Ancient chroniclers, since the end of the VI century BC, gave the name of Iberians to the Iron Age populations living in the coastal areas of the mediterranean, from the Rhone delta (Camargue) to Heracles's columns (Gibraltar) and that were clearly distinct from the Celtic influenced populations that lived more to the interior of the peninsula.
Was there only one Iberian people or many? Present day Andalucia (ancient Turdetania/Tartessania), the eastern coast of the peninsula, including present day Catalunya, and the south of France are regions of diversified culture. Ancient Andalucia was the domain of the Tartessos; the southeastern coast the center of the El Argar civilization (a civilization of the early and medium Bronze Age) and, as much in the south of France as in Catalonia the traditions from the civilizations of the Champs d'Urnes (beginning circa 900BC and already of pre-Celtic culture) remain alive and well preserved until the Roman conquest. It's therefore necessary to examine all elements of a civilization, as much the archeological as the linguistic data.
Can we skip the elaboration of a chronological panel? The Tartessian power, one of the Iberian components, it's the first to develop itself as soon as the 10th century BC. Nevertheless, the celtic expansion begins in the 9th century BC; the Iberians sustain and are reinforced by this probation and their civilization develops itself from the 5th to the 3rd century BC, influenced by Greek and Punic cultural influences. The Iberians mingle with the few Celtic populations in the area presently known as Aragon and Castille to form the Celtiberians, with great predominance of the Iberian ethnicity and culture. From the beginning of the 3rd century BC, the Iberian regions are occupied by the Romans and romanization will advance in a peculiar way due to the pre-existance of an high level civilization in the area.
Ancient chroniclers place the fabulous kingdom of the Tartessos, identified as the biblical Tarsis, in west Andalucia, whereas, in the east, in the beginning of the Bronze Age, the Almerian civilization (from the present day name of the region = Almeria) had its most brilliant period clearly visible with the archeological area of Los Millares and its rich megalithic thombs. Since the beginning of the II millenia BC that the economical wealth was based in the exploration of the silver (Sierra Morena) and copper mines (Rio Tinto), as well as with the maritime trade that was centered in the importation of tin from the Galician and Cornwall regions. The Phoenicians, settled at Gader around the beginning of the I millenia BC, will enter in conflict with the Tartessos being able to subdue them later. But, when the Phoenician power knows it eclipse around the 7th century BC, the Tartessian civilization reemerges, extending its domain up to Cabo de La Nao (the cape between present day Alicante and Valencia) and tries to nurture a good relationship with the Phocæan Greeks; it's from this era (630BC) the fostering of Colais of Samos by King Arganthonios. The defeat of the Phocæan fleet before the Carthaginian in the battle of Alalia (535BC), marked the decline of Greek interest in the peninsular coast, and the end of Tartessian power.
The exact location of the Tartessian civilization could not be thouroughly circumscribed until now and its inhabitants remain poorly known. The cremative thombs are, at times, monumental and remind us of the Etruscan thombs. The eastern influence is quite common by the number of bronze objects and jewels (El Carambolo treasure, near modern day Seville, representing in excess of 3,5 kg of pure gold). The relations between Iberians and Tartessians remain obscure.
Both are indigenous populations (with certain african influences dating back to the neolitic period). The inscriptions in the Turdetanian alphabet are markedly different from the ones in Iberian inscriptions and transcribe a language (not yet decifered) of non-indoeuropean origin, but also different from the Iberian language. This ancient kingdom vanishes around the 5th century, in the precise moment in which the Iberians enter history. Therefore, do these two populations form one; being two different successive manifestations of the same civilization?
Generic features of Iberian civilization
The powerfull energy of the Iberians was reinforced by the Greek and Punic contributions, directly or indirectly through the Iberian mercenaries sent to Sicily or Carthage. The problem regarding the origin of the Iberians remains as long as the origin of their language is open to discussion. This language, poorly known and of difficult interpretation is somewhat similar to the Tartesian language but also to the Pirenee-Cantabrian languages that still survive today in the form of the Basque language. One of the most concrete characteristics of this research is given by the inscriptions. We have today, in our possesion, hundreds of inscriptions (most of them from the 3th century on), encompassing several hundreds of symbols (like the ones in the Alcoy lead inscription). These inscriptions remind us of the minoan, cypriot and phoenician characters. The work of M. Gomes Moreno allowed the recognition of 29 alphabetical characters, encompassing, in turn, simple and double symbols; the remains of a syllabic writting give this configuration a pronounced archaic characteristic.
