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European Kingdoms

Iberian Tribes


Astures Cismontani (Hispano-Celts)
Incorporating the Amaci, Baedunienses, Brigaentin, Cabruagenici, Iburri, Lanciences, Lougei, Luggones, Orniaci, Salaeni, & Saldanici

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 Astures were a mixed Hispano-Celtic tribal confederation which was located in the peninsula's north-west, on the northern Atlantic coast. Following the arrival of the Romans, the confederation was catalogued into two groups according to which side they occupied of the mountain range known as Picos de Europa.

The Transmontani were 'beyond the mountains' from the Roman point of view, while the Cismontani were on 'this side'. Following Roman conquest the latter were also referred to as the Astures Augustani.

The origins of the Astures are unclear, but the usual mix for this part of Iberia is likely. Native Iberian Bell Beaker horizon folk would have been dominated by arriving bands of proto-Celts (Urnfield culture) and Hallstatt Celts and, perhaps even earlier than this, West Indo-European Proto-Italics, probably of the Bell Beaker culture. Modern scholars classify them similarly to their neighbours, the Gallaeci, making them Q-Celtic-speakers.

The Astures Cismontani consisted of a number of smaller tribes or clans. These included the Amaci, presumed to be living around today's Asturica Amak (Astorga in Leon). Their only-known clan was the Saldanici. The Baedunienses were located around Baedunia, although the precise location of this civitas has several viable options.

The Brigaentin (or Brigaenci) had as their principal civitas Brigaccium in north-eastern Zamora (the southernmost part of Astures territory). The Cabruagenici (perhaps a division of the Zoelae - see below) and the Iburri are both little known, being stuck as they were between the Gigurri (a much larger Cismontani tribe) and the Zoelae.

The Lanciences were located in Leon, to the east of Astorga, and with a principal civitas at Lancia. The Lougei lived in western Leon, around Burbia (not to be confused with the Superati clan of the Lougii). The Luggones (not to be confused with the Transmontani Luggones) lived in the province of Leon, around the valley of the River Duerna.

The Orniaci were located between the River Ernia (Eria) and the River Ornia. The Saelini are disputed, with a smaller group of historians claiming them as Cantabri. Finally, there was also the aforementioned Superati, plus the Susarri, Tiburi, and Zoelae.

The ruins of Numantia in Iberia

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The La Tene Celtic Belgae Tribes in England: Y-Chromosome Haplogroup R-U152 - Hypothesis C, David K Faux, from Spain: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, Roger Collins, from Los pueblos de la España antigua, Juan Santos Yanguas, from Culinaria Spain, Marion Trutter (Ed), from Cultural Atlas of Spain and Portugal, Mary Vincent & RA Stradling, from The Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe, from Celtic from the West - Chapter 9, John Koch, from Los Celtiberos, Alberto J Lorrio, from Lo que sabemos de la lucha de lenguas en la Peninisula Ibérica, Llorente Antonio Tovar, from Consideraciones sobre geografia e historia de la España Antigua, Llorente Antonio Tovar, from Los pueblos celtas del Noroeste de la Peninsula Iberica, Manuel Alberro, from Las Guerras Cantabras, Martin Almagro Gorbea et alli, and from External Links: E-Keltoi (digital magazine provided by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Center for Celtic Studies, using the following articles: The Celts in Portugal, Teresa Judice Gamito, and The Celts in Iberia - An Overview, Alberto J Lorrio & Gonzalo Ruiz Zapatero, and Oppida and Celtic Society in Western Spain, Jesus R Alvarez Sanchis, and also Celtic Elements in North Western Spain in pre-Roman times, Marco García Quintela), and Ethnology of the Iberian Peninsula c.200 BC, Fraga da Silva Luis, and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars.)

c.700 BC

Celtic migration into Iberia begins around this period, at the end of the Atlantic Bronze Age. In some areas it overlies previous proto-Celtic Urnfield migrations of around the beginning of the millennium.

The migration into Iberia is not sudden, but is more a general progression of Hallstatt culture tribes arriving at the Pyrenees and forcing their way across. These Hallstatt Celts remain undisturbed by the later La Tène culture Celts until Iberia is conquered by Rome.

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

These arrivals venture west through the Pyrenees to occupy the northern coast of the peninsula, where the people they find and dominate are probably Iberian natives mixed with West Indo-Europeans who are of the dominant pre-Celtic Proto-Italic group. Forming part of the Astures confederation, the various Cismontani tribes quickly join the prevailing Castro culture here.

The Amaci sub-tribe of the Cismontani group emerge around Asturica Amak (the later Astorga in Leon). They exist mainly on the back of stock-keeping, on land not far from the mountain known as El Teleno. Today there are a number of surviving, albeit unexcavated, castros in this vicinity.

