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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


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

The Lusones were one such tribe, being located in the high Tajuña river valley, to the north-east of Guadalajara in modern Spain, and in the north-eastern corner of Celtiberian territory. They were neighboured to the north by the Iacetani, to the east by the Illergetae, Sedetani, and Ilercavones, to the south by the Belli and Titti, and to the west by the Arevaci, Pelondones, and Berones.

The Lusones name seems to be Q-Italic (very early West Indo-European) or Q-Celtic (slightly later), but mispronounced. Early Q-Italic would appear to be the closest match. The Latin word 'lux', meaning 'light', and the Celtic deity Lugh would seem to be cognates. If the 'ks' sound of the Italic 'x' has its 'k' softened then the remnant is an 's', producing 'lus' which leads directly to Lusones, or 'Lus' without the suffixes. The meaning breaks down into 'light', plus '-on' (definite article), plus '-es' (Latin plural).

This may have referred to Lugh as their chief deity (but with a different pronunciation which could be the result of their earlier form of language, potentially early Q-Italic as mentioned). Celts did this too, naming a tribe after a deity, with Lugh often being a favourite in this sense.

The Lusones spoke a variation of the Celtiberian language. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to show that the ancestors of the Celtiberian groups settled the Meseta area of the Iberian peninsula from at least 1000 BC, and probably much earlier.

Certainly a blended people, they included elements of early Italic (Osco-Latin) and proto-Italic West Indo-European affiliation. Some scholars also consider it possible that they may bear a connection with the Iberian Lusitani, with the latter actually being a fourth century BC offshoot of the Lusones. Others see the Lusitani as predating the arrival of any Hallstatt migration into Iberia.

It was Strabo who located the Lusones near the headwaters of the Tago (Tagus). Appian placed them along the Ebro (not necessarily a great discrepancy in geographic terms). In fact, their lands were located in the Aragonese region, along the middle Ebro, on the Moncayo range (Latin: Mons Chaunus).

They could be found between the Quelles and Huecha rivers, occupying the western part of Zaragoza and most of Soria, with territory stretching to the north-eastern fringe of nearby Guadalajara and southern Navarre provinces. Lutia is believed to have been their chief settlement, and certainly the most important.

Other leading settlements include Bursau (as noted by Claudius Ptolemy), and Turiasu (a highly important city which obtained municipal status under Augustus, and with an important mint which, from the second century BC, produced bronze coinage with a Celtiberian legend, and then in Latin for the Roman republic, and finally imperial currency). Carabis lay west of Caesaraugusta (today's Zaragoza). This town is known for a significant amount of Celtiberian pottery.

The Lusones were also involved in the foundations of both the 'bandit town' of Complega (site unknown) and the Roman colony of Gracurris (Eras de San Martin, Alhama, La Rioja, which was founded by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in 181 BC). The settlement of Bibilis, long thought to be theirs, has more recently been linked to the Titti.

Being settled in the same area as the Titti and the Belli, their economy had the same characteristics. Agriculture formed the basis, given the high soil fertility. Crops included barley, cereals, and olive trees. They kept pigs, goats, and sheep, the wool allowing them to set up a thriving textile industry.

Their ceramics were characterised by decorative themes of bands with circles and semicircles. Seams of gold were mined along the River Jalon and iron ore in the Moncayo range, while the standard of weapons production was high.

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 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, from Los Celtiberos, etnias y estados, Franciso Burillo Mozota, from Los Celtiberos, Alberto Lorrio Alvarado, from Historia de España 2 - colonizaciones y formación de los pueblos prerromanos (1200-218 a.C.), Ángel Montenegro et allii, from La Protohistoria de la Peninsula Iberica, Martin Almagro Gorbea, and from External Links: 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), and Enciclopedia (Calatayud-org).)

4th century BC

An element of modern scholarship links the Lusones with the Lusitani, positing that the latter break away from the main tribal group in the fourth century BC to migrate west into what is now Portugal. It is here that they are discovered and recorded by Rome. More mainstream opinion has the Lusitani predating any arrival by Hallstatt Celts.

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 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.

181 - 151 BC

The Lobetani role in the Celtiberian wars between these dates is entirely unknown, although Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus founds the Roman colony of Gracurris in Lusones territory in 181 BC. This does not hold the Lusones to any loyalty to Rome, though. Quite the contrary.

The First Celtiberian War (181-179 BC) sees the Arevaci, Belli, Lusones, Pelondones, and Titti push back against the new and somewhat aggressive Roman presence in formerly-Carthaginian territories at the conclusion of the Second Punic War. Rome wins the conflict and draws up treaties with several tribes in the region.

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

134 - 133 BC

Half a century after beginning their resistance against Rome, the destruction by their enemy of the major Arevaci settlement of Numantia brings about the collapse of the Celtiberian confederation's alliance. Despite being forcibly incorporated into the Iberian province of Hispania Citerior, though, the Celtiberians continue to resist Roman authority for decades.

1st century BC

The Celtiberian tribes - including the Lusones - 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, however. They are soon driven from the right bank of the Ebro by the Vascones, who seize four of their key border towns, including Gracurris.

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. Other Celtiberians also take part, such as the Arevaci, Lusones, and Pelondones.

Sertorius 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.

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

The Lusones virtually disappear from the historical record following the war's conclusion in 72 BC. Little is known of them afterwards, with it being most likely that they merge with - or are absorbed by - their Celtiberian neighbours, the Belli and Titti.

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