Iberia, a land of champions and mercenaries
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Iberia, named after the river Ebro, was a land rich in tribal cultures. What we know of the Iberians is sourced from the writings of ancient historians such as Titus Livy and Polybius. Modern archaeology has increasing also given us valuable insights into the multi-cultural realm of this ancient land that stretched from the Atlantic to the west and the Mediterranean in the east.
Who were these Iberians then and what happened to them?
History tells us there were progressive migrations of Neolithic people who contributed to the cultures that existed in Iberia when Hamilcar Barca invaded with his army of mercenaries. The six most influential of these tribes at the beginning of the 2nd Punic War were:
The Bastetani in the South East,
The Turdetani in the South,
The Lusitani in the South West,
The Vascone in the North West,
The CeltIberi in the centre,
The Illerget in the North East.
Readers of the Sons of Iberia series will no doubt recognize some of these tribes. Being the most powerful and populous, they had the greatest impact on the Barca war effort in Iberia. After the final defeat of Carthaginian forces in Iberia by the Roman Republic’s legions, Rome replaced the Carthaginians as rulers. The tribes, who had constantly chaffed against Barca rule, took no less kindly to the Romans and it was only with a monumental effort spanning two hundred years, that the Romans managed to solidify their hold on Iberia.
The pre-Roman Iberians proved adaptable and resourceful, acquiring and adopting technology from the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Egyptians among others. This is evident in their enduring art and even the ruins of their cities.
From the beginning of the 5th century BC, the Iberians began to commercialise their skills in battle. Being tribal, there was always the threat of attack or the promise of bounty from raids. With the advance of Celtic tribes from the north, the warriors of Iberia became increasingly skilled in battle, both as infantry and cavalry.
Iberian horses were remarkably doughty and apart from the steppe tribes, their horse warriors were among the best in the world. Iberian horsemen were said to be renowned champions as early as 2,000 BC and Iberian mounts are mentioned by Homer in the Iliad, written in 1,100 BC. The Greek cavalry officer, Xenophon, praised the "gifted Iberian horses" for their role in helping Sparta defeat the Athenians around 450 BC. An ancient legend has it that the mares of Iberia were sired by the wind. In battle, the agility of the Iberian mount was evidenced in the individual charges, fast stops, pirouettes, and retreat and counterattacks.
Iberian warriors wielded a truly awesome sword; the falcata, which proved a terror on many a battlefield. Most notably though, their short sword (Gladius Hispaniensis) was the inspiration for the Roman gladius, the sword with which Rome conquered the Western world. It is also thought that the Roman pilum (javelin) was adopted from Iberian mercenaries fighting for Carthage in the 1st Punic War.
Thanks to their skill with blades and horses, Iberian warriors became sought after mercenaries. More than just skilled, Iberian mercenaries were renowned for their ferocity, endurance and discipline. Ancient historians Strabo and Thucydides, both rated the Iberian warrior highly, and Iberian mercenaries were instrumental in several decisive victories over Rome’s legions during the 2nd Punic War. Carthage, Hellenic cities and Rome all hired Iberian warriors who fought in units that consisting of kin and neighbour. Iberian mercenaries racked up a long list of campaigns including:
The Sicilian Wars (460 – 307 BC),
The Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BC),
The Theban – Spartan War (378 – 362 BC)
The 2nd Punic War (218 – 201 BC)
The Gallic Wars (58 – 50 BC)
In spite of their convincing martial prowess, the Iberian warrior was doomed to become another tool in the Roman empire. Fortunately, the Iberians were adaptable and in time, Iberia (known as Hispania by the Romans) became a wealthy and important part of the Roman empire.
All this is grist to the mill for a writer and if you consider the dearth of contemporary English literature set in ancient Iberia, makes for a compelling reason to write a series of books set on the peninsula.