The houses were rectangular and varied according to the available space; wood and raw brick are very rarely used and only as auxiliary materials; almost all constructions are made of cut stone tailored to fit. Stone walls have depressions before the wall and are skillfully constructed; there is even the case of cyclopic walls (Tarragona).
The economy centers around agriculture; the wine and olive were introduced by the Greeks. Breeding, specially regarding the horse, is highlighted by the ancient chroniclers. Mining was very important, specially in the region of Sierra Morena; silver mines near Gader and near Cartago Nova as well as the abundant iron mines in the Ebrus valley. A true Eldorado for the Greeks, Punics and, later, to the Romans.
Among the traditional craftsmanship, swordsmiths and armourers enjoyed an unmatched reputation. Romans would later adopt some of their productions. In Andalucia, the most common and characteristic weapon was the falcata, a curved heavy-tipped saber derived from the greek machaira; we can also find the soliferrum, an all-iron heavy javelin with up to 2m in length. Ceramic works shows many warrior's representations, dressed in short tunics, with breastplate and helm. Ancient chroniclers mention many times the warlike nature of Iberians; besides the excellent mercenaries already mentioned, their thirst for fighting and banditism is legendary.
It's the ceramic itself, by its abundance, even in poor buildings, that gives us the most important informations. Iberian ceramic art manifests itself by semi-circular, circular or segmented circular ornamentation. Geometrical decoration, which corresponds to the older ceramic, it's very frequent in the everyday use ceramic. Later, although still very soon, representations of plants, animals or humans appear. The archeological finds at San Miguel de Liria have shown the world a series of ceramic vases in which the artists dedicated themselves to represent in inscriptions the several ocurrences of everyday life in Iberia, like the daily in-house tasks, hunting and even religious ceremonies. The Iberian clothing looks inspired from Greek clothing; close fit tunic, long mantle and sandals (or tall boots in the case of horsemen). These clothes are normaly embroided with varied motifs, while women exhibit a pronounced predilection by barroque jewelry (complex and highly ornate).
Religion is poorly known; ancient chroniclers do not refer to it often and votive inscriptions were not decifered. The objects found and the sanctuaries indicate a polytheistic and naturalist religion of mediterranean characteristics, strongly influenced by greek culture. Some known representations of gods include the Maitre des Fauves (greek Potnia Thérôn) and a goddess of the Afrodite-Astarte type. We can also find representations of fabulous animals (lions and sphinxes) as well as of bulls. The most important religious sanctuary is the one from Cerro de Los Santos, a rectangle with 20 m in length and 8m in width (in antis); in the interior a stone platform was placed to recieve the statues; eastern influence is still very visible. Greek influence is also clear in sculpture where the master piece of Iberian art is represented by La Dama de Elche; her face is elegant and refined, somewhat sad, but very classic and it is in stark contrast with the barroque exhuberance of the jewelry (ornate detail, enormous necklaces and wheels in the hears - this last detail seems to have their origin in Cyprus) and the complex wealth of the hairstyle, but are in harmony with the Iberian style. Whether she is a priestess or a princess, the problem in dating is the one of all Iberian art. Specialists estimate the first signs of Iberian art to the end of 6th century BC and La Dama de Elche to the mid 4th century BC. This sculpture cannot make us forget other impressive and significant works of high quality like the Gran Dama d'El Cerro de Los Santos, that represents a priestess performing a ritual, as well as an imense variety of different statues in stone or bronze.
In this way, one can have a view of the life of a rich feudal society, where life was separated in hunting, fishing and warfare. This life, that reminds us of the life of Minos in Crete or of the Micenian chieftains, seems anacronistic in the age of the Scipii. Ancient chroniclers designate this rulling aristocracy by the name of "Senate". Kings are also known, as is visible in the case of the Edetanii and Ilergetas; the hereditary system seems the normal rule. Sometimes suzeranity by a stronger overlord is also recognized, and, as such, extensive but fragile confederations are formed; Strabo recognizes that the Iberians are rebelious against each and every form of outside authority, which makes them similar to Celts. But the practice of fidelity bonds and comittments takes on an exceptional role: the fides iberica is not a vain term, it can reach as far as the suicide.