The Baedunienses have their principal civitas at Baedunia, today either San Martin de Torres or nearby Cebrones del Rio, around thirty kilometres south-east of Leon's Astorga (Asturica Augusta to the Romans). Other valid archaeological sites also exist at nearby Vellica de la Vega and La Baneza, locating this tribe's territory in the southern half of Leon.

The Brigaentin create the civitas of Brigaccium, although its location is uncertain. It is usually thought of as being located around the municipality of Fuentes de Ropel, in north-eastern Zamora, the site of a castro. The location is about thirty kilometres to the south-east of San Martin de Torres.

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)

The Cabruagenici remain something of a mystery, although it is suspected that they emerge as a clan of the Zoelae before creating their own civitas around Cabrera in Leon, around sixty-four kilometres to the north-east of city of Leon. Their neighbours are the Gigurri, plus the Orniaci (see below) and the Zoelae.

Little is known of the Iburri other than their being situated between two powerful neighbours, the Gigurri and Zoelae, with territory which comprises part of eastern Ourense and northern Zamora.

The Lanciences, it has been theorised, are subject to division upon their entry into Iberia. One group heads west to form part of the Astures Cismontani while the other heads south-west to become the Lusitani (known also as the Lancienses Oppidani).

The Astures portion lives in eastern Leon, about sixty-four kilometres to the east of Astorga, with their principal civitas being known as Lancia.

The Lougei are little known other than the fact that they live in western Leon, around Burbia, in the locality known as the Ancares. They appear not to be important in the Astures story.

The Luggones are not to be confused with the Transmontani Luggones. This particular group emerges in the province of Leon, around the valley of the River Duerna and the modern town of Villamontan de la Valduerna.

River Duerna
The River Duerna is formed by the convergeance of the Cabrito and Ballina streams in the town of Pobladura de la Sierra in Spain (External Link: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0))

The Orniaci occupy areas of eastern Leon between the River Ernia (Eria) and the River Ornia, the latter being the old version of today's River Duerna, to the south of Astorga in the comarca (region) of Valduerna. Claims that the tribe gives its name to the river may be a reversal of the truth.

According to the map of the Conventus Asturum, the Saelini are the most northerly of the Astures Cismontani. Ptolemy, on the other hand, places them in today's province of Zamora, with some historians claiming them as Cantabri.

Adolf Schulten is of the view that they live to the west of the River Sella, which would indeed make them Astures, while Joaquin Gonzalez Echegaray places them in the valley of the Rio Besaya which is Cantabri territory. The majority view, though, sides with the Astures.

221 - 72 BC

Carthaginian dominance in areas of Iberia sees them employing Astures mercenaries (their first historical mention). However, Astures history during the subsequent Second Punic War is unknown, as is their part - if any - in the later Celtiberian Wars (181-179 BC and 154-151 BC), the Lusitanian War (155-139 BC), or the Sertorian War (80-72 BC). They are too far removed to enter notably into Roman records of wars in the east of Iberia.

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

29 - 19 BC

Cantabri raids have continued against their wealthier neighbours to the ongoing annoyance of the Roman authorities. Now, under the command of Corocotta, they also support the Vaccaei anti-Roman revolt of this year. This along with Astures resistance is enough for Rome, sparking the Cantabrian Wars between 29-19 BC (also referred to as the Cantabrian & Asturian Wars).

The Lanciences tribe provides the focus of Astures resistance against the Romans during the course of the wars. Their chief settlement of Lancia becomes the centre of the resistance movement until it falls and most subsequent resistance has to come from mountain strongholds.

In spring 25 BC the Astures revolt. The Romans are forewarned by the Brigaentin division of Astures and are able to repel the attack. The finish comes in 19 BC.

Following the conclusion of the Cantabrian and Asturian Wars, the Amaci tribal capital of Asturica Amak is renamed as Asturica Augusta, in honour of Rome's first citizen and the tribe's chief conqueror.

Santa Tegra
Following their arrival in Iberia in the fifth century AD, the Suevi found themselves in a rocky landscape in Gallaecia, with settlements made up of Celtic stone houses like this example from Santa Tegra near the Portuguese border

AD 418 - 718

In the post-Roman period the Astures provide a great deal of trouble to Germanic invaders, the Suevi and Visigoths. The latter enforce their participation within their new kingdom but the Astures continue to rebel.

The fall of the Visigoth kingdom in AD 711-714 does not result in the fall of the Astures. Instead, they form their own Christian kingdom of Asturias in AD 718 and continue to fend off the latest round of invaders.

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