History Files

European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Pelondones / Pellendones (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.

The predominantly stock-raising Pelondones (or Pellendones) were a Celtic tribe which, from the early fourth century BC, inhabited the region near the source of the River Duero (Douro) in what today is northern-central Spain. Their territory comprised the north of the Soria province, the south-east of Burgos province, and the south-west of La Rioja province.

They were neighboured to the south by the Arevaci, to the east by the Lusones, to the north by the Berones and Turmodigi, and to the west by the Vaccaei. According to Appian, they were related to the Arevaci. They, however, eventually pushed them out of the rest of their territory, forcing them to concentrate in the northern area of Soria.

The possible name breakdown comes from proto-Celtic in the form of *karant-, meaning 'friend', and *kar-ant-ijo-, meaning 'friendship'. The problem here is that 'love' and 'friendship' are 'kara' ('cara' in Brythonic, Latin, Spanish, Italian, and so on, and 'caraid' in Irish, cognate with 'charity' in English), and never 'para'. That's not to say that the attached meaning is impossible to achieve, but there seem to be no other examples of any change from 'k' to 'p' for that word.

The Latin 'cara' would instead be 'carus', with 'cara' only being used when applied to a female. That said, if it is correct then the tribe's name is 'the friends'. Perhaps originally the Kellendones, it is believed that they were Q-Celtic-speakers (of the Hallstat culture) who were related to the Belendi of Gaul. Sources also use the name Cerindones for the tribe, a simple pronunciation variation for 'Pelondones'.

Ptolemy assigned three cities to this tribe: Augustobrica, Savia, and Visontium, all three located on the same meridian. Augustóbriga corresponds to the current 'Wall of Ágreda' (Soria), while Visontium (their tribal capital) would correspond to Vinuesa (also Soria). Savia's location remains unknown.

The so-called 'culture of the Sorian castros' is attributed to the Pelondones, covering several Castro culture hill forts within their territory. The major tribal centre of Numantia is also attributed to the Pelondones, by Pliny the Elder, while Ptolemy and Strabo link it to the Arevaci. Possibly both are correct, with the Arevaci coming to dominate there at the expense of the Pelondones.

A region which has been labelled 'The Seven Villages', to the south-west of La Rioja, in the upper basin of the River Najerilla River, has in the past been included as Pelondones territory. Modern thinking is that this claim has no serious basis as it is based only on an old map by the Spanish archaeologist, Blas Taracena Aguirre.

The towns in question lack Celtiberian forts, or good agriculture worthy of being protected by a fort, or even Roman references which would place the Pelondones there. In all likelihood the villages were within Autrigones or Berones territory (the latter is the better choice). Their city of Tritium Magallum (today's Tricio) is located in the same basin of the River Najerilla.

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 Historia de España 2 - colonizaciones y formación de los pueblos prerromanos (1200-218 a.C.), Ángel Montenegro et allii, from Los Pelendones: territorio y costumbres, Liborio Guerra (Hispania Antiqua No 17, 1993), from Arqueología, Paisajes y Formas de Vida. La I Edad del Hierro en la Serranía Norte de Soria, Mario Díaz Meléndez, and from External Links: The Works of Julius Caesar: Gallic Wars, and The Natural History, Pliny the Elder (John Bostock, Ed), 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 this century, the latter stages of the Gaulish migration into Iberia sees several tribes or splinters of tribes arriving to swell the eventual Celtiberian mix in eastern-central Spain. Some, like the Olcades, dominate local Iberian tribes in the form of a new ruling elite, while others settle alongside such tribes and eventually pick up second-hand Iberian influences.

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)

Like their neighbours, the Pelondones are thought to be formed by a mixture of proto-Celtic (Urnfield culture) arrivals from across the Pyrenees and autochthonous Bronze Age Iberian elements.

To this is added further admixtures of later, Hallstatt culture arrivals from Gaul, long before the arrival of the final wave of Gaulish immigrants which provide the impetus for the creation of Celtiberian culture between the Douro and the Ebro.

The Hallstatt wave is probably responsible for introducing the Pelondones name to the tribe following a division from the parent Belendi in Gaul. The last wave often displaces the melange of earlier arrivals.

Either they take over rich pastures and river plains, in the process pushing the established inhabitants towards the less productive high valleys and mountains on the Ebro, or they absorb them. In the case of the Pelondones their identity would seem to be strong enough to survive this process.

Remains of the wall of Augustobriga (Muro de Agreda)
The remains of the wall of the Pelondones settlement of Augustobriga (today's Muro de Agreda), which would seem to be very close to the tribal oppidum of Visontium (External Links: Diego Delso, delso.photo, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International)

181 - 179 BC

The Lobetani role in the Celtiberian wars between these dates is entirely unknown, while 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.

154 - 151 BC

The Second Celtiberian War occurs when Rome declares war on the Belli for building a strong circuit of defensive walls around their town of Segeda. This is despite the building work not being outside of the terms of the existing treaties. The Arevaci and Titti join the Belli to win a few initial victories.

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

Praetor Quintus Fulvius Nobilior is sent to Iberia with a new army of nearly 30,000 men to take control of the situation. His arrival completely throws the Belli whose walls are not yet complete.

They flee en masse to join the Arevaci where a Belli named Carus is appointed military commander. His first act is to ambush Romans in a thick forest, the victory proving pyrrhic as Carus and many of his own men are also killed.

In 152 BC Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus takes command of Rome's forces. He agrees terms with the Belli and Titti, and then even with the Arevaci. In 151 BC the new consul, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, unaware that Marcellus has already made peace, still insists on fighting.

Hostilities are reignited in the form of the Numantine War, thanks to this city of the Arevaci or Pelondones (ownership is disputed amongst modern scholars) being at the heart of the fighting.

When Numantia is captured thanks to Scipio Aemilianus the Celtiberian confederation finally collapses and the Belli territory is incorporated into Hispania Citerior. With Roman and Iberian Mercenary assistance, the Pelondones are able to throw off Arevaci domination.

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

They receive the town of Numantia and related lands (suggesting that the town had been an Arevaci possession) when the Romans partition the territory of the defeated Arevaci amongst their neighbours.

1st century BC

The Celtiberian tribes 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.

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, while the equally weakened Pelondones lose Numantia to the Uraci.

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

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 (the latter on the side of Sertorius, providing him with an unspecified number of troops).

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.

27 BC

With Rome's civil wars having concluded, Augustus formally establishes three provinces in Iberia. The first of these is Hispania Citerior Tarraconensis, plus Hispania Ulterior Lusitania which largely corresponds to today's Portugal, albeit with extensions into Extremadura in south-western Spain.

The last is Hispania Ulterior Baetica, which generally matches today's Andalusia. Citerior and Lusitania are imperial provinces while Baetica is a senatorial province.

Caesar Augustus
During his long 'reign' as Rome's first citizen, Augustus brought peace to that city and oversaw its transition from failing republic to vigorous and expanding empire

The Pelondones are included in the first of these, with the Roman colony of Augustobriga (today's Muro de Agreda) being established by Augustus within their territory. The tribe seems not to receive any further mentions in history. It is highly likely that imperial rule weakens its identity enough so that it can eventually be absorbed by the Arevaci.

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