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This article is about an ancient people known today as the Iberians from the Iberian Peninsula. For modern-day Iberians, see Spanish people and Portuguese people. For the ancient Georgians, see Caucasian Iberians.
The Lady of Elx, made by Iberians.
Iberian scripts in the context of paleohispanic scripts.
Luís Fraga's interpretation of the language areas in Iberia circa 200BC, with small corrections.

The Iberians were a set of peoples that Greek and Roman sources (among others, Hecataeus of Miletus, Avienus, Herodotus and Strabo) identified with that name in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula, at least from the 6th century BC.

The term Iberian, as used by the ancient authors, had two distinct meanings. One, more general, referred to all the populations of the Iberian peninsula without regard to ethnic differences. The other, more restricted, with an ethnic sense, to the people living in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula, which by the 6th century BC had absorbed cultural influences from the Phoenicians and the Greeks.[1]


The Iberians were not a clearly defined culture, ethnic group or political entity. The name is instead a blanket term for a number of peoples belonging to a pre-Roman Iron Age culture inhabiting the eastern and southeastern Iberian peninsula and who have been historically identified as "Iberian". Although these peoples shared certain common features, they diverged widely in some respects.

The Roman and Greek sources often diverge about the precise location of each Iberian people and also about the list of Iberian peoples. There are some doubts about the ethno-linguistic affiliation of some of the peoples generally defined as Iberians, which included the Airenosi, Andosini, Ausetani, Bastetani, Bergistani, Castellani, Cessetani, Ceretani, Contestani, Edetani, Elisyces, Iacetani, Ilercavones, Ilergetes, Indigetes, Lacetani, Laietani, Oretani, Sedetani, Sordones, Suessetani, Turdetani and Vescetani or Oscenses. An unknown named tribe or tribes in the Balearic Islands (formed by the Pityusic Islands and Gymnesian islands) may have been Iberian also.


The Iberians lived in isolated communities based on a tribal organization. They also had a knowledge of metalworking, including bronze, and agricultural techniques. In the centuries preceding Carthaginian and Roman conquest, Iberian settlements grew in social complexity, exhibiting evidence of social stratification and urbanization. This process was probably aided by trading contacts with the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians. Among the most important goods traded by the Iberians were precious metals, tin and copper.

The Phoenicians established their first colony on the Iberian Peninsula in 1100 BC, and probably made contact with Iberians then or shortly thereafter. The Phoenician colony was originally called Gadir. Later, the Roman renamed it Gades (modern Cádiz).

Greek colonists made the first historical reference to the Iberians in the 6th century BC. The Greeks also dubbed as "Iberians" another people, currently known as Caucasian Iberians. It is not known if there had been any type of connection between the two peoples.


Neolithic expansion.
Paleohispanic languages according to inscriptions (except Aquitanian - according to anthroponyms and theonyms used in Latin inscriptions).

Iberian origins are not clear. However it is suggested that they arrived in Spain in the Neolithic period, with their arrival being dated from as early as the fifth millennium BC to the third millennium BC. Most scholars[who?] adhering to this theory believe from archaeological, anthropological and genetic evidence that the Iberians came from a region farther east in the Mediterranean. Others[who?] have suggested that they may have originated in North Africa. The Iberians would have settled along the eastern coast of Spain.[2][3][4]

External influences[edit]

The Iberians traded extensively with other Mediterranean cultures. Iberian pottery has been found in France, Italy, and North Africa. The Iberians also had extensive contact with Greek colonists. The Iberians may have adopted some of the Greeks' artistic techniques. Statues such as the Lady of Baza and the Lady of Elx are thought to have been made by Iberians relatively well acquainted with Greek art. Thucydides stated that one of the three original tribes of Sicily, the Sicani, were of Iberian origin, though "Iberian" at the time could have included what we think of as Gaul.[5]

The Iberians were placed under Carthaginian rule for a short time between the First and Second Punic Wars. They supplied troops to Hannibal's army. The Romans subsequently conquered the Iberian Peninsula and slowly supplanted the local culture with their own.

Iberian falcata.

Iberian culture[edit]

Iberian knight of Moixent, in the Valencian Community
Lead plaque from Ullastret using the northwestern dual signary.
Lead plaque from La Bastida de les Alcuses (Moixent) using the southeastern signary.
Lead plaque from la Serreta (Alcoi) using the Greco-Iberian alphabet.

Iberian language[edit]

Main article: Iberian language

The Iberian language, like the rest of the paleohispanic languages, became extinct by the 1st to 2nd centuries AD, after being gradually replaced by Latin. Iberian seems to be a language isolate. It is generally considered as a non-Indo-European language. Links with many other languages have been claimed and translations have been proposed, but they have not been successfully demonstrated. A 1978 study claimed many similarities between Iberian and the Messapic language.[6] Another proposed link is with the Basque language, but this theory is also strongly disputed.

Iberian scripts[edit]

Main article: Iberian scripts

The Iberians use three different scripts to represent the Iberian language.

Northeastern Iberian script and southeastern Iberian script share a common distinctive typological characteristic, also present in other paleohispanic scripts: they present signs with syllabic value for the occlusives and signs with monofonematic value for the rest of consonants and vowels. From a writing systems point of view they are neither alphabets nor syllabaries, they are mixed scripts that normally are identified as semi-syllabaries. About this common origin, there is no agreement between researchers: for some this origin is only linked to the Phoenician alphabet while for others the Greek alphabet had participated too.


Main article: Iberian sculpture

The Iberians produced sculpture in stone and bronze, most of which was much influenced by the Greeks and Phoenicians. The styles of Iberian sculpture are divided geographically into Levantine, Central, Southern, and Western groups, of which the Levantine group displays the most Greek influence.

Funerary vase from the necropolis of Lucentum (the Roman name for Alicante, València, Spain).[7]
Iberian lion of Bujalance, in Andalusia, Spain.
Iberian tomb in an ancient Iberian village, near Azaila, in Aragón, Spain.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ An English-language survey is Richard J. Harrison, Spain at the Dawn of History: Iberians, Phoenicians and Greeks (Thames & Hudson), 1988.
  2. ^ "Iberians - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  3. ^ Iberians - Encyclopedia.com
  4. ^ Spain: Historical Setting - Library of Congress Country Study - Iberia
  5. ^ "Sicilian Peoples: The Sicanians". Best of Sicily. 7 October 2007. 
  6. ^ [1] On the decipherment of ancient Iberian , James M. Anderson - University of Calgary
  7. ^ Courtesy of www.contestania.com.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beltrán, Miguel (1996): Los iberos en Aragón, Zaragoza.
  • Ruiz, Arturo; Molinos, Manuel (1993): Los iberos, Barcelona.
  • Sanmartí, Joan; Santacana, Joan (2005): Els ibers del nord, Barcelona.
  • Sanmartí, Joan (2005): «La conformación del mundo ibérico septentrional», Palaeohispanica 5, pp. 333–358.

External links[edit]