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European Kingdoms

Iberian Tribes


Carpetani / Carpesii (Hispano-Celts)
Incorporating the Acualici, Aelarici, Aeturici, Arquioci, Bocourici, Canbarici, Contuciani, Dagencii, Dovilici, Duitici, Dunici, Elquismici, Langioci, Longeidoci, Maganici, Malugenici, Manucici, Maureici, Mesici, Metturici, Moenicci, Obisodici, Pilonicori, Solici, Turtalici, Uloci, & Venatioci

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. Some mixed heavily with Iberian tribes to form the Celtiberian admixture.

The Carpetani were one such tribe (or confederation), being located mainly on the plain which was crossed by the middle course of the River Tagus and its central tributaries. This included part of the modern Spanish provinces of Madrid, Toledo, Guadalajara, Cuenca, and Ciudad Real. They were neighboured to the north by the Vaccaei, by the Arevaci to the north-east, the Oretani to the south, and the Vettones to the west, with their northern limit provided by the mountain ranges of the Gredos and Guadarrama.

The Carpetani (or Carpesii) name is obscure. Given the likelihood that they were a coalition rather than a single tribe ('teut') of clans of the same ethnic origin, they would need something to unite them symbolically. The only possibility which comes to mind here is the proposed proto-Celtic word *karbitos, meaning 'wagon', in the sense that all clans are sharing the same wagon as a way of establishing unity. Not knowing the Carpetani symbology makes this a bit of a wild guess.

Another problem is the meaning of 'wagon'. Early Celtic war chariots were four-wheeled, not two-wheeled, which means they were essentially wagons. Perhaps the name connects to war wagons, but avoiding the Celtic word for a war wagon, *ensedos, and instead employing the standard *karbitos instead. A best guess is that the confederation called itself the 'war wagons'.

The names of the many Carpetani sub-tribes or clans (see below) almost all use the '-ici' and '-oci' suffixes (with some minor amendment due to spelling variances). The suffix '-ic' had the same meaning then as it does now. It derives from Latin, with the Germanic variant which is native to English being '-ish'. It means 'being like [something]', or 'belonging to [something]', or 'of or pertaining to'.

There is some contention regarding Carpetani origins, but the majority view is that they were Celtic, and definitely of Indo-European descent. However, their settled territory close to the Iberian tribes makes it possible that there could have been some cultural influence from them, which has resulted in some problems as to their ascription. It has also been suggested that they started arriving in Iberia during the period known as 'Cogotas 1', the beginning of the Iron Age, after which they began operating in central Iberia.

They were a relatively prosperous people who took advantage of the agricultural opportunities which their territory gave them, and the trade opportunities which their geographical location created. With a decentralised political structure in place, it is considered that there were no great social differences within tribal society since no sumptuous burials have been found which could indicate this.

It also seems that, unlike other tribes, nothing is known regarding mercenary duties which they could have undertaken, or of raids on their neighbours which was certainly more common with the less prosperous tribes.

Also, unlike their neighbours, they did not produce great leaders and neither did they participate in major events such as the sieges of Numantia and Saguntum. They were, however, caught up in the struggles of others, such as the Carthaginians, the Romans, and the Lusitani.

According to archaeological studies this tribe had two forms of settlement which were dependant upon topography: flat or high. In the case of the flat they were located close to a water source which allowed access to good pasture and agricultural land, although these towns were not walled. In the case of the high they chose places which would allow a good defensive position but which were close to some source of water such as a spring.

From the point at which the Carthaginians arrived in Iberia some of these high settlements began to evolve into towns of some importance and, during the period between 220-179 BC, sophisticated major oppida.

The Carpetani comprised some twenty-seven tribes, although some historians maintain that these were in fact clans. These covered the following: the Acualici (in Torrejon de Velsaco, a municipality within the Comunidad Madrid); and the Aelarici (in San Yago, part of the north-western Madrid suburb of Collado Villalba).

There were the Aeturici (in Titulcia, within the Illescas province of Toledo, midway between that city and Madrid); the Arquioci (in Iplacea, known in the Roman period as Complutum, from 'compluivium', meaning 'confluence'); and the Bocourici or Boocourici (in Manzanares El Real, part of the Comunidad Madrid).

Then there were the Canbarici (in Toledo); the Contuciani (in the region of Segobriga, close to the subject Cratistii); the Dagencii (in VIllamanta, a municipality of the Comunidad Madrid which has been identified as the Carpetani settlement of Mantua); the Dovilici (in Azutan, Toledo province); and the Duitici (in Segobriga - see the Crastistii); and the Dunici (in Mentrida, Toledo province).

Plus there were the Elquismici (in Collado Villalba, alongside the Aelarici); the Langioci (in Hontanar, Toledo province); the Longeidoci (in Ucles, on the western border of Cuenca province); and the Maganici (in La Puebla del Montalban, Toledo province).

The Malugenici were in Torrejon de Velasco, close to the Aelarici; the Manucici were in El Pardo, a ward of the suburb of Fuencarral-El-Pardo, Madrid; the Maureici were in Illescas, alongside the Aeturici; the Mesici were in Ucles, alongside the Longeidoci; and the Metturici were in Alcala de Henares, close to the Arquioci.

The remainder included: the Moenicci (in Polan, Toledo province); the Obisodici (in Toledo, alongside the Canbarici); the Pilonicori (in San Pablo de Los Montes, Toledo province); the Solici (in Navas de Estena, Cuidad Real province); the Turtalici (in Segobriga, alongside the Cratistii); the Uloci (in Perales de Milla, now a deserted town to the west of Madrid); and finally the Venatioci (in Alconchel de la Estrella, Cuenca province, 150 kilometres to the east of Toledo).

