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History in Ibiza

History of Ibiza
by Emily Kaufman

Warfare in the Ancient World


Historical Information

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 necropolises.

Ancient Beliefs

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.

Soldier Dandies

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.

Emily Kaufman