Conquest of Hispania

B.C. 218 to 19
Rome — versus — Celt-Iberians, Lusitanians, Cantabrians

Second Punic War — 218-206 B.C.      Turdetani Uprising — 195 B.C.     
Celt-Iberian War — 181-134 B.C.      Lusitanian Wars — 155-139 B.C.     
Sertorian War — 83-72 B.C.       Cantabrian War — 29-19 B.C.      

The first Roman incursions into the Region of Hispania were during the Second Punic War, beginning in 218 BC Although Rome managed to drive Carthage out of Spain in only twelve years, it was nearly 200 years before all of the Spanish tribes were united under Roman rule. The indigenous tribes, particularly those based in the mountainous north, west, and the central highlands were difficult to subdue, and engaged the Romans for many years with revolts and guerrilla wars.

The Carthaginian Empire in Spain was based mainly in the coastal areas, and inland regions with navigable rivers. These regions had been settled by Greek, Phoenician, and other maritime colonies as well as the indigenous Turdetani. Since these tribes were already under the sway of Carthage, and relatively civilized, they were fairly quickly Romanized. The inland tribes on the other hand, fought fiercely for their independence. Some of the major tribes that Rome engaged were the Celt-Iberians (Ebro River Basin), Lusitanians (Portugal), Cantabrians (Northern Coast and Mountains), and Turdetani (Baetis River, and Andalusia region). Most of these tribes, excluding the Turdetani, were at least partially Celtic, but are thought to have mixed ancestry.

Second Punic War : 218-206 B.C.

The Roman Campaign in Hispania during the second Punic war was one of strategic necessity. From 218 to 211 BC it was lead by the elder Scipio brothers, Gnaeus and Publius Cornelius Scipio. Their primary objective was to prevent reinforcements from Spain from reaching Italy, and to this end they attacked the Ebro valley at the battles of Cissa, and Ebro river, they carved out a strategically very important region of Roman control. Their victory two years later at Dertosa expanded their area of control, and coming as it did soon after the disaster at Cannae, was an important Roman victory. After consolidating Roman territory, they hired 20,000 Celt-Iberian mercenaries, and met Carthage in the Baetis (Guadalquiver) River valley in southwest Hispania. This, however, proved a disaster. Carthage bribed the mercenaries to betray Rome, and both Scipios were killed. Soon after this, Scipio Africanus, the son of Publius Cornelius, who was killed at Baetis river, took command of the Campaign in Rome and won great victories at New Carthage, Beacula, and finally, at the battle of Silpia, drove Carthage entirely out of Spain.

DateBattle Summary
218 BC  
Battle of Cissna (Second-Iberia ) Romans victory
Fouth B.C. 218 between 22,000 Romans under Gnaeus Scipio, and 10,000 Carthagians under Hanno. Scipio landed a force north of the Elbro river in order to prevent Carthage from sending reinforcements from Spain over the Alps. Hanno gave battle, and was routed, losing most of his army.
217 BC  
Battle of Ebro River (Second-Iberia ) Romans victory
This naval battle was fought in B.C. 217 at the mouth of the Ebro River between a Carthage fleet of 40 quinqueremes under Himilco, and a Roman fleet of 55 under Gnaeus Scipio. The Romans won a decisive victory.
215 BC  
Battle of Dertosa (Second-Iberia ) Romans victory
Fought in the spring of B.C. 215 between 33,000 Romans under Gnaeus Scipio, and 29,000 Carthagians under Hasdrubal Barca. After a pitched battle with heavy losses on both sides, Scipio drove Hasdrubal out of the region south of the Ebro.
211 BC  
Battle of Upper Baetis (Second-Iberia ) Carthagians victory
In the years leading up to this battle, Rome, lead by the Scipio brothers, Gnaeus and Publius, had secured a strong front in the Ebro valley, but Carthage, under Hasdrubal still held sway in the south. The Scipios hired 20,000 Celt-Iberian mercenaries and went to meet Hasdrubal at his stronghold near the Baetis River. The Scipios split their armies and fought two battles. The Romans under Publius Scipio met the Spaniards under Indibilius at the Battle of Castulo, and held the advantage until the arrival of Masanissa and his Numedian horsemen put the Romans to rout, and Publius was killed. A few days later, the Celt-Iberian mercenaries deserted Gnaeus and he was overwhelmed and killed at the Battle of Llorca.
209 BC  
Siege of Nova Carthago (Second-Iberia ) Romans victory
This city, defended by a small Carthaginian garrison, under Mago, was stormed by 27,500 Romans, under Scipio, B.C. 209.
208 BC  
Battle of Baecula (Second-Iberia ) Romans victory
Fought 208 B.C. between 35,000 Romans under Scipio Africanus, and 25,000 Carthagians and Spaniards under Hasdrubal Barca. In his first engagement in a pitched battle after taking possession of Novo Carthago, Scipio Africanus routed the Carthagians, killing 6,000 and taking 10,000 captive. Hasdrubal, however, escaped.
206 BC  
Battle of Elinga (Second-Sicily ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 206, between 74,000 Carthaginians, under Hanno, and 48,000 Romans under Scipio Africanus. The battle was fought on the open plain in front of Hanno's camp, and resulted in a complete victory for the Romans. This battle, which is also known as the battle of Silpia, ended the Carthaginian domination in Spain.

