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Rome subdues the Iberians

By Nick Nutter | 6 Sep 2018

Romans in Andalucia 208BC – 100BC

During the Second Punic War the native tribes in Hispania had alternatively supported the Carthaginians and the Romans, depending on who at the time was offering the most rewards. After the war they found that the Romans were not backward in exploiting the mineral wealth of the conquered regions and in taxing the local tribes. In spite of the enlightened manner in which Rome colonised its conquered territories the locals all turned against the Romans.

Within the area now called Andalucia the rapid conquest, suppression of tribes supporting the Carthaginians and subsequent colonisation meant that there was no centre of resistance but around the borders of that territory the Lusitani to the north west, the Celtiberians to the north east and the Iberians to the east were by no means subdued and would not be for nearly 200 years. The Iberians were the dominant native group in Andalucia and consisted of a number of tribes primarily the Bastetani who occupied the present day Almeria and Granada regions and the most powerful tribe, the Turdetani who were located in the Guadalquivir river valley.

Politically and culturally the Iberians were influenced by the Greek and Phoenician cultures they had contact with before the Romans arrived and had one of the two pre Roman alphabets found in Hispania, the other being the Tartessian alphabet. Unlike the Tartessians though the Iberians never formed one state preferring the monarchy led city state model of ancient Greece. The armies that these tribes could field consisted of cavalry supported by infantry armed with javelins, slings and dirks and wearing light armour.

In 197 BC the Turdetani rebelled and were soon followed by more tribes in central and northeast Hispania. Consul Marcus Porcius Cato was sent by Rome to take command of the whole peninsula and successfully put down the revolt returning to Rome in 194 BC leaving a praetor in charge of each of the two provinces. Cato’s procession through Rome included a baggage train that carried his spoils; 25,000 pounds weight of silver, 1,400 pounds weight of gold and 177,000 silver coins. Cato also paid his cavalry 1,610 bronze coins per man and his infantry 270 bronze coins per man. Cato was famously cruel whilst subduing the Turdetani with many accounts of massacres of surrendered victims and Cato himself claiming to have destroyed more towns in Hispania than he had spent days in the country.

The Lusitani were next to take up arms against Rome and managed to penetrate Andalucia as far as the mouth of the Baetis (Guadalquivir) river in 189 BC. At times allied with the Celtiberians, the war, which was really a series of inconclusive skirmishes, dragged on until around 133 BC. Probably the most famous figure to emerge was Viriathus, a Lusitanian shepherd who persuaded 10,000 Lusitanians to fight the Romans. He carried on a guerrilla war against huge odds for eight years, eventually taking a number of towns in the Cordoba area. He was killed in 139 BC by one of his friends who had been bribed by the Romans to undertake the dirty deed. A period of relative peace and prosperity followed the civil wars and a number of towns were built soon after including Baelo Claudia.

Baelo Claudia is situated on the Atlantic coast overlooking the bay of Bolonia and was a busy fishing town after its construction at the end of the 2nd Century BC. Not only was it the link between Tingi (Tangiers) and Hispania it was also an important source of salt, salted fish and that peculiar fish sauce, garum. Apparently the Phoenicians developed a recipe for garum that used salted, fermented, mackerel entrails that was considered superior to any other and although they had been supplanted first by the Carthaginians and they in turn by the Romans, the recipe survived on the coast of Hispania Ulterior and it was this particular garum that was in greatest demand amongst the upper classes of Roman society. Today almost half the 13 hectares have been excavated and it is possible to walk around the forum, temples, market place, taverns, basilica, baths and fish-processing factory. Much of the self guided tour is on the original roads, the main thoroughfare, running east to west was grandly called Decumanus Maximus. The theatre set on the hill with magnificent views over the bay must have been one of the finest in Hispania. The site is considered one of the best and most complete Roman urban sites in Spain.

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