Cantabri (Greek: Καντάβροι, Kantabroi) or Ancient
Cantabrians, were a pre-Roman people, probably Celtic or pre-Celtic
European, and large tribal federation that lived in
the northern coastal region of ancient
Iberia in the second half of
the first millennium BC. These peoples and their territories were
incorporated into the Roman Province of
Hispania Tarraconensis in the
year 19 BC, following the Cantabrian Wars.
3.2 Early History
3.4 Early Middle Ages
6 See also
9 External links
Cantabri is a Latinized form of a local name, presumably meaning
"Highlanders" and deriving from the reconstructed root *cant-
("mountain") in Ancient Ligurian.
Location of the
Cantabri during the Cantabrian Wars, in relationship
to today's Cantabria, along with the tribes that lived there, the
neighboring peoples, towns and geographical features, according to
Main article: Cantabria
Cantabria, the land of the Cantabri, originally comprised much of the
highlands of the northern Spanish Atlantic coast, including the
whole of modern
Cantabria province, eastern Asturias, nearby
mountainous regions of Castile and León, the northern of province of
Palencia and province of Burgos and northeast of province of León.
Following the Roman conquest, this area was, however, much reduced,
making up only
Cantabria and eastern Asturias.
The ancestors of the
Cantabri were thought by the Romans to have
migrated to the
Iberian Peninsula around the 4th Century BC, and
were said by them to be more mixed than most peninsular Celtic
peoples, their eleven or so tribes, assessed by Roman writers
according to their names, were supposed to have included Gallic,
Celtiberian, Indo-Aryan, Aquitanian, and Ligurian origins.
A detailed analysis of place-names in ancient
Cantabria shows a strong
Celtic element along with an almost equally strong "Para-Celtic"
element (both Indo-European) and thus disproves the idea of a
substantial pre-Indo-European or Basque presence in the region.
This supports the earlier view that Untermann considered the most
plausible, coinciding with archaeological evidence put forward by
Ruiz-Gálvez in 1998, that the Celtic settlement of the Iberian
Peninsula was made by people who arrived via the
Atlantic Ocean in an
Brittany and the mouth of the River Garonne, finally
settling along the Galician and Cantabrian coast.
Main article: Cantabrian Wars
Regarded as savage and untamable mountaineers, the
defied the Roman legions and made a name for themselves for their
independent spirit and freedom. Indeed,
Cantabri warriors were
regarded as being tough and fiercest fighters, suitable for
mercenary employment, but prone to banditry. The earliest
references to them are found in the texts of ancient historians such
as Livy and Polybius who mention Cantabrian mercenaries in
Carthaginian service fighting at the
Battle of the Metaurus
Battle of the Metaurus in 207 BC.
Another author, Cornelius Nepos, claims that the Cantabrian tribes
first submitted to Rome upon Cato the Elder’s campaigns in
Celtiberia in 195 BC, and later
Cantabri warbands fought for the
Celtiberians in the
Celtiberian Wars of the 2nd century
BC. Such was their reputation that when a battered Roman army under
Gaius Hostilius Mancinus was besieging
Numantia in 137 BC, the
rumor of the approach of a large combined Cantabri-
force was enough to cause the rout of 20,000 panic-stricken Roman
legionaries, forcing Mancinus to surrender under humiliating peace
Monument to the
Cantabri people in Santander.
