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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Turmodigi / Turmogi (Hispano-Celts)

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 originators of the Turmodigi were Celts who occupied the region between the rivers Arlanza and Arlanzon in the west of the province of Burgos and in the east of the province of Palenciain Iberia. They were neighboured by the Cantabri to the north-west, the Autrigones, Caristii, and Berones to the north, the Pelondones and Arevaci to the east, with other Celtiberians and the Vaccaei to the south and west.

As for the meaning behind the tribe's name, the word 'turmo' in Latin is a troop of cavalry, but there seems to be no equivalent in Celtic. Could the name be a post-Roman invention rather than the tribe's own descriptor? A unit of Roman auxiliary horsemen was stationed at the Turmodigi capital after conquest, making it likely that the Turmodigi were supplying those auxiliaries. Perhaps 'turmo' came from a troop of Turmodigi auxiliary cavalry, with the name later becoming universal shorthand for all such troops?

Additionally, if the 'd' in 'turmod' is arbitrarily regarded as part of the word for cavalry, 'turmod', then the '-ig' could be a suffix which indicates 'like', as in 'cavalry-like, knight-like'. This old Indo-European suffix appears in English as '-ic' such as, for example, 'Gaelic' meaning '[language] of Gaels' or 'Gael-like'. Another variant is '-ish', meaning 'of the Angles' in words like 'English'. This does not always work of course, but it's a possibility in this case.

References to them are few, possibly because they were not regarded as significant in terms of the Roman conquests. They shared many of the attributes of their neighbours, such as the practice of transhumance, mainly in the mountainous areas, while maintaining livestock horses, sheep, and pigs and, in the valleys and flatter areas, cereal agriculture. It was in the latter area that the majority of their population lived as can be attested to by archaeological remains such as storage silos, mills, sickles, and so on. It was these same populated areas in which a textile industry was set up, using loom weights, flywheels and other items which have left archaeological traces.

According to Ptolemy, there were five major civitates. The first two of those were: Segisamone (Roman Segisamum, today's Sasamon in the province of Burgos, named by Ptolemy as the Turmodigi capital); and Pisoraca, today's Herrera de Pisuerga (in Palencia) where between 20 BC and AD 43 Legio IV Macedonia was stationed before moving to Mogontiacum (Mainz) in Germania Inferior.

The other three were Deobrigula, today's Tardajos (in Burgos) where the remains of the original settlement (El Castro) can now be seen; Ambisna, location uncertain but, according to Spanish historian Jose Maria Solana Sainz based on information from archaeologist Jose Antonia Abasolo Alvarez, this would be Castrojeriz (in Burgos) where the remains of a pre-Roman castro have been found; and the unlocated Bravum, which certain historians place in Valle de Santibáñez (in Burgos), while others go for Huermeces (Burgos) or Ubierna (Burgos).

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 Celtos en el Pais Vasco, Pedro Bosch Gimpera, from Los Turmogos durante la epoca romana, Jose Maira Solana Sanz, from El proceso de urbanizacion en la meseta septentrional, Pilar Gonzalez Serrano, from La romanizacion de la Meseta Norte, David Pradales Cipres, 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 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 and Uraci, 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 Turmodigi 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.

after 300 BC

The vast new Autrigones territory - including lands seized from the Caristii - is not long held by the tribe. Some time after 300 BC their client tribe, the Turmodigi, break away with the help of Vaccaei. The latter seize the chief Autrigones settlement of Autraca, but the Turmodigi also secure the land they will independently hold until the middle of the first century BC.

Thrust back to their lands on the mountain ranges of the upper Ebro to the north of the Arlanzon valley in the third and/or second centuries BC, the Autrigones ally themselves with the Berones and evolve into a tribal society which is similar to that of the pre-Celtic/Hispano-Celtic peoples of north-west Iberia.

Settlement in the La Rioja region of Spain
The modern La Rioja region is well known for its wine production, having been settled in or around the seventh century BC by the Berones tribe of Celts, not far to the north of the later-arriving Turmodigi

80 - 72 BC

As now-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 (in 76 BC) by Sulla's forces when none of the Iberian tribes will now support him.

73 - 56 BC

Within the Sertorian War, the Turmodigi are conquered by Gnaeus Pompeius Magna and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius in 73 BC, but they remain unsubdued until 56 BC when a joint uprising with the Vaccaei is defeated by Praetor Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos.

29 - 19 BC

As a result of raids by the Cantabri and Astures, the Turmodigi ally themselves with Rome during the Cantabrian Wars (29-19 BC), even allowing the Emperor Augustus to establish a temporary headquarters in their capital of Segisamone.

Astures warriors attack Romans
Enemies of the Turmodigi, Astures warriors attack Roman troops in this modern illustration which also shows short trousers, an influence from the east, probably via Mesopotamia

In 20 BC Rome's Legio IV Macedonia is transferred to another of the Turmodigi civitates, that of Pisoraca, with their cavalry auxiliary, Ala Parthorum, comprising horsemen from Iberia. Given the fact that this is also stationed at Pisoraca it is therefore possible that the Turmodigi also serve as Roman auxiliaries. In time, following the fading of Roman imperial authority, their territory is incorporated into the vast Visigoth kingdom.

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