When the Order of the Knights of the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar) was formally suppressed in 1312, it wasn’t because it had been found guilty of heresy. It was because the campaign of fake news waged by the French Crown had so defamed the Order that the Pope deemed it beyond saving.
Philip IV of France (1268-1314) aka Philip the Fair needed money. He had wars to wage and bills to pay. Everyone knew it. By 1307 he had already driven the Jews out of the kingdom after seizing their property only a year earlier. He’d also been extorting the Italian Lombards of their assets since the 1290s; eventually appropriating all of their property and arresting their persons in 1311. But it was in 1307 that Philip moved against his most lucrative target yet: The Knights Templar.
The Templars were wealthy. They were also not as popular as the once had been. Many blamed the Order for the fall of Acre in 1291 (which was the last of the Christian cities to fall in the Holy Land). Public support for crusading in general was also on the wane. The Templars were weakened and Philip knew it.
Urged on by his minister Guillaume de Nogaret, in the spring of 1307 Philip began a campaign of misinformation (read: fake news) that accused the Templars of heresy and sexual depravity. Although by the end of their trial the Templars were made to answer for 127 articles put against them, Philip’s initial accusations centered on three things.
What made the Templars especially susceptible to Philip and Nogaret’s fake news/propaganda campaign was the secrecy surrounding the Order. When people aren’t given a narrative, they fill in the blanks themselves – until someone else does. Since so much of Templar life was kept secret rumors couldn’t help but grow.
DENYING CHRIST AND SPITTING ON THE CROSS
Although many Templars confessed, their confessions were almost all obtained under torture or the threat of it. Furthermore, the majority of Templar members were non-combatants. They would not have been able to withstand the conditions they were placed in after their arrest. Even the most battle hardened knight would have a hard time resisting the likes of the rack or the strappado. Not surprisingly, in regions where torture was not used regularly, confessions were few and far between. Testimonies in those areas spoke well of all the good the Templars had done.
Of all the accusations, however, the denial of Christ and spitting on the Cross was the one that may have had some truth to it. Though it was a charge leveled at other heretics in the past, even Jacques de Molay had identified it as an immoral practice in the Order when he became Grand Master in 1293. Some sources claim it had been carried out for over 100 years by then.
The practice stemmed from a section of the original Templar Rule that stated new initiates were not to be accepted too quickly. Rather, they should be tested to determine their worthiness of the Templar mantle. Of course no test was formally defined. The official initiation ceremony involved the initiate swearing oaths of obedience, chastity, poverty, and placing all his strength at the service of the Holy Land. Over time, an unofficial ceremony designed to test him afterwards developed. In it, the receptor demanded the initiate deny Christ and spit on the Cross. What outsiders would not have known was the context and reason for this.
This part of the ceremony was meant to imitate what could happen to a Templar if he was captured by Muslims. The script for the ceremony was based on testimony from Templar escapees.
Sometimes a refusal was respected while at other times the initiate would be threatened if he didn’t obey. Most pretended to say the words and/or spit in the general direction of the cross. Thus they performed the actions with their mouth, but not in their heart.
After the ceremony was over, the receptor enjoined the initiates to confess the sins they had just committed to the chaplain so they could be absolved. Sometimes, however, they confessed to priests of other orders. This no doubt had the effect of allowing dark rumors to grow since those outside the Templar Order would have had no understanding of the ritual’s context. Something Philip and Nogaret would capitalize on.
OBSCENE KISSING AND HOMOSEXUALITY
Church and secular authorities also had a long history of using sexual deviance as a means of labelling individuals or groups as heretics. Ironically, it was also a claim that Romans frequently used against early Christians to justify persecuting them. Even today nothing creates a bigger political splash than an accusation of sexual malpractice, true or not.
With regard to the Templars, however, there is little evidence of truth to it. For the accusation of obscene kissing on the buttocks, navel, etc., where it may have been practiced, it can be understood as an additional part of the initiation ceremony that amounted to a form of hazing. The same may be said for initiates being told they had to have sex with their brothers on demand. Even then, these would not have been uniform practices throughout the Order. The only thing that came close was something called the “kiss of peace”. It consisted of a kiss on the mouth that welcomed a new initiate into the Order. There was nothing controversial about it. Christians had practiced it regularly from an early date.
