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The Celtiberians were a Celtic people living in the Iberian Peninsula, chiefly in what is now north central Spain, before and during the Roman Empire. The group originiated when Celts migrated from what is now France and integrated with the local Iberian people.

The Celtiberian language is attested from the first century BC. Two other possibly Celtic languages, Tartessian and Lusitanian, were also spoken in pre-Roman Iberia. The Lusitanii gave their name to Lusitania, the Roman province name covering current Portugal and Extremadura. Extant tribal names include the Arevaci, Belli, Titti, and Lusones.


The earliest Celtic presence in Iberia was that of the southeastern Almería culture of the Bronze Age. In the 10th century BCE, a fresh wave of Celts migrated into the Iberian peninsula and penetrated as far as Cadiz, bringing aspects of La Tène culture with them and adopting much of the culture they found. 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 Galicia to the Basque Country. Classical geographers like Posidonius and Strabo considered these the most primitive, and modern ethnographers recognize the distinguishing iron tools and extended family social structure of developed Celtiberian culture as evolving from this archaic "proto-Celtic" base (Almagro-Gorbea and Lorrio).

The resulting Celtiberian culture was fully defined by the 6th century BCE, when the castros evinced a new permanence with stone walls and protective ditches. Mute 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 nations from the 3rd century centered upon fortified oppida and representing a wide ranging degree of local assimilation with the autochtonous 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 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, the people 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 Botorrita, Segeda, Tiernes [1] complement the grave goods found in Celtiberian cemeteries, where aristocratic tombs of the sixth-fifth centuries give way to warrior tombs with a tendency from the third 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.

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 BCE.

From the 3rd 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 mint 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 under Hannibal's command. As a result of the defeat of Carthage, the Celtiberians first submitted to Rome in 195 BC; In 182 to 179 T. Sempronius Gracchus spent years 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), 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, 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.


  • Antonio Arribas, The Iberians 1964.
  • J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans (Thames & Hudson, 1989), ISBN 0-500-05052-X

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