Roman conquest of Hispania

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Roman conquest and provinces in Hispania

The Roman conquest of Hispania was a historical period that began with the Roman landing at Empúries in 218 BC and ended with the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, then Hispania, by Caesar Augustus after the Cantabrian wars in 19 BC.[1]

Long before the First Punic War, between the 8th and 7th centuries BC, the Phoenicians (and later the Carthaginians) had already appeared in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula as well as in the East, to the south of the Ebro. Their numerous commercial settlements based throughout these coastal strips provided an outlet into Mediterranean commerce for minerals and other resources of pre-Roman Iberia. These installations consisting of little more than warehouses and wharves allowed not only exports, but also the introduction to the Peninsula of products manufactured in the Eastern Mediterranean. This had the indirect effect of the native peninsular cultures adopting certain Eastern characteristics.

During the 7th century BC, the Greeks established their first colonies on the northern Mediterranean coast of the peninsula. Setting off from Massalia (Marseille) they founded the cities of Emporion (Ampurias) and Rhode (Roses), although at the time they had already spread throughout the coastal commercial centers of the region without establishing a permanent presence. Part of this Greek commerce was nevertheless carried out by Phoenician shipping; Phoenician trade in the peninsula included articles both coming from and heading to Greece. As a commercial power of the Western Mediterranean, Carthage expanded its interests to the island of Sicily and the south of Italy. This growing influence over the region soon proved to be an annoyance for Rome. This conflict of commercial interests ultimately led to the Punic Wars of which the First Punic War ended in an unstable armistice. The mutual hostility led to the Second Punic War, which, after twelve years of conflict, resulted in effective Roman domination of the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula. Later, a decisive defeat for Carthage at Zama would wipe that city from the historical scene.

Despite having vanquished their rival Mediterranean power, the Romans still took another two centuries to bring the entire Iberian Peninsula under their control through an expansionist policy that earned the enmity of practically all of the tribes of the interior. The abuses to which these people were submitted is considered to be responsible for the strong anti-Roman sentiment throughout these nations. After years of bloody conflict, the indigenous people of Hispania were finally crushed by the military and cultural heel of Rome, thus disappearing from the face of history. However, in the Roman Empire people kept their ancestral identifications but also were loyal to the Roman state, so even though the language became Latin, the 'gens' continued being local.

Carthaginian Iberia[edit]

After the First Punic War, the Carthaginian family descending from Hamilcar Barca began the effective subjugation of Hispania which would extend over the greater part of the south and the west of the peninsula. This subjugation was achieved through tributes, alliances, marriages or simply by force. The peninsula would go on to supply Carthage with a significant number of troops — both mercenaries and draftees — that assisted in its confrontations with Ancient Rome as well as its reaffirmation of dominance over Northern Africa. The Romans considered this sufficient motive to invade Hispania. The Ilergetes (from Northeast Hispania) and the legendary Baleric Slingers particularly stood out amongst these troops coming from diverse tribes of the region.

The Saguntum Matter[edit]

The Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome was ignited by the dispute over the hegemony of Saguntum, a hellenized coastal city and Roman ally. After great tension within the city government culminating in the assassination of the supporters of Carthage, Hannibal laid siege to the city of Saguntum in 218 BC. The city called for Roman aid, but the pleas fell on deaf ears. Following a prolonged siege and a bloody struggle in which Hannibal himself was wounded and the army practically destroyed, the Carthaginians finally took control of the city. Many of the Saguntians chose to commit suicide rather than face the subjugation and slavery that awaited them at the hands of the Carthaginians.

The war later continued with Hannibal's expedition to Italia. The damage wrought throughout the Italian Peninsula by this expedition provoked the Romans to invade the Iberian Peninsula in an attempt to cut off Hannibal's supplies coming from Hispania and Carthage.

The Roman attack[edit]

Roman wall of Ampurias, initial entry point of Rome to the Iberian Peninsula

Rome sent troops under the command of Gnaeus and Publius Cornelius Scipio. Gnaeus was the first to arrive in Hispania while his brother Publius turned towards Massalia with the goal of obtaining support and trying to halt the Carthaginian advance. Emporion, or Empúries, was the point where Rome began on the peninsula. Their first mission was to find allies among the Iberians. They signed treaties of alliance with Iberian tribal leaders on the coast but probably did not obtain support for their cause among the majority. One known example was the tribe of the Ilergetes, one of the most important north of the Ebro, who were allied with the Carthaginians. Gnaeus Scipio subjugated these tribes, either by treaty or through the forces of the coast north of the Ebro, including the city of Tarraco, where Gnaeus made his residence.

