04 August 2018

Alcalá wants its bronze back!

Alcalá has made news this week by submitting a formal request to the Louvre museum in Paris for the return of the Lascut Bronze, an ancient Roman relic discovered here in 1866.

The tiny bronze tablet was sold to the Louvre in 1868 by a Polish engineer, who had acquired it for next to nothing from some local labourers who found it on some land just outside the town, an ancient settlement known as la Mesa de Esparragal (or so the story goes).

Dating from 189 BC, it is one of the first Latin inscriptions to be discovered on the Iberian peninsula, freeing the inhabitants of Lascuta from servitude as a gesture of gratitude for their assistance in crushing a rebellion in Astia Regia, near what is now Jerez.

The first attempt by the Alcalá administration to retrieve its treasure took place in the 1980s, when local councillor Gabriel Almagro wrote to the Louvre.  They didn't refuse outright, but said there was no way they could comply at that time.  They offered instead another artifact owned by Spain.  Almagro contacted the Spanish Minister of Culture to explain the situation, but there is no evidence of any reply.  Eventually the Louvre sent an exact replica of the bronze, which is now displayed in the town hall.

Two years later Gabriel's brother, the historian Ismael Almagro, did his own investigations into the origins of the bronze.   His findings are available in Spanish on the Historia de Alcalá blog.   He claims that it was not dug up in the Mesa de Esparragal, as was commonly believed, but was found in the parish church of St George during some building work.  His evidence for this claim was an entry in the parish records of the sum of 500 reales, being half the proceeds of the sale of an object found in the church.  The parish priest had sold said object to Ladislas Lazeski, a Polish engineer who was in the area working on the construction of a new road. Lazeski later donated it to the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Arts, from which it it was acquired by the Louvre.

Almagro concluded that the other half of the proceeds was paid to the masons who found the bronze.  It appears likely that the priest decided to fudge the details of the sale, given that it was nothing to do with the church or the Catholic faith.

Ismael Almagro with the original bronze in the Louvre

More significantly, Almagro's research suggests that the Tower of Lascutana, mentioned on the bronze, was not located on the Mesa de Esparragal as proposed by earlier historians, but in Alcalá itself.  Although there was definitely a settlement on the Mesa, and the remains of a tower can be seen there today, he argued that since the word "lascut" means rocky, it would more logically refer to La Coracha, the large rocky outcrop on which Alcalá castle was later constructed.  The discovery of the bronze nearby in the church, rather than several miles away at the Mesa, strengthens this argument, as do subsequent discoveries of further Roman artefacts within the town.

So Alcalá wasn't merely a watchtower for the settlement on the Mesa, but an authentic Roman city at least 2,500 years old.  The bronze, giving the local people the right to own and work the land, is effectively a founding charter for an independent municipality, which later became known as Alcalá de los Gazules.

In light of this, this new attempt by our current mayor Javier Pizarro to restore the bronze to its place of origin seems completely justified.  And this time, he has the support of the PSOE, Diputación de Cádiz and the Junta de Andalucía.

La Mesa de Esparragal

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