The mythical Híspalis origins

Probably some of you have heard of the Hercules and Julius Cesar history linked with Seville but probably is remember like a far remembers too, between the legend and the reality. Today is going to be clear the origin of Híspalis and its name.

Saint Isidoro of Seville was the first person who wrote about the history of the foundation and the original name of Seville in his “Ethymologys” in the Visigoth period, but to be honest, the argument that was given by Saint Isidoro was completely relegated later. It said that “Híspalis was named like this because it was built in the muddy area of the riverbank and over a base of sticks affix very deep on the ground to avoid the submerging on the slippery mud”.

The same historians and language professors dismissed this idea by a simple reason: the Latin wasn’t known by the first settlers on this little and muddy area. So, where the Hispalis name came from? According to the most accepted theory nowadays, it’s a Latinization of the name gave to the city by the Tartessos, “Spal” or “Ispal”, which means “flatland”.

The complete name which is known traditionally by the historians to the Roman Seville was “COLONIA ILULIA ROMULA HISPALIS”, that more or less means this:

COLONIA, Seville was the most important colony on the South Iberian Peninsula.

IULIA, from Julius Cesar.

ROMULA, from Rome.

HISPALIS, “Spal” or “flatland”

According to Professor Blanco Freijeiro Seville was considered as a coastal city similar to Cadiz or Malaga, belonging to the Phoenician colonial network. It had probably little villages settled on the Guadalquivir bank very much before than Julius Cesar times. From the riverbank, the city grew to the hill where is today Abades street, Cuesta del Rosario and its surroundings because was the highest and best-defended area against the river swelling. The city adopted the Hispalis name in the year 206 b.C. and was one of the main colonies on the South Iberian Peninsula. Seville was conquered by the Romans to the Carthaginians during the Punic Wars. From this moment, the strategic place was used as commercial capital, meanwhile, the aristocracy was settled on the luxury Itálica, where were born Trajano, Adriano, and Teodosio, the Hispanic emperors of the Empire between the 53 b.C. to the 347 a.C.

The wealth process in Híspalis was accelerated with the César triumph over Pompeyo in the Civil War. Around the first century b.C. Híspalis is provided with a wall and gets the title of Roman Colony Híspalis, considered as the commercial and industrial capital of the Hispanic-romanic court. Between the year 68 and 65 b.C., the old wall was changed by another one with fortified towers, in whose time Julius Cesar arrived at Híspalis, but until the year 45 b.C. the Sevillians weren’t considered as Romans citizen within full rights and his relation with the Colony was stopped again.

By the privilege geographic position of Híspalis appeared a big city looking for the fertile lands and its inclusion on the maritime commercial routes. But the most important moment for Híspalis is in the second-century a.C. because it was the boarding place of the olive oil amphoras from the Augusto Empire founding. Was the business capital not only of Baetica but also on the Western side of the Roman Mediterranean thanks to the Gualdaquivir valley products.

Colonia Iulia Romula Híspalis. A city with name and last name. But in spite of the title, Híspalis turned its back on Julius Cesar. During the power battles against the Carthaginians, the Sevillians supported Pompeyo against Cesar. So the future Emperor finally got inside of the city with the Gneo Pompeyo head in his hands. The Old History Professor Antonio Caballos Rufino in his discourse during the official incorporation to the “Real Academia Sevillana de Buenas Letras”, demystify the Julius Cesar figure as a benefactor to the city and that probably the “Iulia” title never was in the Hispalis name.  History is always been re-write and the theories and proves to destroy the myths surrounding it.

And, what about the mythological founder?

About the foundation by Hercules are a lot of theories and historians that talk about it, for example on the General Chronicle of Spain by Alfonso the tenth, the Wise, is said that all the historians agree that Seville was founded by a Phoenician Navigant from Tyros, that after been some time in Egypt, crossed the Mediterranean and went up the Guadalquivir river and built a commercial factory, whose name was Híspalis. Of course, all this wasn’t made before without defeat to Tartessos King, Gerión, a three heads giant and owner of a big flok of sheep that grazed near to the river. So Hercules stole it to complete his mission. By the way, the son that accompanied to Hercules in his feat was named “Hispano”… Curious, isn’t it?

With this unexpected end, we leave here the mythic origins of the old city of Híspalis and some updated information.

Informative sources:

-  ABC digital newspaper.

- El Correo Web digital newspaper. 

- “Sevilla en la historia y la leyenda” (Seville in the history and the legend) book, author Rafael Raya Rasero.