The war between Carthage and Rome[edit]

The first important conflict between the Carthaginians and the Romans took place in Cissa in 218 BC, probably near Tarraco, in the present-day province of Lleida. The Carthaginians, commanded by Hanno the Elder, were defeated by Roman forces commanded by Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus. The leader of the Ilergetes Indíbil, who fought with the Carthaginians, was captured. But when Gnaeus' victory was certain, Hasdrubal Barca arrived with reinforcements and dispersed the Romans but did not defeat them. The Carthaginian forces returned to their capital of Cartago Nova (now Cartagena) and the Romans to their primary base at Tarraco.

In 217 BC, Gnaeus' fleet vanquished Hasdrubal Barca's on the mouth of the Ebro. Shortly afterward, reinforcements arrived from Italy under the command of Publius Scipio and the Romans were able to advance on Saguntum.

Gnaeus and Publius Scipio are attributed with the fortification of Tarraco and the establishment of a military port. The city wall was probably constructed over the front of an ancient wall; the marks of the Iberian stonemason can be appreciated, since the wall was constructed by hand.

In 216 BC, Gnaeus and Publius Scipio fought the Iberians, probably against tribes south of the Ebro. The Iberian attacks were repelled.

In 215 BC, the Carthaginians received reinforcements under the command of Himilco and fought again on the mouth of the Ebro, apparently near Amposta or Sant Carles de la Ràpita in the so-called Battle of Ebro River. The Roman fleet was victorious.

The rebellion of Syphax in Numidia required Hasdrubal to return to Africa with his best troops (214 BC), leaving his camp in Hispania to the Romans. In Africa, Hasdrubal secured the assistance of another Numidian king, Gala, lord of the region of Constantine. With the help of Gala and his son Masinissa, Hasdrubal defeated Syphax.

In 211 BC, Hasdrubal Barca returned to Iberia accompanied by Masinissa and his Numidian warriors.

Perhaps between 214 BC and 211 BC, Gnaeus and his brother Publius Cornelius Scipio overran the Ebro. We know for certain that in 211 BC the Scipio brothers counted among their army a strong contingent of Celtiberian mercenaries, composed of some thousands of combatants. The Celtiberians frequently acted as soldiers of fortune.

The Carthaginian forces were structured into 3 armies, commanded respectively by Hasdrubal Barca, Mago Barca, and Hasdrubal Gisco, the last son of the Carthaginian commander Hannibal Gisco, killed in the First Punic War. For their part, the Romans organized themselves into another three groups, commanded by Gnaeus and Publius Scipio, and also by Titus Fonteius.

Hasdrubal Gisco and Mago Barca, supported by the Numidian Masinissa, vanquished Publius Scipio and killed him. Gnaeus Scipio had to retreat to the desert with his Celtiberian mercenaries to whom Hasdrubal offered a sum greater than that paid by Rome. Gnaeus died during the withdrawal and the Carthaginians were at the point of crossing the Ebro River when an official named Gaius Marcius Septimus, elected general by the troops, repelled them. The circumstance of this battle is uncertain but we know that Indibilis fought again against the Carthaginians. The battle took place in 211 BC.

In 210 BC an expedition under Gaius Claudius Nero was able to capture Hasdrubal Barca but he went back on his word and retreated dishonorably.


The Roman Senate decided to send a new army to the Ebro to prevent the Carthaginian army from crossing into Italy. Leadership of this force was given to Publius Scipio, the son of the general of the same name who had died in combat in 211 BC.

Publius Scipio (the younger) arrived in Hispania accompanied by Marcus Junius Silanus (who would succeed Claudius Nero) and his advisor Caius Lelius, chief of the group.

Upon his arrival the three Carthaginian armies found themselves in this situation: Hasdrubal Barca's army was in the area around the origin of the Tajo; the army of Hasdrubal, son of Gisco, was situated in Lusitania near modern Lisboa; and Mago's army was in the area near the Strait of Gibraltar.

Publius Scipio in an audacious move, left the camp on the Ebro, and attacked Carthago Nova by land and sea. The Punic peninsular capital was given an insufficient defense force under the command of a new leader who was also called Mago, had to surrender, and the city was occupied by the Romans. Publius Scipio returned to Tarraco before Hasdrubal could move out of his camp on the Ebro.

After this daring operation, a large part of Hispania Ulterior was subdued by Rome. Publius Scipio attracted various Iberian chiefs until then allied with the Carthaginians, such as Edeco (an enemy of Carthage since his wife and children were taken as slaves), Indibil (for the same reason), and Mandonius (who had been attacked by Hasdrubal Barca).

