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Barbarian Europe

Castro Culture Economy & Customs

by Trish Wilson, 25 February 2023

Ancient Iberia's Castro culture was the 'culture of the hill forts', in northern Portugal and northern Spain.

While the preceding Bronze Age economy had been based on the exploitation and exportation of mineral local resources such as tin and copper, and on mass production and the long range distribution of prestige items, the Iron Age economy of the Castro culture was based on an economy of necessity goods, as most items and productions were obtained in situ, or interchanged via short range commerce.

In the southern coastal areas the presence of Mediterranean merchants from the sixth century BC onwards would have occasioned an increase in social inequality, bringing many importations, fine pottery, fibulae, wine, glass, and other products, along with technological innovations such as round granite millstones.

Pollen analysis confirms the Iron Age as being a period of intense deforestation in Galicia and northern Portugal, with meadows and fields expanding at the expense of woodland. Using three main type of tools - ploughs, sickles, and hoes - together with axes for woodcutting, the Castro inhabitants grew a number of cereals, wheat, millet, and possibly also rye for baking bread, as well as oats and barley which they also used for beer production.

They also grew beans, peas, and cabbage, along with flax for fabric and clothes production. Other vegetables were collected such as nettle and watercress. Huge quantities of acorns have been found hoarded in most hill forts as they were used for bread production once they had been toasted and crushed in granite stone mills.

Animal husbandry

The second pillar of the local economy was animal husbandry. Gallaecians bred cattle for meat, milk, and butter production. They also used oxen for dragging carts and ploughs, while horses were used mainly for human transportation.

They also bred sheep and goats, for meat and wool, and pigs for meat. Wild animals such as deer or boar were frequently chased. Fishing and collecting shellfish were important activities along coastal areas.

Strabo wrote that the people of northern Iberia used boats which were made of leather, probably similar to the Irish currach and Welsh coracles for local navigation. Archaeologists have found hooks and weights for nets, as well as the remains of salt-water fish stocks, which helps to confirm that the inhabitants of coastal areas were indeed fishermen.


Mining was an integral part of the culture. This attracted leading Mediterranean states, first the Phoenicians followed by the Carthaginians, and then the Romans. Gold, iron, copper, tin, and lead were the most common ores to be mined. Castro metallurgy refined the metals from ores and cast them to make various tools.

The Pyrenees as seen from the national park on the French side of the border
The Pyrenees (as seen here from the national park on the French side of the border) has presented a considerable obstacle to many migrating groups and campaigning armies, but there are paths across it, as the proto-Celtic Urnfield people and their Hallstatt culture successors found

During the initial centuries of the first millennium BC, bronze was still the most frequently-used metal, although iron was progressively being introduced. The main products include tools such as sickles, hoes, ploughs, and axes, along with domestic items such as knives and cauldrons, and weapons such as antenna swords and spearheads.

During the initial Iron Age phase, local artisans stopped producing some of the most characteristic Bronze Age items such as carp tongue, leaf-shaped and rapier swords, double-ringed axes, breastplates, and most jewellery.


Castro culture began developing jewellery of the Hallstatt type, but with a distinctive Mediterranean influence, especially in terms of the production of feminine jewellery. Some 120 gold torques are known, having been produced in three main regional styles, and frequently having large, void terminals which contain little stones which also allowed them to be used as rattles.

Other metal artefacts include antenna-hilted swords and knives, Montefortino helmets with local decoration, and sacrificial or votive axes with depictions of complex sacrificial scenes (similar to classical suovetauria, with torques, cauldrons, weapons, animals of various species, and string-like motifs).

Decorative motifs include rosettes, triskelions, Indo-European swastikas, spirals, and interlaces, as well as motifs which involved palm trees, herringbone patterns, and string patterns, many of which were still being carved in Romanesque churches, and are still used today in local folk art and traditional items in Galicia, Portugal, and northern Spain.

This depiction of Celtiberians ambushing Roman soldiers offers a glimpse of the bitter Roman battle to control Iberia after it had won the Punic Wars

These same motifs were also extensively used in stone decoration. Castro sculpture also reveals that the locals carved these figures in wood items, such as chairs, and wove them into their clothes.

