After the Second Punic War Rome maintained a permanent military presence in Spain to ensure that a second Hannibal could not use it as a base for an invasion of Italy. Spain was populated by three main groups: the Lusitanians in the west, Iberians in the south and east and the Celtiberians in the north. Tribal groupings were looser than in Gaul and each small fortified town was effectively independent. Divisions were common within communities and leaders tended to enjoy power for only as long as they were militarily successful. There were no real equivalents to the kings of Gallic tribes. There were many misunderstandings as the Romans attempted to negotiate with authorities whom they believed spoke for an entire community, only to discover that this was not so. On one occasion a Roman commander was attacked and his baggage plundered by warriors from a tribe with which he had just concluded a treaty. Soon afterwards a contingent of cavalry from the same tribe arrived to serve as auxiliaries in his army as had been agreed in the treaty. The confused Romans held them responsible for the raid and had them put in chains. Spanish society was difficult to understand for men who only served for one year in the provinces. The fragmentation of social and political structures in Spain had been exacerbated by decades of warfare as first the Carthaginians and then the Romans had fought to establish their power in the region. A growing population worsened the situation, particularly as a career of mercenary service with Carthage was no longer available to landless young men.

Raiding and banditry became more frequent. Continual warfare hindered agriculture, which in turn encouraged more communities to supplement their living by raiding others. Groups of landless men banded together to raid the surrounding communities. The motivation for this activity was brutally pragmatic. If a community was perceived to be weak it would be attacked, if strong then it would be avoided or alliance sought with it. Raid provoked counter-raid to maintain a continuous cycle of plundering which might easily escalate into formal battles. The Romans attempted to construct a network of allied peoples to create stability in their Spanish provinces. To preserve this they needed to prevent or avenge any raids on their allies. Failure to do so, or a Roman defeat, however small, encouraged more widespread attacks and allied tribes to defect.

One solution was to resettle the landless warriors elsewhere. The Romans had done something similar with the Ligurians, a mountain people of north-west Italy who possessed an even more disparate and fragmented political structure than the Spaniards. Large numbers of Ligurians had been forcibly deported, settled on fertile land elsewhere in Italy and turned into stable and peaceful farmers. In 150 вс the governor of Further Spain, Servius Sulpicius Galba, accepted the surrender of a band of Lusitanians and promised to provide them with plots of land in a fertile area. The Lusitanians had been plundering the Roman province for several years, inflicting several defeats on Roman forces. Defeated by the previous governor and forced to accept peace, the tribes had returned to raiding after his departure, excusing this breach of a treaty by claiming that poverty forced them to attack their neighbours. Galba disarmed the warriors, divided them and their families into three groups and then ordered his troops to massacre them all. On his return to Rome, Galba was prosecuted for breaking faith with the Lusitanians, but was acquitted after mobilizing his relations in the Senate and, in a desperate gesture, bringing his weeping children into the court in an effort to invoke the pity of the jury. Galba went on to become one of the most famous orators of his day, but never again commanded an army. A similar atrocity had been committed in the other Spanish province a few years before when the praetor Lucullus had launched an unprovoked attack on a tribe, accepted their surrender and then massacred them. These were both examples of Roman behaviour at its worst, yet the two commanders evaded prosecution. Such incidents lend support to the idea of the Romans as brutal imperialists, individual governors seeking out vulnerable foreign peoples to butcher for the loot and glory. They are also indications of the frustration felt by many Roman commanders at the apparent impossibility of winning a permanent victory in Spain. The events of the next decades were to reinforce this opinion.

One of the few survivors of Galba’s massacre was a Lusitanian named Viriathus, who was soon to emerge as an inspirational leader and a skilled commander, defeating or evading all the Roman forces sent against him. He is an example of the type of charismatic leader who often appeared after the initial stages of Roman conquest had destroyed traditional power structures in an area. Other examples would include Vercingetorix in Gaul and Arminius in Germany, both of whom were able to lead very large armies drawn from confederations of tribes. The basis of their power was personal and tended to collapse as soon as the leader disappeared from the scene. Viriathus was murdered by a treacherous subordinate who hoped for reward from Rome. The Emperor Tiberius would later refuse an offer made by a German chieftain to assassinate Arminius, but only because successful Roman campaigns had checked the latter’s power and removed any threat he posed. In other circumstances, when the continuance of a conflict rested solely on the perseverance of a single leader, the Romans arranged the treacherous capture of Jugurtha of Numidia in 106 вс or mounted attacks with the primary objective of killing the enemy commander.

King Jugurtha of Numidia waged a long war against the Romans between 112 and 106 вс, humiliating them in 110 when he forced a Roman army to surrender and pass under the yoke. As a young man, he had commanded an auxiliary contingent with great distinction at the siege of Numantia, encouraging a Roman belief that their most dangerous opponents were men whom they themselves had taught how to fight. Eventually, one of Jugurtha’s allies was persuaded to betray him to the Romans and he was taken prisoner, ending the war.

Encouraged by Viriathus’ successes, another rebellion against Rome had developed in northern Spain, centred around the city of Numantia. Large but poorly led and unprepared Roman armies advanced against the rebels and suffered disaster. An army commanded by Gaius Hostilius Mancinus was surrounded by the Celtiberians and forced to surrender in 137 вс, the Romans accepting peace on equal terms to the Numantines. The Senate refused to ratify the treaty and sent back Mancinus, naked and in chains, to the Numantines, who refused to receive him. The Romans elected Scipio Aemilianus, the man who had destroyed Carthage, to a second consulship and gave him the command in Spain. Scipio carefully retrained the troops in the province and added to the men he had brought with him, leading an army of sixty thousand men against the Numantines. Despite his great numerical superiority, he refused to face the eight thousand Numantines in battle, so great was the advantage in morale they had gained over the Roman troops. Instead, he blockaded Numantia, building a wall strengthened by forts to surround the city. After a long struggle, in which the starving defenders are alleged to have resorted to cannibalism, the Numantines surrendered and the city was destroyed in 133 вс. The fall of Numantia marked the end of intensive campaigning in Spain, although the peninsula was not fully pacified for more than a century.

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