Short Biography
Gnaeus Scipio Roman General who fought Hasdrubal in Spain and conquered Ebro region of Hispania.
Cornelius Scipio Tried to intercept Hannibal in Gaul, but was defeated at Ticino River and Trebbia.
Scipio Africanus Roman hero of second Punic War. Led armies in Spain and Africa. Defeated Hannibal at Zama.
Hasdrubal Barca Fought against Scipios in Spain; killed after he crossed the Alps to aid Hannibal.
Hanno the Navigator First Mediterranean sea-farer to explore the West coast of Africa and give report.

Story Links
Book Links
Early History of Spain  in  The Romance of Spanish History  by  John S.C. Abbott
Capture of New Carthage  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor

Turdetani Uprising : 195 B.C.

Hispania was divided by the Romans into two provinces: Hispania Citerior (farther), the large region to the northwest providing the basin of Ebro river, and Hispania Ulterior (nearer), which included most of the eastern and southern coastal regions. One of the first governors of Hispania Citerior was Cato the Elder, and he very swiftly put down resistance in both provinces, including a major Turdetani Uprising in the south in 195 BC His ideas of pacification was direct and merciless, relying entirely on force and military tactics rather than accommodation. Once Cato's army had won a great victory against the Turdetani, he sent messages to every town, all on a single day, informing each that they must demolish their walls immediately or face attack. Most of the Southern cities therefore demolished their own walls, and were henceforth unable to join in rebellion against Rome.

DateBattle Summary
195 BC  
Battle of Emporia (Armagnac War ) Romans victory
Fought B.C. 195 between 40,000 coastal tribes in rebellion, and a much smaller Roman force under Marcus Cato. Cato dismissed his ships, telling his troops that if they failed in battle, there would be no safety in defeat. After a hard fought battle, the Romans prevailed, and slaughter many of the rebels. Cato then sent a message to all of the towns in the region telling them to tear down their walls, which they did.

Short Biography
Cato (the censor) Roman censor, urged destruction of Carthage before third Punic War.

Story Links
Book Links
Marcus Cato  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman

Celt-Iberian Wars : 181-134 B.C.

The Celt-Iberian Wars were a series of three wars fought to subdue the tribes in Hispania Citerior, who lived near the Ebro river. The first was a rebellion of the Lusones tribe. When 20,000 Celt-Iberians besieged the Roman town of Caravis, Tiberius Gracchus was sent to relieve the city. Soon after this his camp was attacked by a tribe of Complega, which he put to rout. Having conquered the revolting tribes he listened to their grievances, granted them land, and made treaties between the tribes and Rome.


Twenty years later, another war broke out when the Belli, one of the Celt-Iberian tribes began to fortify their city, Segeda. In 153 a Roman army was sent against their city, but the Belli fled and joined forces with the Arevaci. The Celt-Iberians, led by Carus set up and ambush and killed over 6,000 Romans, before being himself killed. The Arevaci then fled to their fortified city of Numantia, and successfully held out against several Roman incursions, as the rebellion spread to other Celt-Iberian towns. The hostilities were temporarily concluded when Marcellus, an new consul arrived with reinforcements. He threatened a siege of several of the rebellious towns, but treated them leniently when they conceded. This caused several of the other tribes in rebellion to sue for peace. After long, complicated negotiations with Rome, Marcellus reached a peaceful agreement with most of the tribes, but not until after Rome rose another army under Lucullus, and dispatched it to Spain. Unfortunately the good efforts of Marcellus were undermined by Lucullus, who was determined to punish the Celt-Iberians for their rebellion. He made unprovoked attacks on several towns in a fruitless attempt to gain plunder and glory for himself.

The ongoing success of the rebel leader Viriathus in Lusitania inspired the Arevaci and Numantines to rebel again in 143. When the Romans raised an army against them, they retired to their stronghold at Numantia. The problem for Rome was that the Numantia was a very strongly fortified city, and it held out successfully against the Romans for eight years, with a garrison of only 8,000, at great cost to the Romans. The Numatian War became a scandal within Rome, with several commanders disgraced, several peace proposals refused, and a terrific loss of men. The Numantines fought with great bravery, and foiled every Roman army sent against it.

