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Spain is situated at the western most portion of the European continent. So it is not surprising that from early in its history, as successive waves of peoples that migrated throughout Europe, many would end up in the Iberian Peninsula. Its geography also forms a strategic gateway between the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean and between Europe and Africa, that would point to its importance in world history.

The first to arrived in the region were a people called the Iberians from North Africa. These people would mix with the Celts who were next to settle in the region as they migrated across Europe. Together, forming what would be considered the foundation of what would be the Spanish people. Although the Spanish would fall victim to the expansionist Roman republic, the Celtiberi would eventually obtain latinitas and would  contribute some of Rome's most famous writers. Two of Rome's emperors would even be recruited from Spain.

Dawn of the IberiansEdit

The word "iberian", known in Greek cutlure since 500BCE was probably derived of the river Ebro, a natural frontier between the new settlers (who were believed by the Greeks to have first arrived from Africa more than two millenia before) and the whole peninsula. Eventually, this demonym was extended to denote the Iron Age populations living in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, from the Rhone delta (Camargue) to Heracles's columns (Gibraltar) and that were clearly distinct from the Celtic influenced populations that lived more to the interior of the peninsula.

By around 1900BCE the Iberians established a system of city-states which were ruled by despotic warrior or priestly castes. Iberian society was developing into a sophisticated society based the trade of metals and minerals that was abundant in the region. As the westernmost landmass in Europe, it is no surprise however that more would arrive and settle in the area, especially given the immense mineral wealth of the region, for in the days of the Romans, much wealth in the form of gold, copper, mercury and iron could all be found in the mountains of Iberia.

From around 1200BCE the Celts, in several waves came into the region as they migrated across the swath of Europe, and spread into the Peninsula and so by the onset of the Punic Wars, the Iberian peoples were split into three different groups — the north of Iberia, between the Duero (or Durius) and the Cantabrian coast were vastly Celtic like many other tribes to the north-east beyond the Pyrenees, while the centre was occupied by peoples whose culture was a fusion of both Celtic and Iberian customs, hence "Celt-Iberians" in differing degrees of "Celticisation". The coastal areas of the east and south, however, were more cosmopolitan due to their being exposed to foreign cultural influence through commerce and conquest. Most notable of these cosmopolitan societies were those of Tartessos in present-day Andalucia, which was eventually assimilated by the Carthaginians.

The CeltiberiansEdit

The Celtiberians differed from the Iberian proper, by several ways: they were considered to be militaristic, giving great social significance to those who forged weapons (and not to mention their users). Greek and Roman sources attest the existence of cultural sophistication and social organisation in all Iberia in the pre-Roman era. Archaeologists who excavated the ruins of the famous city of Numantia discovered a culture acquainted with urban planning and sophisticated arts and crafts, particularly in ceramics, whose members lived in houses with two rooms and vaulted basements.

While some of the more isolated communities such as those in the mountainous regions of Gallaecia and the Pyrenees were organised on a tribal basis, some of the more urbanised areas of pre-Roman Iberia could be best described as feudal republics, with voting power prescribed to the nobility, while others had their own kings (regulii in Latin). Men frequently trained for combat through gymnastics, equestrian exercises as well as hunting, and prized physical appearance like the Minoans almost two thousand years earlier on the other end of the Mediterranean — obesity appears to have been frowned upon.

Religion is poorly known; ancient chroniclers do not refer to it often and votive inscriptions were not decifered. The objects found and the sanctuaries indicate a polytheistic and naturalist religion of Mediterranean characteristics, strongly influenced by Greek culture. Some known representations of gods include the Master of "Beasts" (greek Potnia Thérôn) and a Goddess of the Aphrodite-Astarte archetype. We can also find representations of fabulous animals (lions and sphinxes) as well as of bulls. The most important religious sanctuary is the one from Cerro de Los Santos, a rectangle with 20 m in length and 8m in width (in antis); in the interior a stone platform was placed to recieve the statues; eastern influence is still very visible. 

