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The Lusitanians were a group of tribes who were settled in what is today central Portugal.The clashes between Rome and the Lusitanians, eventually leading to the conquest of Lusitania by the former, first began in the wake of the Second Punic War when Carthaginian influence in Iberia was effectively liquidated, leaving the Romans a free hand. For 10 years or so (from 147BCE–138BCE) the Lusitanians in the west put up a spirited fight under a leader called Viriathus. Employing guerrilla tactics, Viriathus caused a lot of damage as he moved his troops swiftly over large areas of the south and south-west of the peninsula. Never beaten by the Romans in battle, Viriathus met his end when he was murdered in his sleep.

Who were the Lusitanians?Edit

Because they themselves left almost no written records (the only sources available to us regarding their existence being written by outsiders, especially Romans) very little factual evidence on the Lusotanni, or rather, the Lusitanians although contemporary opinion hoilds that they must have been culturally similar to the Celtiberians who surrounded them north, east, and south. Even so, inscriptions found in central Portugal — the known range of the Lusitanians — have been discovered and were found to have had similarities to the languages of pre-Roman Italy, suggesting a possible link to the Italic tribes, although it could also be said that they were also somewhat influenced by Celtic culture.

Much has been said but little has been confirmed as regards to the origins of the Lusitanians, and their relations to the other inhabitants of pre-classical Spain, leaving their early history debatable at best. One theory suggests that they were descended from European Celts or Germans who had travelled south-west from central Europe. Another stated that the Lusitanians were not descended from Celts, but from the Indo-Aryan tribes who had already colonised Asia Minor.

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.

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.

Lords of the Western HillsEdit

Strabo was the most eminent source regarding the history of the Lusitanians with some authority. He described them as "the greatest of Iberian tribes, that the Romans fought for a long time". Considered as the finest Iberian warriors in terms of guerrilla tactics, their influence extended through the fertile lands around the river Tagus, comprising what is now north and central Portugal, and wide regions of west central Spain.

While the coastal regions on the shores of the Mediterranean could boast large cities that were soon Hellenicised or Punicised, small fortified villages (called castros) dominated the north and west of the Celtiberian world with round houses of wood and, later, stone construction which would also have been employed by the Lusitanians to build their homes. 

The most common form of social organisation was a quasi-feudal system somewhat similar to that elsewhere in northern and eastern Europe, with a ruling tribal aristocracy and clients who were engaged in hunting, fishing, herding or warfare. Even so, various authors stated that Lusitanian society was unusually egaliatarian, As mentioned before, The Lusitanians were ruled over by tribal chieftains to whom clients swore fealty, but in times of war their military leaders were chosen by an assembly of the whole population. Contrary to many other tribes or tribal confederations, the caudilho (military commander) of the Lusitanii could be or not of the noble class. He was choosen for his bravery, skill in battle, inteligence and popularity amongst the population, before his ascendency was taken in to consideration. 


Lusitanii were known by their neighbours as expert pillagers and raiders. This behaviour was motivated by the uneven distribution of wealth among them, the lack of open and fertile agricultural fields in their own territory, as well as the greater material wealth displayed by their more industrious and commercial southern and coastal populations.For this reason, Diodorus Siculus stated that the Lusitanians rarely fielded forces en masses, preferring hit-and-run tactics and the use of light infantry and cavalry. A very frequent tactic consisted of harassing the enemy army using fast hit-and-run incursions to strike specific detachments at unexpected places and situations. This had the objective of tiring and trimming down their forces before a previously planned encirclement and assault was made by the whole army.

Romans who challenged the Lusitanians without any due forethought were soon taught bloody lessons by warriors such as Punicus, commander of an alliance of Lusitanii and Vetonii that devastated the Beaturia and Betica in 154BCE or of the likes of Caesarus, commander of the northern Lusitanii tribes, whose victories against the Romans motivated the Celtiberian tribes and the southern Lusitanii (commanded by Caucenus) to join in their efforts against Rome. These victories lead to the pillaging of Turdetania that would continue during the time of Viriathus, of whom history has been much kinder, due to his role in fighting the Romans. Legend has it that Viriathus was a shepherd and became leader after escaping a massacre of some 8,000 unarmed Lusitanians by the Romans in 150 BCE. How and why exactly this massacre took place is unclear. Some say that it was a reprisal, others say that it was that Galba made false promises of peace and lands to the Lusitanii who then slaughtered the tribesmen when they were unarmed, earning the vengeful ire of Viriathus.

In any case, Viriathus developed a hatred for Rome, and persuaded his countrymen to resist Roman rule. Viriathus’s fighting tactics have since been described as the first example of the Spanish guerrilla fighter, and for many Spaniards and Portuguese, he has become an early instance of a “national” hero. Gathering the Lusitanii under his command, he defeated the Romans in 147BC and started an elusive war that surprised and humiliated the Roman invaders. During the next two years he established control over a vast area, the victories of Viriathus encouraging the Celtiberians to renew their resistance to Rome.

Then, in 140BC, the Senate sent an army under Fabius Maximus Servilianus, which Viriatus succeeded in trapping. Instead of destroying this army, he allowed the Romans to leave but demanded to Fabius that he and the Lusitanii would be considered amicus populi romani and that their conquered territories be recognised by Rome — all considered an affront to Rome.

The LegacyEdit

As usual, the Senate repudiated the treatey with Viriathus, and Viriathus attempted to renegotiate, sending three envoys to negotiate with the Roman authoritie under Quintus Servillius Scipio, who bribed them to murder Viriathus. They never enjoyed their reward. When the assassins got back to consul Quintus Servilius Scipio after having assassinated Viriathus, Servillius had them put to death, saying: "Rome does not reward traitors".

The death of Viriathus marked the beginning of the end of Lusitanii resistance, but not of its myth. </span>Even though they were subjugated, Viriathus' successes and the stalwart resistance proffered by the Lusitanians ensured that their memory would live on for ages: during the Peninsular War, Portuguese auxiliaries in British service were known as the "Lusitanian Legions". In a similar vein, the Portuguese volunteers who went to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War almost 100 years after Wellington and Napoleon were named Viriatos, after the fabled chief Viriathus himself. A bronze statue now stands in the main square of Zamora (western Spain, on the river Duero) to celebrate the exploits of the shepherd turned indomitable hero who was never defeated by the Romans in battle.


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