History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 0

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

 

 

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


While Iberian women themselves did not serve as mercenaries, there are nevertheless numerous reports by ancient writers, as there are with Celtic peoples, of women warriors in Iberia.

One of those writers was Decimus Junius Brutus, consul in 138 BC, whose new port of Portus Cale would provide the name for Portugal, reported that he found women fighters defending their cities alongside their men 'with such bravery that they uttered no cry even in the midst of slaughter'.

Particular mention was made of the women of the Bracari tribe, one of the Gallaeci whose women were also fighting against Brutus 'never turning, never, never showing their backs, or uttering a cry'.

They would prefer death to captivity, even killing their own children before killing themselves and the whole tribal unit. The Gallaeci were reported as 'going to war along with their wives' a not dissimilar situation which was to arise in Britain two centuries later (with Boudicca).

In another report which was cited by Polyaenus and later by Plutarch, mention is made of the Salamantine women and the ruse they used against Hannibal and the invading Carthaginians. The citizens surrendered and began to leave the city, but what the Carthaginians were not aware of while they were busy sacking the city was what the women were concealing under their clothes - swords.

These were swiftly handed to the men who then went on the attack, taking the busy Carthaginians by surprise and killing many before retreating to the mountains. Hannibal was so impressed that he provided both humanity and humane treatment which is more than the Romans did in their treatment of the Cantabri.

Possibly Rome's biggest problem was not understanding what could be called the Celtic mindset, not just in Iberia but elsewhere such as Britain. It has to be said that the revolts in Iberia, be it from Celtiberians, Lusitani, or Cantabri, were all down to the over-bearing behaviour of the Romans.

It was the same mindset that Caesar found himself up against in Gaul. Horace commented that the 'Cantabrian does not know how to bear our yoke'.

Indeed it could be said with a certain degree of truth that the Iberian mercenaries are still with us, given that both today's Spain and Portugal are members of Nato, whose military have taken part in operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and, in one case, very much following in the footsteps of their ancestors, with some Iberian auxiliaries having served in Moesia, today Serbia.

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)

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.