Greek influence is also clear in sculpture where the master piece of Iberian art is represented by La Dama de Elche; her face is elegant and refined, somewhat sad, but very classic and it is in stark contrast with the barroque exhuberance of the jewelry (ornate detail, enormous necklaces and wheels in the hears - this last detail seems to have their origin in Cyprus) and the complex wealth of the hairstyle, but are in harmony with the Iberian style. Whether she is a priestess or a princess, the problem in dating is the one of all Iberian art. Specialists estimate the first signs of Iberian art to the end of 6th century BC and La Dama de Elche to the mid 4th century BC. This sculpture cannot make us forget other impressive and significant works of high quality like the Gran Dama d'El Cerro de Los Santos, that represents a priestess performing a ritual, as well as an imense variety of different statues in stone or bronze.

The Eternal WarriorEdit

Like most Celtic cultures, Celtiberian warriors used long double-edged swords and Halstatt-type helmets, but wore no trousers or "braca", favouring instead short leggings similar to the later Roman femoralla, and in battle preferred leather jackets and bronze plates or bronze scale mail over chainmail, which was adopted only later. Celtiberian swordsmen were so adept that their equipment and even their fighting styles were adopted by the Roman legions — what we often like to think of as Roman martial tactics often had their roots in the cultures the Romans fought against, including the Celtiberians of Spain.

Spain's mountainous and treacherously wooded terrain of many areas where the Celtiberians roamed meant that unlike the rest of the ancient west, the Celtiberians could not rely on vast arrays of men — instead, they relied heavily on what their Romans called concursare but are today recognised as "guerilla tactics." Roman writers often noted that the Celtiberians and their co-racialists in Iberia would often fail to follow up a victory with pursuit. In other cases, the Celtiberians would often feign defeat, luring their foes into expertly laid ambushes if they were pursued. The Celtiberians apparently prized martial prowess: in defeat, warriors would commit suicide by ingesting poison in the face of unwinnable odds.

So stern were Celtiberian warriors that the term "Numantine resistance" (in reference to the Numantimes, a Celtiberian tribe) was taken to mean "extremely staunch resistance" in Roman parlance, while their Carthaginian nemeses were eager to recruit the Celtiberians as warriors — mixed marriages between Carthaginian nobility and Celtiberian magnates are well-documented. And stern the Celtiberian men had to be, for in the closing centuries of the 1st millenium BCE, the Celtiberians were about to face some extremely tough foes in the form of the Greeks, Carthaginians, and finally, the Romans, who eventually managed to defeat and assimilate them into their own society.

Contacts with outsidersEdit

Phoenician merchants attracted by the wealth of resources in the region began to establish their own settlements along the coast in order to trade with the Celtiberians, whose lands were rich with precious metals including iron, copper and gold. Their most important trading post was Gadir (Cadiz as it is now known), which is the oldest city in Western Europe even predating their more famous City of Carthage.

With the loss of Tyre in 680BCE, however, Tyre's role as the centre of Phoenician trade was taken up by the city-state of Carthage in north Africa, setting the stage for one of the greatest rivalries in history — the Phoenicians weren't alone. Greek merchants began to arrive in the Iberian coast as early as the 8th century BCE, setting up their own trading posts and founding several towns, including Emporio (Ampurias) and Rhodaes (Rosas) and Saguntum (Sagunto). The geographic gateway to the Atlantic was known as the Pillars of Hercules, and owes its namesake to the legends in Greek Mythology that sprung from the wealth to be had in the region. Both of these two great cultures had come from the Eastern Mediterranean, all the way to the westernmost part of Europe, attesting Spain's imortance not only as a strategic area but also as a valuable resource in its own right.

The Punic WarsEdit

The conflict between the Phoenicians and the Greeks over the Spanish trading posts were always a point of contention between the two civilisations. But by the around 3rd century BCE, Greek influence was in decline, with the Romans as the rising power in the northern Mediterranean. The Romans naturally took on the role of protectorate to the Greek colonies in Spain.

