The Phoenicians, Their Solar Theology and Opioiatry

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The Origin of the Path of Santiago V: The Phoenicians, Their Solar Theology and Opioiatry by Juan Gabriel Satti Bouzas of Adiante Galicia
Translated from the original in Spanish by the author of this website.

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"For their guided idol, they wanted, on the way to the West, to go around the world until its end; bumping, however, with the fence of the sea in Finisterre [the edge of northwestern corner of Catalonia, Spain], they sent me to parachute to the sun." J.Verdaguer, La Atlántida*

* Jacint Verdaguer i Santaló (Catalan pronunciation: [ʒəˈsim bəɾðəˈɣe]; May 17, 1845 – June 10, 1902) was a Catalan writer, regarded as one of the greatest poets of Catalan literature and a prominent literary figure of the Renaixença, a cultural revivalmovement of the late Romantic era. The bishop Josep Torras i Bages, one of the main figures of Catalan nationalism, called him the "Prince of Catalan poets".[1] He was also known as mossèn (Father) Cinto Verdaguer, because of his career as a priest, and informally also simply "mossèn Cinto" (with Cinto being a short form of Jacint). L'Atlàntida is an 1877 poem in Catalan by Verdaguer.

Phoenician is the term by which the Greeks called the Canaanitesm and historians use it today to identify the natives of Lebanon and the Iberian Peninsula-Morocco in the 11th-6th centuries BC.

The economic development of the Near East during the Iron Age increased the demand for certain goods and, above all, metals such as silver, iron and copper. These metals were attainable in the Western Mediterranean. In the West there had been large metallurgical foci such as Sardinia, Tartessos or the British Isles and Galicia that traded with each other. One of the key points to control this trade was the Strait of Gibraltar. Consequently, Cadiz had a strategic importance for the Phoenicians.

In 2014, the city of Pontevedra became part of the so-called Route of the Phoenicians. In other words, it became a cultural itinerary recognized by the Council of Europe and it included 18 countries connected in ancient times by these navigators i.e. Phoenicians. In Galicia, important examples of the Phoenician culture was/is preserved. An example is the Punic altar at Punta Muíño do Vento in Alcabre, the sanctuary of Monte do Facho in Cangas, the castro of A Lanzada, the ceramics and glass located in Monte do Castro in Ribadumia or the petroglyph of Auga dos Cebros that represents a Phoenician ship from the 2nd century BC.

The architecture of the Phoenicians began with the transformation of the native rock. They carved it and made dwellings, temples and tombs. The floors of the houses were quadrangular, as well as that of the interior rooms, and the walls, made of adobe, stood on stone plinths that served as foundations.

Petroglyph of a merchant ship

2nd century BC Petroglyphs of boats
in Oia and Carnota. Nearby, in Carnota, are the petroglyphs of "Laxe Escrita." which combines astronomical circles with classic boats.

These great sailors and merchants looked for places that would meet conditions of easy defense. This means: islands near the coast, promontories surrounded by water, peninsulas, high places in the interior. The basic condition was that these places should be close to the coast, or small groups of islands very close to each other and strategically located in relation to the mainland, with immediate access to navigable rivers by small boats.

Ramón Barros Sivelo in his "Antiques of Galicia,1875" states:

"The Faithful tower of Monte Pindo must also have Phoenician origin, used to serve as a guide to the boats, in the dangerous passage of Cape Finisterre. It is built on a pyramidal rock, with a slight ramp that spirally encircles it to dominate it halfway up, and then the summit is staggered. It measures from 18 to 20 meters of altitude, placed by nature on the highest point of the slope N."

Archaeological remains found in Lixus, Morocco, verify the existence of a large Phoenician colony from the beginning of VIIth century BC and the commercial expansion from Cadiz. This justifies the existence of an isolated factory or a group of merchants in an indigenous habitat on the hill of Tchemish. In any case, the Delebrum Herculis or the Melkart Sanctuary is its most significant element, being very active in the Phoenician commercial enterprise of this area. It is in these deposits where coins have been found with reference to the divinity of Baal-Melkart of similar characteristics to the coinage of Tingi and Gades. On the reverse, apart from the legend of MKM ShMSh, there is a large star with 5 or 6 rays, representing the sun, framed by a meander, which leaves no doubt of its relationship with the legend.