What’s more, the Templar Rule lists sodomy as one of the most serious offenses a Templar could commit. It carried with it fierce penalties, including expulsion from the Order. Of close to 1000 depositions, only six confirmed acts of homosexuality. Each of these also involved long-term relationships of genuine affection.
IDOLATRY: THE MYSTERIOUS HEAD (OR CAT)
Similarly, worshipping a cat and/or a mysterious head was a well established practice that heretics were commonly held to do. Traditions of heads having magical powers were common in medieval Europe. They had a long history that stretched as far back as the legend of Perseus and Medusa. Some said that the Templars worshiped the head because it was a “giver of plenty” that made the “trees flower and the land germinate.” The implication here was that the Templars owed their wealth and successes to sorcery and the devil. Similar accusations would be made against “witches” during the witchcrazes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Some Templars identified the “head” idol as having the name Baphomet, which some scholars have taken as a corruption of John the Baptist (who was beheaded) while others suggest it was Mohamet. Certainly many Templar opponents tried to say they had been infiltrated by Islam, but both of these interpretations remain speculation.
Other Templars who confessed regarding the head gave differing descriptions of it. Some said that it had a long dark beard, others a silver beard. Some claimed it had two faces while others said four. Some said it had legs and feet. Some even said that it was the head of Hugues de Payns, the founder and first Grand Master of the Order! Whatever the case, such contradictory testimony tells us that it had little if any basis in truth.
Ultimately, apart from the induced confessions and unsubstantiated rumor, royal authorities could not produce any evidence to support the claim of idol worship.
Despite Philip and Nogaret’s best efforts, Pope Clement V saw through them. Unfortunately, he was no match for these masters of information manipulation.
When the French Templars were first arrested on Friday 13th 1307, the Pope was furious. He demanded that they be released to Church custody. As a religious order legally beholden only to the Pope, Philip required Clement’s consent before undertaking such an action. Though Philip implied to everyone he had it, he did not.
Any objections raised by Clement V were met with the suggestion that the Pope’s inaction had forced Philip’s hand, and even worse, that the Pope may have been complicit in the Templar’s heresy. This ensured that the French Templars would remain under royal custody indefinitely.
In June 1308, Philip agreed to send a hand-picked selection of Templars to the Pope to confess before him and affirm their guilt. This group consisted almost entirely of low-ranking sergeants, apostates, and those who were terrified from torture. But Philip’s ploy worked. The Pope issued a bull across Christendom for rulers to arrest and seize Templars and their property until a full investigation could be conducted.
A few days later Clement V sent three of his most trusted cardinals to the fortress of Chinon, where Jacques de Molay and the Templar leadership were being held. Documents such as the recently discovered “Chinon parchment” reveal that the Pope then absolved them of heresy. However, he did find them guilty of lesser crimes (such as allowing the practice of denying Christ and spitting on the Cross to flourish, regardless of context).
The Templar leaders were also given judicial immunity. This meant that no one could so much as interrogate them without the permission of the Pope. Of course this did not stop Philip from burning Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey De Charney (Preceptor of Normandy) at the stake on March 18th, 1314. He did so without Clement’s permission and to ensure that the Templars would never rise again.
In the meantime, Clement V and Jacques de Molay agreed that to save the Order they would merge it with the Knights Hospitallers and a new Rule would be established. Afterwards, word of Clement V’s intent to save and reform the Order began to spread.
Philip was not amused.
Philip and Nogaret responded by threatening to try Pope Boniface VIII posthumously.
Previously, Boniface VIII and the French Crown had clashed over a number of issues dealing with Papal vs. Royal authority. Boniface VIII had gone so far as to excommunicate Nogaret and draw up a bull excommunicating Philip (which was never published). In 1303, Nogaret responded by framing Boniface VIII on charges of murder, idolatry, simony, and heresy. More fake news.
By trying the bones of Boniface VIII, Philip would send a signal to the world that secular authority trumped the Pope’s. It was a form of blackmail that betrayed a weakness in the papacy at the time. It was also too much for Clement to handle. He gave up.
Under the military “protection” of Philip, the Council of Vienne convened in 1311 to finalize the fate of the Templars. Although they were not allowed to defend themselves and no evidence proved them guilty of heresy, Clement V publically suppressed the Order on April 3rd, 1312. He did so on the grounds that it had been so defamed that it was not saveable. Most outside observers knew it was bogus, but they were powerless to do anything. Fake news had done its job.