Finally, Rome appointed Scipio the Younger, hero of Carthage, as consul. He did not conscript an army, but raised 20,000 volunteers (i.e. mercenaries). In addition, he brought in a Numidian army under Jugurtha, (later one of Rome's worst enemies). When he arrived in Spain he dismissed all of the camp followers, trained and drilled the new army, had them set up strong fortifications before the city, and prepared to reduce the population by hunger. The plan succeeded, although a great number of the Numantines killed themselves rather than fall into Roman hands. When they finally surrendered, he razed the city and sold the remaining population into slavery.

DateBattle Summary
179 BC  
Siege of Caravis (Celtiberian Wars ) Romans victory
This city was besieged in B.C. 179 by 20,000 Celtiberians. A roman army, led by Tiberius Gracchus (the elder) arrived to its relief, having first sent a scout through the enemy's camp to inform the town that relief was on its way.
153 BC  
Battle of Segeda (Celtiberian Wars ) drawn battle victory
When the Belli began fortifications of the city of Segeda, an army of 30,000 Romans, under Quitus Fulvius Nobilior was sent against it. A force of 20,000 Belli and their Aravaci allies, under Carus set and ambush and fell upon the Romans, killing 6,000. The Roman horsemen however, recovered and killed Carus, also killing 6,000 Spaniards.
142 BC  
Siege of Numantia (Sertorian War ) Romans victory
This city, defended by the inhabitants under Megaravicus, was besieged B.C. 142 by a Roman consular army. In the course of 141 the Romans were twice defeated under the walls, and though negotiations for a surrender were entered into in the following year, they were not concluded, and in 139 the new Roman commander, Popilius Laenas, refused to ratify the terms. Shortly afterwards he was again defeated by the Numantians, as was his successor Mancius in 137. It was not till the arrival of Scipio Aemilianus in 134 that the lengthy resistance of the inhabitants was at last overcome, and fifteen months after he took command the city fell, in the autumn of 133 B.C.

Short Biography
Carus Celt-Iberian chief of the Belli tribe during conquest of Hispania. Defeated Romans at battle of Caravis.
Marcellus Besieged Syracuse during the second Punic War, but the ingenious war weapons of Archimedes frustrated the Romans.
Scipio the Younger Led the siege of Carthage during the third Punic War.

Story Links
Book Links
Early History of Spain  in  The Romance of Spanish History  by  John S.C. Abbott
Beginnings of Spain  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne

Lusitanian Wars : 155-139 B.C.

The Lusitani were a Celtic tribe living in the far west of Hispania, in the modern region of Portugal. The Lucitanian War broke out in 155 BC when, under a leader named Punicus, the Lucitanians revolted against Roman rule, ravaged Roman towns and killed 6,000 Romans and their allies. Mummius was sent to put down the rebellion, but suffered a serious defeat, loosing 9,000 Roman soldiers. The rebellion spread to the Vettones to the east, and also to the south where the Roman city of Cunei was conquered. Mummius, having recovered from his previous defeat, followed the victorious Lusitanian armies and slew them in camp, and raised the siege of Ocile. He slew all of the retreating Lusitanians and returned to Rome in triumph. Some of the rebelling cities were now prepared to make terms, but others were not. A peace negotiated with the Roman commander Atilius was put aside when some of the tribes rebelled again, and besieged more Roman towns. In 151 Servius Galba and Lucullus (who had attacked the Celt-Iberians in violation of a previous peace agreement), were sent to put down the Lusitanians, and the did so ruthlessly. When ambassadors came asking peace from the Romans, he pretended to make a favorable truce, but then slaughtered the entire lot of them. One of those who escaped however, was Virianthus, who was later to become the leader of the Lusitanians.

Four years later another rebellion broke out, involving about 10,000 Lusitanians. A new Roman army arrived and cornered the rebels. While they considered their options Virianthus came to them, and offered to show them a means of escape. They broke off negotiations with Rome, and followed Virianthus, who not only helped them escape, but set an ambush for the Romans, killing thousands end even taking the commander prisoner. The next army sent against Virianthus, met a similar fate, it being his habit to kill virtually all of the men captured in ambush.

Virianthus continued these depredations until a new consul army under Aemilianus was sent against him, in 145 BC After carefully drilling his army for over a year, Aemilianus met Virianthus in battle, and defeated him. Nothing daunted, Virianthus responded by prompting several of the other Celt-Iberian tribes, including the Avevaci and Belli, to rebel from Rome. This led to the third Celt-Iberian War, described previously, and caused much grief and great difficulties for the Romans. Rome sent another large army against Virianthus, and damaged his cause by attacking towns that had allied with him, but were unable to decisively beat him. For two years they tracked and harassed, but could not defeat him. Finally, as the Romans besieged a Lusitanian town, Virianthus surprised them and put them to flight, driving them into cliffs from which they could not escape. Instead of slaughtering the Romans, however, he sued for peace on favorable terms and was granted it. The peace, however, was not long lasting, since many in Rome opposed such a "disgraceful" treaty, and soon re-opened the war. The weary war dragged on. Virianthus army was reduced to such a size that they operated more as bandits than as an army. He was so outnumbered that he refused to meet the Romans in open battle but continued to harass the army and its allies. The war was not concluded until three ambassadors, sent from Virianthus' camp were bribed to assassinate him. Soon after the Romans concluded peace with the rest of his army.

