At the very beginning there was only the land. Source of sustenance


At the very beginning there was only the land. Source of sustenance
At the very beginning there was only the land. Source of sustenance and protection, as well as harsdhip, danger and death. The land
was the canvas on which all life passed, its very presence giving meaning to life. The most prominent, wondrous features of the land
certainly most captivated the ancient peoples who stumbled into the area, perhaps even staying to worship its mystery. Near the
Quinta is one such prominence, the rocky promontory that is today the village of Monsanto.
A granite protrusion, ancient anomaly of lava and erosion, the striking outcropping of Monsanto has long commanded the nearby
plains with its imposing heights. Always a natural stronghold, it was in turns a burial grounds, a fortress, and a provincial capital, and
a tourism novelty.
But to the earliest and most impressionable inhabitants of the area, it was
a magical site, a sort of natural Stonehenge. Vestiges of its mystical power
are still evident today, not least of all in the very name, Monsanto.
The original Lusitanaians, derived from the Celts, occupied this area in
prehistoric ages. Originating in the Douro Valley, they expanded their
settlement downward making this land part of the very cradle of the Portuguese
But how unlike today's Portuguese were the Lusitanians in those pre-Christian
times. Sacrificing goats, horses, and even human prisoners to their god,of war,
Cariocecus, they were above all a fighting people with a particular reputation for
ferocity, attested to by the Romans when they first began to document history.
Belonging to the Late Bronze Age, the metal artifacts they left behind offer a,
glimpse into their character – the cruel curve of an iron sword, the delicacy of
filigree gold.
Viriatus, vanquisher of
The Lusitanians were not a unified people, but
rather a series of tribes composed of clans, each with
their own territory. No doubt Monsanto figured
prominently among one group who claimed it as
their turf. Perhaps they were the Tapoli (or Tapori),
one of the ancient Celtic tribes that was not quite
Lusitanian, concentrated just north of the river
The saga of peoples and blood continued its grisly flow through the region. Now the
Romans were displaced by the kingdom of the mighty and warmongering Visigoths.
Originating in Germanic northern Europe, the Goths and Visigoths alternatingly warred
and truced with the Romans, their chaotic and beligerent ways ultimately eroding away
the structure of the romans and diminishing them to barbarians as well. But around the
year 500 they were defeated by the Franks and thus locked in the Iberian peninsula. In
such close quarters, the distinction between the Romans who remained and the Goths
was eroded. Already blended with the native Lusitanians, the new race of Hispani was
Around 600 the Hispani began to convert to Christianity and thus another major
reconfiguration began to take place to forever stamp the peoples of the area. Still these
were the early days of the Dark Ages, when past progress was largely forgotten.
Generations of warring had diplaced arts and agriculture with barbarianism.
Battle of Clovis which restricted the Visigoths to Iberia
Still the subject of great tension, relations with the Muslim world to the south were once much more entangled when the Moors
dominated this area along with all of Iberia for hundreds of years. At the time of the great Caliphate of Cordoba, this area was known
as al-Tagr al-Adna meaning 'frontera' or 'marca inferior'. Why was this large swath of territory from the the Guadiana to the Atlantic
carved out as a military and administrative entity? Perhaps it was the geography of
the Tagus plain? Or the existing Roman roads that radiated through its valleys? Or
the rebellious character of its Lusitanian people?
As anomalous as it seems today that the entire peninsula belonged to the great enemy
and infidel, there is much evidence that the muslims and Christians coexisted in
peace. In fact, much of the positive influece of the Moors persists today in the water
wheels and irrigation devices as well as wheat varieties and other advances in
agriculture that they introduced.