By playing on popular superstitions and the use of threats and misinformation about their enemies, Philip IV of France and Guillaumme de Nogaret were able to bring down one of the most powerful organizations in Western history. As Vatican historian Barbara Frale puts it, “By way of sophistry, generalization, and manipulation, the royal lawyers managed to transform every failing, every fault, every misdeed of the Templars into crimes against the faith.”
It serves us with a warning. Even without the help of mass media and communications like we have, fake news destroyed the mighty Knights Templar. Imagine how much more damaging it can be today! In this regard, the words of Edgar Allan Poe ring true, “Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.”
Barber, Malcom. The Trial of the Templars. Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Frale, Barbara. The Templars: The Secret History Revealed. Translated by Gregory Conti, Arcade Publishing, 2009.
Napier, Gordon. The Rise and Fall of the Knights Templar:The Order of the Temple 1118-1314 – A True History of Faith, Glory, Betrayal. The History Press, 2006.
Ralls, Karen. The Templars and the Grail. Quest Books, 2003.
Wojtowicz, Robert T. Trans. The Original Rule of the Knights Templar. Western Michigan University, 1991, scholarworks.wmich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2029&context=masters_theses.
Long before the US Marines were known as the “first to fight”, the Knights Templar had earned that honor during the Crusades. Admired and feared by allies and enemies alike, one Arabic historian, El-Fadhel, went so far as to change the Persian-Arabic word for Templars to the same word as the demon gods of Zoroastrianism in his writings. In light of their tenacity and ferocity on the battlefield, it’s easy to see why.
SHOCK TROOPS: FIRST TO FIGHT
Every Templar Knight came from the nobility. It was a stipulation for admission to their ranks. Only someone who had already received the lifelong training that secular knights and nobles did could hope to be effective as a Knight in combat. They could be identified by their white uniform with the red Templar cross of martyrdom emblazoned on it. Compared to the membership as a whole, however, they were in the vast minority, comprising roughly 10% of the Order. Even at the Order’s height, they would have numbered no more than 2000 at any given time. On the battlefield however, the Knights were their primary fighting force and, along with the other military orders, were the shock troops of the Crusades.
Templar sergeants, sometimes called serving brothers, filled every other position necessary for the functioning of the Order. On the battlefield, if they were there, they acted in a supporting role such as light cavalry or infantry. Their uniform also featured the red Templar cross but they wore a black surcoat with the Templar cross on the front and back.
Before battle Templar Knights were organized into squadrons. Once the battle commenced, Templar Knights could not break formation or charge out ahead of their squadron. Absolute discipline was required. This served the purpose of military cohesion, but also reinforced the Templar ideal of humility; wherein the Order took precedence over the individual. The only time it was acceptable for a Templar Knight to act on his own initiative was when it meant saving the life of a Templar or a Christian.
The Templars were known to always be among the first to seek engagement with the enemy. Once the battle trumpet sounded, the Templars would sing the Templar motto (and Psalm 115): “Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed Nomini tuo da gloriam” (Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name give the glory). Then, they charged; unleashing carnage on the enemy line and fighting until either the enemy or they were vanquished.
The overwhelming impact of a Templar charge allowed the Templars and their allies to confront even numerically superior forces successfully. Sometimes it was so effective that it left little time for support troops to follow before the Knights found themselves surrounded by the enemy. Such was the case at the battle of Hattin in 1187. The Templars succeeded in charging Saladin’s army but the rest of Frankish forces did not follow them. Surrounded, the Templars fell by the hundreds. Those not killed in battle were executed by Saladin’s men afterwards. The “Horns of Hattin” became known as the most devastating defeat ever suffered by crusader forces.
In battle, the Templar banner held a place of extreme importance. It was called the Baucent, meaning “piebald horse”. It was so called for its black and white colors. The black half represented the darkness of sin that the Templars had left behind. The white represented the purity of the Order. Sometimes it also bore the red Templar cross; a symbol of martyrdom. To die fighting for Christ was among the greatest honors a Templar could achieve.
Not only did the Baucent have a guard of 10 men, but often the Templars brought a second folded banner along, should anything happen to the first. Under no circumstances could anyone use the banner as a weapon. If they did, they would be placed in irons after the battle.
As the banner still flew, the Templar Knights were not allowed to retreat. This held true even if they were unarmed or wounded. In the case of the latter, they could only quit the field if their commander gave them permission.
