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European Kingdoms

Iberian Tribes


Astures Transmontani (Hispano-Celts)
Incorporating the Argamoneci, Berisoni, Cabarci, Caelionicaeci, Paenii, Paesici, Penii, & Quetani

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 the eventual Roman conquest the latter were also referred to as the Astures Augustani. 'Beyond the mountains' in this case related to territory between the River Navia and the central massif of the Picos de Europa section of the Cordillera Cantabrica (Cantabrian Range).

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 Transmontani consisted of a number of smaller tribes or clans. These included the Cabarci, although very little is known about them. Some consider them to be a clan of the Luggones (another Transmontani tribe), although others prefer to label them a tribe, with a single known clan of their own called the Berisoni.

Then there are the Paenii or Penii in the east of Asturias, with two clans: the Caelionicaeci and Quetani. The Paesici and their only known clan - the Argamoneci - lived between the coast at Cabu Peñes and Valdes.

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 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 Transmonti tribes quickly join the prevailing Castro culture here.

Current ideas surrounding the Cabarci - tribe or clan - of the Transmonti Astures have them occupying territory around the municipality of Salas, some thirty-three kilometres west-north-west of Oviedo.

Interestingly, an archaeological project which is known as the Beriso Project (seemingly for the tribe's Berisoni clan) aims to examine pre-Roman and Roman gold mining in Asturias. This principally involves three sites which are situated between Salas and Belmonte de Miranda.

The Paenii or Penii form in the east of Asturias, around the locality of Parres, 104 kilometres east-north-east of Oviedo, where archaeology has uncovered a number of pre-Roman settlements.

Their eastern neighbours, on the right-hand side of the Rio Sella, are the Orgenomesci and Vadiniensi. Of their clans two are known, the Caelionicaeci and Quetani, but not their exact locations.

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 Paesici emerge between the coast at Cabu Peñes and Valdes, an important municipality in western Asturias and between the rivers Nalon and Navia. Their name supposedly derives from the Latin term for 'sheep' (which means that it is a post-Roman-conquest name, although the comparison makes no sense at all.

The Latin word is 'ovis', which equates to today's English 'ewe'). The clan practises transhumance stock-keeping, moving flocks around their pastures in summer and winter, a practise which is still followed today.

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.

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 finish comes in 19 BC.

Mountains of the Picos de Europa in Spain
The 'Picos de Europa' is the oldest and most spectacular national park in Spain, encompassing as it does a stretch of the Cantabrian mountain range which proved so important to the resistance effort against Rome

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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