In the winter of 209 and 208 BC Publius Scipio advanced south and collided with the army of Hasdrubal Barca (who at the time was advancing north) near Santo Tomé in the hamlet of Baecula where the Battle of Baecula took place. Publius Scipio was victorious, but he did not prevent Hasdrubal Barca from escaping to the north with a sizable remainder of his troops. In his northern march, Hasdrubal arrived at the passes of the western Pyrenees.

So it is known that Hasdrubal crossed the Pyrenees through the country of the Basques. He probably tried to make an alliance with them, and in this case, the Basques lacked the means to oppose the Carthaginian advance. Hasdrubal camped in the south of the Galias and later passed into Italy (209 BC).

In 208 BC, Mago Barca retreated with his forces to the Balearic Islands and Hasdrubal Gisco supported him in Lusitania.

In 207 BC, the reorganized Carthaginians and their reinforcements left Africa under Hannon's leadership managing to recover most of the south of the peninsula. After Hannon subdued this region, Mago returned with his forces and met with Hasdrubal Gisco. But soon after Hannon and Mago were defeated by the Romans led by Marcus Silanus. Hannon was captured, and Hasdrubal Gisco and Mago had to fortify their armies at the most important places.

Hasdrubal Gisco and Mago Barca received new reinforcements from Africa in (206 BC), and for their part recruited an army of natives. They gave battle to the Romans at Ilipa (modern Alcalá del Río in Sevilla province), but on this occasion Publius Scipio Africanus clearly obtained victory. Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco took refuge in Gades, and Publius Scipio gained control over the entire south of the peninsula. He could cross to Africa and meet the Numidian king Syphax who had visited him in Hispania.

Publius Scipio fell ill, which was taken advantage of by the army as an opportunity to demand higher wages by the Mutiny at Sucro. This in turn was taken advantage of by the Ilergetes and other Iberian tribes who rebelled under the leadership of the chiefs Indibilis and Mandonius (of the Ausetani). This rebellion was essentially against proconsuls L. Lentulus and L. Manlius. Publius Scipio appeased the mutineers and put down a final bloody revolt by the Iberians. Mandonius was caught and executed (205 BC); Indibil managed to escape.

Mago and Hasdrubal Gisco abandoned Gades with all of their ships and their troops to support Hannibal in Italy, and after the departure of these forces, Rome held the entire south of Hispania. Rome now ruled from the Pyrenees to Algarve along the coast. Roman dominance reached Huesca and from there, the Ebro to the south and the sea to the east.

The wars of conquest[edit]

From 197 B.C. onward, the part of the Iberian Peninsula that fell under Roman control was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior to the north (the future Hispania Tarraconensis with Tarraco as its capital) and Hispania Ulterior to the south with capital Córdoba. The two provinces were governed by two biannual proconsuls. In the same year of 197, the Citerior province was the scene of a rebellion by the Iberian and Ilergete communities. The Proconsul Quinto Minucio had considerable difficulty controlling those rebellions. The Ulterior province escaped Roman control when its governor died as the local turdetano people were rebelling. In 195 B.C., Rome was forced to send the consul Marcus Cato. He arrived in Hispania to find the Citerior province in full rebellion with Roman forces controlling only a few fortified cities. Cato quelled the rebellion in summer of the same year and reestablished control over the province, but he failed to endear himself to the natives or Celtiberians who acted as paid mercenaries for the turdetanos. After making a show of force by passing the Roman legions through Celtiberian territory, Cato convinced them to return to their homes. However, the natives' submission proved superficial because when rumors spread that Cato would soon depart for Italy, the rebellion reignited. Cato acted decisively once again, conquering the rebels and selling the instigators off into slavery. The native population was totally disarmed. Cato returned to Rome with great fanfare from the Roman Senate. He brought with him an enormous war chest of over 11,000 kilos of silver, 600 kg of gold, 123,000 denarii, and 540,000 silver coins, all of which was taken from the Hispanic peoples in the course of his military actions. He fulfilled his promise to Rome before beginning the campaign that "the war will pay for itself."

A later proconsul of Hispania, Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, would fight other rebellions as well.

The next major Roman step was the conquest of Lusitania with two crushing victories: one in 189 B.C. won by proconsul Lucius Aemilius Paulus, and a more dubious one by the pretor/proconsul Caius Calpurnius in 185.

The central region of the peninsula, called Celtiberia, was officially conquered in 181 B.C. by Quintus Fabius Flaccus. He bested the local Celtiberian people and claimed control of several territories. But the real work was done by Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus from 179 to 178 when he conquered thirty cities and villages. He took some by sheer force and others by exploiting rivalries between the Celtiberians and the Vascones to the north. His alliances with the Vascons would facilitate the Roman domination of Celtiberia.

