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Ethnology of the Iberian Peninsula c. 200 BC, based on the map by Portuguese archeologist Luis Fraga Ethnographic Iberia 200 BCE.PNG
Ethnology of the Iberian Peninsula c. 200 BC, based on the map by Portuguese archeologist Luís Fraga

The Celtiberians were a group of Celts or Celticized peoples inhabiting the central-eastern Iberian Peninsula during the final centuries BC. They were explicitly mentioned as being Celts by several classic authors (e.g. Strabo [1] ). These tribes spoke the Celtiberian language and wrote it by adapting the Iberian alphabet. [2] The numerous inscriptions that have been discovered, some of them extensive, have allowed scholars to classify the Celtiberian language as a Celtic language, one of the Hispano-Celtic (also known as Iberian Celtic) languages that were spoken in pre-Roman and early Roman Iberia. Archaeologically, many elements link Celtiberians with Celts in Central Europe, but also show large differences with both the Hallstatt culture and La Tène culture.

Celts Ethnolinguistic group

The Celts are an Indo-European ethnolinguistic group of Europe identified by their use of Celtic languages and cultural similarities. The history of pre-Celtic Europe and the exact relationship between ethnic, linguistic and cultural factors in the Celtic world remains uncertain and controversial. The exact geographic spread of the ancient Celts is disputed; in particular, the ways in which the Iron Age inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland should be regarded as Celts have become a subject of controversy. According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, the Proto-Celtic language, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC.

Iberian Peninsula Peninsula located in southwest Europe

The Iberian Peninsula, also known as Iberia, is located in the southwest corner of Europe. The peninsula is principally divided between Spain and Portugal, comprising most of their territory. It also includes Andorra, small areas of France, and the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. With an area of approximately 596,740 square kilometres (230,400 sq mi)), it is both the second largest European peninsula by area, after the Scandinavian Peninsula, and by population, after the Balkan Peninsula.

Celtiberian language language

Celtiberian or Northeastern Hispano-Celtic is an extinct Indo-European language of the Celtic branch spoken by the Celtiberians in an area of the Iberian Peninsula between the headwaters of the Douro, Tagus, Júcar and Turia rivers and the Ebro river. This language is directly attested in nearly 200 inscriptions dated to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, mainly in Celtiberian script, a direct adaptation of the northeastern Iberian script, but also in the Latin alphabet. The longest extant Celtiberian inscriptions are those on three Botorrita plaques, bronze plaques from Botorrita near Zaragoza, dating to the early 1st century BC, labelled Botorrita I, III and IV. In the northwest was another Celtic language, Gallaecian, that was closely related to Celtiberian.


There is no complete agreement on the exact definition of Celtiberians among classical authors, nor modern scholars. The Ebro river clearly divides the Celtiberian areas from non-Indo-European speaking peoples. [3] In other directions, the demarcation is less clear. Most scholars include the Arevaci, Pellendones, Belli, Titti and Lusones as Celtiberian tribes, and occasionally the Berones, Vaccaei, Carpetani, Olcades or Lobetani. [4]


The Arevaci or Aravaci, were a Celtic people who settled in the Meseta Central of northern Hispania and which dominated most of Celtiberia from the 4th to late 2nd centuries BC. The Vaccaei were their allies.


The Pellendones were an ancient pre-Roman people living on the Iberian Peninsula. From the early 4th century BC they inhabited the region near the source of the river Duero in what today is north-central Spain. The area comprises the north of Soria, the southeast of Burgos and the southwest of La Rioja provinces.


The Belli, also designated Beli or Belaiscos were an ancient pre-Roman Celtic Celtiberian people who lived in the modern Spanish province of Zaragoza from the 3rd Century BC.

In 195 BC, part of Celtiberia was conquered by the Romans, and by 72 BC the entire region had become part of the Roman province of Hispania Citerior. The subjugated Celtiberians waged a protracted struggle against the Roman conquerors, staging uprisings in 195–193, 181–179, 153–151, and 143–133. In 105 BC, Celtiberian warriors drove the Germanic Cimbri from Spain in the Cimbrian War (113–101 BC) and also played an important role in the Sertorian War (80–72 BC).

