Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Pure Blooded Spaniard

Just this last week, I ran across one of those anachronistic people from the northern end of New Mexico.  Way too many of these people still believe they are living in the late 1700’s.

“My family is not Mexican.  My family is from Spain.  We are pure-blooded Spanish.” said the moron.

A pure-blooded Spaniard.  What an interesting concept!  Let’s investigate so we can understand that better.

Much of the warfare that makes up the history of Spain is the result of its geography.  Spain is almost an island: where it is not surrounded by water, it is fairly effectively cut off from the rest of Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains.  Then, it is separated from Africa by the Straits of Gibraltar--a narrow gap of only 10 miles.

The country itself is slightly smaller than New Mexico and Arizona combined, with a landscape dominated by mountains, so that the average altitude is higher than that of any other European country save Switzerland.  Because the country is crisscrossed by mountains and possesses few navigable rivers, communication and cultural integration across its area was almost impossible.
The archaeological and historical records of the Iberian Peninsula indicate that it has been a place of continuous migrations, movements, and displacement of human populations for a very long time.
Somewhere about 1,200,000 years ago, near the beginning of the Paleolithic Age, the first people arrived on the peninsula.  Most anthropologists call these people Homo Erectus or Homo Antecessor.  We know very little about them, except that they used stone tools, cooked with fire, and occasionally ate each other.  (Thus, meeting all the requirements to join the EU.)
About 200,000 years ago, the Neanderthal arrived.  (While it is very tempting to insert a reference here to the administration of Enema U—or at least to our football team—I’m going to pass.)
No one knows for certain what happened to Homo Erectus, but they vanished after the Neanderthal arrived.  Whether this was caused by attrition from competition for food or absorption by intermarriage, no one knows.  After attending faculty meetings for a few decades, I think the Neanderthal ate them.  But, I could be wrong--perhaps they are still alive and serving in Congress.
As Homo Sapiens spread across Europe, it is now generally agreed on  that the Neanderthal were driven into the Iberian Peninsula, with their last refuge being close to Gibraltar; current belief is that Homo Sapiens simply absorbed the Neanderthal through cross-breeding. 
An early group who left an enduring record of its presence there consisted of  ancient artists who decorated the famous cave of Altamira, in what is now Northern Spain. The images there--mostly of vaguely bull-shaped animals that are beautifully represented on a low stone ceiling--were painted at least 13,000 years ago and are still extraordinarily well-preserved.  It seems plausible that these artists, who "invented graffiti", may well have deliberately chosen this place as a gallery in order to pass their artistic legacy on to future generations. If so, their efforts have met with spectacular success, as many modern-day visitors to the site can confirm.
A later group--the Iberians--gave the region its name. It is believed that the Iberians began arriving in Spain some 5000 years ago, from Northern Africa and occupied mainly the southern area up to and including the Ebro valley.  They absorbed the previous, unnamed inhabitants of the area.
As John Crow points out in his book, Spain: The root and the Flower, "The name Ebro itself is from Iber, which is Iberian for "river." In the valley of the Ebro and near the Valencian coast, the Iberians achieved a flourishing culture. They lived in walled cities, and some of the megalithic stones used in their buildings still remain in place. The Iberians were a small, wiry, dark-complexioned race, who were great horseback riders, and were excessively clannish and tribalistic in their social organization. They created beautiful small bronze figures and they had a passion for representing bulls, other animals, and flowers."
