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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Olcades (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 stock-raising Olcades were one such tribe, being located mainly on the south-eastern fringe of the Iberian mountain system. The tribe was neighboured by the powerful Carpetani to the west, the Arevaci and Titti to the north, and the Berybraces and Edetani to the east.

Related both to the Celtiberians in general and the Carpetani in particular, the Olcades appear to have been formed of indigenous Iberians who had fallen under the rule of a Gaulish elite. That elite is believed to have originated from the Volcae Tectosages of southern Gaul, arriving in Iberia in the wake of the Celtic migrations of the fourth century BC. They occupied the southern lands of the Iberian system and the Jucar basin south of the Cuenca mountain range (as confirmed by Hecateus of Miletus). This included most of the modern province of Cuenca, along with the southern tip of Guadalajara and the western fringe of Valencia.

The latter was where their capital was sited: Cartaga (Los Villares, near Caudete de las Fuentes), also designated Althea or Althia by some Greek authors. The location meant that these Iberians were situated along the western edge of Iberian tribal settlement, which no doubt left them exposed to their eventual takeover by an incoming Celtic group. Livy later considered them to be an addition of the Carpetani, showing that they had become culturally and linguistically dominated by Celts while providing their own cultural influence too. Other Olcades settlements included Caesada (Hita de Guadalajara) and Laxta.

The tribe's name is relatively straightforward to break down, and is certainly Celtic in nature. Removing the Latin suffix '-es' from 'Olcades' leaves 'olcad', with 'ol' meaning 'all', and 'cad' meaning 'anger'. They seem to have been the 'All Angry', possibly extended in a loose but more pointed way to mean 'ragers, beserkers'.

Archaeological evidence which has been recovered from local cemeteries, such as Buenache and Olmedilla de Alarcon, indicates that Olcades culture was strongly influenced by contact with southern Iberians, plus Phoenician, Etruscan, and Greek traders. Indeed, they are considered to have been responsible for the cultural 'Iberianisation' which took place within neighbouring Celtiberia (the Cratistii especially can be seen to have been influenced by them) and in Carpetania during the height of the Iron Age.

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 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 Hannibal's Olcades, Dexter Hoyos, 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).)

4th century BC?

In his entry for 53 BC, Julius Caesar writes in his Gallic Wars that there had formerly been a time in which the Gauls had excelled the Germans in prowess, and had waged war on them offensively. In this period the Gauls send colonies over the Rhine, one of which is a division of the powerful Volcae Tectosages which seizes and settles fertile areas of Germany close to the Hercynian Forest, (known to the Greeks as Orcynia).

Hercynian Forest
The Riesengebirge was part of the once-vast Hercynian Forest which spread eastwards from southern Germany and which proved a serious impediment to Roman expansion

Around the same time - the fourth century BC - it is believed that a branch of the Volcae Tectosages joins the latter stages of the Gaulish migration into Iberia. There they find some territory in the eastern centre of the peninsula where they dominate a local Iberian tribe, forming a new ruling elite for them as the Olcades.

fl 221 BC

Tagus / Tago / Tagum

Chieftain. Name equates to Dagda, chief name for 'god'.

221 - 219 BC

Under the leadership of their king, Tagus, the Olcades enter into a defensive alliance with the Vaccaei, Vettones, and Carpetani to resist Carthaginian expansion into modern Spain's Meseta Central plateau, only to be defeated by Hannibal Barca in battle on the Tagus in 220 BC. The tribe's numbers are decimated by the conflict and its capital of Althia is captured, with the nearby Carpetani soon becoming dominant over them.

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), also 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 the Second Punic War begins between the two major powers. Hannibal benefits from assistance which is provided by Iberian Mercenaries.

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)

In those actions which take place in Iberia the Belli remain neutral, although other tribes become engaged. Having been forced to submit to Hannibal just prior to the war, the surviving Olcades are subsequently forced to contribute mercenary troops to his army (the Greek historian, Polybius, lists them amongst the Iberian troops which are sent by him as reinforcements to Africa in 218 BC).

After Hannibal's departure to Italy, the Olcades switch sides to fight as Roman allies for the remainder of the conflict.

197 - 194 BC

The Romans, now unopposed in Iberia by an equivalent Mediterranean power, create two provinces in the Iberian territories they now dominate. These are Hispania Citerior (which includes the Olcades from 156-154 BC) and Hispania Ulterior. Neither initially includes Celtiberian territory, and the two major sides soon clash. The Lusitani also stage their own revolt from 194 BC, with the Olcades remaining staunch Roman allies in their defence against Lusitani attacks.

late 100s BC

The Olcades are able to keep themselves independent until the late second or early first century BC when they are dispossessed of their tribal lands by Rome. The reason for this act is unknown. Not only do the Romans set up the military colony of Valeria (Las Valeras. modern Cuenca) in 92 BC on Olcadian territory, they also divide Olcades territory between its Edetani and Celtiberian allies, forcing the Olcades to merge with the latter, with the Carpetani dominating.

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

72 BC

Following the conclusion of the Sertorian War, the Cratistii manage to 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, their territory is incorporated into the vast Visigoth kingdom.

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