Ancient Rome History of Rome from the 8th-century BC to the 5th-century

In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, encompassing the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and Roman Empire until the fall of the western empire. The civilization began as an Italic settlement in the Italian Peninsula, conventionally founded in 753 BC, that grew into the city of Rome and which subsequently gave its name to the empire over which it ruled and to the widespread civilisation the empire developed. The Roman Empire expanded to become one of the largest empires in the ancient world, though still ruled from the city, with an estimated 50 to 90 million inhabitants ) and covering 5.0 million square kilometres at its height in AD 117.

Roman province Major Roman administrative territorial entity outside of Italy

The Roman provinces were the lands and people outside of Rome itself that were controlled by the Republic and later the Empire. Each province was ruled by a Roman who was appointed as governor. Although different in many ways, they were similar to the states in Australia or the United States, the regions in the United kingdom or New Zealand, or the prefectures in Japan. Canada refers to some of its territory as provinces.

Hispania Citerior Roman province

Hispania Citerior was a Roman Province in Hispania during the Roman Republic. It was on the eastern coast of Iberia down to the town of Cartago Nova, today's Cartagena in the autonomous community of Murcia, Spain. It roughly covered today's Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia and Valencia. Further south there was the Roman Province of Hispania Ulterior, being further away from Rome. The two provinces were formed in 197 BC, four years after the end of the Second Punic War. During this war Scipio Africanus defeated the Carthaginians at the Battle of Ilipa in 206 BC. This led to the Romans taking over the Carthaginian possessions in southern Spain and on the east coast up to the River Ebro. Several governors of Hispania Citerior commanded wars against the Celtiberians who lived to the west of this province. In the late first century BC Augustus reorganised the Roman provinces in Hispania and Hispania Citerior was replaced by the larger province of Hispania Tarraconensis, which included the territories the Romans had conquered in central, northern and north-western Hispania. Augustus also renamed Hispania Ulterior as Hispania Baetica and created a third province, Hispania Lusitania.

Origin of the term

The term Celtiberi appears in accounts by Diodorus Siculus, [5] Appian [6] and Martial [7] who recognized intermarriage between Celts and Iberians after a period of continuous warfare, though Barry Cunliffe says "this has the ring of guesswork about it." [8] Strabo just saw the Celtiberians as a branch of the Celti. [1] Pliny the Elder thought that the original home of the Celts in Iberia was the territory of the Celtici in the south-west, on the grounds of an identity of sacred rites, language, and the names of cities. [9]

Diodorus Siculus Greek historiographer

Diodorus Siculus or Diodorus of Sicily was a Greek historian. He is known for writing the monumental universal history Bibliotheca historica, much of which survives, between 60 and 30 BC. It is arranged in three parts. The first covers mythic history up to the destruction of Troy, arranged geographically, describing regions around the world from Egypt, India and Arabia to Europe. The second covers the Trojan War to the death of Alexander the Great. The third covers the period to about 60 BC. Bibliotheca, meaning 'library', acknowledges that he was drawing on the work of many other authors.

Appian of Alexandria was a Greek historian with Roman citizenship who flourished during the reigns of Emperors of Rome Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius.

Martial 1st-century Latin poet from Hispania

Marcus Valerius Martialis was a Roman poet from Hispania best known for his twelve books of Epigrams, published in Rome between AD 86 and 103, during the reigns of the emperors Domitian, Nerva and Trajan. In these short, witty poems he cheerfully satirises city life and the scandalous activities of his acquaintances, and romanticises his provincial upbringing. He wrote a total of 1,561 epigrams, of which 1,235 are in elegiac couplets.


