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West-Colonist Greek Armies a) Hispania 660-535 BC b) Massalia 630-49 BC


Though there are some rare archaeological finds that possibly prove the commercial links between the Iberian peninsula and Bronze Age Greece, the most concrete information about Greek establishment in the western Mediterranean comes from the Archaic Era. The Greeks are responsible for the name Iberia, after the river Iber (Ebro in Spanish). Greek pioneers from the island of Rhodes landed in Spain in the eighth century B.C. Roses (Rhode) was founded according to legend by the Rhodians at the VII century B.C. (the first colony at the west). But archaeologically only VI century B.C. is well attested.

founting a colony

Founding a colony was not always a peacefull affair Photo:G. Gotsis

The Greek colony at Massalia (later Marseilles) maintained commercial ties with the Celtiberians in what is now Catalonia (Spanish, Cataluna; Catalan, Catalunya). In the sixth century B.C., Massalians along with the Rhodians founded Emporeio/Emporion (later Ampurias), the first of several market towns established on the Mediterranean coast of the peninsula. Massalians also founded in Gaul the city of Teline (Arles) around 500 B.C. Only these two cities were for sure Greek colonies in the West. Other Greek settlements can be considered factories or trading outposts depending on Emporeion or Massalia. There are listed as Hemeroskopeion, Dianium, Akra Leuke (Alonis), Villaricos, Adra, Sexi, Toscanos, Mainake, Kallipoli (Guadalhorce), Calpe [San Roque] and Olvia (Huelva). About 2nd half of the VIIth century B.C. Samians, too, started fruitful contact with the Spaniards of Tartessos.

Sample of Greco-Iberian alphabet:. Source:

The Western Greeks relied on Sardinia and Corsica to maintain links with their more eastern relatives. They were always in conflict with the Carthaginians for resources or trading posts. The wars were fought either directly or by proxy through allies. It is a possibility that the Greeks adopted the Spanish falcata under the name kopis. The Greek phalanx with the aid of allied Spanish cavalry and light troops proved tough and resilient. The western colonist hoplites were basically carry the weapons and attire of the other Greeks.  Yet because of their contact with other cultures they would carry also items that would seem exotic to other Greeks like  wearing traditional Spanish straw sandals or carrying Celtic swords and daggers with their characteristic rich decoration.

Initially the Greeks contained successfuly the Carthagenian expansion but in 535 B.C. the Carthaginians despite losing the naval battle of Allalia and with the aid their Etruscan allies managed to conquer Corsica and Sardinia. In this manner they deove a wedge between the Westren Greek colonies and their most east located relatives. Unable to access resources or mercenaries from the east, the Iberian Greeks held tightly to Zakynthos (Saguntum) or migrated to Massalia, gradually abandoning Hispania to the Carthaginians.

Rhodian hoplite.

Shield Device from the Island of Rhodes, «HYBISCUS FLOWER» 5th Century B.C.E. Courtesy Melbourne hopliticon

Massalia accoerding to Thucydides  was founded by a certain Protis who was looking for a trading post for his homeland Phocaea, a Greek city in Asia Minor. The Massaliots maintained mostly good relations with their Gallic neighbours but had to ally themselves with the Romans to resist Carthaginian expansion. In about 325 B.C. the Massalian Pytheas became the first Greek to sail through the «pilars of Herkules»  (Gibraltar) northwards into the Atlantic and probably reached as far morth as Norway although this is hottly debated. In 49 BC., however, they made the mistake of siding with Pompey and defying the mighty Caesar.  Caesarian forces laid siege to the city, which lasted six months until Caesar’s return from Hispania.  The ruined city was spared further depredations, but the rights and privileges accorded to the Massaliots were revoked.  Despite the granting of some privileges by later Roman emperors, the city steadily declined thereafter.

The main reason for the Greek failure in the west was their near fanatical refusal to form leagues or commonwealths between them and the extensive reliance on temporarily employed mercenaries.


Strabo «Geography» Loeb Classical Library 1920

Herodotus «Histories» Loeb Classical Library 1920

Pausanias “Description of Greece” translated by John Dreyden London: Macmillan, 1889

Hoplites photographs are courtesy of the Living History Association «Koryvantes«



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