By the 1st century BC they comprised eleven or so
tribes—Avarigines (es), Blendii (es), Camarici or
Tamarici, Concani, Coniaci or Conisci, Morecani, Noegi, Orgenomesci,
Plentuisii, Salaeni, Vadinienses, and Vellici or Velliques—gathered
into a tribal confederacy with the town of Aracillum (Castro de Espina
del Gallego, Sierra del Escudo – Cantabria), located at the
strategic Besaya river valley, as their political seat. Other
important Cantabrian strongholds included Villeca/Vellica (Monte
Cildá (es) – Palencia), Bergida (Castro de Monte
Bernorio (es) – Palencia) and Amaya/Amaia (Peña
Amaya (es) – Burgos). In early 1st century BC, the Cantabri
began to play a double game by lending their services to individual
Roman generals on occasion but, at same time, supported rebellions
within Roman Spanish provinces and carried out raids in times of
unrest. This opportunistic policy led them to side with
the final phase of the Sertorian Wars (82–72 BC), and they continued
to follow the Pompeian cause until the defeat of his generals Afranius
Petreius at the battle of Ilerda (Lérida) in 49 BC. Prior to
Cantabri had unsuccessfully intervened in the
Gallic Wars by
sending in 56 BC an army to help the
Aquitani tribes of south-eastern
Gaul against Publius Crassus, the son of
Marcus Crassus serving under
Under the leadership of the chieftain Corocotta, the Cantabri’s own
predatory raids on the Vaccaei,
Turmodigi and Autrigones whose
rich territories they coveted, according to Florus, coupled with
their backing of a
Vaccaei anti-Roman revolt in 29 BC, ultimately led
to the outbreak of the First Cantabrian Wars, which resulted in their
conquest and partial annihilation by Emperor Augustus. The
remaining Cantabrian population and their tribal lands were absorbed
into the newly created Transduriana Province.
Nevertheless, the harsh measures devised by
Augustus and implemented
by his general
Marcus Vispanius Agrippa
Marcus Vispanius Agrippa to pacify the province in the
aftermath of the campaign only contributed to further instability in
Cantabria. Near-constant tribal uprisings (including a serious slave
revolt in 20 BC that quickly spread to neighboring Asturias) and
guerrilla warfare continued to plague the Cantabrian lands until the
early 1st century AD, when the region was granted a form of local
self-rule upon being included in the new Hispania Tarraconensis
Although the Romans founded colonies and established military
garrisons at Castra Legio Pisoraca (camp of
Legio IIII Macedonica
Legio IIII Macedonica –
Palencia), Octaviolca (near
Valdeolea – Cantabria) and Iuliobriga
Retortillo – Reinosa),
Cantabria never became fully romanized and
its people preserved many aspects of Celtic language, religion and
culture well into the Roman period. The
Cantabri did not lose their
warrior skills either, providing auxiliary troops (Auxilia) to the
Roman Imperial army for decades and these troops participated in
Emperor Claudius' invasion of Britain in AD 43–60.
Early Middle Ages
Cantabri re-emerged, as did their neighbors the Astures, amid
the chaos of the
Migration Period of the late 4th century.
Cantabri started to be Christianized and were
violently crushed by the Visigoths in the 6th century. However,
Cantabria and the
Cantabri are heard of many decades later in the
context of the Visigoth wars against the
Vascones (late 7th
century). They only became fully Latinized in their
language and culture after the Muslim Conquest of
Iberia in the 8th
According to Pliny the Elder
Cantabria also contained gold,
silver, tin, lead and iron mines, as well as magnetite and amber, but
little is known about them; Strabo also mentions salt extraction
in mines, such as the ones existent around Cabezón de la Sal.
Cantabrian stele, carved in sandstone (1.70 m in diameter and 0.32 m
Literary and epigraphic evidence confirms that, like their Gallaeci
Astures neighbors, the
Cantabri were polytheistic, worshipping a
vast and complex pantheon of male and female Indo-European deities in
sacred oak or pine woods, mountains, water-courses and small rural
Druidism does not appear to have been practiced by the Cantabri,
though there is enough evidence for the existence of an organized
priestly class who performed elaborated rites, which included ritual
steam baths, festive dances, oracles, divination, human and animal
sacrifices. In this respect, Strabo mentions that the peoples of
the north-west sacrificed horses to an unnamed God of War, and both
Horace and Silius Italicus added that the Concani had the
custom of drinking the horse’s blood at the ceremony.
Duchy of Cantabria
^ Martino (1982), Roma contra Cantabros y Astures, p. 18
^ a b EB (1911).
^ EB (1878).
^ Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, III, 29.
^ Strabo, Geographikon, III, 4, 12.
^ Curchin, Leonard A. (2007). "Linguistic Strata in Ancient Cantabria:
the evidence of toponyms". Hispania Antiqua. XXXI-2007: 7–20.