If the banner did fall, or they were separated from their brothers, they were to rally to the banner of the Knights Hospitallers and failing that, to support any Christian banner still standing. Only once all Christian banners had fallen, could they abandon the fight. Any Templar Knight who deserted the battlefield before this could be expelled from the Order. Only non-fighting sergeant brothers, if they saw there was nothing they could do, were allowed to retreat. This was to save the Order’s equipment so that it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.
Yet, even in retreat the Templars fought on to allow other Christian forces to withdraw. This led to heavy losses for the Order when crusader forces were defeated, but it gained them the reputation as being among the most stalwart of warriors; fighting on against impossible odds even long after a battle had turned.
FEARED AND ADMIRED BY THEIR ENEMIES
Likewise, their courage and stamina on the battlefield earned them both respect and dread from their enemies.
A witness of the battle of Montgisard in 1177 tells us how 84 Templar knights under their commander, Odo de Saint-Amand, forced Saladin to flee and the reluctant admiration Saladin felt as a result.
“Spurring all together, as one man, they made a charge, turning neither to the left nor to the right. Recognising the body of troops in which Saladin commanded many knights, they manfully approached it, immediately penetrated it, incessantly knocked down, scattered, struck and crushed. Saladin was smitten with admiration, seeing his men dispersed everywhere, everywhere turned in flight, everywhere given to the mouth of the sword. He took thought for his own safety and fled, throwing off his mail shirt for speed, mounted a racing camel and barely escaped with a few of his men.”
But Saladin also hated them for the same reason. After all, the Templars were responsible for inflicting immense damage to his army. So great was his disdain for them that after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 he granted mercy to the Christians left in the city but he executed every Templar and Hospitallar he could find.
Both admired and feared, the Templars were a force to be reckoned with during the Crusades. When they charged, one could only pray they were on your side.
Barber, Malcom. The Trial of the Templars. Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Frale, Barbara. The Templars: The Secret History Revealed. Translated by Gregory Conti, Arcade Publishing, 2009.
Nicholson, Helen. Knight Templar: 1120-1312. Osprey Publishing, 2004.
Ralls, Karen. The Templars and the Grail. Quest Books, 2003.
In the early 1900s at Knossos on the island of Crete, Sir Arthur Evans (1851-1941) began to uncover the ruins of one of the greatest civilizations of the Bronze Age. Not knowing what they called themselves, he called them Minoans, after the legendary King Minos of Crete from Greek mythology. What they called themselves, however, is among one of the many mysteries they left behind.
THE MYSTERIOUS MINOANS
Lasting from c. 2700–1400BC, the Minoans maintained cultural and trading ties with the other great civilizations of the Bronze Age throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. They had colonies on various Cycladic islands and were thought by Thucydides (c. 460–400 BC) to be the first great naval power in the Aegean. Yet mysteriously, they and their culture faded away around 1400BC; to be supplanted by the Mycenaeans of Mainland Greece (and the culture whose heroes inspired the Iliad and the Odyssey).
What’s more, in a time when all of the great civilizations in the “known world” glorified war, the Minoans left next to no evidence of their own military might. Instead, they left us art and artifacts rich in color, full of sophisticated designs, populated by elegant people, and set amidst elegant representations of the natural world. This is a sharp contrast to their contemporaries, who never missed a chance to inscribe their martial prowess on any surface they could find.
Likewise, there is little evidence of defensive walls or fortifications at any of the great Minoan centers. Even if they relied on the natural barrier of the sea to protect them from most threats, this alone could not account for the survival of their civilization for well over a millennia.
BULLS, DOUBLE-HEADED AXES, AND A BARE-BREASTED GODDESS
Certain symbols and motifs reoccur that have thus far also defied explanation. Bulls appear again and again in their art and artifacts. But what the animal represented to them is unknown. They also seemed to have practiced a sort of “bull-leaping” as seen in various depictions of youth vaulting over them in impossible feats of acrobatics. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the legend of the Minotaur (half-man/half-bull) in the Labyrinth (of Knossos) came to be tied to Crete.
Another symbol revered by the Minoans was the double-headed axe or labrys. One might suppose that over time, Knossos (or Crete in general), having once been known as the home of the labrys came to be interpreted as the place of the Labyrinth.
The repeated representation of a goddess of priestess, bare-breasted with her arms upraised and sometimes holding snakes also remains unexplained. Some have suggested that she represents a great Mother Goddess, possibly an early form of the Greek Titaness Rhea, the mother of the gods. Considering Zeus was said to have been born on Crete, and that the double-headed axe also came to be associated with him, there could be some truth to this.