Short Biography
Aemilianus Roman General who met Virianthus in battle, and defeated him.
Servius Galba Roman General who dealt treacherously with the Lusitania tribes.
Viriathus Lusitanian chief who resisted Rome during conquest of Hispania. Won many battles and incited rebellions.

Sertorian War : 83-72 B.C.

The Sertorian War occurred more than fifty years after the Celt-Iberian and Lusitanian wars had been brought to a close. Hispania was, for the most part pacified. When the Civil war between Sulla (the Optimates), and Marius (the Populares) broke out in Rome, however Hispania was drawn into the fight by the involvement of Sertorius, a great hero of the Marian party. After the worst of the fighting in Rome, after Sulla returned with vengeance from the Mithridatic wars, and began to purge his enemies from Italy. Marian sympathizes fled Italy to the provinces, and Sertorius was likewise exiled. Having previously served in Hispania, in 80 BC he was invited by the Lusitania to lead their tribes against the oppressive generals and governor appointed by Sulla. It was a task which he performed magnificently, being a statesman and general of the highest order, and in a short time he won the respect and loyalty of all of the native tribes. The portions of Hispania he controlled became a safe-haven for exiled members of the Marius party, and he defeated every consular army sent against him.

Sertorius held sway in Hispania for over eight years. He trained the native armies to fight like Romans. He founded schools for the children of the native tribes, and in spite of the fact that he at war against Rome, he effectively Romanized the population. As a Roman patriot, it was not his purpose to raise his Spanish subjects to rebellion against Rome, but rather, against its current government.

Sulla's party in Rome sent its best generals against him, including Pompey and Metellus, but they could not prevail against the army of Sertorius, which knew the territory, was ably led, and had the support of the general population. Eventually Sertorius was assassinated at the behest of Perperna Vento, one of his jealous generals, who assumed command after the death of Sertorius. Perperna opened up negotiations with Pompey to end the war but rather than being acquitted for his evil deeds, he was executed by Pompey. Pompey then offered easy terms of surrender to all the rebellious tribes, and dealt harshly only with their leaders, and the murderers of Sertorius.

DateBattle Summary
80 BC  
Battle of Baetis River (Sertorian War ) Sertorius victory
Fought B.C. 80, between the rebels, under Sertorius, and the Roman army under Lucius Fulfidas. The rebels were victorious.
75 BC  
Battle of the Suero (Turdetani Uprising ) Sertorius victory
Fought B.C. 75, between the rebels, under Sertorius, and the Roman army, under Pompey. The Roman right, under Pompey, was broken and defeated, but Afranius turned defeat into victory, capturing the Sertorian camp, and routing and dispersing the rebel army.

Short Biography
Sertorius Led rebellion against Rome in Spain; held out for 8 years.
Pompey Very renowned general. Defeated pirates. Led opposition to Caesar in civil war.
Perperna Vento Treacherous general of Sertorius who arranged for his assasination.

Story Links
Book Links
Beyond the Pyrenees  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
White Fawn  in  Tales of the Romans: The Children's Plutarch  by  F. J. Gould
Sertorius and His Doe  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Sertorius  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman

Cantabrian War : 29-19 B.C.

The Cantabri were a wild tribe of savage mountaineers, living on the northernmost coast of Spain. Although they had taken part against Rome in numerous wars, including the Celt-Iberian, Lusitanian and, Sertorian, Rome had not yet conquered this mountainous territory. It was not until the onset of the Roman Empire, that Augustus Caesar himself decided to lead an Army against them. The Cantabrians, by their mountainous, wild nature, were not inclined to join in open, pitched battles against Rome, but rather adopted guerrilla tactics. They were also inclined to kill themselves rather than be taken prisoner. The war against the Cantabri, was therefore, essentially a war of extermination. Even this took nearly ten years. In order to repress these dauntless rebels, the Romans needed to surround the Cantabrian territory with 70,000 men, including naval support to guard the coast. The region was not completely subdued until 16 BC , but even in years there after, two entire legions were stationed to keep further rebellions from occurring. The Roman conquest of Hispania therefore, was completed by a rather inglorious extermination of their most persistent foe.

Image Links

The defense of Numantia.
 in Famous Men of Rome

The Iberians driven under the Roman yoke
 in Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain