Pollentia, so much to discover

Pollentia, so much to discover.

06-04-2021R. PHERRER

On this day one thousand, six hundred and nineteen years ago it was Easter Sunday.

By 402, Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire, but rather than some quiet reflection on the Passion of Christ, peace for the citizens of Pollentia was disturbed by the noise of battle, and it was the Romans who were to blame.

On April 6, 402, the Battle of Pollentia took place.

This event would clearly be of great relevance to Mallorca’s history.

Would be, if it had been in Mallorca. The Pollentia in question wasn’t Mallorca’s; it was Italy’s.

Flavius Stilicho, an all-powerful Roman general, set his troops against those of Alaric I, the first king of the Visigoths.

The Visigoths had in fact been peacefully observing Easter; their Arian version thereof.

Stilicho, not renowned for his religious correctness, knew an opportunity when it presented itself.

Alaric’s wife and children were captured. The Romans claimed a great victory.

If Pollentia (Alcudia) had been the site for this battle, we would of course all know about it, and the sixth of April would each year be the cause for some commemoration or other.

This would be because, as history goes in Mallorca, there is hardly anything, prior to the conquest of Jaume I in 1229, to which specific dates can be attached.

In fact, there are hardly any years which stand out other than 123BC (the Roman occupation), 425? (the Vandals occupy), 534 (the Byzantines take over); and 902 (the Muslims move in, although to be strictly accurate this was 903).

It’s not as if there isn’t some documentary evidence - the Romans and Muslims certainly provided it - it’s just that very little of any great note appeared to happen for several centuries.

And a reason why has precisely to do with the Battle of Pollentia: the Visigoths were never a factor in Mallorca or the Balearics.

The Vandals’ arrival in Mallorca is usually stated as having been 425, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that their occupation was more complete at the time of the sacking of Rome in 455.

The Balearics were a useful stopping-off point for the Vandal kingdom that had been established in north Africa.

Otherwise, the islands were an outpost, just as they were to be when the Byzantines established the province of Spania in the sixth century.

The Byzantine influence on mainland Spain was confined to what corresponds to Murcia and part of southern Andalusia.

The Visigoths had established control of great parts of the Iberian Peninsula by the time that the Vandals arrived in Mallorca.

When the Byzantines came along, this hegemony was all but total. And yet for all this, the Visigoths left Mallorca and the Balearics alone.

The Visigothic kingdom was a powerful one. In the western Mediterranean, until the Muslim incursions started in the early eighth century, it was dominant.

Mallorca was comparatively close, and trying to explain why the Visigoths never moved in has led historians to enter into great debates of supposed truths followed by rebuttals.

One claim has been made for the Byzantine influence to have ended around a hundred years after it started, and so circa 650. Sovereignty of Mallorca and the Balearics, it has been argued, transferred to the Visigoths.

This is refuted by, for example, Byzantine archaeological finds that date to the eighth century; these include glass at Pollentia (Alcudia).

Byzantine coins have been found from the first half of that century.

At the same time, there is no real archaeological evidence to back up the presence of the Visigoths.

These arguments aside, it is undeniable that there is a great void in real knowledge of Mallorca’s history, and the absence of the Visigoths do go part of the way to explaining it.

Because Mallorca wasn’t part of the Visigothic Hispania, chronicles neglected the island.

As both Byzantine and Visigoth power and influence waned from the eighth century onwards, into this void has come legend and debatable history, not least where the Vikings are concerned.

In 859, there was apparently a major Viking raid. It is quite possible that there was, and that there were also subsequent Viking actions after the Muslims occupied Mallorca.

But these just add to what are the uncertainties of the centuries between the arrivals of the Vandals and the Byzantines and the Muslims.

There is, however, and despite the claim to the contrary, one certainty - and that is that Mallorca was never Visigothic.

And in this regard, Mallorca and the Balearics are distinctive. For those with a particular political argument to make, the islands were not Hispanic.

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