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CELTIBERIAN WARS AND NUMANTINE RESISTANCE

Throughout the 2nd century BC, Rome conquered Celtiberia an area which spread from the Ebro valley, to the waters of the high Duero, high Tagus and Jalon river. The Roman's advance started from the Mediterranean coast, up the Ebro valley and then across the Iberian and Central mountain ranges, reaching the high Duero, little by little taking the interior of the peninsula.

In 179 BC, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus sent his legions to suppress a Celtiberian uprising that would end in the Roman's victory over the Celtiberians in the battle of Mons Chaunus (probably referring to mount Moncayo). This lead to the Gracchus Treaty, which involved lasting peace and the commitment of Ebro valley Celtiberean's not to build new towns or fortify existing ones.

The resumption of hostilities, from the year 154 BC onwards, will move the war further inland, shifting the border to the High Tagus -Jalón and high Duoro.


The celtiberian army

Celtiberians, renowned for their bravery and speed in combat, went to war on horseback and in groups on foot. They used a tactic that the Romans named concursare, based on quick and surprise movements of attack and retreat.

This strategy worked best for them in narrow and steep terrains which hindered mobility, especially against an army with the characteristics of the Romans, perfectly trained, armed and tactically disciplined for formation combat.


The Celtiberean's armament was light. As offensive weapons they used:

- Double-edged sword with a sharp end, used by the Romans: named "gladius hispanensis".
- Daggers, with two kinds of handles: biglobular or pediment ended.
- Spears, with iron tips which they were very skillful with.
- Sling, to cast stones.

As defensive weapons:

-Small circular shield or caetra.
-Leather and metal helmets, sometimes double-crested.
-Breastplates and chainmail. As well as
-Leather or metal greaves to protect the legs.

In the case of the cavalry, the Celtibereans rode without saddle or stirrups. They just put a rug over the back of the horse, and they used leather straps as reins. As armament they used:

-Spears: with metal tips and iron ferrule at the opposite side of a wooden pole.
-Sword and shield: the same as those used by infantry.

The Roman Army

From 153 BC, Rome sent consular armies to Celtiberia consisting of two legions with 4200 men in each joined by mercenary troops. This enabled them to mobilize armies of 35000 and 40000 men, reflecting the importance given by Rome to the war against the Celtibereans.

The legion was divided in 60 centuries, of 60 soldiers each, which in order to be more effective were grouped in 30 maniples, made of 2 centuries each.

The formation of the Roman Army was divided into several lines:

-First line: light infantry, armed with spears, which were thrown at the beginning of combat. Afterwards they withdrew behind the heavy infantry.

-Second line: divided in three lines of heavy infantry: hastati, princeps and triarii. They were armed with two javelins and a sword, and were protected with a helmet, breastplate, shield and shin pads. The hastati attacked first, then replaced by the princeps in case they had been weakened, and these by the triarii if necessary.

Besides the infantry, Rome's army formation was made up of the cavalry, which was located in the wings of the formation, thus covering both flanks of the infantry. The armament they used was the "spatha", similar to the gladius, but longer; spears with metal endings and wooden poles, chainmail and helmet. They protected themselves with rounded shields made out of wood and iron.

As well as the bow in the artillery, the catapult stood out used to launch javelins, and the ballista in order to cast boulders. Battering rams, beams with hooks or spikes were used to attack the walls as they could pull off and make holes in the stones.

THE WARS WHICH CHANGED THE CALENDAR

In 153 B.C, with the start of the Celtiberean wars, Rome was forced to advance the beginning of their official year, from the idus of march (15th of march) to the kalendas of January (1st January), so that the consuls appointed each year to wage war in Hispania, had enough time to move in and start the campaign in spring. This change of dates marked the beginning of our current year, as our calendar is of Roman heritage.

The beginning of the Celtiberian Wars was triggered by the city of Segeda building a new defensive wall. The Romans interpreted this as a violation of peace treaty terms signed with Grachus, so in response an army was sent to the city commanded by Nobilior.

As the wall wasn't finished and they were therefore unprotected, the people of Segeda left the city, and went up to the High Duero, reaching Numantia, where they were welcomed as allies and friends. In this unfair way, said Florus, Numantia entered the war, leading the Celtiberic resistance against Rome for 20 years. (153-133 B.C).

The city dominated and controlled the broad mountainous ridge of the Iberian range, which connected with the Ebro's valley and plateau, as well as their rich livestock. But it was also supplied through the Duero by merchants who went up the river in small sail boats, carrying amongst other products, wine and cereal. These visits were celebrated by the Numantine people, as it secured the stock to last out the harsh winter.

Segeda and Numantine people, who had chosen Caros from Segeda as their leader, achieved a major victory against Nobilior, killing six thousand Romans, on August 23rd 153 B.C., a day dedicated to Vulcan, which was declared ill fated from then on. No Roman General would engage in battle in the future on that day.

Nobilior waited for the reinforcements of Masinissa, King of Numidia (in the north of Africa) and ally of Rome, consisting of three hundred riders and ten elephants. To surprise the Celtiberians, he arranged his troops so that the elephants were hidden in the rear. And opening the formation, at a given time, the beasts appeared by surprise, terrifying the Celtibereans and their horses, who fled to seek refuge in the city.

From the wall they fired all kind of projectiles and stones, one of them hit the head of one of the elephants. Enraged it altered the rest, and turning against their own people with terrible bellows, they trampled, killed and disbanded the Romans. When the Numantine people saw that the romans were fleeing, they went in their pursuit, killing a good number of them and three elephants, seizing their arms and ensigns.

Scipio's siege

Numantia's people defeated the Roman generals several times. In the end, Rome had to send Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, who had destroyed the city of Carthaghe.

He, after defeating in the middle Duero the Vaccei, who were allies of the Numantines, isolated the city with a well guarded fence.

He made seven settlement camps in the nearby hills, joining them by a solid 9 km of perimeter wall, protected in front by a moat and a wooden palisade, and placing two forts in the meeting point of the rivers Tera and Merdancho with the Duero.

The Numantines challenged their invaders several times, but Scipio's patient wait turned out to be the answer.

Twenty years of wars and eleven months of siege had passed and food stocks had completely run out; without grain, or cattle, or fodder, they began to eat cooked hides; but these too were soon to be scarce, so they had to turn to the last and terrible resource: eating the dead.

The city fell due to starvation in the summer of 133 B.C., each dying in their own way and the survivors being sold as slaves. The city was ruined and its territory divided among the natives who had helped Scipio.

Epilogue

Numantine resistance against the conquest of Rome and its heroic ending is a symbol of universal reference, due to its bond with something as essentially human as a peoples struggle for freedom and the defence of the weak against the strong. The Numantines attitude shocked the conscience of the conquerors so much that they in turn felt conquered by the Numantine cause, raising their resistance and heroic ending to the limit thus providing a universal dimension and almost reaching legendary status.

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