The extent of Iberian civilization far surpasses the area of southeastern Spain and Andalucia. In the Celtiberian area (Aragon and Castille), the mediterranen influence merges itself with the Halstattian tradition. The best example of this situation is Numantia; the ortogonal village is more recent than 133BC. Before that time, over 8 square hectometers, a city of ruled planning developed on this plateau and, in its rim, the streets followed the hill topology. The Numantine house had two rooms and a domed basement. The ceramic presents a marked stylization, and has, sometimes, a fantastic decoration, although the characters and figurines are still influenced by the art of coastal areas.
In the northwest of the peninsula, in Galicia, Asturias and northern Portugal, small fortified villages (called castros) are built. With round houses, of wood and, later, stone construction, the Tartesian influence is felt less and less as time goes by. These villages are already in this area althrough ancient times.
Strabo defined the Lusitanii as "the greatest of Iberian tribes, that the Romans fought for a long time". Considered as the finest Iberian warriors in terms of guerrilla tactics, their influence extended through the fertile lands around the river Tagus, comprising what is now north and central Portugal, and wide regions of west central Spain. Independent and warlike, Lusitanii tribes were also under strong influence of the Celtic world - both in religion and material culture - and as their Celtiberian neighbours, were at constant strife and competition.
Master in ambushes, and in the use of light and throwable weapons, the Lusitanii rarely fought in an open battlefield, though they were able to do so, as was known on several ocasions. A very frequent tactic consisted of harassing the enemy army using fast hit-and-run incursions to strike specific detachments at unexpected places and situations. This had the objective of tiring and trimming down their forces before a previously planned encirclement and assault was made by the whole army. These disorientating tactics, enhanced by their supreme knowledge of the terrain, their determination and sometimes blind ruthless ferocity ensured that even the wisest opponent would be put on the defensive.
"They say that the Lusitanii are skilled in ambushes and chasses, swift, quick and sthealthy; they wield small shields two feet wide and concave in their outside, being manouvered with the help of two straps around the neck, and, so it seems, without grips. Beyond that they use daggers or knives. Most of them wear linen armours and leather caps, very few others mail armours and three feathered helms. Some infantrymen also use greaves, and each of them carries several short spears; some of them with bronze tips".
- Strabo of Amasya (Pontus), Greek historian, 63 BC - 24 AD
"The Lusitanii are the strongest amongst Iberians; to war, they carry very small shields, made out of esparto (a natural hard vegetable fiber), with which can easily defend their bodies. During battle they wield it skilfully, moving it from one side to the other of their bodies, defending themselves with ability from every blow that falls upon them. They also use spears, entirely made of iron with harpoon-shaped tips, and ware helms and a sword very similar to the Celtiberians; they throw their spears with precision and to a great distance, very frequently causing grevious wounds. They are swift while moving and fast while running, so they flee and chase quickly (). With these light armours, being able to run very fast and being very sharp-minded, they can only be defeated with difficulty. They consider the rocks and ranges their homeland and so seek refuge in them, because they are impracticable to large and heavy armies. So, because of that, the Romans, who have organized countless expeditions against them, although being able to counter their daring, have not, dispite of their commitment, been able to end their pillaging".
- Diodorus Siculus of Sicily, Sicilian historian, 80 BC - 20 AD
A unique characteristic about the Lusitanii was their ability to adopt foreigners in to their own population. This was known by the Romans as hospitium and led them to believe that among Lusitanii there was something similar to the devotio. In particular, among the Lusitanii, we must mention a very special protection given by the powerfull, the Ambactii that, according to Julius Caeser, were soldiers linked to their respective patrons by oaths of personal dependency, sworn in religious vows and faithful to the death to their chiefs.
Lusitanii were known by their neighbours as expert pillagers and raiders. This behaviour was motivated by the uneven distribution of wealth among them, the lack of open and fertile agricultural fields in their own territory, as well as the greater material wealth displayed by their more industrious and commercial southern and coastal populations. It is this permanent stress that will serve as a catalist to the later Roman conquest.
