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Barbarian Europe

Iberian Mercenaries

by Trish Wilson, 26 December 2023

Iberian Mercenaries
A FIVE PART FEATURE:
Part 1: Overview
Part 2: History
Part 3: Infantry
Part 4: Cavalry
Part 5: Women Warriors


In contrast to the warfare of various powers in the Mediterranean to extend their own empires, that of the Iberians was more banditry and warriors, whether as vassals or as mercenaries.

It is due to this fact that Iberian armies were usually small in comparison to those of other Mediterranean powers, often being formed around specific chieftains and war leaders whom they venerated, such as Viriathus of Lusitania. Nonetheless these forces could be very effective against the major Mediterranean powers, particularly in the matter of their guerrilla tactics.

Iberian infantry was usually lightly armoured, with light equipment which granted them mobility and speed, great for running attacks and skirmishes even though their weapons and shields made it possible to engage in close combat and in massed fights.

One such occasion was that of Iberian mercenaries in the vanguard of Hannibal's army at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. Balearic slingers supported them from behind.

Even the Lusitani, well-known as skirmishers, could surprise on occasion as cited by Paulus Orosius, Roman historian and cleric (AD 385-420), himself of Iberian origin:

After the triumphant Lusitanians had dispersed in safety, one became greatly separated from his colleagues. He was surrounded by cavalrymen, but though he was on foot, he ran through one of their horses with his javelin and beheaded the trooper with a single blow of his sword. In this way he struck all of them with fear and walked away in contemptuous and leisurely fashion as they looked on.

Their swordsmanship was also acknowledged by ancient writers. Those Iberians who lived along the east coast, the Iberians proper, such as the Bastetani and Edetani, used the sword which was known as the falcata. This was much prized by Hannibal, while the Celtic tribes used the sword type which came to be known as the gladius hispaniensis, later to be adopted by the Roman military for its excellence both in cutting and stabbing.

Armour was usually light and made of leather, and shields were used in two main forms: one was the small, round caetra, which gave its owners the Roman name of caetrati, while the other was the heavier, oval scutum, similar to the thyreos, used by soldiers in the Eastern Mediterranean, or the Gallic long-shield, whose carriers would be called scutarii.

Map of Iberian Tribes 300 BC
The Iberian peninsula prior to the Carthaginian invasion and partial conquest was a melange of different tribal influences (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Balearic slingers would use hardened leather shields tied to an arm in order to leave both hands free to use their slings. The Balearians were legendary slingers amongst the rest of the Iberian tribes. They were taught from childhood to use with accuracy slings of several sizes.

The story goes that their mothers wouldn't let them eat until they had knocked a loaf out of a tree, and they were later employed to throw stones which were heavier than many other slingmen of the time, weighing around one mina (436g).

In the matter of the bow and arrow which was introduced by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, this was very rarely used, if at all, and was possibly limited to hunting.

Celtic warriors had two other effective weapons, one which was used by Celtic tribes elsewhere: their pre-battle hollering to intimidate their enemies; and to cover themselves in orange war paint, similar to the Britons and their use of woad.

A FIVE PART FEATURE:
Part 1: Overview
Part 2: History
Part 3: Infantry
Part 4: Cavalry
Part 5: Women Warriors

 

Main Sources

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 (BC))

 

 

     
Images and text copyright © Trish Wilson except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.