Francisco Martins Sarmento 1833-1899


Francisco Martins Sarmento

Born in Guimarães in 1833, Francisco Martins Sarmento revealed his intellectual capacities by matriculating at Coimbra University to study law at the age of 15. Although he qualified by the time he was 20, he never practiced law professionally. Instead he turned his hand to poetry, with mixed success.

His parent’s estate in S. Estevão de Briteiro was a stone’s throw away from the Iron-Age settlement of Citânia de Briteiros. His Romantic imagination turned to studying aspects of the civilisation that occupied the Iberian Peninsula prior to the Roman Invasion.

Excavation began at Citânia in 1875, Sarmento teaching himself the science of photography in order to better record his discoveries. His albums stimulated the interest of his contemporaries so that the first ever Archaeological Conference in Portugal was held in his Guimarães mansion in 1878.

Martins began to extend the ambit of his excavations to other sites in the Minho, gradually broadening his understanding of pre-historic peoples. Comparative studies led

him to the conclusion that the primitive settlers of the Iberian Peninsula were not only pre-Roman but also pre-Celtic, an ancient Arian race who brought bronze-age technology to Portugal. These people were skilled metal workers and stone carvers, as proven by the gold jewellery and the Pedra Formosa recovered from Citânia.

Versed in modern and ancient languages, Sarmento corresponded with English, French and German colleagues. The IX Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology of 1880 served as a showcase for his work to the eminent scientific minds of Europe, the Congressmen visiting Citânia, in acknowledgment of the originality of his thinking and scientific rigour of his reconstruction of the past.

In honour of his achievements, his fellow citizens of Guimarães founded the Martins Sarmento Society to promote popular education. Since 1882 the Society has made notable contributions to learning, and in recent years has been transformed into a Foundation to continue its task into the future.

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