(7th Century BC - 6th Century BC) The Phoenicians, whose origins were in what is today known as Lebanon, were the first to trade with the indigenous communities of meridian localities of what is now Catalonia and the coastal zones of the north-eastern part of the Peninsula, up to the zone that is today Languedoc.
The Phoenicians, who came from the actual Lebanon and who had cities of Tir and Sidó, which were the base of their principal commercial operations at the beginning of the eighth century B.C., had founded the colonies of Gadir and Castillo de Doña Blanca (Cadiz) with the aim to access the rich metallurgical resources of the zone of Tartessos. Throughout the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. other Phoenician colonies were established on the coast of Málaga (Toscanos, Málaga, Morro de Mezquitilla), Granada (Almuñécar) and Almeria (Adra). Furthermore, in the middle of the seventh century Phoenicians originating in the Cadiz area founded the city of Ebussus (Ibiza), with whose traders we must relate the expansion of Jewish commerce in the area that belongs to the present day Catalonia. Between the second half of the seventh century B.C. and the first quarter of the sixth century B.C. a regular, and continuous presence of Phoenician materials is perceived in the different villages and indigenous necropolis, both in the north and the south of the mouth of the Ebro, importantly penetrating towards the interior zone, following the lower course of the river.
As time goes by, these settlements become more numerous, standing out are those of Moleta del Remei in Alcanar (Montsià), Ferradura in Ulldecona (Montsià), Aldovesta in Benifallet (Baix Ebre), Coll Art and Castellet de Banyoles in Tivissa (Ribera d’Ebre), Puig-roig in Masroig (Priorat) and Coll del Moro in Gandesa (Terra Alta). The documented Phoenician materials are principally amphorae and large containers fused for the transport of wine, oil and salted produce as well as thrown ceramic tableware, coated in a layer of red. There is no shortage, however, of sumptuous objects such as small perfume bottles, bronzes, decorated ostrich eggs and other prestigious materials destined for the local elite. The Phoenician trader’s interest was to accede to the metallurgical resources of the lower Ebro region, and especially to the copper and silver mines of the area of Falset/Bellmunt/Molar (Priorat), thereby control the surplus of bronze and maybe the agricultural spoils of the indigenous communities. This trade, channelled from Ebussus, did not imply the installation of any permanent factory in this area of the Ebro, since they preferred to use their own structure of contracts and indigenous exchange to establish their commercial net. With the same mechanism we can also explain the sporadic presence of Phoenician amphorae in the indigenous villages of the coastal area between Camp de Tarragona and Maresme, as well as in the villages of Penedès and Vallès.
Another major entity of Phoenician commerce, similar to that of the Ebro zone, starts to become outlined in the north-eastern point of Catalonia, actually in the Gironan region, which preceded the foundation of the Greek colony of Emporion (Empúries), and occurred during the second quarter of the sixth century B.C. To the previously documented Phoenician materials in the indigenous village of the island of Reixac d’Ullastret (Baix Empordà) and the necropolis of Anglès (Selva) or the indigenous imitations of Phoenician forms at the necropolis of Can Bech de Baix d’Agullana (Alt Empordà), recent searches carried out the surroundings of Empúries have allowed us to better define the importance of Jewish trading during this period. In the indigenous village of Sant Martí d’Empúries (Escala, Alt Empordà) which belongs to the first Iron Age, which is documented in the second half of the seventh century B.C. in a context of mainly handmade indigenous ceramics, the sporadic presence of Phoenician amphorae, and Etruscan imports. Also in the indigenous necropolis of incineration in Vilanera (Escala, Alt Empordà), which dates from the second half of the seventh century B.C., the only imported material we find documented are objects originating from Phoenician commerce, like big containers (‘pithoi’), mortars with a tripod, containers of perfume (‘aryballoi’) and decorated ostrich eggs. There is no doubt that the Jewish traders were also the first to build economic ties with these indigenous communities of the far north-east of the Peninsula, with the aim to access their metallurgic and agricultural resources. Also from the location of these villages, they could contact the so-called ‘Atlantic route of metals’, which was an old route that, through the Garona and Aude rivers, connected the gulf of Lleó with the beds of tin, copper and lead of the Atlantic coasts. This event also explains the presence of Phoenician materials in the indigenous villages of the western Languedoc region.