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 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 Historia de España 2 - colonizaciones y formación de los pueblos prerromanos (1200-218 a.C.), Ángel Montenegro et allii, from Prehistoria y Protohistoria de la Meseta Sur, Juan Pereira Siesto, from Las gentilidades presentes en los testimonios epigráficos procedentes de la Meseta meridional, Julián Hurtado Aguña, from En busca de los carpetanos, Gonzalo Ruiz Zapatero, 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 Ethnology of the Iberian Peninsula c.200 BC, Fraga da Silva Luis, and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, 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).)

221 - 219 BC

The Cratistii are initially a dependent tribe of the Carpetani, from at least the early third century BC. Little of Carpetani history is known before this point. As Carthaginian dominance in areas of Iberia becomes more prominent, the Carpetani are amongst the first to be attacked by them. The Carthaginians are intent on securing their position, their dominance, and also their supply lines prior to campaigning into Italy.

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)

One result is that the Cratistii fall under their sway, primarily when Hannibal Barca moves into eastern Carpetania around 221-220 BC just prior to the Second Punic War. Nothing is known about whether or not the tribe participates in the war.

Another result is that the Olcades, amongst the very first to be subjected to Carthaginian attacks, are virtually destroyed as a tribe, with their remnants being absorbed by the Carpetani. The Vaccaei also suffer.

Hannibal assumes command and spends two years consolidating Carthage's conquest of Iberia south of the Ebro. Rome perceives this as a threat and makes an alliance with the Edetani city of Saguntum (near modern Valencia), south of the Ebro.

Hannibal besieges the city until it surrenders eight months later, with Turboletae assistance. Rome affects outrage and demands justice from Carthage. Instead, Hannibal is supported and war begins between the two major powers.

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

In those actions which take place in Iberia the Belli remain neutral, although other tribes become engaged. The eventually-victorious Romans create two provinces in the Iberian territories they now dominate (in 197 BC), in the form of Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. Neither includes Celtiberian territory, and the two major sides soon clash.

200s - 100s BC

The Lusones join their neighbours, including the Arevaci (and their Uraci clients), Belli, and Titti, 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.

A foreshadowing of this is revealed in attacks against Roman forces both in 197 BC and 195 BC. A consular army which is led by Cato the Elder is brought in to confront the Celtiberians and, whilst it is not able to capture their town of Saguntia (Siguenza), it nevertheless persuades them to cease hostilities after which it returns home.

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

In 193 BC a joint force of Celtiberians, Vaccaei, and Vettones band together but are defeated near the Carpetani city of Toletum (Toledo) by a Roman force which is led by Marcus Fulvius Nobilior.

183 BC

Another mixed tribal force, possibly incorporating Celtiberians (including Belli and Carpetani) and Vettones, opposes the Romans, with mixed fortunes on both sides. The new alliance is located in the same Toletum territory as before (Carpetani tribal territory). It is able to defeat two praetorian armies before being defeated itself in another clash around the River Tagus.

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.

Roman circus in Toldeo
The Celtiberian settlement of Toletum was turned into a major city during the Roman domination of Iberia, with remains of the circus being seen here

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).

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.

On his way back to Tarraco (Tarragona) he is ambushed while travelling through the Manlian Pass and although he is able to see off the Celtiberians, his losses are such that he continues to Tarraco where he hands over command to his successor, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus.

Carpetani warriors
This artist's impression depicts a selection of Carpetani warriors in various designs of armour and costume, some bearing influences which are Carthaginian or Roman

Gracchus is as successful as Flaccus, capturing the cities of Munda (not to be confused with the site of Julius Caesar's battle in 45 BC), Certima, and Alce (probably the Alce between Augusta Emerita (Merida) and Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza)).

However, he adopts a more conciliatory tone, negotiating with the tribes to secure treaties and providing proper administration for the region. His actions secure almost thirty years of peace before war breaks out again.

155 - 139 BC

The Lusitani Wars or Lusitanian War (Pyrinos Polemos or 'the Fiery War' in Greek), sees the Lusitanian tribes of Hispania Ulterior fiercely resist Roman domination. During this period the Carpetani are constantly subject to attacks which are led by the Lusitanian warlord, Viriathus, until he is defeated at the hands of the Roman commander, Qutinus Servilius Caepio. From the end of the war the Carpetani are largely left in peace for another six decades.

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

154 - 151 BC

The Second Celtiberian War occurs when Rome declares war on the Belli for building a circuit of walls around their town of Segeda. The Arevaci and Titti join the Belli to win a few initial victories. The Carpetani play no part in the war, which sees Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus deliver Rome's final victory.

76 BC

As traditional allies of the Berones, the Autrigones help them in fighting off an incursion by the Roman general, Quintus Sertorius, into northern Celtiberia. Celtiberian tribes also take part, such as the Arevaci, Lusones, and Pelondones, while the Carpetani are subjected to specific attacks as Sertorius attempts to grab their territory.

He has seized control of Rome's Iberian territories by force of arms, but in the Sertorian War he is quickly driven out of Iberia by Sulla's forces when none of the Iberian tribes will support him.

72 BC

Following the conclusion of the Sertorian War, the Cratistii gain independence from the Carpetani but are integrated into southern Celtiberia by Rome. Around this time (roughly 72 BC) the Belli, Cratistii, Olcades, Titti, and Uraci are merged to form the Late Celtiberian people (Celtiberi) of Romanised southern Celtiberia. In time, following the fading of Roman imperial authority, Carpetani territory is incorporated into the vast Visigoth kingdom.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Lucius Cornelius Sulla was the victor in Rome's first full-scale civil war (88-82 BC), after which he became dictator of the Roman republic, thereby laying out a path which others could follow in the same century

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