By this time, some of the Basque cities and villages may have already been subject to Rome, but at any rate a significant number of Basque holdings came into the Roman Empire voluntarily through alliance. Tiberius Sempronius Graccus founded a new city named Gracurris on top of the existing city of Ilurcís (probably the modern-day Alfaro in La Rioja or Corella in Navarre). It was built of standard Roman construction and it appears to have housed several disorganized Celtiberian groups. The city would have been founded in roughly 179 B.C. according to references in later writings. The foundation of this city marks the end of the Celtiberian civilization and the consolidation of Roman influence in the area. Graccuris would prove to be situated in the middle of a region that would be hotly contested between the Celtiberians and Vascons. The area roughly corresponds to the modern Ebro River Valley. Tiberius Sempronius Graccus was probably responsible for the majority of the treaties signed with the two groups. The treaties generally established a tribute from the surrounding cities to be paid in silver or other products of the earth. Each city had to supply a predetermined amount of men for the army, and only a select few cities had the right to issue currency.

Yet the inhabitants of cities subdued by force were almost never tribute-paying subjects: when they offered resistance to the Romans and were defeated, they were sold as slaves. Those who surrendered before an outright conquest were recognized as citizens of their respective cities were denied Roman citizenship.

When cities subjugated themselves freely, the inhabitants became citizens, and the cities retained their municipal autonomy and at times, were exempt from taxes.

The proconsuls (also called pretores or propretores), that is, the provincial governors, adopted the custom of making themselves rich at their subjects' expense. Forced gifts and abuses were the norm. During their excursions, the proconsul and other functionaries were to be housed for free; at times they would confiscate a home. The proconsul would impose low prices on provisions of grain, for their own needs and those of the functionaries and their families, and at times also for their soldiers.

The resulting complaints became so strong that the Roman Senate, after hearing from an embassy of provincial Hispanics, released in 171 BC some laws of control: Tributes could not be collected by means of the military; cereal payments were permissible but proconsuls could not gather more than a fifth of the harvest; the proconsul was prohibited to fix the prices of grains on his own; petitions in support of popular holidays in Rome were limited; and the contribution of contingents for the army was maintained. However, like the judgement of the proconsuls that had committed abuses corresponding to the Senate through the proconsul of the city, it was rare that a proconsul was judged.

Viriathus and the Lusitanian Rebellion[edit]

Main article: Lusitanian War

Lusitania was probably the area of the peninsula that resisted the Roman invasion for the longest time. Until the year 155 BC, the Lusitanian chief Punicus made raids into the part of Lusitania controlled by Rome, ending with the twenty-year peace made by the former praetor Sempronius Gracchus. Punicus obtained an important victory against the praetors Manilius and Calpurnius, inflicting 6,000 casualties.

After the death of Punicus, Caisaros took charge of the fight against Rome, vanquishing the Roman troops again in 153 BC, revealing his banner in the battle, which triumphantly showed to the rest of the Iberian peoples how to display the vulnerability of Rome. At the time, the Vetones and Celtiberians had united in resistance, leaving the situation for Rome in this area of Hispania somewhat precarious. Lusitanians, Vetones and Celtiberians raided the Mediterranean coasts, while in order to secure their position on the Peninsula, they were deployed to North Africa. It was in this year that two new consuls arrived in Hispania, Quintus Fulvius Nobilior and Lucius Mummius. The urgency of restoring dominion over Hispania made the two consuls enter into battle within two and a half months. The Lusitanians sent to Africa were defeated at Okile (modern Arcila in Morocco) by Mummius, who forced them to accept a peace treaty. For his part, the consul Serbius Sulpicius Galba made a peace treaty with three of the Lusitanian tribes, and then, pretending to be a friend, killed the youth and sold the rest of the people to Gaul.

Nobilior was replaced in the following year (152 BC) by Marcus Claudius Marcellus (consul 166 BC). He in turn was succeeded in 150 BC by Lucius Lucullus who was distinguished by his cruelty and infamy.

In 147 BC, a new Lusitanian leader named Viriathus rebelled against the Roman forces. He had fled from Serbius Sulpicius Galba three years earlier, and, reuniting the Lusitanian tribes again, Viriathus began a guerrilla war that fiercely struck the enemy without giving open battle. He commanded many campaigns and arrived with his troops at the Murcian coasts. His numerous victories and the humiliation he inflicted upon the Romans made him worthy of the permanent place he holds in Portuguese and Spanish memory as a revered hero who fought without respite. Viriathus was assassinated about 139 BC by Audax, Ditalcus and Minurus, probably paid off by the Roman General Marcus Popillius Lenas. With his death, the organized Lusitanian resistance did not disappear but Rome continued to expand into the region.