Although their social organization was built up of noble and non-noble classes, in times of war their military leaders were chosen by an assembly of the whole population. Contrary to many other tribes or tribal confederations, the caudilho (military commander) of the Lusitanii could be or not of the noble class. He was choosen for his bravery, skill in battle, inteligence and popularity amongst the population, before his ascendency was taken in to consideration. The Romans and Greeks designated them as Dux or Hegoumenos respectivelly.
Romans were not welcome. They learned the errors of challenging some of these famous caudilhos like Punico, commander of an alliance of Lusitanii and Vetonii that devastated the Beaturia and Betica in 154BC. Or of the likes of Cesaro, commander of the northern Lusitanii tribes, whose victories against the Romans motivated the Celtiberian tribes and the southern Lusitanii (commanded by Caucenos) to join in their efforts against Rome. These victories lead to the pillaging of Turdetania that would continue during the time of Viriatus.
In 150BC, a group of Lusitanii tribes forced by war devastation to seek fertile lands, were promised peace and lands by consul Servius Sulpicius Galba. He invited the Lusitanii to attend unarmed to an open field, and once there, he ordered his troops to attack and annihilate the defenceless crowd. Very few survived to the slaughter. One of them was a brilliant tactician called Viriatus.
Viriatus never forgot the treason. He rose as a popular leader and persuaded his countrymen to resist Roman rule. Gathering the Lusitanii under his command, he defeated the Romans in 147BC and started an elusive war that surprised and humiliated the Roman invaders. During the next two years he established control over a vast area. One Roman defeat followed another. Legion after legion crushed. The victories of Viriatus encouraged the Celtiberians to renew their resistance to Rome. Then, in 140BC, the senate sent an army under Fabius Maximus Servilianus, which Viriatus succeeded in trapping. Instead of destroying this army, he concluded a peace and allowed the Romans to leave. But he demanded to Fabius that he and the Lusitanii would be considered amicus populi romani and that their conquered territories would have to be recognized by Rome and never attacked again (something that had never happened, Rome being dictated peace terms, that are analogous to admitting defeat to a bunch of barbarians). Within a year the humiliated Roman Senate would break, as usual, that treaty.
Finally, in 139BC, a tired and disenchanted Viriatus sent three men to negotiate peace to the Roman quarters. When they got back, the bribed emissaries killed Viriatus. They never enjoyed their reward. When they got back to consul Quintus Servilius Scipio, he ordered them to die, saying: "Rome does not reward traitors". The death of Viriatus marked the beginning of the end of Lusitanii resistance, but not of its myth.
The Celtiberians were tribes who inhabited an area in present north-central Spain from the 3rd century BC onward . These Celtiberians inhabited the hill country between the sources of the Tagus (Tajo) and Iberus (Ebro) rivers, including most of the modern province of Soria and much of the neighbouring provinces of Guadalajara and Teruel.
In historic times the Celtiberians were mainly composed of the Vaccei, Vetoni, Arevaci, Belli, Titti and Lusones. The earliest population of Celtiberia was that of the southeastern Almeria culture of the Bronze Age, after which came Hallstatt invaders, who occupied the area shortly before 600 BC. The Hallstatt people were in turn subjugated by the Arevaci, who dominated the neighbouring Celtiberian tribes from the powerful strongholds at Okilis (modern Medinaceli) and Numantia. The Belli and the Titti were settled in the Jaln valley, the Sierra del Solorio separating them from the Lusones to the northeast.
The material culture of Celtiberia was strongly influenced by that of the Iberian people of the Ebro valley. Horse bits, daggers, and shield fittings attest the warlike nature of the Celtiberians, and one of their inventions, the two-edged Iberian sword, was later adopted by the Romans. To the west and north of the Iberian peninsula developed a world that classical writters described as Celtic. Iron was known from 700 BC, and agricultural and herding economies were practiced by people who lived in small villages or, in the northwest, in fortified compounds called castros.
The warriors of Celtiberia enjoyed a reputation as the finest barbarian mercenary infantry in the western world. They were believed to possess the finest qualities of the Celts, savage battle lust and great physical courage, along with the steadiness and organization of the more civilized Iberians. Their reputation was such that after the rout of the Carthaginians by Scipio Africanus at the Burning of the Camps in 203, the arrival of a band of only 4,000 Celt-Iberians encouraged the Carthaginians to take the field once more.
