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European Kingdoms

Aquitani Tribes


Iacetani (Aquitani?)

Today's Basques of northern Spain have their historical origins in the tribes of the Aquitani. Akin in some ways to the general disposition of Iberian tribes, they straddled the Pyrenees by the time the Romans arrived to record their existence.

Their tribes could be found occupying much of modern Gascony in France, along with a swathe of territory between the central Pyrenees on the Iberian side, and westwards to the Bay of Biscay, very roughly between the modern counties of Aragon and Cantabria (home of the Cantabri).

The Aquitani were not Celts, and neither were they Iberians. The much-later-arriving Indo-European Gauls merely abutted the Aquitani and were not related to them, and neither were the Iberian tribes of today's Spain and Portugal. Strabo distinguished the Aquitani tribes from the Gauls in Western Europe both in their physical type and in their language, although the Aquitani were influenced by their Indo-European neighbours and, in turn, influenced them.

The Iacetani were a tribe of the Aquitani. By the second century BC they were one of the more troublesome Aquitani tribes in Iberia, being based in what is now north-eastern Spain. Their territory today lies around medieval Aragon, close to the western-central portion of the Pyrenees. The tribal capital was Iaca (today's Jaca).

Before that, by the third century BC, the Iacetani were neighboured to the north, across the Pyrenees, by fellow Aquitani tribes which included the powerful Tarbelli, and potentially by two smaller groups, the Oscidates and Suburates (both of which seem to have been replaced by the third century AD by the Illuronenses). To their east, on the southern side of the Pyrenees, the tribe was bordered by the Ilergetae, to the south by the Suessetani, Lusones, Belli, and Pelondones, and to the west by the mighty Vascones and by the Berones.

The tribe's Latin name is rendered in classical Greek as Iakketanoi. According to both Greek and Roman authors, Iaca was a town in which coins were minted from the second half of the second century BC, a small number of which are now in the British Museum.

The coins show an unidentified bearded head to the right with an inscription to the left, and also an image of a dolphin. The reverse side depicts a horseman carrying a spear to the right, with an inscription below in Iberian reading 'iaka'.

This tribe's ethnic make-up - as well as precise definitions for its territory - constitute one of the most difficult historical problems regarding northern Iberia. Sources are very scarce and all of them are late. Strabo cites them as one of the important peoples of the north. He gives them territory in the foothills of the Pyrenees, extending that through the plain to reach the surroundings of Oscá and Iltirda (today's Huesca and Lerida), both of which were cities of the Ilergetae.

Claims that they were part of the Vascones tribe (see Ptolemy) are hotly disputed as they lived in a large area between the Celtiberian border of the Ebro and the north of medieval Navarre. Strabo mentions them as being independent. Pedro Bosch-Gimpera is one of a number of more modern historians who link them to the Aquitani.

They were predominantly a mountain and pastoral people, keeping sheep and cattle. Mentioned as being matriarchal society, they frequently raided the territory of their neighbours to the south, the Suessetani who occupied a lush cereal-bearing plain (which would correspond to the current region of the Cinco Villas, Zaragoza).

This constant raiding would be a relief in times of material need. Unfortunately it was this constant raiding which was to prove their undoing when they were finally conquered by the imperial Romans.

Pyrenees National Park in France

(Information by Trish Wilson, with additional information by Edward Dawson and Peter Kessler, from Diccionario vasco–español–francés, Resurreción María Azkue (two-volume, trilingual dictionary, 1905), from Hauta-lanerako euskal hiztegia, Ibon Sarasola (Gipuzkoako Kutxa, 1990), from Mini hiztegia euskara-euskara, Ibon Sarasola (Lur, Editorial S, 1996), and from External Links: the Etymological Dictionary of Basque, R L Trask (available in PDF format via the Etymological Dictionary, Max Wheeler (Ed, PDF), and Aquitania (University of California), and Celtiberia.net (in Spanish), and Gran Enciclopedia Aragonesa (in Spanish), and The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and Euskomedia (in Spanish).)

197 - 194 BC

Now unopposed in Iberia by an equivalent Mediterranean power after having defeated Carthage in the Second Punic War, The Romans create two provinces in the Iberian territories they now dominate. These are Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. Neither initially includes Celtiberian territory, and the two major sides soon clash.

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 Lusitani also stage their own revolt from 194 BC, with the Olcades remaining staunch Roman allies in their defence against Lusitani attacks. The Suessetani and Iacetani are more interested in settling old scores between themselves, thanks to constant raids by the latter in search of food.

Consul Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) takes advantage of this enmity in his campaigns, gaining support from the Suessetani in terms of the Roman conquest of the Iacetani in 195-194 BC. He conquers their chief settlement of Iaca with Suessetani help, with the city finally falling in 194 BC.

19 BC

The former territory of the Iacetani is incorporated into the Roman empire, following the conclusion of the Cantabrian Wars. This is as a stipendiary of Rome, however, not as a partner. This serves to marginalise the Iacetani people from the legal status of those under Roman or Latin law, while also depriving them of citizenship.

Jaca, former Iacetani settlement
The town of Jaca in the province of Zaragoza was formerly Iaca, chief settlement of the Iacetani on the River Aragón, conquered by Rome in 194 BC

Their legal situation remains precarious while the region becomes highly Romanised in the first two centuries AD. They seem to be unable to maintain their identity under the empire or later, during the period in which the Visigoths rule in later Iberia.

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