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European Kingdoms

Celtic Tribes


Duraci / Uraci (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 Uraci were a Celtic tribe which was located in the southern part of the province of Soria, northern Guadalajara, and western Zaragoza. They were situated to the east of the Vaccaei and Carpetani, which would also place the Arevaci to their north and the Titti to their east.

If the tribe's true name was Duraci then this is probably cognate with the Latin 'duro', meaning 'hard, enduring'. The shortened form, Uraci, makes no appreciable sense unless the 'd' turned into an unvoiced 'th' and then fell out of use entirely. Also note that the tribe was located near the River Douro, which was known in Latin as the Durius.

FeatureThis seemingly links it to the tribe and, seeing as the tribe was there before any Romans were able to form a Latin version of the river's name, it must have been Celtic before that. But when they arrived in the fourth century BC, did the Duraci pick up the name from the locals, or was it named after them? River names are astonishingly durable ('duro', meaning 'enduring', for example!), so the former is much more likely. The tribe wanted to be enduring like the river (see feature link for more on river names).

Of mixed Iberian and Gallic origin, the latter infusion migrated into Iberia during major Celtic migrations of the fourth century BC (which does not rule out early Celtic or proto-Celtic infusions). They took control of the eastern part of the Meseta and the southern slopes of the Central Iberian System, between the upper Duero (Douro) and Henares rivers. Their chief settlement was the civitas of Lutiaca (perhaps Luzaga, today's Guadalajara). Other settlements included Cortona (Medinacelli, Soria), Segontia (Siguenza in the province of Guadalajara), and Arcobriga (Monreal de Ariza in Zaragoza).

Currently the assumption is that the Uraci spoke a Q-Celtic language. Archaeological evidence shows that their material culture differed little from that of the Celtiberians to their immediate south. It would seem that the Uraci, in common with other smaller tribes in the region, had problems with their more powerful neighbours, in their case the Arevaci. The were forced to become clients, which would have dragged them into the Arevaci's various wars in the third and second centuries. Their precise areas of participation are unknown, however, with the Romans clearly not able to identify them as a specific unit in its own right.

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, 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 secondhand 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 Uraci 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, and then the final, La Tène arrivals which provide the impetus for the creation of Celtiberian culture between the Douro and the Ebro.

The newcomers settle into the eastern part of the Meseta and the southern slopes of the mountains which are known as the Central Iberian System, between the upper Duero (Douro) and Henares rivers. They dominate previous groups here which include Iberians and almost certainly some earlier-arriving Celtic elements too.

The name 'Henares' derives from the Spanish 'henar', meaning 'hayfield', itself derived from the Latin 'faenum', meaning 'hay'. It was along the river's banks that hayfields could be found, providing pasture for livestock such as cattle, sheep, and pigs, or being ploughed into arable land.

The River Henares, close to Madrid
The River Henares, shown here to the immediate north-east of Madrid, is a less impressive watercourse farther north, in the former territory of the Uraci

3rd century BC

Either in the late fourth century BC (probably not long after their arrival and the formation or expansion of the Uraci tribe), or in the early third century BC, the tribe's more powerful neighbours, the Arevaci, impose their domination. As clients, the Uraci are forced to provide military service to the Arevaci during their second century wars.

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.

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.

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

c.92 BC

The Uraci begin to remove themselves from the Arevaci yoke. Possibly this is either at Roman instigation or with Roman assistance, and is in return for Uraci assistance to the Romans in suppressing the anti-Roman uprisings in the early first century BC. As their reward the Uraci receive the Pelondones town of Numantia, although after the various destructive wars of recent decades it is little more than ruins. Their newfound independence, however, lasts only briefly.

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. The Lusones virtually disappear from the historical record, with it being most likely that they merge with - or are absorbed by - their Celtiberian neighbours, the Belli and Titti.

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 within the province of Hispania Citerior. In time, following the fading of Roman imperial authority, their territory is incorporated into the vast Visigoth kingdom.

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