What would help us in all of this would be if we had records written by the Minoans. Or at least understand those we do.
Both Minoan hieroglyphs (used c. 2000–1650BC) and Linear A (c. 1700–1400 BC), the Minoan system(s) of writing, have eluded our best attempts at deciphering them. The closest we have is Linear B (deciphered as an early form of Greek), which drew inspiration from Linear A but was used by the Mycenaeans as the Minoans had faded away.
Which brings us back to what they called themselves.
Unfortunately, unless Linear A yields its secrets to us, we may never know for certain. But we DO know what other civilizations of their day called them. Perhaps from that, we can move a little closer to an answer.
PEOPLE OF THE ISLANDS
Egyptian records speak of the Keftiu, or, the “People of the Islands” from the “Great Green Sea”. Prior to Evans’ discovery at Knossos, references on papyri as well as inscriptions and pictures of the Keftiu in the tombs of Pharaohs had puzzled Egyptologists. But once Knossos and other Minoan sites on Crete began to reveal their secrets, it turned out that the Keftiu were Minoans.
Inscriptions on the base of base of a statue at Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple lists a number of cities located in the Aegean under the headings of Keftiu and Tanaja (identified as Mainland Greece). Interestingly, the first two it lists for Keftiu (Crete) are Amnisa and Kunusa. These are respectively, Amnisos (the ancient port of Knossos) and Knossos itself. What’s remarkable is the closeness their names are to their Greek names. If the names on the inscriptions were so close with those names, could Crete itself have been named something close to Keftiu by the Minoans themselves?
It is entirely possible that at the very least, they went by a name that began with a “K” or hard “C” sound as we see in Keftiu. The Mesopotamian and Canaanite name for Crete was Caphtor (or Kaptaru). There are a number of references to items from Bronze Age Crete including one mentioning clothing and textiles made “in the Caphtorian manner”. Another tablet c. 1750 BC tells us how Zimro-Lim, King of the Mari, had “one pair of leather shoes in the Caphtorian style, which to the palace of Hammurabi, King of Babylon, Bahdi-Lim carried, but were returned.”
SO WHAT WERE THEY CALLED?
Again, we can’t say with any certainty what the Minoans called themselves. However, from what we do know, two possibilities present themselves.
The first is that they called themselves something completely different than anything we could ever imagine. Anyone in the future, for example, finding English records of Japan would have no clue that the Japanese call Japan “Nippon” and themselves “Nipponjin”.
However considering the close geographical proximity of Crete to Egypt and Mesopotamia, another compelling possibility emerges. Today the names of various countries and peoples differ from language to language, but most countries have a similar sound even in another language, especially when geographically close. Consider England and Angleterre (French), Inglaterra (Spanish), Angliya (Russian), etc. If a similar situation existed in the Bronze Age, we can hypothesize that if they were called Keftiu by the Egyptians and Captor by the Mesopotamians and Canaanites, they may have had a name that began with the sound of a K or a hard C. Ironically, the way Crete does, today.
So while we may not know precisely what they called themselves and their island home, until we’re able to decipher the Minoan hieroglyphs or Linear A, that might be as close as we can get. At the very least, it brings us one step closer to understand who the Minoans really were.
Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton University Press, 2014.
Cline, Eric. H. and Steven M. Stannish. “Sailing the Great Green Sea? Amenhotep III’s “Aegean List” from Kom el- Hetan, Once More.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections, vol. 3:2, 2011 6–16, journals.uair.arizona.edu/index.php/jaei/article/view/111/109.
Cottrell, Leonard. The Bull of Minos. Pan Books, 1955.
Luis, Mireia Movellán. “Rise and Fall of the Mighty Minoans.”National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/09-10/Minoan_Crete/.
The southern coast of Spain and Portugal once comprised the homeland of a lost civilization known as Tartessos. It lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules and was widely renowned for its incredible wealth and the influence it brought. It also mysteriously vanished in the middle of the first millennium BC, leading some to believe it was the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis or a descendent civilization of it. The origins of Tartessos, its people, and its fate remain a mystery. During its peak, it was like the ancient world’s version of El Dorado: a distant, exotic land of wonder full of riches unimaginable.