While the use of stone for construction is an old tradition in Castro culture, dating from the earliest centuries of the first millennium BC, sculpture only became usual from the second century BC. This is especially true of the southern half of the territory, those areas which were associated with oppida.

Five main types were being produced, all of them in granite stone:

  • Guerreiros or 'warrior statues', usually representing a male warrior in a standing pose, holding ready a short sword and a caetra (small, local shield), and wearing a cap or helmet, torque, viriae (bracelets) and decorated shirt, skirt, and belt.
  • Sitting statues: these usually depict what is considered to be a god sitting on a decorated throne, wearing viriae or bracelets, and holding a cup or pot. Although the motives are autochthonous, their model is clearly Mediterranean. Nevertheless, unlike later intruding Gallaecian examples, the Iberian sitting statues usually depicts goddesses. A few statues of feminine divinities are also known, in the form of a naked woman, standing, wearing only a torque, as with the male warrior statues.
  • Severed heads: these are similar to the têtes coupées from France. They represent dead heads, and were usually located in the walls of ancient hill forts. They are still being found today, re-used near such walls. Unlike all other types, these are more common in the north.
  • Pedras formosas (literally 'beauty stones'), or elaborated and sculpted slabs which are used inside saunas, as the door frame of the inner room.
  • Architectural decoration: houses in the oppida of southern Galicia and northern Portugal frequently contain architectural elements which are engraved with geometric auspicious motives such as rosettes, triskelions, wheels, spirals, Indo-European swastikas, and string-like and interlaced designs, amongst others.

Pottery was produced locally in a variety of styles, although wealthier people also possessed imported Mediterranean products. The richest pottery was produced in the north, from the Rias Baixas region in Galicia to the Douro where decoration was frequently stamped and incised into pots and vases. Patterns used often revealed the town in which individual pots were produced.

Castro culture tribes

In the first century AD more than 700,000 people were living in the main Castro culture concentration areas, in hill forts and oppida.

The northern Gallaeci (Lucenses) were divided into sixteen populi or tribes which included the Lemavi, Albiones, Cibarci, Egivarri Namarini, Adovi, Arroni, Arrotrebae, Celtici Neri, Celtici Supertamarci, Capori/Copori, Celtici Praestamarci, Cilini/Cileni, Seurri, and Baedyes/Baedui.

The Astures were divided into two main divisions, Augustani and Transmontani. Together these comprised twenty-two populi: Gigurri, Tiburi, Susarri, Paesici, Lancienses, and Zoelae, amongst others.

The southern Gallaeci (Bracareses) were focussed mainly around the key oppida areas, being composed of twenty-four civitates which included the Helleni, Grovi, Leuni, Surbi, Bracari, Interamnici, Limici, Querquerni, Coelerni, Tamagani, Bibali, Callaeci, Equasei, and Caladuni.

Each populi or civitas was composed of a number of castella, each one being made up of one or more hill forts or oppida, with each populi by itself being an autonomous political chiefdom, probably under the direction of a chief and a senate.

Under Roman influence the tribes or populi apparently ascended to a major role, at the expense of the minor entities. Dating from the beginning of the first millennium AD a few Latin inscriptions have been found with individuals declaring themselves to be princes.


Names of some of the castles and oppida are known through the declaration of origin for those persons who are mentioned in epitaphs and votive Latin inscriptions (such as those at Berisamo, Letiobri, Ercoriobri, Louciocelo, Olca, Serante, Talabriga, Aviliobris, Meidunio, and Durbede), through the epithets of local gods in votive altars (as at Alaniobrica, Berubrico, Aetiobrigo, and Viriocelense), and the testimony of classic authors and geographers (regarding sites such as Adrobrica, Ebora, Abobrica, Nemetobriga, Brigantium, Olina, Caladunum, Tyde, Glandomirum, and Ocelum).

