History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

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.

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Arevaci / Arevacos (Celtiberians)

FeatureCeltic migration across Europe was a slow, constant process which took place over a millennium or so. Celtic tribes (see feature link) probably arrived in Iberia in two waves, the first traditionally placed around 900 BC. More recent thought tends to identify the early arrivals as Indo-European or proto-Celtic tribes (who would have been part of the Urnfield culture), and argues for a process of infiltration over an extended period, from around 1000 to 300 BC, rather than invasions.

The first arrivals appear to have established themselves in Catalonia, having probably entered via the eastern passages of the Pyrenees. Later groups (more identifiably Celtic and part of the Hallstatt expansion and migrations) ventured west through the Pyrenees to occupy the northern coast of the peninsula, and south beyond the Ebro and Duero basins as far as the Tagus valley.

The Arevaci are normally classed as being a Celtic tribe, doubtless with some Iberian influences. They were located between the Iberian system and the Douro Valley, having settled in the central meseta in the eastern-centre of the peninsula. They were neighboured to the north by the Pelondones and Berones, to the east by the Suessetani and Lusones, to the south and south-east by the Belli, Titti, and Uraci, and to the west by the mighty Vaccaei who were allies of theirs.

Shown as Arevakos, Arvatkos, or Areukas in Greek sources, with some scholars suspecting that the Arevaci arrived in Iberia at about the same time as the Vaccaei, further suspicion has arisen that the Arevaci were actually a Vaccaei offshoot. From this the tribal name has been extrapolated as 'Are-Vaccaei' or 'eastern' Vaccaei.

However, an alternative etymology is given by Pliny the Elder who calls them Celtiberi Arevaci, adding that they borrowed their name from the River Areva (Avriana) and, therefore, that their designation could be translated as 'those who dwell at the Areva' or 'on the Areva'.

A number of Arevaci settlements are known, with the key ones being included here: Clunia and Segóbriga, both in the province of Burgos; Numantia (seemingly disputed between them and the Pelondones, with the latter certainly holding it in later years), Ágreda, Uxama (a Castro site), Segontia Lanka, and Tiermes, all in the province of Soria; Caesada, Lutia, and Segontia, all in the province of Guadalajara; Contrebia Leucade in the province of La Rioja; and Pallantia in the province of Palencia, now the town of Palenzuela.

FeatureOriginally this was located on a steep hill which was surrounded by walls. It has the most important pre-Roman necropolis in the province (see feature link for more on Arevaci culture).

The ruins of Numantia in Iberia

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Peter Kessler, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from The Celtic Encyclopaedia, Harry Mountain, from A Genetic Signal of Central European Celtic Ancestry, David K Faux, from Celts and the Classical World, David Rankin, from Europe Before History, Kristian Kristiansen, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Lista de pueblos prerromanos de Iberia (in Spanish, Hispanoteca.eu), and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

5th century BC

In this century, the latter stages of the Gaulish migration into Iberia sees several tribes or splinters of tribes arriving to swell the eventual Celtiberian mix in eastern-central Spain. Some, like the Olcades and Uraci, dominate local Iberian tribes in the form of a new ruling elite, while others settle alongside such tribes and eventually pick up second-hand Iberian influences.

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

Like their neighbours, the Arevaci are thought to be formed by a mixture of proto-Celtic (Urnfield culture) arrivals from across the Pyrenees - perhaps arriving here at about the same time as the ancestors of the Vaccaei - and autochthonous Bronze Age Iberian elements.

To this is added further admixtures of the later, Hallstatt culture arrivals from Gaul, long before the arrival of the final wave of Gaulish immigrants which provide the impetus for the creation of Celtiberian culture between the Douro and the Ebro.

4th century BC

Towards the end of the century and into the early third century BC the focus of Arevaci expansion is towards the east, towards the upper Duero, and southwards into the central Iberian mountain system. They displace the Pelondones, conquering the towns of Savia (possibly Soria) and Numantia.

They also force the Uraci to submit, thereby gaining control over the strategic town of Aregrada (perhaps Agreda in the province of Soria). As clients, the Uraci are forced to provide military service to the Arevaci during their second century wars.

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)

200s - 100s BC

The Titti join their neighbours, including the Arevaci (and their Uraci clients), Belli, and Lusones, in the Celtiberian confederation in the third or second centuries BC. All of these tribes will fight alongside each other in the forthcoming Celtiberian Wars against an increasingly intrusive Roman presence in the peninsula.

Prior to that, the Titti at least may be allies to or subjects of the brief Carthaginian dominance of parts of Iberia which is ended by the Second Punic War.

182 - 179 BC

Praetor Quintus Fulvius Flaccus arrives in Iberia with a new army, determined to take on the Celtiberians (Belli, Carpetani and others). He succeeds in capturing the city of Urbicua, to which the Celtiberians respond by raising an army of 35,000.

In order to meet this threat, Flaccus increases his own force to include as many auxiliary units as he is able to raise from friendly tribes.