Using this net of commercial ties between the indigenous peoples and the Phoenicians, Greek trade, and especially Phocaean, would later follow: the Phocaean traders, who originated from the city of Phocaea (Foça, Turkey), and who were, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, ‘the first Greeks to undergo grand sea journeys and discover the Adriatic, Tirrena, Iberia and Tartessos’. The Phocaean interest in the metals of the Tartessos region is unquestionable and archaeology has proven that, from the last quarter of the seventh century B.C., they established commercial contacts with the Phoenician factories of the south of the Peninsula (Cádiz, Málaga, Toscanos...) and stable and direct commercial ties with the cities of Tartessos, such as in the case of Huelva. Phocaean commerce, however, did not bring with it the creation of colonial settlements of their own in the region of Tartessos, but rather choosing to interact with the economical commercial system that had already been established by the Phoenicians and the inhabitants of Tartessos.
The fact that this commerce of metals was physically controlled by the Phoenician colonies of the area, encouraged the Phocaean’s to create their own commercial route from the northern Mediterranean, with the funding of Massalia (Marseille), around the year 600 B.C., and later, Emporion (Empúries), after having established some initial commercial ties with the indigenous villages between 580-560 B.C. During the second phase of the village of the First Iron Age period in Sant Martí d’Empúries, which dates from between the end of the seventh century B.C. and the first quarter of the sixth century B.C., as well as the handmade ceramics of local production and the imports of Phoenician amphorae and Etruscan amphorae and tableware, we also find evidence of Joni cups, Corinthian vases, grey and painted Greek ceramics, which prove the presence of this Greek commerce. Over this indigenous village, they created the commercial Phocaean Massalia (Marseille) factory of Emporion, which channelled the Greek commerce from the time of its foundation onwards, with the indigenous villages that occupied the area of the actual Catalonia.
Thus, the supposed founding of a Greek colony in Rhode (Roses, Alt Empordà) by the Greeks of the island of Rhodes, before the first Olympiad, that is, before the year 776 B.C., is thought to be a legend. The archaeological excavations carried out in Roses have proven that there are no archaeological remains prior to the beginning of the fourth century B.C., which fact indicates that Rhode was a Greek foundation, linked to the orbit of influence of Massalia or to Emporion itself.
The existence of Emporion is key to understanding the expansion of Greek commerce and the influence of Greek culture to the Iberian villages of the Mediterranean side of the Iberian Peninsula, which were already in existence from the beginning of the sixth century B.C. Moreover when we consider that the rest of the commercial factories that were supposedly created by the Phocaeans from Massalia to give them access to the south of the peninsula and which have been documented in the old written sources, like Mainake, Hemerescopeion, Alonís and Akra Leuke, have not yet been located. The commercial and cultural impact of the inhabitants of Emporion is evident in the Iberian villages of what is now Catalonia, from the middle of the sixth century B.C. onwards, by the constant presence of objects imported from all over the Mediterranean (Attic red figure and black varnish ceramics, wine amphorae, bronzes, Etruscan ceramics...). Furthermore, in the vicinity of Emporion influence, the different ‘oppida’ or Iberian villages of the indiketa tribu, like those of Puig de Sant Andreu in Ullastret (Baix Empordà), those of Mas Casteller in Pontós (Alt Empordà) and those of Castell in Palamós (Baix Empordà), demonstrate a strong Greek influence within the Iberian society. However, without a doubt, this Greek influence extends further, as demonstrated by the ties that Emporion established with the Iberian communities established on the south of the Ebro River and in the Ponent region of what is present day Catalonia.
The open nature of the commercial relations in Antiquity encouraged the Phoenician and Greek traders (or Punic traders after the fall of Tir in Persian hands in 573 B.C., and Carthago, becoming a metropolis of the Peninsular Jewish factories), who were the intermediaries of commercialization and the traders of products manufactured by other Mediterranean cultures. So, both the presence of Etruscan materials (wine amphorae, tableware from ‘bucchero nero’, bronzes...), and that of Egyptian materials (beetles lucky charms, alabasters...) in the Iberian Peninsula must be tied to the commercial activity developed by the Punic Phoenicians and the Phoceaens from Massalia.