Roman circus in Toldeo
The Celtiberian settlement of Toletum was turned into a major city during the Roman domination of Iberia, with remains of the circus being seen here

More names can be inferred from modern place names, as with those which contain an evolution of the Celtic element 'brig' meaning 'hill' and which are characteristically used in the names of old hill forts, such as:

  • Tragove > O Grove > Ogrobre
  • Canzobre > Caranzobre
  • Cortobe
  • Lestrove > Landrove
  • Iñobre > Maiobre

Approximately half of pre-Latin toponyms in Roman Gallaecia were Celtic, while the rest were either non-Celtic West Indo-European, or mixed toponyms containing Celtic and non-Celtic elements.

Personal names

On the topic of local personal names, less than two hundred are known. Many of these are also present either in Lusitania, or amongst the Astures, or amongst the Celtiberians.

Whilst many of them have a confirmed Celtic etymology, one which is frequently related to war, fame, or valour, there is still a good deal of debate about language options, especially amongst the Lusitani, but also with the Astures, to be able to say anything for certain. Many names could indeed be Celtic or Lusitanian, or could even belong to another Indo-European-originated local language, but there may be much admixing, and there is certainly much uncertainty.

Among the most frequent names are:

  • Reburrus
  • Camalus (related to the Old Irish 'cam', meaning 'battle, encounter', while also being a Celtic deity name)
  • Caturus (from Celtic *katu-, meaning 'fight')
  • Cloutius (from Celtic *klouto-, meaning 'renown', with the derivatives Clutamus, 'very famous' and Cloutaius, and the composite Vesuclotus '[he who has] good fame')
  • Medamus, Boutius, Lovesius, Pintamus, Ladronus, and Apilus
  • Andamus (perhaps from Celtic 'and-amo-', meaning 'the undermost')
  • Bloena
  • Aebura or Ebura, and Albura
  • Arius, Caelius, and Caelicus (from Celtic *kaylo-, meaning 'omen')
  • Celtiatis, Talavius, or Viriatus

There are many others.

Astures warriors attack Romans
Astures warriors attack Roman troops in this modern illustration which also shows short trousers, an influence from the east, probably via Mesopotamia

A certain number of personal names are also exclusive to Gallaecia, among these are:

  • Artius (from Celtic *arktos, meaning 'bear')
  • Nantia and Nantius (from Celtic *nant-, meaning 'fight')
  • Cambavius (from Celtic *kambo-, meaning 'bent')
  • Vecius (probably Celtic, from proto-Indo-European (PIE) *weik-, meaning 'fight')
  • Cilurnius (from Celtic *kelfurn-, meaning 'cauldron')
  • Mebdius
  • Coralius (from PIE *koro-, meaning 'army')
  • Melgaecus (from PIE *hmelg-, meaning 'milk')
  • Loveius, Durbidia, Lagius, Laucius, or Aidius (from Celtic *aidu-, meaning 'fire')
  • Balcaius, and then also the composites Verotius, Vesuclotus, Cadroiolo, Veroblius

There are many more composite and derivative names.

Something which was very characteristic of the later peoples of the Castro culture (the Gallaecians and western Astures) was their onomastic formula.

Whilst the onomastic formula amongst Celtiberians is usually composed of a first name followed by a patronymic which is expressed as a genitive, and sometimes a reference to the gens, a complete individual's name within the Castro culture was composed as follows:

First name plus patronymic (genitive) plus [optional reference to the populi or nation (nominative)] plus 'castello' or its short form '>' plus the origin of the person in question equals the name of the castro (ablative).

So a name such as Caeleo Cadroiolonis F Cilenvs > Berisamo would stand for Cailios, son of Cadroyolo, a Cilenian, from the hill fort named Berisamos.

Other, similar anthroponymical patterns are known which refer mainly to persons who were born in the regions in-between the rivers Navia in Asturias and Douro in Portugal, the ancient Gallaecia region.

Carpetani warriors
This artist's impression depicts a selection of Carpetani warriors in various designs of armour and costume, some bearing influences which are Carthaginian or Roman


The religious pantheon was extensive and included local and pan-Celtic gods. Among the later ones the most relevant was Lugus.

Inscriptions have been found which carry dedications to this deity, whose name is frequently expressed as a plural dative (as Lugubo or Lucoubu). The votive altars containing such dedications frequently present three holes for gifts or sacrifices.