The Phoenicians, a Semitic race of merchants who spoke a language related to Hebrew, traded regularly with the Iberians and established their trading posts, such as Cádiz and Málaga as early as 1100 BC.  The Phoenicians brought Jewish traders along with them at about the time of King Solomon.  Spain is actually mentioned in the Old Testament, where it is called Tarshish.  It was a long voyage in slow ships from one end of the Mediterranean to the other in those days, so many of the merchants established homes—at least temporarily—and took local women as wives.
The northern regions of Iberia (North of the Ebro valley) were occupied around 900 B.C. by the Celts, an Indo-European race that had spread across much of Europe. These two races--Phoenicians and Celts laid the foundations of a cultural bias in the south of Spain against the European north—and vice versa—a sociological and psychological dichotomy in Spain (and most other countries) that continues to the present day.  But in the central regions of the peninsula, these two groups intermingled and gave rise to the "Celtiberians," in a complex process of ethnic and cultural admixture. 
(Hell, even I have to admit that while I dislike Yankees, I have quite a few of them as friends.  The fact that it is so easy to hate people you haven’t even met is proof that we still carry some of that Neanderthal DNA.)
The Greeks arrived in Spain around 600 BC and, like the Phoenicians who preceded them, were traders.  They established their posts mainly along the Spanish Levant. Their culture fused with that of the Celtiberians--the finest surviving artistic example of which might be the "Dama de Elche," the magnificent stone bust found on a farm near Valencia in 1897.  The headdress and jewelry represented on the sculpture are Iberian adorning a female figure of somewhat oriental mien.  (Or it could be Princess Leia!).
The first in a series of violent invasions of Spain occurred in the third century B.C. under the leadership of Hamilcar Barca (after whom Barcelona is named), a Carthaginian, whose country had just suffered the loss of the First Punic War to its arch-enemy, Rome. From his newly-conquered Spanish territory Barca planned the invasion of Italy but died before he could launch it.  Barca was not killed by Romans, but by Celtiberians who attacked his army with wood-filled oxcarts.  When drawing close to the Carthagenian army, the wood was set on fire and the oxen ran wildly through the army, scattering it enough that the Celtiberians were able to penetrate the lines and kill Barca.
His son, Hannibal, picked up where his father had left off, and with the (questionable) aid of war elephants, crossed the Alps and invaded present day Italy, remaining there for fourteen years in what ultimately proved to be a fruitless effort, although he did inflict huge casualties on his Roman foes.
Meanwhile the Roman campaign against the Carthaginians in the Spanish Theatre of the Second Punic War met with early success, and in 206 B.C., the last of Hannibal's forces were driven out. Soon after that, the Roman province of Hispania was born.  The Roman general, Cato, effectively ended Celtiberian resistance when he ordered every town to pull down its walls--effectively making all those cities utterly defenseless to Roman attack and occupation. 
However, Spain thrived under Roman domination and soon became the richest province in the Empire, producing grain, mineral wealth, horses, olive oil, and fish products, as well as scholars, writers, and dancers. In addition to amphitheaters, the Romans built highways, bridges, and aqueducts (many of which are still in use today) that connected the growing cities together.  Roman law and religion (Christianity, after 329 AD) took firm root during the Roman Period and Vulgar Latin became the lingua franca of the country--the foundation of modern Spanish.
Rome, of course, had conquered the "known world", and had brought people from everywhere into its culture.  Numidians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians made their way to Spain, and of course, settled down to live.
It should be clear at this point that the Iberian Peninsula was, by the beginning of the first millennium AD, a multiethnic region with a long history of activity and occupation by a variety of disparate races and cultures.
As the Roman Empire fell, most of its former territory was conquered by barbarians.  "Barbarians" is universally translated as “those leaner and meaner assholes the other side of the border”.  In the case of Spain, it was first, the Vandals and then, the Visigoths. 

