The hyperbolic language of the ancients spoke of Spain as filled throughout, upon her surface and beneath her soil, with precious stones and precious metals. Old writers - Strabo, Pliny, Aristoteles, Pomponius Mela, and Diodorus Siculus - declare that once upon a time a mountain fire, lighted by shepherds in the Pyrenees and fanned into a conflagration by the wind, heated the earth until the ore within her entrails came bubbling to the top and ran away in rivulets of molten gold and silver, spreading all over Spain. The indigens of Lusitania as they dug their fields were said to strike their implements on nuggets half a pound in weight. The heart of the Peninsula, between the Boetis and the Annas rivers - that is, the country of the Oretani and the Bastitani - was fabled to abound in mines of gold. The traders from Phoenicia, we are told, discovered silver to be so abundant with the Turdetani that "the vilest utensils of this people were composed thereof, even to their barrels and their pots." Accordingly these shrewd Phoenicians, offering worthless trinkets in exchange, loaded their ships with silver to the water's edge, and even, when their cargo was complete, fashioned their chains and anchors of the residue.
In spite of their extravagance, upon the whole these legends are not utterly devoid of truth. "Tradition," said so careful an authority as Symonds, "when not positively disproved should be allowed to have its full value; and a sounder historic sense is exercised in adopting its testimony with due caution, than in recklessly rejecting it and substituting guesses which the lack of knowledge renders insubstantial." So with the legends of the gold and silver treasure of the old-time Spaniards. Besides, it seems unquestionable that those fanciful assertions had their origin in fact. Spain stood upon the western border of the ancient world. Year in, year out, the sanguine sun went seething down into the waters at her western marge. Mariners from distant countries viewed those sunsets and associated them with Spain herself. Thus, hereabouts in the unclouded south, would gold and silver be suggested by the solar orb; or emerald and jacinth, pearl and amethyst and ruby, by the matchless colours of the seldom-failing sunset.
Then, too, though not of course in fabulous amount, the precious metals actually existed in this land. Various of her rivers, such as the Calom or Darro of Granada, the Tagus, the Agneda, and the Sil, rolled down, together with their current, grains of gold. "Les Mores," wrote Bertaut de Rouen of the first of these rivers, "en tiroient beaucoup autrefois; mais cela a este discontinue depuis a cause de la trop grande depense qu'il y faloit faire. II est certain que souvent on prend dans le Darro de petits morceaux d'or, et il y a des gens qui sont accoutumez d'y en chercher."
Centuries before this abbot wrote his book, the Arab author of the geographical dictionary known as the Marasid Ithila had made a similar remark upon this gold-producing stream; and in the sixteenth century I find an Ordinance of Granada city prohibiting the townspeople from digging up the river-bed unless it were to look for gold.1
1 Ordenanza de la Limpieza (1537), Tit. 9: "We command that nobody remove sand from the aforesaid river Darro unless to extract gold, in which case he shall fill up the holes he made, or pay a fine of fifty maravedis for damaging the watercourses that enter this city and the buildings of the Alhambra."
Probably, however, and in spite of what some chroniclers suppose, the title Darro is not in any way connected with the Latin words dat aurum.
"Two leagues from Guadarrama," wrote the mineralogist William Bowles, about the middle of the eighteenth century, "opposite the town and in the direction of San Ildefonso, is a deep valley where one notices a vein of common quartz containing some iron. Here, without the use of glasses, I perceived a good many grains of gold.... In Galicia grains of gold are found on sandy hills, and one is astonished to observe the wonderful works carried out by the Romans to bring the sands together, wash them, and extract the precious metal. Local tradition affirms that this precious sand was destined for the purses of three Roman empresses - Livia, Agrippina, and Faustina.... I know a German minister who employed his spare time in washing these sands and collecting the gold."
The Romans, it is true, profited very greatly by the native wealth of the Peninsula. Helvius enriched the treasury with 14,732 pounds of Spanish silver bars and 17,023 pounds of silver money; Cornelius Lentulus, with 1515 pounds of gold, 20,000 pounds of bar-silver, and 34,550 pounds in coin. Cato came back from his pro-consulship with five-and-twenty thousand pounds of silver bars, twelve thousand pounds of silver money, and four hundred pounds of gold. Seventy thousand pounds of coined silver fell to the share of Flaccus, while Minutius exhibited at his triumph eight thousand pounds of silver bars, and three hundred thousand pounds of silver coin.
Mines of silver,1 gold, and precious stones were also fairly numerous in Spain. Moorish authors wrote enthusiastically of the mines of precious metals in or close to the Sierra Nevada. "Even at this day," said Bowles, "the Moorish mines may be distinguished from the Roman. The Romans made the towers of their fortresses of a round shape, in order to avoid as far as possible the blows of the battering-ram; and their miners, whether from habit or intentionally, made the mouths of their mines round also. The Moors, as strangers to this engine, built their towers square and gave a square shape also to the mouths of their mines. The round mouths of Roman mines are yet to be seen at Riotinto and other places, and the square mouths of Moorish mines in the neighbourhood of Linares."
1 "I am not aware of any Spanish mine containing silver in a state of absolute purity; though some, I think, would be discovered if they were searched for." - Bowles: Historia Natural tic Espaiia.