The war against the Celtiberian peoples[edit]

The destruction led by Decimus Junius Brutus is an archaeological evidence in Cividade de Terroso. Roman reconstruction, quadrangular buildings instead of native circular ones, is also visible.

Between 135 and 132 BC, Consul Decimus Junius Brutus brought about an expedition to Gallaecia (north of Portugal and Galicia). Almost simultaneously (133 BC) the Celtiberian city Numantia, the last bastion of the Celtiberians, was destroyed. This was the culminating point of the war between the Celtiberians and the Romans between 143 BC and 133 BC; the Celtiberian city had been taken by Publius Cornelius Scipio Æmilianus, when the opportunity was too much to resist. The Celtiberian chiefs committed suicide with their families and the rest of the population was sold into slavery. The city was razed.

For more than a century the Vascones and Celtiberians fought over the rich land of the Ebro River Valley. The Celtiberian Calagurris, today Calahorra, probably carried the weight of the struggle, helped by tribal alliances; the Vascones likely had a fairly important settlement situated on the other side of the Ebro, in an area across from Calagurris, which also gained the support of Vascones from other places. The Celtiberians surely shouldered most of the load in the conflict destroying the Vascones' city and occupying lands on the other side of the Ebro.

But the so-called "Celtiberians" were enemies of Rome, and the Basques were Rome's allies (which was reasonable for strategic reasons). When Calagurris was destroyed by the Romans it was repopulated with Basques. It was probably the first Basque city on the other side of the river, destroyed before by the Celtiberians (who had occupied their lands north of the Ebro), and by other Basques.

In 123 BC, the Romans occupied the Balearic Islands, establishing a settlement there of three thousand Latin-speaking Hispanics. The fact that they were able to do this gives an impression of the profound cultural influence Rome projected on the Peninsula in just a century.

The civil wars[edit]

Hispania was party to the political and military disputes of the Roman Republic's final years when Quintus Sertorius clashed with the aristrocatic party headed by Sulla in 83 BC. Upon losing in Italy, Quintus took refuge in Hispania continuing the war against the Roman government and establishing a complete government system in Huesca. Finally it was Pompey who, after several raid attempts in Hispania, finished with Quintus Sertorius more by using political intrigue than military force. Subsequently it was peninsular support for Pompey that caused a new war in Hispania between his followers and the followers of Julius Caesar. This war ended in 49 BC with Julius Caesar's victory.

Julius Caesar and the war against Pompey[edit]

Julius Caesar invaded Hispania as part of his war against Pompey for control of Rome. Pompey fled to Greece and Caesar aimed to eliminate his base of support in the west and isolate him from the rest of the Empire. His forces clashed with those of Pompey's supporters at the Battle of Ilerda (Lerida) achieving a victory that opened the ports of the Peninsula. Finally, Pompey's forces were defeated at the Munda in 45 BC. One year later, Caesar was assassinated at the doors of the Roman Senate and his great-nephew Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, later named Augustus, was named consul after a brief war against Mark Antony, and later gained power that finally transformed the crumbling Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Last stage of the conquest: the Cantabrian Wars[edit]

Main article: Cantabrian Wars

During the reign of Caesar Augustus, Rome waged a bloody conflict in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula against the last independent nations of Hispania: the Cantabri, the Astures, and the Gallaeci. These warlike peoples presented fierce resistance to Roman domination: ten years of war (29-19 BC) and eight legions with their auxiliary troops —more than 50.000 soldiers in total— were needed to subdue the region.[1]

The Emperor himself moved to Segisama (modern Sasamon, Burgos), to supervise the campaign personally. The major fighting was completed in 19 BC, although there were minor rebellions until 16 BC and the Romans had to station two legions (X Gemina and IIII Macedonica) there for seventy more years.

With the end of this war, the long years of civil wars and wars of conquest ended in the territories of the Iberian Peninsula, beginning a long era of political and economic stability in Hispania.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Rabanal Alonso, Manuel Abilio (coord.) (1999). La Historia de León, Vol. 1: Prehistoria y Edad Antigua (in Spanish). Universidad de León. p. 133. ISBN 84-7719-817-9. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 

Bibliography[edit]

Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library
Other online publications
Printed sources
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  • Historia de España. España romana, I. Bosch Gimpera, Aguado Bleye, José Ferrandis. Obra dirigida por Ramón Menéndez Pidal. Editorial Espasa-Calpe S.A., Madrid 1935
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External links[edit]

Miguel de Cervantes Virtual Library
Recursos universitarios
Other links