fondos o huellas de cabanas dispersas y adaptadas a la topografia original del terreno. A continución hay un periodo de abandono que dura hasta la primera mitad del siglo VIII a.C., momento en el que se produce el primer asentamiento fenicio. Poco después se construye la primera muralla.

El yacimiento es habitado de forma ininterumpida hasta la llegada de los romanos en el transcurso de la segunda guerra punica (206 a.C.). Durante estos seiscientos anos de poblamiento fenicio se edificaron otros dos recintos fortificados (en los siglos VI y III a.C.) y se realizaron varias remodelaciones urbanisticas. Desde la conquista romana, Dona Blanca queda abandonada hasta la Edad Media: Hay restos de poblacion islámica entre los siglos IX y XII d.C.

Finalmente, en el siglo XV se costruye la torre o ermita de planta de cruz griega, donde la leyenda sitúa la prisión hasta su asesinato en 1361 de Dona Blanca de Borbón, esposa de Don Pedro el Cruel.

El urbanismo

La importancia de Dona Blanca radica en varios aspectos:
En primer lugar su antigüedad: La Bahia de Cadiz es escenario
del primer asentamiento fenicio en la peninsula, en el siglo VIII a.C. En segundo lugar la secuencia completa que tenemos aqui de una ciudad fenicia durante seicientos anos. Se trata de una ciudad intacta desde el punto de vista arqueológico. Finalmente, aqui se han localizado los restos de más extension y mejor conservados del urbanismo fenicio arcaico en todo el Mediterráneo Central y Occidental.

Los restos de viviendas del siglo VIII a.C. se encuentran al exterior del primer recinto amurallado y proximas al puerto comercial de la ciudad. Las viviendas se disponen aprovechando la ladera, mediante un sistema de terrazas artificiales. Las casas tienen 3 o 4 habitaciones con zócalos de mamposteria y alzado de adobes revocados de arcilla y encalados. Los suelos son de arcilla roja apisonada siendo la techumbre de cubierta vegetal. La mayoria tenia su proprio horno de pan. Se han detectado hogares, bancos en las paredes y otros elementos. Basicamente este tipo de vivienda se mantiene en los restos del urbanismo de época tardia (siglos IV y III a.C.) que se han localizado. De estos siglos conservamos aspectos muy interessantes como la presencia de un lagar, piletas, asi como una calle perfectamente delimitada.

Se conoce tambien, aunque parcialmente, aspectos del sistema defensivo. Desde sus comienzos , la ciudad fenicia se fortificó con una recia muralla con bastiones. Sobre una plataforma de arcilla se construyó una zapata de mamposteria sobre la cual se levantó la muralla, hecha con piedras irregulares y trabadas con arcilla. Se conservan alzados de hasta 4,80 metros. Sobre esta muralla se construyó otra mas moderna, aunque ambos trazados no coinciden en su totalidad. Delante de la muralla se ha localizado un foso arcaico en forma de "V" excavado en la roca y de una anchura de 8,5 metros.

La necropolis de la Sierra de San Cristobal

En la falda de la Sierra de San Cristobal se extiende la necropolis con casi cien hectareas de extension y con una distribución en núcleos o cementerios de distintas epocas que van desde el Bronce medio hast epoca turdetana. Lo tipos de tumbas y los ritos de enterramientos que nos encontramos son variados, desde las tumbas excavadas en la roca o hipogeos de inhumación hasta los de estructura en cerros artificiales o túmulos que cubren tumbas de incineración.

The Archaeological Place of Castillo de Dona Blanca
The Geographical Situation and the Nature of Terrain

The fortified place of Dona Blanca is situated at the foot of the little Sierra de
San Cristobal in the area of Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz). In front of the complex is spreading out an extended plain of marches, bogs and saltworks, which is filled up in big parts by the river Guadalete. In its origin this plain was an extended bay in the ground of which was bed and shore area of the river. The Phoenician town was founded at this place in the 8th century B.C. very near to the mouth of the river into the bay with taking advantage of a natural inlet into the mountain slope which gave protection from the wind.


