Monday, 9 May 2011

Who were the Iberians?

In order to investigate this thorny question, we have to go further into the mists of legend, and these are contradictory indeed.

The Irish Book of Leinster makes the extraordinary claim that the ancient peoples of Britain and Ireland were the descendants of some of the lost tribes of Israel. They were, surprisingly described as fair-haired, with light eyes. These were the Hiberi, or Iberi, which at least one writer claims means Hebrew. This is the story of Fenius Farsaid, the leader of the Scythians - a region to the north east of the Black Sea bordering on the Russian steppes. Several comments on this story claim that Fenius was the descendant of Noah, via Japeth his son, and that he was active in helping to build the Tower of Babel. The story says that these people left their homeland and wandered to Egypt where they were welcomed by Pharaoh who wanted to learn their language. The son of their leader, whose name was Niul, fell in love with and married Pharaoh's daughter. Her name was Scota. They had a son named Gaedel Glas, sometimes spelled as Goedel. The generations pass, and a great grandson known as Eber Scot, was suspected of having plans to take over Egypt and his people are ejected from that land. They return to Scythia where, it is said, they dwelt in their boats in the marshes.

One day, a holy man, called in the story "a Druid", told them that he had had a vision of a land which he called Irland. He prophesised: "Your people will not rest until they reach this land." Upon reaching the Danube, some of the Scythians decided to follow it, spreading their peoples upon the European lands as they wandered ever westwards. Unfortunately, since neither GPS nor Rand McNally had been invented in those days, the rest went a little off course and ended back in North Africa, likely in the regions of Libya, Tunisia (present day Carthage), or Algeria, where they supposedly stayed for 7 generations, which begs the question as to whether the druid, whose name was Caicher, described the topography of Irland to them very well. But I suppose even Druids make mistakes.

After a while, someone must have mentioned this curious fact, and they set off again, first quite possibly to Sicily, which although an island, did not measure up either, and from there to what later became known as "Spain". They may have actually gone beyond the "Pillars of Hercules" and entered the area by the River Tagus in Portugal; or conversely via the already existing Mediterranean ports. From there they gradually worked their way across the Peninsula until they reached the areas of what is now Northern Portugal, Asturias, and Galicia, either way, this green land appeared as something which even the most dense amongst them must have recognised resembled the land they had been told to expect.

At this point, I must remind you that we are referring to Myth.

Generations pass. The inhabitants of the land are known as Iberians, and many place names begin to appear including the word "Iber" (which most likely means "River" as "aber" does in Welsh, but why ruin a good story at this point!) We shall refer to it again in due course.
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