Friday, July 30, 2021

The Romanization of northwest Iberia (modern Portugal)

During the last two centuries of the second millennium BCE a series of settlements were established along the coastal areas of northern Portugal. Their noble elite celebrated ritual banquets and participated in an extensive network of interchange of prestige items such as  cauldrons, knives, bronze vases, roasting spits, flesh-hooks, swords, axes and jewelry, from the Mediterranean up to the British Isles. But this network appears to collapse at the beginning of the first millennium and their open settlements were gradually replaced by fortified hill-forts constructed of earthen walls, battlements and ditches, which enclosed an inner habitable space. Trade dwindled to just the production of various axes and tools.

Then, beginning in the 6th century BCE, the "Castro" culture once again began to expand and widespread trade returned driven by Carthaginian merchants who brought imports of wine glass, pottery, and other goods.  The Carthaginians constructed emporia that sometimes even included temples and other civic structures. While the archaeological record of the Iron Age Castro suggests a very egalitarian society, a privileged class appears to have developed with better access to prestige items as evidenced by findings of large quantities of fibulae, pins, pincers for hair extraction, pendants, earrings, torcs, bracelets, and other personal objects used to enhance personal appearance.

Their hill-forts evolved as well, becoming semi-urban fortified towns we now know as oppida that in some cases housed several thousand inhabitants. These citadels included paved streets equipped with channels for stormwater runoff, reservoirs of potable water, and evidence of urban planning. Many of them also presented an inner and upper walled space, relatively large called acrópole by local scholars and the structures were surrounded by concentric ditches and stone walls sometimes reinforced with towers. Gates to these oppida become monumental and were decorated by sculptures of warriors.  Dwelling areas that have been excavated were frequently externally walled, with kitchens, sheds, granaries, workshops and living rooms ordered around an inner paved yard, sometimes equipped with fountains, drains and reservoirs.

People inhabiting the far northwestern corner of Iberia, now northern Portugal, became known as the Gallaeci. Those tribes living in what is now southern Portugal became known collectively as the Lusitani.

The people eventually encountered Rome when the Carthaginians hired them as mercenaries to fight the Romans during the Punic wars. During the Second Punic War between the years 218 and 201 BCE,  Silius Italicus reports a combined Celtic contingent of Lusitani and the Gallaeci led by a commander named Viriathus raided northern Italy whenever the terrain was too rough for Hannibal's famed Numidian cavalry. 

In retaliation, the Romans levied heavy taxes from the tribes. Between 209 and 169 BCE, the Roman army collected 4 tons of gold and 800 tons of silver from the locals and a number of their men were required to serve in the legions. The exploitation and extortion reached such an extreme degree that Rome had to create a special tribunal and laws, like the Lex Calpurnia which established the first permanent criminal court in Roman history, in order to deal with the growing number of crimes committed by Roman governors in the provinces.

In 150 BCE Praetor of Hispania Ulterior, Servius Sulpicius Galba joined forces with the Governor of Hispania Citerior, Lucius Licinius Lucullus and began to systematically depopulate Lusitania. Fearing a long siege and the destruction the Roman siege engines would cause in their towns, the Lusitanians sent an embassy to Galba to negotiate a peace treaty. Galba seemingly agreed but when the Lusitanians were gathered together to turn over their weapons, Galba's army surrounded them with a ditch, to prevent them from escaping. Then , Roman soldiers were sent in and began to massacre all the males of military age. Galba killed 9,000 Lusitanians and later sold 20,000 more as slaves in Gaul (modern France).  

Three years after the massacre, another Viriathus appeared with an understanding of Roman military tactics and proceeded to wreak havoc among the Romans until 139 BCE when he was betrayed and killed in his sleep by three of his companions who had been sent as emissaries to the Romans.  The warriors were bribed by Marcus Popillius Laenas to perform their treachery. However, when the three returned to receive their reward from the Romans, the Consul Quintus Servilius Caepio ordered their execution, declaring, "Rome does not pay traitors".

Viriathus stands as the most successful leader who ever opposed the Roman conquest in Iberia. During the course of his campaigns he was only defeated in battle against the Romans once, and from a military standpoint can be said to have been one of the most successful generals to have ever opposed Rome's expansion.

After the death of Viriatus, the Gallaecians and Lusitanians kept fighting and as a result the Roman general Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus led a successful punishment expedition into the North in 137 BCE. The victory he celebrated in Rome granted him the title Callaicus (“Galician”). During the next century Gallaecia was still theatre of operation for Perpenna (73 BCE), Julius Caesar (61 BCE) and the generals of Augustus (29-19 BCE), but gradually the native people acquired Roman culture and language and eventually gained the status of "Citizens of Rome". Although most of their oppida were abandoned or converted to religious sanctuaries, some continued to be occupied up to the 5th century CE when the Germanic Suevi established themselves in the region.

Rebuilt hut in the oppidum of Santa Tegra, A Guarda, Galicia earth courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Froaringus

Statue of a Gallaecian Warrior, Castro Culture, 1st Century CE, North Western Iberian Peninsula, courtesy of the National Museum of Archaeology (Portugal) and Wikimedia Commons.

Gold fibula, of long-footed form decorated with the figure of a naked warrior, wearing a Celtic helmet, with scabbard suspended from his waist and carrying a sword (scabbard and pommel are both of La Tene type), with another figure of a hunting dog jumping up to him. The eyes of both figures were originally inlaid with enamel. The arched bow has eight curls and the side panels are elaborated with running spirals and loops, also originally inlaid with blue enamel. Each end of the brooch is terminated by a dog's head. The hinge or spring and pin are now lost. The long foot of the fibula comprises two thick wires, twisted together and terminated with another dog's head, jaws agape and ears raised. The brooch was probably made by a Greek craftsman active on the Iberian Peninsular. Image courtesy of the British Museum and Wikimedia Commons.

Diadem from Moñes (Piloña, Asturias). Warriors with horned helmets parade carrying torcs and cauldrons, Castro Culture, 3rd - 1st century BCE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Ángel M. Felicísimo

Lunula from Chão de Lamas, Coimbra (Portugal) courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Luis Garcia. (removed glare spots) 

Boat-shaped earrings decorated with filigree and granules, Gallaecian, gold, from the "Bedoya Treasure", exhibited in the Museum of Pontevedra

Late Bronze Age golden helmet from Galicia courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Carlos de Paz.

Iron Age Castro Culture Torcs from Asturias, Spain courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Dageno.

Head of an stone Iron Age Galician warrior, wearing a torc. Now, in the Museo Provincial de Ourense, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Froaringus.

A Castro Culture severed head sculpture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Froaringus.

Nabia Fountain in Braga, Portugal. The deity probably had an association with water, the sky and the earth courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Snitrom

Galician Celtic Stele for the deceased, called Apana, presumably an aristocrat of the tribe of Celtic Supertamáricos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Alexandre Gal.

Mosaic from the Casa dos Repuxos Roman villa in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Halley Oliveira

Roman mosaic with marine life in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Marta Magalhães 

Mosaics in the House of the Swastika in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Carole Raddato.

Roman mosaic with man and dog in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor GFreihalter (Adjusted perspective and cropped)

Mosaic in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Elisardojm. (Adjusted perspective and cropped)

Roman peristyle with mosaics in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Elisardojm

A Roman mosaic depicting Dionysus (?) in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Elisardojm.

A Roman mosaic depicting a man walking a dog (?) in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Elisardojm

More Roman mosaics in ancient Conimbriga, Portugal courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Duca696.

Conimbriga is one of the best preserved Roman archaeological sites in Portugal.  You can see many more of its beautiful Roman mosaics here:

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