Vascones (singular Vasco, from
Latin gens Vasconum) were a
pre-Roman tribe who, on the arrival of the Romans in the 1st century,
inhabited a territory that spanned between the upper course of the
Ebro river and the southern basin of the western Pyrenees, a region
that coincides with present-day Navarre, western
northeastern La Rioja, in the Iberian Peninsula. The
often considered ancestors of the present-day
Basques to whom they
left their name. (Vasco in Spanish, Basco in Portuguese, Basque in
1.1 Roman period
1.2 3rd and 4th centuries
1.2.1 Late Basquisation
1.2.2 7th Century
2.1 Roman period
2.2 Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages
3.1 Language and writing
4 See also
7 External links
Portrait of Livy, the author of the first known document about the
The description of the territory which the Vascones inhabited
during ancient times appears in texts of classical authors, between
the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD, such as Livy, Strabo, Pliny
the Elder and Ptolemy. Although these texts have been studied as
sources of reference, some authors have pointed out the apparent lack
of uniformity and also the existence of contradictions within the
texts, in particular with Strabo.
The oldest document corresponds to
Livy (59 BC - AD 17), who in a
brief passage of his work about the 76 BC
Sertorian War relates how
after crossing the
Ebro and the city of Calagurris Nasica, they
crossed the flatlands of the Vascones, or Vasconum agrum until
reaching the border of their immediate neighbors, the Berones.
Comparing other sections of this same document, it is deduced that
this border was located to the west, while the southern neighbors of
Vascones were the Celtiberians, with their city, Contrebia
Pliny the Elder, on his work Natural History, mentioned a text prior
to 50 BC that located the
Vascones at the western end of the Pyrenees,
neighbors of the
Varduli and extended to the mountains of Oiarso and
into the coasts of the Bay of Biscay, in an area he called Vasconum
saltus. The Greek geographer Strabo, in the times of
BC - AD 14) refers to the
Vascones (in Ancient Greek:
Ούασκώνων) placing their main city, or polis, in Pompaelo
and as well Callagurris.
Both cities, Kalágouris, one of the main cities of the ouáskones,...
This same region is crossed by the road that comes from Terrakon and
goes to the ouáskones, in the border of the Ocean, to Pompélon and
Oiáson, city built above the very same Ocean.
Ptolemy, who listed the main cities of the Vascones.
This information is found again in the works of Ptolemy, who lived
during the 1st and 2nd Century AD. In his book, Geōgraphikḕ
Hyphḗgēsis, chapter 6, he relates the names of 15 cities inside the
territory of the Vascones, besides Oiarso: Iturissa, Pompaelo,
Bituris, Andelos, Nemanturissa, Curnonium, Iacca, Graccurris,
Calagurris, Cascantum, Ercavica, Tarraga, Muscaria, Seguia and
The territory of the
Vascones during the Roman republic and Roman
empire corresponded with present-day Navarre, the northeast extreme of
Gipuzkoa, and parts of La Rioja, Zaragoza and Huesca, including
the city of Calagurris.
3rd and 4th centuries
Main article: Late Basquisation
During this period, after the time of
Ptolemy and contemporary to the
times of instability caused by the Germanic invasions, the documents
Vascones and other tribes of the northern Iberian Peninsula
are scarce, and as a result there is little information about the
Vascones during this time.
Visigothic Kingdom circa 560. The
Varduli in the
John of Biclaro (c. 540 - after 621) mentions the
Vascones in a story about the foundation of the city of Victoriacum by
the Visigoth king Liuvigild and
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours (538-594)
mentions the incursions of Wascones in
Aquitaine during the year
587. From these extracts and being the neighboring tribes absent
in the historiography,
Adolf Schulten (1870-1960) proposed the theory
according to which at some point between the mid-2nd Century and late
4th Century, took place an enlargement of the territory of the
Vascones, first in the west, occupying the lands of the Caristii,
Varduli and Autrigones, and later in the north in Aquitaine.
Schulten considers this to be the reason for the adoption of the name
Gascony, which derivates from Gascon, which comes from Vascon, and
used to denominate a region that includes the present-day Northern
Claudio Sánchez Albornoz, Spanish historian, (1893-1984) on his work
"Los vascones vasconizan la depresión vasca" (The
the Basque depression) published in 1972 enlarged this hypothesis,
relying on linguistic analysis: when invading the territories of what
today is Biscay,
Álava displaced to Castile part of the
Varduli and Autrigones, who took refuge in the mountains;
the ones who had not been displaced were "Basquized", while
perhaps the Caristii,
Autrigones already spoke languages
similar or related to the Basque language.
However, research during last decades has called into question the
possibility of an expansion northwards (J.J. Larrea). The inroad of
Vascones onto the plains of
Aquitaine in 587 seems to be
short-lived—they make their way back to the mountains—and
archaeological findings in Eauze or Auch do not reveal instability or
destruction during the alleged expanding period up to the mid-7th
century. Another theory suggests a contemporary identification made by
the Goths and the Franks of the
Vascones (the most dynamic tribe) with
all Basque speaking, Basque-related, or non-Romanized tribes.
