Who were the Iberians?

Francisco Gijon

Between the VI and the V centuries BCE the panorama that the peoples from the East and the South of the Iberian Peninsula offered is the following: the kingdom of the Tartessians is no longer in existence. The Phoenicians finally managed to control the commerce of minerals, after having suppressed the Greek competence in the area of the Straight. To prevent that a new unitarian monarchy could repeat in the future the challenge that the Tartessians inflicted upon them in the past, the Phoenicians fomented the dismemberment of the kingdom into small principalities, whose collaboration they sought and stimulated individually by making them compete amongst themselves.

The Carthaginians, ethnic brothers of the Phoenicians, blocked to the Greeks the Mediterranean routes of the West through the creation of a maritime empire which would be supported in some places of the southern Hispanic coast and in the North African coast, in the isles of Ibiza, in Cerdagne and in Sicily, and naturally, Carthage. The Greeks from Massalia (Marseilles), who were focenses, would centre their interests in the Levantine region, the only one which they had access to by land and by sea. Its influx was quickly felt by the population of the Spanish Levant. Little by little, the kinglets of the Guadalquivir valley felt attracted to the advantages that the commerce with the Greeks offered to them. And it was this way, and not by any other way, that the so-called Iberian cultural circle began to crystallize.

The Greek authors called ‘Iberians’ the peoples of the South and of the Levant of our Penninsula, in order to distinguish them from the peoples of the interior, whose culture was different in every aspect. However, the range occupied by the true Iberians was much smaller. As a reference point, in spite of the anachronism, we should locate the Hercules Way, an ancient road that bordered the Gulf of Lion and the Levantine coast; from Italy it ran through Marseille and entered into the Guadalquivir valley. The legends, always Greeks, attributed its construction to Hercules, but this is a different story.

The place which one day would become the Low Languedoc and Roussillon, were inhabited by the Iberian Misegete tribes, that is, mestizos, for from what it appears, they were formed by a mixture of the local population, of Celtiligurian peoples and proper Iberians from the South, as a reflux caused by a previous penetration of the Celts in their territories. What is certain is that the Iberian presence in the South of France was confirmed during the discovery of the Montlaurés and Ensérune archaeological stations.

On the Mediterranean side of the Pyrenees, it is documented the existence of the Ceretans, who gave their name to the county of Cerdagne. The near side was settled by other tribes who left the footprint of their names in the region’s toponyms. Thus, the Castilians, the Andosins (Andorra valleys), the Airenosins (Aran valley), and the Jacetans (of Jaca). In the remaining of Cataluña lived other tribes, some of them properly Iberians, such as the Indigetes, the Layetans or the Cesetans, these last in the area of Tarragona. But there were also non-Iberian peoples, such as the Ausetans (in the area of ‘Vich’ or Barcelona) and the Bergistans (Berga and Barcelona). In the county of Tortosa, near the mouth of the Iberus (the Ebro), lived the Ilercaonnians, related, apparently, to other tribes from the interior such as the Ilergeteans (of Lerida, then called Ilergetania or Ilerda) owners of the Aragonian lands on the left bank of the Ebro river and the plains of Urgel.

On the Castellón plane and in Valencia lived the Edetans (Edeta corresponds to the present Liria). Further South, the Contestans would occupy the territory between the Jucar and the Segura rivers, snatched away, from what it seems, from the older Gimnetes settlers.

On the other side of the Segura river began the territory that in ancient times rotated around the Tartessians. The Mastiens, between the rivers Segura and Almeria, the Bastetans and the Bastuloes, subgroups with a common trunk who settled in Almeria and Granada and with a capital in Basti (nr. Baza), and the Oretans, mountain peoples who inhabited the current Jaen province.
The Curetans appear to have occupied the Despenhaperros region and the Auringis (New Jaen) region, and in the borders with the Bastetans, lived the Maesesseans. In the Guadalquivir river basin lived the Etmaeans and the Ileates in the zone between Córdoba and Seville, outflanked in the North by the Cempesians, of a Celt majority, which extended until the Guadiana river. As for the Turdetans, it is thought that they were settled in the areas of Seville and Cádiz, home of the old Tartessians. Their relatives, the Turdules, on the mountainous periphery zone of the Turdetan country. Towards West, many other peoples occupied the zones of the Algarve.

Francisco Gijon is the author of several history books, including Historia antigua de las Españas, from where this article was extracted.

© Francisco Guijon

Translated by: Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

How to cite this article:

Gijon, F. (2014). Who were the Iberians? PortVitoria, UK, v. 9, Jul-Dec, 2014. ISSN 2044-8236, https://portvitoria.com