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Canary Islands in antiquity

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Tenerife coast
Tenerife coast

The Canary Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa, were certainly known to the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean. Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians reached the islands.

According to the sources from Pliny the Elder during the reign of King Juba II (25 BCE – 23 CE), the Mauritians carried out an expedition to the archipelago, where they did not encounter any human remains. Juba, a supporter of the Romans, organized, among others, in Mogador (present Essaouira in Morocco), the production of a dye. From there the war fleet set off to explore the unknown islands.

The islands were most probably visited in the 5th century BCE. This time, carthaginian sailor Hanno the Navigator was discovering the west coast of Africa. The goals of the next trips of Punics could also be searching for plants from which a valuable red dye can be obtained. Hence the reference of Pliny the Elder to the “Purple Islands”1.

There is no evidence to suggest that the Romans have established any permanent center on the Islands. However, in 1964, Roman amphorae were discovered off the coast of the island of Lanzarote, which shows that there was trade with the Romans. In the 90s of the twentieth century, scientists found in the city of El Bebedero in Lanzarote numerous fragments of Roman ceramics, glass or metal – dated to the 1st-4th century CE. Retail material testing proved that those could come from Campania (Italy), Hispania Baetica or the province of Africa.

According to Roman messages, the archipelago consisted of the following islands: Ninguaria or Nivaria (Tenerife), Canaria (Gran Canaria), Pluvialia or Invale (Lanzarote), Ombrion (La Palma), Planasia (Fuerteventura), Iunonia or Junonia (El Hierro) and Capraria (La Gomera).

  1. The Canary Islands were also identified with the Fortunate Isles known from Greek mythology, as part of Hades, beyond the borders of human settlements, inhabited by heroes. Plutarch mentions them in his "Life of Sertorius". Other scholars of classical literature and geography tend to suppose that the Fortunate Isles are Madeira with adherence. Fortunate Isles option supports Philostratus in "Life of Apollonius of Tyana", talking about the islands nearby Libya.
  • Juan de Abreu Galindo, The History of the Discovery and Conquest of the Canary Islands

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