Early history

Main language areas, peoples and tribes in Iberian Peninsula c. 300 BC., according to epigraphy and toponymy, based on the map by Luis Fraga Greek and Phoenician Colonies in The Iberian Peninsula.png
Main language areas, peoples and tribes in Iberian Peninsula c. 300 BC., according to epigraphy and toponymy, based on the map by Luís Fraga

Strabo cites Ephorus's belief that there were Celts in the Iberian peninsula as far as Cadiz. [10] It is assumed they brought aspects of Hallstatt culture in the 6th to 5th centuries BC but adopted much of the culture they found. This was a culture of seasonally transhumant cattle-raising pastoralists protected by a warrior elite, similar to those in other areas of Atlantic Europe, centered in the hill-forts, locally termed castros , that controlled small grazing territories.[ citation needed ] Settlements of circular huts survived until Roman times across the north of Iberia, from Northern Portugal, Asturias and Galicia through Cantabria and northern Leon to the Ebro River. [11]

Ephorus of Cyme was an ancient Greek historian known for his universal history.

Hallstatt culture Archaeological culture

The Hallstatt culture was the predominant Western and Central European culture of Late Bronze Age from the 12th to 8th centuries BC and Early Iron Age Europe from the 8th to 6th centuries BC, developing out of the Urnfield culture of the 12th century BC and followed in much of its area by the La Tène culture. It is commonly associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic populations in the Western Hallstatt zone and with (pre-)Illyrians in the eastern Hallstatt zone.

Atlantic Europe

Atlantic Europe is a geographical and anthropological term for the western portion of Europe which borders the Atlantic Ocean. The term may refer to the idea of Atlantic Europe as a cultural unit and/or as a biogeographical region.

Celtic presence in Iberia likely dates to as early as the 6th century BC, when the castros evinced a new permanence with stone walls and protective ditches. Archaeologists Martín Almagro Gorbea and Alvarado Lorrio recognize the distinguishing iron tools and extended family social structure of developed Celtiberian culture as evolving from the archaic castro culture which they consider "proto-Celtic".

Martín Almagro Gorbea professor

Martín Almagro Gorbea is a Spanish prehistorian.

Archaeological finds identify the culture as continuous with the culture reported by Classical writers from the late 3rd century onwards (Almagro-Gorbea and Lorrio). The ethnic map of Celtiberia was highly localized however, composed of different tribes and nations from the 3rd century centered upon fortified oppida and representing a wide-ranging degree of local assimilation with the autochthonous cultures in a mixed Celtic and Iberian stock.

Territory of the Celtiberi with possible location of tribes Mapa celtiberos.jpg
Territory of the Celtiberi with possible location of tribes
Bronze Celtiberian fibula representing a warrior (3rd-2nd century BC) Fibula celtibera de Lancia (M.A.N. 22925) 01.jpg
Bronze Celtiberian fibula representing a warrior (3rd–2nd century BC)

The cultural stronghold of Celtiberians was the northern area of the central meseta in the upper valleys of the Tagus and Douro east to the Iberus (Ebro) river, in the modern provinces of Soria, Guadalajara, Zaragoza and Teruel. There, when Greek and Roman geographers and historians encountered them, the established Celtiberians were controlled by a military aristocracy that had become a hereditary elite. The dominant tribe were the Arevaci, who dominated their neighbors from powerful strongholds at Okilis (Medinaceli) and who rallied the long Celtiberian resistance to Rome. Other Celtiberians were the Belli and Titti in the Jalón valley, and the Lusones to the east.

Excavations at the Celtiberian strongholds Kontebakom-Bel Botorrita, Sekaisa Segeda, Tiermes [12] complement the grave goods found in Celtiberian cemeteries, where aristocratic tombs of the 6th to 5th centuries BC give way to warrior tombs with a tendency from the 3rd century BC for weapons to disappear from grave goods, either indicating an increased urgency for their distribution among living fighters or, as Almagro-Gorbea and Lorrio think, the increased urbanization of Celtiberian society. Many late Celtiberian oppida are still occupied by modern towns, inhibiting archaeology.