The last Visigoth monarch, King Roderick, was cruel, temperamental, and stupid—the hat trick of bad government.  There is fairly good evidence that some of his own people invited the Moors in Northern Africa to cross those ten miles of open water separating the two continents to come put an end to his misrule.  To them, the Moors would have been liberators, not conquerors.  The picture at right is Spain as seen from North Africa.

After the Moors conquered Catholic Spain in 711, Jews who were living in Spain were granted religious liberty. Muslims-Jews-Catholics lived side by side for a long time, before the Catholics began a long, long war to win back the peninsula completely.  Actually, the war took almost 800 years, culminating in the victory at Granada in 1492.
During the Moorish occupation, Spanish culture changed dramatically:  art, diet--almost anything of a cultural nature changed.  Even today, nearly 20% of the Spanish language has roots in Arabic.
Let’s stop here a minute and take stock.  Spain (not counting the early hominids who lived on the peninsula) was invaded, ruled, and peopled by:
o   Ancient Iberians
o   Phoenicians
o   Jews
o   Celts
o   Greeks
o   Carthaginians
o   Romans
o   Vandals
o   Visigoths
o   Moors
The point of all this is that if you go to the pound and adopt a scruffy brown mutt with one yellow eye and one green eye, it probably is more "pure-blooded" than the average "Spaniard".  (The same, of course, could be said of most Europeans.)
Note.  Remember the Northern New Mexican who steadfastly believed in his pure European bloodline?  A century ago, most wealthy Mexicans held the same beliefs, taking great pride in their European customs.  Then, during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1918), cultural identity became reversed and most Mexicans began taking pride in their indigenous roots, rejecting European fashions, art, and culture.  This cultural realignment--like the violent revolution--stopped at the border with the U.S.  Talking to my unconsciously racist friend from Northern New Mexico, then, is sort of like using a time machine to visit a long forgotten past--but in México, not España.

A Much Needed Correction

Halfway down the page, the paragraph beginning "The name Ebro itself is from Iber,.." should have been originally attributed to John Crow in his book, "Spain: The Root and the Flower", a book I greatly admire for the writing style of the author.  In the original blog entry, the quote was not properly attributed.  If you read the entry after today, it is properly attributed.

Many of the blogs published here had their start in lecture notes for various classes I have taught over the years at Enema U.  In all, I have taught more than 30 different courses in multiple departments.   Lecture notes are not intended for publication or distribution, so on more than one occasion in the interest of time, I am sure that while preparing them I was careless about citing sources for the material I presented.  That is certainly the case here.

Pictured at right is a photo of my original lecture notes.  Colored highlights indicate ideas I wanted to stress, the small photo is a reminder to the lecturer to advance the PowerPoint slide.  The red arrows are new and indicate the pertinent portions of notes.  Over the years, I have probably given this lecture more than twenty times.

I taught courses on the History of Spain several times over the years and did indeed use Crow's book many times.  While writing the original lecture this blog was based on, I used several sentences from Crow's book.  Later, when writing this blog, I inadvertently used the entire paragraph, not realizing I was using Crow's work.  For this, I sincerely apologize.

I can give you a similar case.  As a student, I benefitted from the wisdom of Professors Louis R. Sadler and Charles Harris, taking every course that either offered.  I still have, neatly typed, my notes from being a student in their classes.  I recently read over some of those pages and was amazed to find whole sections that matched almost exactly lecture notes I later wrote and delivered for my own classes.   I could have sworn that it was my original work.

Anything you read in this blog, if you find it pleasing or even articulate, rest assured that I am simply regurgitating the brilliance of others that I was lucky enough to study under or whose writing was so brilliant that it burned a spot in my mind.  I can quote verbatim whole passages of books by Twain, Heinlein, Asimov, Rostand, and countless others.  I studied with outstanding professors, whose words still echo in my mind, including not just Sadler and Harris, but Fred Plog, Edward Staski, Darliss Miller, Lois Stanford, Howard Rabinowitz, Wenda Trevathan, and many, many others.  I am certain that on far more occasions than I am aware of, I present ideas I learned from them.

Once again, I apologize for the omission.


  1. Nobody will argue with the Fact that I am a pure-blood immigrant to the great state of New Mexico. We won't discuss the soil where those roots first started growing, but it wasn't too far from New Mexico.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. It seems that the most pure-blood, are the most in-bred.

  4. I'm a mutt and proud of it. My people were kicked out of every decent country in Europe (England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France in particular) and we've even got a few Native Americans up the family tree on both min and my wife's sides. My grandson has a goodly bit of African American in him. Mutts have some characteristics that make us valuable to the gene pool. We cross-breeds tend to be hardier, sometimes more intelligent, and certainly possessing unexpectedly useful traits. Pure-bloods tend to degrade over the generations during which they manage to retain "purity" of blood.

    If anything, being a pure-bred is probably not something to brag about. It certainly was a bad idea for the Habsburgs and the Tudors and the Caesars.