Other pan-European deities include Bormanicus (a god who was linked to hot springs), the Matres, and Sulis or Suleviae (Suleis Nantugaicis).

More numerous are votive inscriptions which are dedicated to the autochthonous Cosus, Bandua, Nabia, and Reue.

Hundreds of Latin inscriptions have survived which carry dedications to gods and goddesses. Archaeological finds such as ceremonial axes which are decorated with animal sacrificial scenes, together with severed head sculptures and the testimonies of classical authors, confirms the ceremonial sacrifice of animals. Such sacrifices probably include human sacrifice too, as amongst Lusitanians and Gauls.

Indigenous deities

The largest number of indigenous deities to be found across the entire Iberian peninsula are located in the Lusitanian-Galician regions.

Old models which proposed a fragmented and disorganised pantheon have been discarded, since the number of deities which occur together here is similar to other cases which involve other Celtic peoples in Europe and ancient civilisations in general.

Cosus, a male deity, was worshipped in coastal areas in which the Celtici dwelt, from the region around Aveiro and Porto and into northern Galicia. Seldom from inland areas, with the exception of the El Bierzo in Leon where this cult has been attributed to the known arrival of Galician miners, most notably from among the Celtici Supertamarici.

This deity has not been recorded in the same areas as has Bandua, Reue, and Nabia deities, and El Bierzo follows the same pattern as on the coast.

From a theonymical point of view, this suggests ethno-cultural differences between the coast and inland areas. With the exception of the Grovii people, Pomponius Mela stated that all of the populi were Celtic, and Cosus was not worshipped there. Pliny also rejected the idea that the Grovii were Celtic. He considered them to have a Greek origin.


The god Lugh was worshipped by many Celtic tribes across the entire breadth of their territories, from Slovakia to Iberia

Bandua is closely associated with Roman Mars, and is less frequently worshipped by women. The religious nature of Cosus had many similarities with that of Bandua. Bandua had a warlike character and was a defender of local communities. The worship of these two gods do not overlap but rather complemented one or the other, occupying practically the whole of the western Iberian peninsula.

In supporting the idea regarding its worship, no evidence has been found of any women worshipping at any of those monuments which have been dedicated to Cosus. Cosus sites are found near settlements, such as in Sanfins and the settlement near A Coruña.

Nabia had a double invocation, one male and one female. The supreme Nabia is related to Jupiter and another incarnation of the deity, one which has been identified with Diana, Juno, or Victoria, or others from the Roman pantheon, and which is linked to the protection and defence of the community or to health, wealth, and fertility.

Bandua, Reue, Arentius-Arentia, Quangeius, Munidis, Trebaurna, Laneana, and Nabia were all worshipped in the heart of Lusitania, and all vanished almost completely beyond the Lusitani border with the Vettones.

Bandua, Reue, and Nabia were worshipped in the core area of Lusitania (including the area between northern Extremadura and Beira Baixa, and in northern Lusitania), and reaching inland Galicia. The diffusion of these gods throughout the whole of the northern interior area shows a cultural continuity with central Lusitania.

Celtic Inscription

Stone RIG E-5 was found in Umbria in Italy, bearing an inscription both in Latin and Gaulish (using the Gallo-Etruscan alphabet), probably of the fourth or third centuries BC


Main Sources

Harry Mountain - The Celtic Encyclopaedia

David Rankin - Celts and the Classical World

Kristian Kristiansen - Europe Before History

Martin Amalgro Gorbea - War and Society in Celtiberia (E-Keltoi UWM)

Franciso Burillo Mozota - Los Celtiberos, etnias y estados

Alberto Lorrio Alvarado - Los Celtiberos

Ángel Montenegro et allii - Historia de España 2 - colonizaciones y formación de los pueblos prerromanos (1200-218 a.C.)

Online Sources

Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854)

Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish)

Celtiberia.net (in Spanish)

Hispanoteca.eu (in Spanish)

Euskomedia (in Spanish)



Images and text copyright © P L Kessler & Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson. An original feature for the History Files.