Lovers of the old-time crafts approach a fertile field in Spanish arms; for truly with this warworn land the sword and spear, obstinately-substituted for the plough, seem to have grown well-nigh into her regular implements of daily bread-winning; and from long before the age of written chronicle her soil was planted with innumerable weapons of her wrangling tribesmen.
The history of these ancient Spanish tribes is both obscure and complicated. If Pliny, Strabo, Ptolemy, and other authors may be credited, the Celtic race invaded the Peninsula some seven centuries before the Christian era, crossing the river Ebro, founding settlements, and fusing with the natives into the composite people known henceforward as the Celtiberians. Thus strengthened, they extended over nearly all the land, and occupied, by a dominative or assimilative policy, the regions corresponding to the modern Andalusia, Portugal, Galicia, and the flat and central elevations of Castile.
These Spanish tribes were ever quarrelling, and knew, in Strabo's words, "no entertainment save in horsemanship and in the exercise of arms." Quantities of their weapons have been found all over Spain, such as the heads of spears and arrows, or the blades of daggers, hatchets, knives, and swords. With these Iberian tribesmen, as with other peoples of the ancient world, the truly prehistoric age is that of stone; hence they advanced to bronze, and finally to iron. Beuter, the historian of Valencia, wrote in 1534 that near to the town of Carinena, in Aragron, on di^aina-out some earthen mounds the excavators came upon enormous bones, flint lance and arrow heads, and knives the size of half an ordinary sword; all these in company with "many skulls transfixed by the said stones." In the collection at Madrid, formed by Don Emilio Rotondo y Nicolau, these primitive Spanish weapons number several thousands; and many more are in the National Museum.1
1 According to Tubino, the existence of a prehistoric age of stone was not suspected in Spain until the year 1755, when Mann y Mendoza affirmed that a state of society had existed in the Peninsula before the age of metals. Since then the Celtic remains of Spain and Portugal have been investigated by many scientists, including Assas, Mitjana, Murguia, and Casiano de Prado, who discovered numbers of these weapons. Towards the middle of last century Casiano de Prado, aided by the Frenchmen Verneuil and Lartet, explored the neighbourhood of San Isidro on the Manzanares, and found large quantities of arms and implements of stone. Valuable service in the cause of prehistoric Spanish archaeology has also been performed by Vilanova, Torrubia, and Machado.
Discoveries of ancient Spanish arms of bronze occur less often and in smaller quantities than those of stone or iron. Bronze hatchets, principally of the straight-edged class (a bords droites) have been found in Galicia and certain other provinces. Villa-amil y Castro describes a bronze dagger of curious workmanship, which was found in Galicia in 1869. The point of the blade is missing. If this were included, the length of the weapon would be about six inches.
Other examples, now in the Madrid Museum, include two swords, two daggers, and two arrowheads. The swords, sharp-pointed, narrow in the blade, and used by preference for thrusting, were found not far from Calatayud - the ancient town renowned, as Roman Bilbilis, for weapons of incomparable temper. The daggers were probably used for fighting hand to hand.
At the time of the Roman invasion we find, of course, the Spaniards using iron weapons. I shall not tax the patience of my readers by enumerating all these weapons. Their names are many, and the comments and descriptions of old authors which refer to them are constantly at variance. Nevertheless, the sword most popular with the Celtiberians at the period of the Roman conquest seems to have been a broad, two-handed weapon with a point and double edge, and therefore serviceable both for cutting and for thrusting. Another of the Celtiberian swords, called the falcata, was of a sickle shape. It terminated in the kind of point we commonly associate with a scimitar, and which is found to-day in Spanish knives produced at Albacete. One of these swords, in good condition, is in the National Museum. It has a single edge, upon the concave side of the blade, and measures rather less than two feet. Other weapons in common use among the Celtiberians were an iron dart - the sannion or soliferrea; the javelin; the lance - a weapon so immemorially old in Spain that patriotic writers trace its origin to the prehistoric town of Lancia in Asturias; and the trudes or bidente, a crescent blade mounted upon a pole, mentioned by Strabo and Saint Isidore, and identical with the cruel weapon used until about a quarter of a century ago for houghing coward cattle in the bull-ring.
Crest Of Jousting Helmet (Royal Ar,piru., Madrid)
Thus, when the Romans entered Spain the natives of this country were experienced in the use of arms, and made their own from such materials as their own soil yielded. Their tempering was excellent, for Diodorus Siculus tells us that they had already discovered the secret of burying the metal in order that the moisture of the earth might eat away its baser portions. Besides the ancient Bilbilis in Aragon, a Spanish city famous for her faultless tempering of implements and weapons was Toledo. Martial,1 the most illustrious son of Bilbilis, has sung the praises of the one; less celebrated poets, such as Gracio Falisco, of the other.2 Even the armourers of Rome were found to be less skilful and successful swordsmiths than the Spaniards;3 and so, before the second Punic War, the model or the models of the Spanish sword had been adopted by the Roman army.
1 "Gerone qui ferrum gelat." This river, the purity and coldness of whose waters lent, or so it is supposed, its virtues to the steel, rolls past the walls of Calatayud, and is called in later ages the Jalon.
2 "Into Toletano proecingant ilia cultro."
3 "Romani patriis gladiis depositis Hannibalico hello Hispani-ensium assumpserunt... sed ferri bonitatem et fabrica solertiam imitari non potuerunt." - Suidas.