Ancient History & Civilisation


For many years Roman governors administered and plundered Spain, and the provincials appealed, often with success, to Rome for justice. But in 154 war again broke out among the Lusitani and raged till 138. Meantime the Celtiberians made a bid for independence in 153 but were crushed by 151; this short Second Celtiberian War will be described before the longer struggle with Lusitania. The interest of these wars derives from the emergence of a national hero, whose brilliant guerrilla warfare recalls another great national leader, Owain Glyndwr; from the heroic resistance of the Celtiberians; from the demoralizing effect which they exercised on the Roman character; and finally from their link with the present, for many of the camps which were built during them have been uncovered this century.11

Stimulated by the rebellion of the Lusitanians, the Belli in 153 refused to stop fortifying their town of Segeda in the upper Jalon valley, and encouraged the neighbouring tribes in Nearer Celtiberia to revolt. The Senate assigned four legions to Spain and sent the consul Q. Fulvius Nobilior, son of the victor of the Aetolians, against the Celtiberians. When he advanced up the Jalon valley, the Belli abandoned Segeda and took refuge with the Arevaci, thus spreading the disturbance into Further Celtiberia. Nobilior left a supply post at Ocilis and advanced to Almazan, twenty miles south of Numantia, where his summer camp still survives.12 But while his army threaded its way through the defile to Numantia it was attacked by the Arevaci; 6,000 legionaries fell near Monte de Matamala on 23 August, the day of the Vulcanalia. The Roman cavalry, however, succeeded in driving back the victors to Numantia. Nobilior followed and camped on a mountain named Gran Atalaya near Renieblas, some four miles east of Numantia, where he commanded the approaches to the Ebro. Communications with his base at Ocilis would be difficult; after his recent defeat he evidently mistrusted the route thither and preferred to rely on the Ebro valley. In the summer he failed to storm Numantia, notwithstanding the use of elephants, and the neighbouring Uxama (Osma), so that he was forced to encamp for the winter (153–152) at Gran Atalaya amid great cold and hardship; his impressive winter camp still exists (Camp III).

In 152 he was succeeded by M. Claudius Marcellus, who took Ocilis and the revolted Jalon valley. By the offer of favourable terms many tribes, including the Arevaci, were induced to send embassies to Rome. But the Senate, now accustomed to the obsequious compliments of the Greeks, was in no mood to listen to tribesmen who spoke as free men conscious of their rights; Scipio Africanus, with his courteous sympathy towards the Spaniards, was long dead and Rome had drunk too deep from the cup of military power and domination. After negotiations had broken down Marcellus encamped on a hill (Castillejo), just north of Numantia, where later Scipio Aemilianus camped. He then made peace with the Numantines in return for a very large sum of money; the terms were probably the same as those formerly imposed by Gracchus. When the new consul L. Licinius Lucullus arrived in 151 and found peace established, he savagely turned against the unoffending Vaccaei. He took the town of Cauca by treachery; but his brutality merely stiffened the resistance of Intercatia and Pallantia, which he assailed in vain. He then withdrew to Further Spain to help the equally unscrupulous Galba against the Lusitanians. For seven years peace reigned in Celtiberia.

Meanwhile in 154 the Lusitanians had raided Roman territory, defeated two praetors and stirred the Vettones to arms. The following year they discomfited Mummius, the future destroyer of Corinth, and sent the captured Roman standards as an incentive to the Celtiberians; next, they attacked the Conii, raided Baetica and perhaps crossed to North Africa, but soon afterwards Mummius and his successor turned the tables on them. Consequently they made a treaty: only to break it the next year and to defeat Sulpicius Galba in a notable victory (151). Galba was reinforced by the arrival of Lucullus, but he found treachery more expedient than arms. After inducing the Lusitanians to submit, he disarmed, separated and finally butchered them. This cold-blooded atrocity was even more treacherous than Lucullus’ treatment of the Vaccaei, who had received no formal pledges from Rome when they surrendered. Rome’s name was dishonoured; such cruelty had never before stained her annals. On his return Galba was brought to trial, but though Cato, now aged eighty-five, supported the prosecution, a wise use of his ill-gotten gains and the tears of his little children obtained his acquittal. Rome truly was falling from her ancient greatness, as the ruins of Corinth, Carthage and Numantia were soon to testify.

Among the survivors of Galba’s massacre was a shepherd named Viriathus.13 He persuaded some 10,000 Lusitanians, who had been cut off by the praetor Vetilius, to fight for their liberty instead of surrendering. Under his leadership they broke away and for eight years he withstood the arms of Rome. First he adopted guerrilla tactics without any definite fortress for a base; in a narrow pass of the Sierra Ronda he trapped and defeated the praetor Vetilius who followed him south from Urso in the valley of the Guadiaro, some twenty-five miles south of Ronda (147). He then established himself nearer home in a strong position in Carpetania on the Hill of Venus (Sierra S. Vincente; forty miles north-west of Toledo). From here he long dominated the surrounding district, striking northwards to Segovia, and eastwards to Segobriga; finally he won a number of towns near Corduba in the south (146–141). The Roman forces continued to meet with defeat, even after 145 when a consular army of two legions was sent out. In 141/0 Fabius Maximus Servilianus was surrounded, but Viriathus unexpectedly accepted a treaty and allowed the Roman army to withdraw. Though the terms were ratified at Rome, Servilianus’ successor, Servilius Caepio, took upon himself to renew hostilities. The last phase of the war opened, in which Viriathus was forced back on the defensive. Caepio advanced into Lusitania from the south (a Castra Servilia has been found north of Caceres) and after a defeat suborned three of Viriathus’ friends to cut his throat as he lay sleeping in full armour in his tent (139). This terminated the war, although Caepio’s successor, D. Junius Brutus, penetrated further north. In 138 he subdued Portugal up to the Douro and the next year while his fleet advanced along the coast he reached Galice and defeated the wild Callaici beyond the Oblivio (Minho). He fortified Olisipo (Lisbon) and settled the veterans of Viriathus at a place named Valentia (Valença do Minho?). His treatment of the natives was marked by a greater moderation than many of his predecessors had displayed.

So fell Viriathus, a great national leader and hero, by a fate similar to that of Sertorius whom he much resembles. His courage, his skill in guerrilla warfare, his inspiring and magnetic personality, all alike command respect. But like many leaders from the elder Scipios to Wellington, he underestimated the volatility of the Spanish temperament. He failed to discipline his men adequately, to obtain the co-operation of the Celtiberians and to weld the various tribes into a nation.

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