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Celtic hill fort of Coaña, Asturias

The Astures were the original Indo-European inhabitants of the northwest area of Hispania that now comprises almost the entire modern autonomous community of Asturias and the modern provinces León, and northern Zamora (all in Spain), and east of Trás os Montes in Portugal. Isidore of Seville[1] gave an etymology as coming from a river Asturia, identified by David Magie with the Órbigo in the plain of León, by others the modern Esla; at a later date the name was retained in the medieval Kingdom of Asturias.

Along with the neighbouring Gallaeci Lucenses and Braccarenses (see Gallaecia) they spoke a Celtic tongue. Most of their peoples, like the Lugones, worshipped the Celtic god Lugh, and references to other Celtic deities like Taranis or Belenos still remain in the toponomy of the places inhabited by the Astures. Other scholars believe they were related to Ligures.

From the Roman point-of-view, expressed in the brief remarks of the historians Florus, epitomising Livy, and Orosius, there were two different factions within the Astures, following the natural division made by the alpine karst mountains of the Picos de Europa: Transmontani (located in the modern Asturias, "beyond"— this is, north of— the Picos de Europa) and Cismontani (located on the "near" side, in the modern area of León). The Transmontani tribes were mainly located between the Navia River and the central massif of the Picos de Europa; the Cismontani surrounded Asturica Augusta, the main Astur town in Roman times, and the Astura river.

Some of the known transmontani Astur peoples are: Lugones, Pesicos, Cilurnigos, Vincianos and Viromenicos. Known cismontani tribes are: Lancienses, Orniacos and Supertios.


Mode of life

Gallaecian-Asturian gold torc (4th-2nd cent. BC)

The Astures were vigorous hunters and gatherers of the mountains who raided the Roman outposts in the plain[2] and also engaged in complementary agriculture. During a large part of the year they used the acorn as a staple food source, drying and powdering it and using the flour for a type of easily preserved bread. From their few sown fields during the pre-Roman period, they harvested barley from which they produced beer, as well as wheat and flax. Due to the scarcity of their agricultural production as well as their strong war-like character, they made frequent incursions into the lands of the Vacceos, who had a much more developed agriculture. Lucan calls them "Pale seekers after gold"[3]

According to classic authors, their family structure was matrilineal, wherein the woman inherits and is the owner of property.

The Astures lived in hill forts, established in strategic areas and built with round walls in today's Asturias and the mountainous areas of León, and with rectangular walls in flatter areas, similarly to their fellow Galicians, the Lucensis and the Bracarensis

Astur-Cantabrian Wars

Along with their Cantabri neighbours, they were the last free tribes to fall to Romans in Hispania during the Astur-Cantabrian Wars (29 - 19 BC) in Gallaecia.[4] The Roman campaign against the Astures (the Bellum Asturicum) conducted from the spring of 26 BC continued after the ceremonial surrender of Mons Medullus to Augustus in person in 25, in spite of the fact that Augustus ostentatiously closed the gates of the temple of Janus that year. Prosecuted by the legate in Lusitania, P. Carisius, the pacification of the Astures, the last holdouts among the Hispaniae, concluded, as far as the official Roman history was concerned, at the final refuge of the Astures at Cerro de Lancia, where they took possession of the town but capitulated when Carisius threatened to set fire to the community.[5]

The victory was a superficial one however, and Asturian raiding required further Roman encounters in 24 and 22 BC. The Astures were finally quelled and subjugated by the persistence of Agrippa in 19.[6]

Astorga, León, still preserves its Roman name of Asturica Augusta, the "Augustan settlement of the Astures".


  1. ^ Isidore, Etymologies, ix.2.112, noted by David Magie, "Augustus' War in Spain (26-25 B. C.)" Classical Philology 15.4 (October 1920:323-339) p.336 note 3.
  2. ^ Their Roman reputation is represented as "Duae validissmae gentes, Cantabriae et Astures, immunes imperii agitabant" in Florus (ii.33), and "duas fortissimas Hispaniae gentes" in Orosius (vi.21).
  3. ^ "Asturii scrutator pallidus auri", (Lucan, Pharsalia iv. 298).
  4. ^ David Magie in Classical Philology 1920 gives the pertinent passages in Florus and Orosius and critically assesses and corrects the inconsistent topography of the sources.
  5. ^ Cassius Dio, 43.25.8., who attributed the victory in error to Titus Carasius, father of P. Carasius (Magie 1920:338 note 4).
  6. ^ Magie 1920:339.

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