Melkart's name identifies him primarily as the "city god" of Tyre, but through his equally explicit function as a dynastic god, he became the protector of the living and dead community. Although we ignore the majority of the liturgy related to Melkart, his cult is clearly related to the celebration of the cycle of life, death and a certain form of return to life. The god of egersis, that is the "resurrection" of Melkart during this annual ritual. He "dies" (perhaps in fire) and is "awakened" or "resurrected," probably with the help of Astarte.

José Luis Escacena, from the University of Seville, in his study "La Égersis de Melqart " (The Resurrection of Melkart) after collating new documents, together with the helioscopic orientation of some Phoenician altars and temples of the colonial diaspora, suggests a hypothesis. It links the myth to the apparent solstic stop of the Sun. The astronomical proposal seems more solid than the crop cycle naturalist dominant since the nineteenth century.

The excavations carried out in the 1990's, in the old Caura (Coria del Rio), Seville, have located an oriental temple used between the 8th and 6th centuries BC. It was perhaps an open-air enclosure delimited by a perimeter wall that contained some covered interior rooms. The altar is a square rectangular clay table with concave sides in a faithful imitation of a bull's skin. The main axis of the altar points to the east, to the solar ortho of the summer solstice, and to the west, to the solar sunset of the winter solstice. "Such orientation, the same as that of many Iberian, Greek and Phoenician churches ... reveals the possible existence of a dogmatic solar disposition" remarks Escacena.

Remains of Phoenician houses

Phoenician houses of Huelva and Ibiza. Survey in the group of 4 to 6 houses of Vilar Vello. Regretffully, like other historical points, the archaeological interest of the authorities in this region is very poor (photo Xusto Gómez).

According to Strabo, the moral imperative of the Cadiz Phoenician clergy had to do with the understanding the movements and locations of the Sun and some constellations. The expansion of the Phoenicians throughout the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, during the first millennium BC, provided them with astronomical experiences. That accumulated in their colonial sanctuaries. Consequently, their knowledge contributed to their population increase and nautical skills. There, Phoenician sea farers would have learned to use the Ursa Minor (the Little Dipper) as a guide for the nocturnal voyages, known precisely as "Phoenician Star" (Bartoloni 1988).

The establishment of the correct solstitial dates required the clear knowledge of the solar cycles of the sun in the months of June and December. It should be remembered that: Baalic mythology placed the death of the god at the beginning of summer when the Sun reaches its greatest height above the horizon. These details explain that the birth of the god could be fixed at the December solstice, when the light, metaphor of Melkart, begins to grow as any organism does. Therefore, as another creature, the life of the god could be established from the moment marked by the winter solstice until the daylight again began to diminish in favor of darkness, a phenomenon now associated with the June solstice.

Posidonius himself went to the famous temple dedicated to Melkart in Cadiz; there he made observations of the June solstice, according to Strabo. Ptolemy placed in his Geographical Tables a solar altar in Finisterre: "Post Nerium Promontorium, aliud Promontorium in quo Solis Arae,"..."After the isthmus or cape which was followed another of the same in which altars of the Sun are." The poet Eduardo Pondal was in the vicinity of the lighthouse of Fisterra in 1867, and was disappointed because he found no trace of the temple. The priest Miñones left a written record in 1895 that it was located on an elevation where the old traffic light is located. It dates from 1879, and was a base for directional signals for the navy.

Another clergyman, Cardinal Jerónimo del Hoyo, in 1607 mentions some non-Christian inhabitants of the mountain that disappeared: "Buildings on one side were inendated by the sea and on another side a hill of good half a league. It is all surrounded by sea and at the end of this hill, in the highest part of it, there were archaeological evidence of buildings that once existed. They say that the area was vibrant with Gentiles especially more down near the sea...;" the place was/is referred to as Vilar Vello (Coruña) and is on the beach of Cabanas supplied by a couple of fountains that supply the river of the same name.