Then he moves to the Carpetani capital of Carpetania where he defeats the Celtiberian army near Aebura (Talavera de la Reina). Celtiberian losses amount to 23,000 dead and 4,700 captured, against minimal losses amongst the Roman forces. Flaccus captures the city before heading to the city of Contrebia (possibly Contrebia Carbica in Fosos de Bayona, Cuenca, where remains have been found).

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

The First Celtiberian War (181-179 BC) is underway, with the Arevaci, Belli, Lusones, Pelondones, and Titti especially pushing back against the aggressive Roman presence in Iberia (the Lobetani role in the wars is entirely unknown). A Celtiberian force has been sent to assist the city but is delayed by intemperate weather.

Instead it is caught out by the Romans, leading to further immense losses. Flaccus subsequently moves into Celtiberian territory, ravaging the countryside and destroying as many forts as he can before he moves into the territory of the Lusones.

154 - 133 BC

FeatureThe Numantine War is the final major conflict in the Celtiberian Wars. It is triggered in 154 BC when the Celtiberians of Numantia revolt against Roman domination. The Lusitanian War takes place alongside it, both helped along by large numbers of Iberian Mercenaries (see feature link).

Balearics slinger
The effective weapon of the Balearic warrior was the sling, with each man carrying three, wound around the head according to Strabo or, according to Diodorus, one around the head, one around the body, and one in the hand

A lull occurs between 151-143 BC before the Numantine War flares up again. The Arevaci are the principle participants but in the end it is largely a case of unified Celtiberians against Romans.

In 137 BC when a combined Cantabri-Vaccaei contingent is on its way to counter a siege of Numantia (primarily the home of the Pelondones), such is the panic in the Roman lines that the commander, Consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus, is forced to surrender on humiliating terms. However, the final, now-hopeless siege of Numantia sees many of the Celtiberian defenders commit suicide rather than surrender.

1st century BC

The Celtiberian tribes organise themselves into a federation of ten autonomous mountain-top fortified towns or civitates. These are located on the mountain ranges of the upper Ebro, protected by stout adobe-type walls such as those which survive at the site of Numantia.

Ruins of the Celtiberian city of Numantia in Spain
The city of Numantia dates back in its earliest form to around 2000 BC, with Celtiberian control beginning in the first millennium BC when the Arevaci tribe built a grand stone-and-mud city over the earlier site, although today only the later, Roman city is generally visible

The Autrigones are forced into entering this federation despite not being Celtiberians, although the nearby Berones remain free of it.

Remaining warlike as ever, the Lusones continue to plot with the Arevaci and Pelondones in various anti-Roman uprisings which rock Celtiberia throughout most of the century. These revolts serve only to weaken Lusones military might.

c.92 BC

The Uraci begin to remove themselves from the Arevaci yoke. Possibly this is either at Roman instigation or with Roman assistance, and is in return for Uraci assistance to the Romans in suppressing the anti-Roman uprisings in the early first century BC.

As their reward the Uraci receive the Pelondones town of Numantia, although after the various destructive wars of recent decades it is little more than ruins. Their newfound independence, however, lasts only briefly.

The River Henares, close to Madrid
The River Henares, shown here to the immediate north-east of Madrid, is a less impressive watercourse farther north, in the former territory of the Uraci

80 - 72 BC

The Sertorian War in Hispania causes the Celts of Mediterranean Gaul to be subjected to troop levies and forced requisitions in order to support the military efforts of Metellus Pius, Pompeius, and other Roman commanders against the rebels.

In Iberia the Berones and Autrigones oppose Quintus Sertorius until he is driven out of Iberia. Celtiberian tribes also take part, such as the Arevaci, Lusones, and Pelondones. However, some Celtic polities, including, remarkably, the Helvii, support Sertorius and they pay the price for their support after his assassination.

The Helvii and Volcae Arecomisci are forced to cede a portion of their territory to the Greek city state of Messalina. Caesar mentions this land forfeiture but does not provide any details of the Helvii actions against Rome.

27 BC

With Rome's civil wars having concluded, Augustus formally establishes three provinces in Iberia. These consist of Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis, Hispania Ulterior Lusitania (which largely corresponds to today's Portugal, albeit with extensions into Extremadura in south-western Spain), and Hispania Ulterior Baetica (generally matching today's Andalusia. Citerior and Lusitania are imperial provinces while Baetica is a senatorial province.

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to that city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

The Pelondones are included in the first of these, with the Roman colony of Augustobriga (today's Muro de Agreda) being established by Augustus within their territory. The tribe seems not to receive any further mentions in history. It is highly likely that imperial rule weakens its identity enough so that it can eventually be absorbed by the Arevaci.

However, despite seeming to survive as an identifiable unit for that long, the Arevaci themselves fade out of existence prior to the end of Roman imperial authority in Iberia and the establishment of the vast Visigoth kingdom.

Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.