Metalwork stands out in Celtiberian archaeological finds, partly from its indestructible nature, emphasizing Celtiberian articles of warlike uses, horse trappings and prestige weapons. The two-edged sword adopted by the Romans was previously in use among the Celtiberians, and Latin lancea, a thrown spear, was a Hispanic word, according to Varro. Celtiberian culture was increasingly influenced by Rome in the two final centuries BC.

From the 3rd century, the clan was superseded as the basic Celtiberian political unit by the oppidum , a fortified organized city with a defined territory that included the castros as subsidiary settlements. These civitates as the Roman historians called them, could make and break alliances, as surviving inscribed hospitality pacts attest, and minted coinage. The old clan structures lasted in the formation of the Celtiberian armies, organized along clan-structure lines, with consequent losses of strategic and tactical control.

Late period

Celtiberian biglobular daggers Punales biglobulares (Museo numantino).jpg
Celtiberian biglobular daggers
Celtiberian antennas swords Espadas de antenas celtiberas.jpg
Celtiberian antennas swords

The Celtiberians were the most influential ethnic group in Iberia when the Mediterranean powers (Carthage and Rome) started its conquest. In 220 BC, the Punic army was attacked when preparing to cross the Tagus river by a coalition of Vaccei, Carpetani and Olcades. Despite these clashes, during the Second Punic War the Celtiberians served most often as allies or mercenaries of Carthage in its conflict with Rome, and crossed the Alps in the mixed forces under Hannibal's command. Under Scipio Africanus, the Romans were able to secure alliances and change the allegiances of many Celtiberian tribes, using these allied warriors against the Carthaginian forces and allies in Spain. After the conflict, Rome took possession of the Punic empire in Spain, and some Celtiberians soon challenged the new dominant power that loomed in the borders of its territory. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus spent the years 182 to 179 pacifying the Celtiberians. Gracchus boasted of destroying over 300 Celtiberian settlements. [13]

In 155 BC, a raid into Hispania Ulterior (Farther Spain) by the Lusitani and the defeat of two successive Roman praetors encouraged the town of Segeda in Hispania Citerior (Nearer Spain) to rebel. The following year, it refused to pay tribute or provide a military contingent to Rome but formed instead a confederacy with neighboring towns and began the construction of a defensive wall. Quintus Fulvius Nobilior was sent against the Celtiberians in 153 BC, with nearly 30,000 men. But the consul was late in arriving and ambushed soon after, with 6,000 Romans slain. A siege of Numantia several days later, where the Segedans had taken refuge, was no more successful. Three elephants were brought up against the town walls but became frightened and turned on the Romans, who retreated in confusion. There were other setbacks, and the hapless Nobilior was obliged to withdraw to camp, where more men suffered frostbite and died of the winter cold. Nobilior lost over 10,000 men in his campaign. [14] In 137 BC, the Celtiberians forced the surrender of a 20,000-man Roman consular army led by Gaius Hostilius Mancinus. [15] In 134 BC, the consul Scipio Aemilianus took charge of the demoralized Roman troops in Spain and laid siege to Numantia.

Engraving of the Siege of Numantia RUSSELL(1854) p182 Siege of Numantia.jpg
Engraving of the Siege of Numantia

Nearby fields were laid waste and what was not used burned. The stronghold of Numantia then was circumvallated with a ditch and palisade, behind which was a wall ten feet high. Towers were placed every hundred feet and mounted with catapults and ballistae. To blockade the nearby river, logs were placed in the water, moored by ropes on the shore. Knives and spear heads were embedded in the wood, which rotated in the strong current. Allied tribes were ordered to send reinforcements. Even Jugurtha, who later would revolt from Rome, himself, was sent from Numidia with twelve war elephants. The Roman forces now numbered 60,000 men and were arrayed around the besieged town in seven camps. The Numantines, "ready though they were to die, no opportunity was given them of fighting". [16]

There were several desperate attempts to break out but they were repulsed. Nor could there be any help from neighboring towns. Eventually, as their hunger increased, envoys were sent to Scipio, asking if they would be treated with moderation if they surrendered, pleading that they had fought for their women and children, and the freedom of their country. But Scipio would accept only deditio. Hearing this demand for absolute submission, the Numantines, "who were previously savage in temper because of their absolute freedom and quite unaccustomed to obey the orders of others, and were now wilder than ever and beside themselves by reason of their hardships," slew their own ambassadors.

