TUS­CANY AND TARSHISH

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“For Solomon had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Tyre. And once ev­ery three years the ships re­turned, bring­ing gold, sil­ver, ivory, apes, and pea­cocks.” (I Kings 10:22)

Schol­ars have de­bated the mean­ing of the Old Tes­ta­ment word “Tarshish” or “Tartes­sos”; some even doubt that a “King­dom of Tartes­sos” ever ex­isted. Yet pe­cu­liar­i­ties in the di­alect of vil­lages along the south­ern reaches of the Guadalquiv­ír River give in­di­ca­tion of east­ern Mediter­ranean in­flu­ence. An­cient ar­ti­facts cor­rob­o­rate: In 1940 in south Por­tu­gal, within the bound­aries of what has been called the “area of Tartes­sian in­flu­ence,” a weath­er­worn in­scrip­tion came to light. Its stone-carved let­ters formed words writ­ten in a lan­guage used by the Etr­uscans of north­ern Italy and by their rel­a­tives liv­ing on the Isle of Lem­nos off the western coast of Asia Mi­nor. The Bib­li­cal quo­ta­tion above con­tains a fur­ther hint: There is only one “ape” that oc­curs in the West, and that is the Bar­bary Macaque that lives along the Libyan coast, in the At­las Moun­tains of Morocco and Al­giers, and on Gibraltar, which lies be­tween Africa and Ibe­ria. Taken to­gether, the ev­i­dence sug­gests that peo­ple of western Asia Mi­nor---Ly­dia, Adana and Lem­nos---had rel­a­tives or trad­ing part­ners liv­ing along sev­eral shore­lines fronting the

Mediter­ranean, even as far west as mod­ern Por­tu­gal. As they were the first mariners to build ships ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing horses as cargo, this tells us when and how horses of the east­ern Mediter­ranean first reached western Europe.

Rarely do peo­ple mi­grate or travel with­out leav­ing signs of their pass­ing: trash and trade goods. Ea­ger for riches, th­ese mariners plied the port towns of the Ana­to­lian and Le­vant coasts and is­land-hopped across the Aegean to reach Crete and the Pelo­pon­nese. We know of their ear­li­est ex­ploits in part from the re­cent dis­cov­ery of the limeen­crusted hulk of one of their ves­sels, wrecked some 3,200 years ago off Cape Geli­donya in south­ern Turkey.

What car­goes did th­ese traders carry

In trade for tin, early mariners of­fered the rarest and most valu­able com­mod­ity avail­able to them: horses.

in their sin­gle-masted, open-hulled ships? Another pas­sage in the Old Tes­ta­ment pro­vides a hint: “Tarshish did business with you, O kings of Tyre, be­cause of your great wealth of ev­ery kind; they ex­changed sil­ver, iron, tin, and lead for your wares” (Ezekiel 27:12). In the 1970s an an­cient hoard of Ly­dian work­man­ship was un­earthed near Ali­cante (Aluca) on the east coast of Spain. It con­tained some 60 golden or­na­ments, but more sig­nif­i­cantly it also in­cludes jew­elry made of iron. Buried in an an­cient era when iron was still con­sid­ered a rare and pre­cious metal, the find vin­di­cates the tra­di­tional date of 1100 B.C. for the es­tab­lish­ment of the “city of Tartes­sos.”

Of all met­als con­sid­ered pre­cious by the an­cients, tin---es­sen­tial to the mak­ing of bronze---was the most valu­able. Tin ore is rare in the east­ern Mediter­ranean but could be found in the part of north­ern Italy col­o­nized about 800 B.C. by the Etr­uscans, who orig­i­nally came from Ana­to­lia. Tales of even richer de­posits in the “Tin Isles” prompted mariners to pass through the dan­ger­ous Pil­lars of Her­cules and to brave the open At­lantic. In trade for tin, early mariners of­fered the rarest and most valu­able com­mod­ity avail­able to them: horses.

Riches ac­quired through longdis­tance trade soon en­cour­aged oth­ers to per­fect seago­ing crafts ca­pa­ble of heavy cargo. The great­est of all an­cient sea­far­ing traders were the Phoeni­cians. From their home city of Tyre they sailed north and west, plant­ing trad­ing colonies in Cyprus, Si­cily, Sar­dinia, Ma­jorca, along the coast of south­ern Ibe­ria, and at nu­mer­ous places along the north African shore­line west of the Nile delta. The great­est of th­ese colonies, Carthage, was founded in about 800 B.C. Its po­si­tion about half­way be­tween the Le­vant and Por­tu­gal for cen­turies made it a hub of trad­ing ac­tiv­ity.

Par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant as we follow the course of east­ern horses shipped west is the colony of Agadir---to­day the city of Cadiz, Spain---the old­est city still stand­ing in Europe. The Phoeni­cians built it as a walled en­clave at the mouth of the Guadalquiv­ír so as to be within easy reach of Tartes­sos, and it pros­pered as a cen­ter of trade

in horses, cop­per and lead ore. From Agadir, fol­low­ing in the wake of ear­lier sailors from Lem­nos and Adana, the Phoeni­cians ex­plored and col­o­nized the At­lantic coast of Por­tu­gal and Spain, leav­ing horses in trade for pre­cious met­als at many stops along the way. Reach­ing the first rich source of tin in Gali­cia, they quested on­ward, fol­low­ing the curv­ing shore­line of the Bay of Bis­cay, even­tu­ally reach­ing the Brittany penin­sula. From there they sailed to the Cas­si­terides, the “Tin Isles,” to Tintagel in Corn­wall and to Cardiff in Wales and even, at last, to the “edge of the known world,” Hiber­nia---Ire­land.

The last group of an­cient horse­traders to reach Ire­land were the so-called “Sons of Mil.” Re­lated in the Le­bor Gabála Érenn (“The Book of the Con­quest of Ire­land”), an early Me­dieval com­pi­la­tion of an­cient tales, is the story of the Gaelic king Bre­ogan who founded the city of Bri­g­an­tia (the “city of Mil,” near A Coruña, Spain). As the tale is told, Mil, son of Bre­ogan, set sail north­ward across the Celtic Sea with a great army to claim a home­land in Ire­land. Sim­i­larly, the Ir­ish Le­bor na hUidre (“Book of the Dun Cow”) re­lates the com­ing of “the chil­dren of Danu”--that is, “peo­ple from Adana”---who were the early an­ces­tors of Bre­ogan and Mil.

While most schol­ars re­gard th­ese and sim­i­lar works as pri­mar­ily myth, like much mythol­ogy they high­light an im­por­tant un­der­ly­ing truth: from an­cient times there was reg­u­lar trade be­tween Ibe­ria and Ire­land, so that it is ul­ti­mately to the Le­vant and Ana­to­lia that the Ir­ish Hobby, along with many of the so-called “pony” breeds of Italy, Spain, France and Bri­tain must trace the sire side of their an­ces­try.

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