Traditionally, Tartessos is thought to have risen to prominence from 9th to the 6th Century BC, when the Phoenicians and the Greeks, with their vast trading networks, really put it on the map. The Phoenicians even established colonies there; Gadir (modern Cadiz) being the most notable. However, there is good reason to believe it was much older. Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st Century BC, confirms that the Phoenicians had arrived in Tartessos looking for silver well before they started establishing colonies there. Since Gadir (modern Cadiz) is said to have been established by the Phoenicians in roughly 1100 BC, Tartessos itself must have had an earlier beginning.
Archaeological and metallurgical evidence also tells us that the indigenous Tartessians had already developed the technology for mining that would produce the fabulous wealth that Tartessos became known for before the arrival of colonists from the Eastern Mediterranean. Located as it was in close proximity to the Iberian Pyrite Belt, it was loaded with silver, gold, copper, tin, and to a lesser extent, iron.
Tartessos is also the only civilization outside of the Middle East mentioned in the Old Testament. There it is referred to as “Tarshish”. In fact, it was there that Jonah tried to flee before the whale swallowed him. Other verses reference connections with King Solomon and Hiram, King of Tyre (c. 980-947) and speak to its great wealth in metals:
2 Chronicles 9:21: “For the king’s [Solomon] ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Hiram [King of Tyre c. 980-947]; once every three years the ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks.”
Other ancient texts also speak to its age and great riches – especially silver. One collection of texts called “On Marvelous Things Heard” (and attributed to Artistotle), says: “It is said that the first Phoenicians who said to Tartessos took away so much silver as cargo, carrying there olive-oil and other petty wares, that no one could keep or receive the silver but that on sailing away from the district they had to make all their other vessels of silver, and even all the anchors.”
Likewise, Herodotus tell us that it was the Phocaeans who were “the first of the Hellenes who made long voyages, and these are they who discovered the Adriatic and Tyrsenia and Iberia and Tartessos…” and that “they became friends with the King of the Tartessians whose name was Arganthonios (meaning “The Silver King”): he was ruler of the Tartessians for eighty years and lived in all one hundred and twenty.”
Apart from its legendary wealth and general location, however, Tartessos remains a mystery. Its precise location (especially of its capital), its people, its culture, and what happened to it are all questions that have yet to be answered.
Today, Tartessos it is thought to have been located in Western Andalusia in the region of the modern Huelva, Seville, and into the Portuguese region known as the Algarve. Many think that its capital lay somewhere near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River.
One archaeologist, Adolf Schulten spent much of his career looking for Tartessos and until his death in 1960, insisted that its capital city lay beneath the modern Doñana National Park. Unfortunately, due to the high water table, excavations were foiled.
More recently, Peter Daughtrey, in his book Atlantis and the Silver City, makes a strong case for Arganthonios’s (Herodotus’ “Silver King”) capital being in the Portugese Algarve where the modern city of Silves is located. He also speculates, with some considerable justification, that the Tartessian culture was a descendant culture of the fabled Atlantis.
Two sites in particular offer some tantalizing clues to Tartessian culture.
The first is Cancho Roano, which functioned as a sanctuary from the 7th to the 5th century BC. It is located remarkably inland for a Tartessian site. It consists of 4 sanctuaries, each built on top of the one before. It appears to have been purposefully abandoned in the 5th Century BC, for no apparent reason. There is evidence of one final ceremony that saw bones, pots, plates, and vases thrown into the moat of the 4th stage of the sanctuary, after which the main entrance sealed and the building set on fire.
nother site nearby, Casas del Turuñuelo, was also abandoned around the same time and in a similar fashion: a final ceremony, with animal sacrifice, followed by burning and abandonment. In this case, horse remains were arranged purposefully, sometimes in pairs and with their heads entwined. Was the horse a sacred animal to them? Also found were artefacts from across the known world at the time; a testament to the far reaching trade connections exercised by the Tartessians and their Phoenician and Greek trading partners.
The Phoenicians always held the strongest influence in determining the evolution of later Tartessian culture. One ancient source mentions that the Tartessians worshiped the Phoenician Melqart (the equivalent of Heracles) and Astarte, the Phoenician goddess of war and love. What the indigenous beliefs of the Tartessians were originally is unknown.
The origin of their writing system has proven controversial. It is frequently argued that the Tartessian script, also known as the Southwestern script was derived from Phoenician and Greek influences. Some have suggested, however, that it was the other way around. The Roman historians, Tacitus and Diodorus Siculus, both attest that the Phoenicians did not invent their writing but received it from elsewhere. If the Tartessian script was the source, this would alter a lot of our understanding of the ancient world.
