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200 years of valiant resistance against Rome - now mostly forgotten, but worthy to be rediscovered...,
This review is from: Rome's Enemies: Spanish Armies, 218-19 B.C. No.4 (Men-at-Arms) (Paperback)
Most educated people will recognise immediately the names of such great Rome's enemies as Hannibal, Mithridates, Vercingetorix, Arminius or Boadicea. But who, other than the most devoted ancient history passionates, ever heard of Viriatus, elected chieftain of Lusitani, whose career and personality were not unlike those of Sir William Wallace and who for eight years (147-139 BC) resisted Roman legions and dealt them many a heavy blow?
People who lived in ancient times on the territory of today's Spain and Portugal resisted Roman conquest for very exactly 200 years, from 218 to 18 BC, inflicting a great deal of defeats to invaders and claiming lives of numerous Roman commanders. The story of those conflicts merits to be known better than it is now and this little book can help in starting a more profound research on this topic.
There were basically four groups of nations in Iberian Peninsula in the First Iron Age. In the south and on the Mediterranean coasts lived the richest and the most advanced Iberians, who probably migrated to those lands from Northern Africa somewhere around year 1500 BC. Those first migrants probably were the founders of Tartessos kingdom, the first organized state on the peninsula. In time of wars against Rome Iberians were divided in at least 23 tribes, of which the principal were Turdetani, Edetani and Ilergetes. Those nations frequently fought one against other but in other times large tribal coalitions gathered together against common enemies.
Territory populated by the Iberians was large, from today's Andalusia (where dwelled the Turdetani) to the valley of Ebro (home of Ilergetes) and the southern parts of Pyrenees Mountains (strongholds of smaller tribes of Ceretani and Suessetani). Iberians were trading for centuries with Greeks and Phenicians and grew rich and powerful as the result - there were it seems as much as 200 cities on their territories. They were also the most exposed to foreign influences and therefore their civilization was considered by Greeks and Romans as the most advanced and the most sophisticated on the peninsula.
In the north and west of Peninsula lived the tribes made of Celts and completely "celticised" local people. Celts arrived in the peninsula probably around year 650 BC from beyond the Pyrenees Mountains, conquered numerous local tribes and fixed themselves first in what are today regions of Galicia, Asturia and Cantabria - provinces still named today after the three main Celtic tribes of the peninsula: Gallaeci, Astures and Cantabri. The society and civilization of those Celtic nations were close to those of pre-Roman Britain. From those north-western dwellings, Celtic tribes continued their migration south by more pacific means, mixing with locals.
In the rest of the peninsula lived numerous nations issued from a fusion between Celtic and Iberian influences and for that reason called Celtiberians. The most important amongst those tribes were the Lusitani, who occupied most of today's Portugal, the Vettones, the Vaccei, the Carpetani, the Arevaci and the Pellendones. The Lusitani were probably the most powerful single nation on the whole peninsula. The Arevaci, although less numerous, were rich and very efficient at war and their capital, Numantia, was with a population of around 12 000 people one of the biggest local cities (together with Carthago Nova, Saguntum and Gadira, known today respectively as Carthagena, Sagunto and Cadiz).
There was one more tribe living in Spain in those times, a nation different both from the Celts and Iberians - the Vascones, who are today called the Basques. Their territory was limited to the most unaccessible mountain valleys in western Pyrenees Mountains. It is considered that they were (and still are) the last remaining survivors of the original population of Iberian Peninsula. Protected by their mountains they kept their language and separate identity when their brethren were assimilated by successive waves of Indo-European migrants/invaders, in times predating both Iberian and Celtic arrivals. Vascones didn't fight Rome, but negotiated their surrender against a large autonomy - and considering the poverty and the tormented landscape of their lands this arrangement suited Romans just fine.
This short book describes briefly the main tribes mentioned above and offers a commented chronology of all campaigns between 218 BC (first landing of Roman troops) and 18 BC, when Iberian Peninsula was declared secured and most of legions send to other provinces. There are roughly six stages of conquest (excluding minor rebellions and guerillas):
- 219-202 BC. Second Punic War. It is worth to remind here that this monumental conflict started precisely on the peninsula, with Hannibal laying siege to Roman protected city of Saguntum. In 219 BC most of Iberian territory was in fact part of Carthaginian Empire and Iberian and Celtiberian troops were a large part of Hannibal army which went to Italy. It took Romans 13 years of bloody fighting to wrestle the control of those lands from Carthaginians and their local allies - and there were still many Iberian and Celtiberian mercenaries fighting for Hannibal at Zama...
- 197-178 BC. Numerous rebellions of Iberian tribes against their new Roman masters - ultimately defeated, although with much difficulty.
- 155-132 BC. Lusitan and Numantin Wars (including the war against Viriatus). At the end of this period Rome controls most of the peninsula - but the blood price paid for all the conquests was very high.
- 82-72 BC. Sertorian Wars. Iberians and Celtiberians profit from civil war in Rome to side with an exiled Roman warlord Sertorius, who creates a de facto independent "kingdom" in the peninsula, before being ultimately defeated.
- 49-44 BC. War in Spain between Caesar and Pompeius. Local nations divide their loyalties between the two warlords.
- 29-18 BC. Roman conquest of last independent tribes of Peninsula: Iberian Vaccei and the three Celtic nations (Gallaeci, Astures, Cantabri).
For lack of space, only two campaigns are described in more detail: Viriatus resistance against Romans and the Numantin Wars. Even if the description is short and superficial, those are two really GREAT stories! I can only imagine what wonderful movies could be done about those heroic and tragic fights...
Weapons, armor and tactics of ancient Spain nations are a fascinating topic, here described briefly but still well enough to give a very useful introduction to the matter. External influences were many in the peninsula, like the "falcata" short sword which was the main personal weapon of many Iberians and Celtiberians - it was most probably an improved copy of the very efficient Greek "kopis" sword. The Celts on their side introduced to the peninsula their long "La Tene" swords and many local warriors favored them for their longer reach.
On another hand, the purely local short sword "gladius hispaniensis" impressed Romans so much, that they adopted it as the standard personal weapon of their infantry - renamed simply "gladius" it remained in service in legions for more than 400 years! A second local invention, the "soliferrum" ultra heavy javelin is of particular interest as - in my modest opinion - it could have been a major influence on the development of Roman "pilum". Finally another local specialty is not forgotten in the book - the almost legendary Balearic slingers who served Hannibal and later the Romans with terrifying efficiency.
Black and white illustrations are very good and the color plates by Angus McBride are a PLEASURE to the eyes! Maps on another hand are rather bad and it is a good idea to print something on this topic from wikipedia, to better understand the subject.
All in all, this is an excellent Osprey book, offering great value for a very moderate price. I am keeping my copy preciously and will never part with it.