After eight months, the starving population was reduced to cannibalism and, filthy and foul smelling, compelled to surrender. But, "such was the love of liberty and of valour which existed in this small barbarian town," relates Appian, that many chose to kill themselves rather than capitulate. Families poisoned themselves, weapons were burned, and the beleaguered town set ablaze. There had been only about 8,000 fighting men when the war began; half that number survived to garrison Numantia. Only a pitiable few survived to walk in Scipio's triumph. The others were sold as slaves and the town razed to the ground, the territory divided among its neighbors.

Botorrita plaque: one of four bronze plates with inscriptions. Botorrita 1.jpg
Botorrita plaque: one of four bronze plates with inscriptions.

After Numantia was finally taken and destroyed, Roman cultural influences increased; this is the period of the earliest Botorrita inscribed plaque; later plaques, significantly, are inscribed in Latin. The Sertorian War (80–72 BC) marked the last formal resistance of the Celtiberian cities to Roman domination, which submerged the Celtiberian culture.

The Celtiberian presence remains on the map of Spain in hundreds of Celtic place-names. The archaeological recovery of Celtiberian culture commenced with the excavations of Numantia, published between 1914 and 1931.

A Roman army auxiliary unit, the Cohors I Celtiberorum, is known from Britain, attested by 2nd century AD discharge diplomas. [17]

See also


  1. 1 2 Strabo. Geography. Book III Chapter 4 verses 5 and 12.
  2. Cremin, Aedeen (2005). "Celtiberian Language". In Koch, John (ed.). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Volume I: A–Celti. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. pp. 363–364. ISBN   978-1-85109-440-0.
  3. Roman History, Book XVIII "Cato sailed away and reached Spain, where he learned that all the inhabitants as far as the Iberus (Ebro river) had united in order to wage war against him in a body. After organizing his army he attacked and defeated them and forced them to submit to him, since they feared that otherwise they might lose their cities at a single stroke. At the time he did them no harm, but later, when some of them incurred his suspicion, he deprived them all of their arms and caused the natives themselves to tear down their own walls. For he sent letters in all directions with orders that they should be delivered to everybody on the same day; and in these he commanded the people to raze their walls immediately, threatening the disobedient with death. The officials upon reading the letters thought in each case that message had been written to them alone, and without taking time for deliberation they all threw down their walls. Cato now crossed the Iberus, and though he did not dare to contend with the Celtiberian allies of the enemy on account of their number, yet he handled them in marvellous fashion, now persuading them by a gift of larger pay to change front and join him, now admonishing them to return home, and sometimes even announcing a battle with them for a stated day. The result was that they broke up into separate factions and became so fearful that they no longer ventured to fight with him."
  4. The Celts in Iberia: An Overview, e-Keltoi: Volume 6 https://www4.uwm.edu/celtic/ekeltoi/volumes/vol6/6_4/lorrio_zapatero_6_4.html
  5. Celtiberian manners and customs in Diodorus Siculus v. 33–34; Diodorus relies on lost texts of Posidonius .
  6. Appian of Alexandria, Roman History.
  7. Bilbilis was the birthplace of Martial.
  8. Cunliffe, Barry (2003). The Celts: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 52. ISBN   0-19-280418-9.
  9. Sir William Smith (1854), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, Volume 2, Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  10. Strabo (1923). The Geography of Strabo; with an English translation by Horace Leonard Jones. II, book IV, chapter 4 (Loeb Classical Library ed.). London: Heinemann.
  11. Koch, John, ed. (2005). "Iberian Peninsula, Celts on the". Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Volume I: A–Celti. Santa Barbara, CA: ABL-CLIO. p. 950. ISBN   978-1-85109-440-0 . Retrieved June 9, 2010.
  12. The Site of Tiermes Archived January 12, 2005, at the Wayback Machine , official website
  13. The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age. Routledge. 2014. p. 54.
  14. Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain. Pen and Sword. 2013.
  15. Dictionary of Wars. Routledge. 2013. p. 339.
  16. Florus, I.34.13
  17. Guy de la Bédoyère Eagles over Britannia: the Roman Army in Britain. Stroud: Tempus, 2001 ISBN   0-7524-1923-4; p. 241.