What makes it even more jaw-dropping is something that Strabo (64BC-AD34) tells us about the Turdetani: the Iberian tribe that some claim the Tartessians morphed into after their power and influence waned; even going so far as to call them “doppelgangers”. He says this about them:
“They are the most cultured of all Iberians; they employ the art of writing and have written books containing memorials of ancient times, and also poems and laws set in verse, for which they claim an antiquity of six thousand years.” This of course lends credence to those who would see Tartessos as Atlantis or at least a descendent of it.
After the Phoenicians started leaving in the 6th century BC, on account of their own homeland being invaded by Persia, Tartessos as it was known fades away as well. Its Greek contacts were also largely cut off due to conflicts between the Greeks and Carthaginians.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?
What became of shining Tartessos and its people? No one knows. Perhaps they did become what Roman writers referred to as the Turdetani and quite possibly, also the Conii tribe, whose lands were in the Portugese Algarve and into parts of the Badajoz province in Spain – where we find Cancho Roano and Casas del Turuñuelo. Why they abandoned these sites we may never know.
One text, the Ora Maritima, written by Avienus in 300 AD, but whose source material is thought to have been a much older Carthaginian travel narrative from the 6th century says this about Tartessos:
… It was a great and wealthy city
In ancient times. Now it is poor, now it is small,
Now it is forsaken. Now it is a heap of ruins.
We saw nothing wonderful here,
Except the festival of Hercules.
But there was such power in those rites, or such glory,
In a former age…
Though Tartessian glory seems to have faded fast so great was its reputation, that it was still being referenced hundreds of years later. The Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias, in the second century AD tells us about a bronze treasury dedication at Olympia made by the Sicyonians in 648BC. He says: “In the treasury were two chambers, one Dorian, and one in the Ionic style. I saw that they were made of bronze; whether the bronze was Tartessian, as the Eleans declare, I do not know.” Even as late as the 2nd century AD, Tartessian wares were STILL known and considered to be objects of rare value.
Today, the mystery of Tartessos endures. A lost civilization full of riches spoken of in reverent tones by other ancient civilizations dazzles the mind with the prospect of uncovering hidden secrets and treasure. In light of this, perhaps the greatest mystery is why so few have heard of it. Until now.
Adams, Mark. Meet me in Atlantis. Dutton, 2015.
Ancient History Encyclopedia. “Tartessos.” www.ancient.eu/tartessos/.
Bartos, Nick. “Beyond the Pillars of Hercules – Excavating an Iron Age seat of power.” Current World Archaeology, www.world-archaeology.com/issues/beyond-the-pillars-of-hercules-excavating-an-iron-age-seat-of-power/.
Celestino, Sebastián and Carolina López-Ruiz. “Sacred Precincts: A Tartessian Sanctuary in Ancient Spain.” Archaeology Odyssey, web.archive.org/web/20031203010404/http://www.bib-arch.org/bswb_AO/bswbao0606f1.html.
Chamorro, Javier G. “Survey of Archaeological Research on Tartessos.” American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 91, No. 2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 197-232.
Daughtrey, Peter. Atlantis and the Silver City. Pegasus Books, 2013.
Kühne, Rainer W. “Tartessos-Tarshish was the model for Plato’s Atlantis.” 2011, vixra.org/pdf/1103.0040v1.pdf.
López-Ruiz, Carolina. “Tarshish and Tartessos Revisited: Textual Problems and Historical Implications.” in M. Dietler and C. López-Ruiz (eds.) Colonial Encounters in Ancient Iberia: Phoenician, Greek, and Indigenous Relations, The University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 255-80.
Pithom. “Why Semitic Tarshish is Greek Tartessos.” 1 Jan 2011, againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/tarsh-tart/.
Villarías-Robles, Juan J.R. and Antonio Rodríguez-Ramírez. “The Representation of the Kingdom of Tartessus by the Ancient Greeks Revisited: New Evidence for a Forgotten Cause.” International Conference: Ancient Greece and Contemporary World: The Influence of Greek Thought on Philosophy, Science and Technology (Ancient Olympia, Greece, 2831 Aug 2016).
Primary Sources can be found at:
“Tartessos (Spain) 65 Huelva? – Ταρτησός.” ToposText, Aikaterini Laskaridi Foundation, topostext.org/place/373000PTar.