^ Ruiz-Gálvez Priego, Luisa (1998). La Europa Atlántica en la Edad
del Bronce. Un viaje a las raíces de la Europa occidental. Barcelona:
^ Burillo Mozota, Francisco (2005). "Celtiberians: Problems and
Debates". Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies. The Celtic in
the Iberian Peninsula. 6: 13.
^ Florus, Epitomae Historiae Romanae, II, 33, 46-47.
^ Silius Italicus, Punica, V, 192.
^ Strabo, Geographikon, III, 3, 8.
^ Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 27: 43-49.
^ Polybius, Istorion, 11: 1-3.
^ Cornelius Nepos, De Viris Illustribus, 47.
^ Though most modern historians have cast serious doubts upon the
veracity of this particular episode, since other sources (Livy,
Appian, Polybius) don’t mention it at all.
Tiberius Gracchus, 5, 4.
^ Appian, Romaika, 83.
^ Caesar, De Bello Civili, I: 43-46.
^ Caesar, De Bello Gallico, 3, 23.
^ Paulus Orosius, Historiarum Adversus Paganus, 6: 21, 1.
^ Florus, Epitomae Historiae Romanae, 2: 33, 46.
^ Suetonius, Augustus, 21. -
Tiberius saw his first military
experience in the campaign against the
Cantabri of 25 BC, as a tribune
of the soldiers. Tiberius, 9.
^ Cassius Dio, Romaiké Historia, 54: 11, 1.
^ Collins (1990), p. 92.
^ Collins (1983), pp. 106-107.
^ Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, 34, 112; 149; 158.
^ Strabo, Geographikon, III, 3, 7.
^ Strabo, Geographikon, III, 3, 7.
^ Horace, Odes, III, 4, 35
^ Silius Italicus, Hispania, III, 3, 161.
Almagro-Gorbea, Martín (1997). "Les Celtes dans la péninsule
Ibérique". Les Celtes. Paris: Éditions Stock.
Baynes, T.S., ed. (1878), "Cantabria", Encyclopædia Britannica,
5 (9th ed.), New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 27
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911), "Cantabri", Encyclopædia
Britannica, 5 (11th ed.), Cambridge University Press,
Collins, Roger (1990). The Basques (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
Collins, Roger (1983). Early Medieval Spain. New York: St. Martin's
Press. ISBN 0-312-22464-8.
Eutimio Martino, Roma contra Cantabros y
Astures – Nueva lectura de
las fuentes, Breviarios de la Calle del Pez n. º 33, Diputación
provincial de León/Editorial Eal Terrae, Santander (1982)
Lorrio, Alberto J., Los Celtíberos, Editorial Complutense, Alicante
(1997) ISBN 84-7908-335-2
Martín Almagro Gorbea, José María Blázquez Martínez, Michel
Reddé, Joaquín González Echegaray, José Luis Ramírez Sádaba, and
Eduardo José Peralta Labrador (coord.), Las Guerras Cántabras,
Fundación Marcelino Botín, Santander (1999) ISBN 84-87678-81-5
Montenegro Duque, Ángel et alii, Historia de España 2 –
colonizaciones y formacion de los pueblos prerromanos, Editorial
Gredos, Madrid (1989) ISBN 84-249-1013-3
Burillo Mozota, Francisco, Los Celtíberos – Etnias y Estados,
Crítica, Grijalbo Mondadori, S.A., Barcelona (1998, revised edition
2007) ISBN 84-7423-891-9
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à la Romanization et au Christianisme, Éditions Robert Laffont,
Paris (2000) ISBN 2-7028-6261-6
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Santander.
Detailed map of the Pre-Roman Peoples of
Iberia (around 200 BC)
Adopted Roman gods
Brujas de Ongayu
Caballucos del Diablu
Cuines de Silió
Gallu de la muerte
Hechiceras del Ebro
Mozas del Agua
Osa de Andara
Pájaru de la alegría
Pájaru de ojos amarillos
Sierpe de Peñacastillu
Sun of the Dead
Viejuca de Vispieres
Midsummer / St John's Eve
Sun of the Dead
Samhain / All Saints
Cantabrum / Lábaru
Patera of Otañes
Duchy of Cantabria
Statute of Autonomy
Coat of arms