The Celtiberians first submitted to the Romans in 195 BC, but they were not completely under Roman domination until 133 BC, when Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus destroyed Numantia. The Mediterranean way of life reached the interior only after the Romans conquered Numantia.
The northern tribes
The rich in iron northern provinces of the Peninsule were inhabitated by several tribes known by their fierce character. While the Galaeci that settled in the Northwest had been under the strongest Celtic influence amongst all Iberians, the Astures and Cantabrii that lived in the mountains near the North coast were poor and primitive, and formed gynaecocratic clans that made bread from acorn flour, and lived on cattle and on plunder, often offering themselves as mercenaries or raiding the lands of their southern Celtiberian neighbours in search of grain. All of them built unaccessible strongholds, similar in all to a Celtic castrum, and were experts in hit and run tactics. These were the last cultures in the Peninsule to be submitted by the Roman, August often leading the armies who fought the last great rebellions of the northern tribes in the so-called Cantabrian Wars (29-19 BC), where the legions learned to fear the unforgiving rough terrain, the ruthless ferocity of these people ready to suicide before being enslaved and their guerrilla tactics.
The northern tribes adopted many celtic uses, specially in religion and warfare, but had strange uses in the eyes of the Roman chroniclers. Although warriors had immense prestige and there was a kind of council of elders, women had huge power, and in fact, they were the ones that inherited property and owned the land. Cantabrians celebrations included a number of fierce dances around the fire, medicine consisted in forsaking the ill ones by a road so they could hear the advices of the travelers, and law couldn't be simpler: the punishment for any infraction was death by being thrown to a chasm.
The Iberian provinces of Rome
The Punic, that knew for quite some time the shores of the Iberian peninsula, wanted, after their first defeat against Rome in 241BC, to remake their strength thanks to an overseas empire centered in the area, through the efforts of the Barcids like Hamilcar, Hannibal and Hasdrubal Barca. Such is the case of the city of Sagunto (Arsé) that declenched the 2nd Punic War (219BC). In that same year, Roman soldiers, disembarked in Ampurias (Emporion); their presence will reveal itself decisive, as, since 206BC, after having conquered Gader and all Carthaginian cities, Scipio creates Italica (not far from present day Seville), first example in a long series of foundations that will accelerate roman colonization and subsequent romanization. After the rulling of Cato (197-195BC), all of eastern and south Iberia are in Roman hands.
But the resistance of Iberians, and especially Celtiberians, was long and ferocious. It takes the shape, in the 2nd century BC, of endemic guerrilla warfare lead by the mountain tribes of the west and center of the peninsula against the sedentary urban centers in the plains. The most famous commander of these incursions is Viriatus, who is able to bleed Rome's armies during the period of 147-139BC. On the other hand, the Celtiberians will meet their Alesia in Numantia, having prefered to vanish instead of tasting defeat at the hands of Scipio Emilianus (133BC).
This violent refusal to kneel to the foreign power is, nevertheless, changeable in the presence of a chief that is able to seduce by his victorious virtues. The renown of Scipio comes precisely from this; the future African, by the claim of his divine nature and also by his moderation, will be homaged with the title of king by the Edetanii. In the 1st century BC, with the growth of the general's power in the late period of the Republic, Sertorius (80-73BC) and his adversary Pompeus, and, after them, Caesar, will know how to exploit this curious characteristic. This profound devotion to the chief will also serve Octavian Augustus well; by the strengthening of the relation between commander and soldier, the Iberian provinces were in a more advanced situation than Rome, and played a decisive role in the birth of the Imperial cult in the West.
Octavian Augustus will finish the conquest of the Peninsula by submitting the Cantabrii (19BC) and will organize the 3 Roman provinces of Terraconensis, Lusitania and Betica. The northern and northwestern areas, less evolved, where tribal organization still persists, make a stark contrast with the coastal and plains areas, where the indigenous populations have taken to the Punic and Greek taste for profit; for this is the birthplace of the spectacular economical development and of the romanization; based on the exploitation of mines, fishing and olive tree planting.