In its struggle against Rome, Carthage lost its colonies in Sicily during the First Punic War. In order to compensate for this, the Carthaginians decided to take control of Spain to use it as a staging area in their conflicts with the Romans, thus setting off the Second Punic War. While gaining initial success in their war against Rome, the Carthaginians suddenly faced an invasion in their homeland and following a stunning victory at Zama, the Romans forced the Carthaginians to cede all of their colonial possessions including Spain to Rome.

Conflict with the RomansEdit

With Carthage weakened and soon to be conquered, the Romans soon discovered that they could exploit the Iberian peninsula's rich mineral resources to make good the losses suffered from the wars. The methods employed by the Romans in gaining control of the Iberian peninsula — now known to them as Hispania (shorted to "Spain" in Anglophonic circles today) varied according to the circumstances, the most favoured approach being diplomacy. Some tribes, however, would not yield so easily. and would launch bloody assaults against Roman rule throughout an arc stretching from the head of the Duero valley to the present Portuguese-Spanish border and southward to the head of the Guadiana River, embroiling the Romans in an epic struggle for Iberia with three different tribal confederations — the Lusitanians under the leadership of Viriathus in the west of that land which nowadays is called Portugal; the Numantines in the middle and the Astures to the north.

The Lusitanians aside, resistance to Rome was rife in the northern part of the Meseta at Numantia, close to the modern town of Soria, on the upper stretches of the river Duero. Popular attention tends to focus on the lengthy resistance of the town, although the region itself was in internal turmoil for some 20 years (beginning around 154BCE and ending with the fall of Numantia in 133BCE). The conquest of Numantia proved to be so difficult that only when Scipio Aemilianus, the very conqueror of the Carthaginians, took charge, Rome finally managed to defeat the Numantines. Roman legend has it that once they realised they could not prevail the Numantines chose a warrior's traditional end: its inhabitants, rather than surrender unconditionally, chose instead to set their city on fire — and themselves along with it.

History, however, is far less melodramatic in nature. Although there was a long siege and some of the enfeebled Numantians did die by their own hands, most surrendered. Some fifty were sent to Rome for the triumphal procession, the rest were sold as slaves and the town razed to the ground so that — like Carthage — its memory might be obliterated. Further, Numantia's fate could be argued as being an example of what has been seen as one of the weaknesses of the Spanish character, its centrifugal or separatist tendency in regional terms. It bears keeping in mind that more than half of the soldiers participating in the siege were natives from neighbouring tribes. And, despite its epic and tragic ending, the Numantine War (as it was called by the victorious Romans) wasn't the last Romano-Celtiberian conflict in Iberia. Even so, the skill and rancour of the Numantines in their bloody defiance ensured the name of their fallen city would endure, endowing it with the defiant gesture of staunch resistance that has come down as an example of collective will and pride.

Last Stand: The Cantabrian WarsEdit

The honour of being the last tribes to succumb to Roman rule rests with the Astures and Cantabres, whose homes in the Cantabrian Mountains then hosted rich gold deposits. As long as the local tribes nearby remained unconquered, they posed a danger to Roman mining operations.

The Cantabrian Wars, as they are usually called, started around 29BCE, and for the next 10 years the Romans were engaged in hard battle in one of the most difficult areas of the peninsula, made up of steep hills and narrow valleys, frequently wet in summer and snowbound in winter which favoured defence and the timed-honoured Celtiberian guerrilla methods. The fighting was so savage and resistance so fierce that seven legions were called into duty. Many Roman soldiers refused to fight or mutinied; soldiers of Legio I Augusta even suffered the humiliation of being forbidden to use their legion name (being the same as their emperor) as a punishment for their incompetence.

Roman persistence, however, eventually prevailed, but not without the emperor Augustus himself who had to be personally at the head of the troops fighting in northern Spain. With the fall of the last remaining pockets of resistance in 27 BCE. the Romans finally managed to pacify the Peninsula once and for all.

In all, Rome controlled the Iberian Peninsula for roughly six hundred years, more than enough time to leave a lasting impression. Spain went through a thorough process of Romanisation that would last until the end of the Roman Empire half a millenium later. The only exception were the Basques or "Vascones" who were ignored because of the relative poverty of their lands compared to
City celtiberian
other parts of Spain.

ReferencesEdit

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