Altar of Melqart

Melkart sanctuary in Morocco

On the other hand, there is the theory by Alonso Romero that the chapel of San Guillermo, near Cape Finisterre, is oriented towards sunrise. Between the two solstices (June 21 and December 21), on the inside "there was a bed of stone which was used by a man and his wife for conception, if they were sterile. Because it was such an unseemly thing to be done in a church, it was condemned and removed. (Sarmiento, 1745). Could this bed of stone had been the lost altar?

In each solstitial cycle -- the solar journey through life, death and resurrection of the sun king, a question comes to mind. Where must be the understanding of the Phoenician preference for the serpents above all other animals and its divine nature? Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea (c. 263-c 339), recognized that "most of the theogonies of the world come from the Phoenicians and the Egyptians." For them the winged serpent Uroboros that bites its tail, represents the personification of natural cycles like the sun, when it rises to a certain height and then falls, to start again eternally.

Elevation where the old Fisterra stoplight is located where the tradition locates the old Ara Solis (photo Avila Cuerda).

Florentino López Alonso-Cuevillas* noted the relationship of associating snakes with solar cults, when dealing with the reliefs of the fort of Troña and the Stone of Corme. They were radiant figures next to other snakes, "analogous to those found in ceramics of Santa Trega or bronze plates of the necropolis of Arcóbriga. 

* Alonso-Cuevillas (1886-1958) was a Spanish anthropologist and prehistorian, although in the course of his life he also became involved in writing, primarily essays and fiction.

Herewith, reference is made to the poem of Rufo Avieno in "Ora Maritima," when speaking of the Oestrimnios (Far West).* The inhabitants of that region, Galician northwest, were said to have been expelled from their lands by an invasion of snakes. Perhaps not literally but in a derogatory tone towards the village of the Saefes, because of a matter of commercial competition with the Greeks and Romans and that would have that totemic animal or guardian spirit.

* Oestrimnios (from "Far West") is a name given in antiquity to the inhabitants of the territory of what are now Portugal and Galicia , comparable to Finisterre , the "end of the earth", from a Mediterranean perspective.

Petroglyphs of serpants and the Cross

Winged serpent of Pedra da Serpe from the castro of Penalba. Serpent with star of the Castro de Troña. Pedra da serpe de Corme according to drawing by A. Erias.

Pere Bosch-Gimpera* (1891-1974) was a Spanish-born Mexican archaeologist and anthropologist. In his essay of a reconstruction of the Protohistoric Ethnology of the Iberian Peninsula, he believes that a wave broke out around 600 BC. It coincided with the Phoenician influence in the area. So it can be assumed that the ethnonym Saefes had Phoenician origin. The adjoining area of the Sado River, Portugal, a colony or factory, called Abul, occupied by the Phoenicians was discovered from the seventh century BC. It included among its buildings what appears to be a palace or sanctuary of oriental style, excavated by archaeologists Carlos Tavares da Silva and Françoise Mayet, who published the results of their findings in the magazine "Setúbal Arqueológica" in 1992.

The invasion of snakes did not refer to a territory but to commercial routes. They changed hands in succession. Strabo wrote about taking care of the Cassiterides or Estrimnicas Islands in his third book III dedicated to Hispania: "At first this commerce was only operated by the Phoenicians of Cadiz, who also hid the routes that lead to these islands;" Later, the Carthaginians traded tin, lead and cattle skins from here in exchange for ceramics, salt and bronze utensils. This teaches us that these metals were traded and exchanged with the native inhabitants, the Oestrimnios. These old commercial routes will be where, in the future, sea pilgrimages settle to Compostela from the British islands to which we dedicate a monograph.

* The Cassiterides (“Tin Islands”, from Greek κασσίτερος, kassíteros “tin”), are an ancient geographical name of islands that were regarded as situated somewhere near the west coasts of Europe.



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