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Iberian Peninsula at about 200 BC

The Celtiberians were Celtic-speaking people of the Iberian Peninsula in the final centuries BC. The group originated when Celts migrated from Gaul and integrated with the local pre-Indo-European populations, in particular the Iberians.

Archaeologically, the Celtiberians participated in the Hallstatt culture in what is now north-central Spain. The term Celtiberi appears in accounts by Diodorus Siculus,[1] Appian[2] and Martial[3] who recognized a mixed Celtic and Iberian people; Strabo saw the Celts as the more dominant group in this blend. Extant tribal names include the Arevaci, Belli, Titti, and Lusones.

The Celtiberian language is attested from the first century BC. Other possibly Celtic languages, like Lusitanian, were spoken in pre-Roman Iberia. The Lusitani gave their name to Lusitania, the Roman province name covering current Portugal and Extremadura.



Early Celts migrated into the Iberian peninsula and penetrated as far as Cadiz, bringing aspects of Hallstatt culture in the sixth to fifth centuries BC, adopting much of the culture they found.[4] This basal Indo-European culture was 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. These settlements of circular huts survived until Roman times across the north of Iberia, from Northern Portugal, Asturias and Galicia to the Basque Country.

Celtic presence in Iberia likely dates to as early as the sixth 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".

Botorrita plaque: one of four bronze plates with inscriptions.

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 nationes from the third 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.

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[5] complement the grave goods found in Celtiberian cemeteries, where aristocratic tombs of the 6th to 5th centuries give way to warrior tombs with a tendency from the 3rd century 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 archeology.

Bronze Celtiberian fibula representing a warrior (3rd–2nd cent. BC)

Metalwork stands out in Celtiberian archeological 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 third 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.

The Celtiberians were the most influential ethnic group in pre-Roman Iberia, but they had their largest impact on history during the Second Punic War, during which they became the (perhaps unwilling) allies of Carthage in its conflict with Rome, and crossed the Alps in the mixed forces under Hannibal's command. As a result of the defeat of Carthage, the Celtiberians first submitted to Rome in 195 BC; T. Sempronius Gracchus spent the years 182 to 179 pacifying (as the Romans put it) the Celtiberians; however, conflicts between various semi-independent bands of Celtiberians continued. After the city of Numantia was finally taken and destroyed by Scipio Aemilianus Africanus the younger after a long and brutal siege that ended the Celtic resistance (154 - 133 BC), Roman cultural influences increased; this is the period of the earliest Botorrita inscribed plaque; later plaques, significantly, are inscribed in Latin. The war with Sertorius, 79 - 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.


  1. ^ Celtiberian manners and customs in Diodorus Siculus v.33-34; Diodorus relies on lost texts of Posidonius..
  2. ^ Appian of Alexandria, Roman History.
  3. ^ Bilbilis was the birthplace of Martial.
  4. ^ According to the theory developed by Bosch Gimpera (Two Celtic Waves in Spain, 1943), the earliest Celtic presence in Iberia was that of the southeastern Almería culture of the Bronze Age in the tenth century BC.
  5. ^ The Site of Tiermes, official website

See also


  • Francisco Burillo Mozota, Los Celtíberos, etnias y estados (Crítica, 2007).
  • Antonio Arribas, The Iberians 1964.
  • Barry Cunliffe, 'Iberia and the Celtiberians' in "The Ancient Celts" (Penguin Books, 1997), ISBN 0-14-025422-6* J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans (Thames & Hudson, 1989), ISBN 0-500-05052-X
  • Alberto J. Lorrio and Gonzalo Ruiz Zapatero, "The Celts in Iberia: An Overview" in e-Keltoi 6
  • Jesús Martín-Gil, Gonzalo Palacios-Leblé, Pablo Martín-Ramos and Francisco J. Martín-Gil, "Analysis of a Celtiberian protective paste and its possible use by Arevaci warriors". e-Keltoi 5, pp 63–76.

Further reading

  • Simon James, The Atlantic Celts: Ancient people or modern invention? (British Museum Press), 1999

External links



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