The CANTABRI (Greek : Καντάβροι, Kantabroi) or ANCIENT
CANTABRIANS, were a pre-Roman Celtic people 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 .
* 1 Name
* 2 Geography
* 3 History
* 3.1 Origins
* 3.2 Early History
* 3.3 Romanization
* 3.4 Early Middle Ages
* 4 Culture
* 5 Religion
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 References
* 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 classical sources. Main article:
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
Castile and León , and the northern fringes of
Burgos provinces. Following the Roman conquest , this
area was, however, much reduced, making up only
Cantabria and eastern
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.
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
Polybius who mention Cantabrian mercenaries in Carthaginian service
fighting at the
Battle of the Metaurus in 207 BC. Another author,
Cornelius Nepos , claims that the Cantabrian tribes first submitted
to Rome upon
Cato the Elder
Cato the Elder ’s campaigns in
Celtiberia in 195 BC,
Cantabri warbands fought for the
Celtiberian Wars of the 2nd century BC. Such was their reputation
that when a battered Roman army under consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus
Numantia in 137 BC, the rumor of the approach of a large
Vaccaei relief force was enough to cause the rout of
20,000 panic-stricken Roman legionaries, forcing Mancinus to surrender
under humiliating peace terms. Monument to the
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,
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
Pompey during 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 and
Petreius at the battle of Ilerda (
Lérida ) in
49 BC. Prior to that, the
Cantabri had unsuccessfully intervened in
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
Julius Caesar .
Under the leadership of the chieftain
Corocotta , the Cantabri’s
own predatory raids on the
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 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 –
Palencia ), Octaviolca (near
Valdeolea – Cantabria) and Iuliobriga
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
Claudius ' invasion of Britain in AD 43–60 .
EARLY MIDDLE AGES
Cantabri re-emerged, like also 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 century.
Pliny the Elder
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
Cabezón de la Sal .
Cantabrian stele , carved in sandstone (1.70 m in diameter and
0.32 m thick)
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
Silius Italicus added that the Concani had the custom
of drinking the horse’s blood at the ceremony.
* Sertorian Wars
* Duchy of
* ^ Martino (1982), Roma contra Cantabros y Astures, p. 18
* ^ A B EB (1911) .
* ^ EB (1878) .
Pliny the Elder
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:
* ^ Ruiz-Gálvez Priego, Luisa (1998). La Europa Atlántica en la
Edad del Bronce. Un viaje a las raíces de la Europa occidental.
Barcelona: Ed. Crítica.
* ^ 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 (
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
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. ISBN 2-234-04844-3 .
* 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, p. 207
* Collins, Roger (1990). The Basques (2nd ed.). Oxford: Basil
Blackwell. ISBN 0631175652 .
* 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) ISBN
* 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
* Kruta, Venceslas, Les Celtes, Histoire et Dictionnaire: Des
origines à la Romanization et au Christianisme, Éditions Robert
Laffont, Paris (2000) ISBN 2-7028-6261-6 <