The place that was chosen for the foundation of the town was situated very convenient. It was open to the sea and lied very near to the courses of the rivers Guadalete and
Guadalquivir, ways to penetrate into the interior to agricultural usable regions and to the mines. In the environment there were ample fresh water, quarries, extended forests and other useful.

The sight which gives currently the settlement is that of a table formed hill of nearly rectangular form and 6,5 ha size, that raises 31 m over the sea level. This appearance is the result of its history. It is an artificial created relief which came into being in the course of time by different layers of settlement, one over the other, and reaches at some places a thickness of nine meters over the initial ground.

The Chronological Development

The first human settlements at this place are coming from the late phase of the Copper Age at the end of the third millenium. This time is documented by foundations and prints of huts which lied isolated and adapted to the natural form of terrain.

In the following time there is a period of non-settlement of the place, which lasted until the first half of the 8th century B.C., the time in which was formed the first Phoenician setting up. A little bit later was built the first town wall. This settlement was inhabited in incessant following until the arrival of the Romans in the course of the second Punic war (206 B.C.). During these 600 years of Phoenician settlement were created two new fortifications ( in the 6th. and 3rd century) and carried out several structural alterations in the town area.

After the conquest by the Romans the area of Dona Blanca staid unsettled until the Middle Ages. Than it gives rests of islamic settlement between the 9th and 12th century A.C. Finally was constructed in the 15th century the tower or eremitage in form of a Greek cross in which settles the legend the captivity of Dona Blanca of Bourbon, wife of Peter the Cruel of Sevilla, until her murder.

The Town Area

The archaeological importance of the town has several aspects. In first sight it is its age. The
bay of Cadiz is with it the first place of settlement of the Phoenicians at the peninsula in the 8th century B.C..
In second sight we have here a town which was settled in constant succession for 600 years. Therefore it is an intact town in archaeological sight.
Finally you find here the rests of a Phoenician settlement of biggest extension and best conservation in the old Phoenician style of urbanisation in the whole area of the central and western

The rests of the buildings of living of the 8th century B.C. are situated outside of the first town wall, near to the harbour of commerce of the town. The houses are following each other side by side forming an artificial system of terraces. The houses have 3 or 4 rooms with pedestal of strong walls and superstructure of air dried bricks from clay, which were whitewashed. The soil is made from red stamped clay, which covers also the roof from vegetarian material. Most of them have their own oven for bread. You find fire places, benches at the walls and other elements of living. In principle this kind of furnishing is found in the rests of livings of the late epoch (3rd and 4th century B.C.) From this time were found also interesting details like a winepress, pillars and a perfectly marked street.

Principles of the construction of fortifications are also known. Already since the beginning this Phoenician town is fortified with a strong town wall with bastions. Over a platform of clay is a pedestal of strong stonework over that builds up the wall, formed by irregular stones of rock joined by clay. There are conserved rests till 4,8 m of height. Over this wall is constructed another more modern, but both are not everywhere corresponding in their location. In front of the wall is a V-formed archaic ditch, which is with a width of 8,5 m at its upper side worked out into the rock.

The Necropolis of the Sierra San Cristobal

At the mountain slope of the Sierra de
San Cristobal a necropolis is expanding over nearly 100 ha with a distribution to centers of the different epochs, which are reaching from the middle of the Bronze Age until the Turdetanian time. The form of tombs and the ritus of burial, which was found, is different. It reaches from graves formed into the rock or hipogaeans to these , which contain in artificial hills or tumuli rests of funerals.


Read to this, (for the moment only available in German language) :

DIE GESCHICHTE VON ATLANTIS, der vergessene Ursprung unserer Kultur
by Karl Juergen Hepke
TRIGA - DER VERLAG, D 63584 Gruendau-Rothenbergen, Germany, 2nd Edition, Hardcover, 268 Pages, EUR 22,00, ISBN 978-3-89774-539-1 ,