Related Research Articles

Iberians historical ethnical group

The Iberians were a set of people that Greek and Roman sources identified with that name in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula, at least from the 6th century BC. The Roman sources also use the term Hispani to refer to the Iberians.

Numantia province

Numantia was an ancient Celtiberian settlement, whose remains are located 7 km north of the city of Soria, on a hill known as Cerro de la Muela in the municipality of Garray.


The Astures or Asturs, also named Astyrs, were the Hispano-Celtic inhabitants of the northwest area of Hispania that now comprises almost the entire modern autonomous community of Principality of Asturias, the modern province of León, and the northern part of the modern province of Zamora, and east of Trás os Montes in Portugal. They were a horse-riding highland cattle-raising people who lived in circular huts of stone drywall construction. The Albiones were a major tribe from western Asturias. Isidore of Seville gave an etymology as coming from a river Asturia, identified by David Magie with Órbigo river in the plain of León, by others the modern Esla river.

Celtici Celtic tribe or group of tribes of the Iberian peninsula

The Celtici were a Celtic tribe or group of tribes of the Iberian peninsula, inhabiting three definite areas: in what today are the regions of Alentejo and the Algarve in Portugal; in the Province of Badajoz and north of Province of Huelva in Spain, in the ancient Baeturia; and along the coastal areas of Galicia. Classical authors give various accounts of the Celtici's relationships with the Gallaeci, Celtiberians and Turdetani.


The Vaccaei or Vaccei were a pre-Roman Celtic people of Spain, who inhabited the sedimentary plains of the central Duero valley, in the Meseta Central of northern Hispania. Its capital was Intercatia in Paredes de Nava.

Gallaeci large Celtic tribal federation who inhabited Gallaecia, the north-western corner of Iberia

The Gallaeci, Callaeci or Callaici were a large Celtic tribal federation who inhabited Gallaecia, the north-western corner of Iberia, a region roughly corresponding to what is now northern Portugal, Galicia, western Asturias and western Castile and León in Spain, before and during the Roman period. They spoke a Q-Celtic language related to Northeastern Hispano-Celtic, usually called Gallaic, Gallaecian, or Northwestern Hispano-Celtic.


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Numantine War war

The Numantine War was the last conflict of the Celtiberian Wars fought by the Romans to subdue those people along the Ebro. It was a twenty-year conflict between the Celtiberian tribes of Hispania Citerior and the Roman government. It began in 154 BC as a revolt of the Celtiberians of Numantia on the Douro. The first phase of the war ended in 151, but in 143, war flared up again with a new insurrection in Numantia.

Olcades ethnic group

The Olcades were an ancient stock-raising pre-Roman people from Hispania, who lived to the west of the Turboletae in the southeastern fringe of the Iberian system mountains.

Berones pre-Roman people of the Iberian peninsula

The Berones were a pre-Roman Celtic people of ancient Spain, although they not were part of the Celtiberians, they lived north of the Celtiberians and close to the Cantabrian Conisci in the middle Ebro region between the Tirón and Alhama rivers.

Titii (Celtiberian) ethnic group - Celtiberian people

The Titii or Tithii were a small and obscure Celtiberian people whose lands were located along the middle Jalón and upper Tajuña valleys, somewhere between Alhama de Aragón in Zaragoza and Molina de Aragón in Guadalajara provinces.


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The Celtiberian confederacy was a tribal federation formed around the mid-3rd century BC, by the Arevaci, Lusones, Belli and Titii, with the Arevacian city of Numantia as the federal capital.


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