Starting on the 7th Century, the historians already differentiate
between Spagnouasconia, located southwestern of the Pyrenees, inside
Iberian Peninsula and Guasconia, northwestern of the Pyrenees, in
Aquitaine. Schulten interprets that by this time the
already retreated from their territories in Roman times and started
occupying lands in the north, what in the future would make the
Southern Basque Country and northern Navarre. Schulten also quotes
the chronicle from Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni, dated in 810, where for
the first time is used the term navarrese to define the people living
in the former territories of the
Vascones near the Ebro.
Further information: History of the Basque people, Gallia Aquitania,
Unlike the Aquitanians or Cantabrians, the
Vascones seemed to have
negotiated their status in the Roman Empire. In the Sertorian War,
Pompey established his headquarters in their territory, founding
Pompaelo. Romanization was rather intense in the area known as Ager
Ebro valley) but limited in the mountainous Saltus,
where evidence of Roman civilization appears only in mining places,
harbours, roads, and milestones, e.g. Oiasso. The territory was also
important for Romans as a communication knot between northern Hispania
and southwestern Gallia, who took good care to station detachments in
different spots of the main communication lines.
The Vasconian area presents indications of upheaval (burnt villas, an
abundance of mints to pay the garrisons) during the 4th and 5th
centuries that have been linked by many historians to the Bagaudae
rebellions against feudalization, but also to the depredations of
migrating Germanic and Asian tribes—Vandals, Alans, Sueves,
Visigoths, possibly Heruls—into Hispania.
Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages
Further information: Duchy of
Gascony and Kingdom of Navarre
In AD 407 Vascon troops fought on the orders of Roman commanders
Didimus and Verinianus, repelling an attack by Vandals,
Suebi. In 409, the passage of the
Germanic peoples and Sarmatians
Hispania went unhindered. The Roman reaction to this invasion
and unrest related to the
Bagaudae was to give
Gallia Aquitania and
Hispania Tarraconensis to the
Visigoths in return for their services
as allies by treaty (foederati). The
Visigoths soon managed to expel
Vandals to Africa.
After chronicler Hydatius´s death in 469, no contemporary source
exists reporting on the social and political situation in the
Vasconias, as put by himself. At the beginning of the fourth century,
Calagurris is still cited as a Vascon town. During the fifth and sixth
centuries, the gap between town and the rural milieu widened, with the
former falling much in decay. Between 581-7, chronicles start to
Vascones again, this time hailing from the wilderness, as
opposed to the towns, which remained attached to Roman culture or were
under Germanic influence. By the seventh to eighth centuries),
Vascones were not confined to their ancient boundaries, but covered a
much larger territory, from
Álava in the west to the
Loire in the
north. The island of
Oléron along with the
Île de Ré
Île de Ré formed the
Vacetae Insulae "Vacetian Islands" according to the Cosmographia,
where Vaceti are
Vascones by another name. The concept underlying the
medieval name points to a much wider reality than Strabo's former
tribal definition, this time encompassing all Basque-speaking tribes.
Vascones stabilised their first polity under the
Merovingian Franks: the Duchy of Vasconia, whose borders to the south
remained unclear. This duchy would eventually become Gascony. During
the reincorporation of Vasconia into
Francia after 769, Charlemagne
destroyed the walls of
Pamplona after a failed attempt to conquer
Vascones annihilated his rearguard in the Battle of
Roncevaux Pass in 778—referred as "wasconicam perfidiam" by Frankish
Pamplona was later captured by the Cordovan emir 'Abd
al-Rahman I (781), but taken over by the Franks in 806, who assigned
its government to a pro-Frankish local Belasko ("al-Galashki"),
probably a Basque hailing from present-day Gascony. Some decades
later, in 824, a second battle of Roncevaux took place that led to the
establishment of the Kingdom of Pamplona, founded with Eneko Arista as
head of the new polity, presented by Arab sources as leader of the
Vascones (al-Baskunisi). However, the 824 Carolingian expedition
itself included two different columns made up of Frankish and Vascones
After the 9th century, the
Vascones (Wascones, Guascones) come to be
more closely identified in the records with the current territory of
Gascony, at the time still a Basque-speaking territory but
progressively being replaced by the new rising Romance language,
Language and writing
Several authors point out that prior to the Roman arrival and
alike other peoples that inhabited the near region, the
a language that linguists identify as the precursor of the modern
Basque language, sometimes referred to as Proto-
Basque language or
However, as pointed out by Henrike Knörr (1947-2008) the origin and
kinship of the
Basque language is still a mystery and an object of
research. There are several theories about its origin; the Basque
Koldo Mitxelena argues that an "in-situ" origin is the most
likely, and thus explains the current dialectical
classification while other theories advocate for a proposed
kinship between the
Basque language and other language families, like
the languages of the Caucasus or a relation between Basque and the
extinct Iberian language. So far, possible connections between Basque
and other languages have remained unproven.
Another problem that arises in the study of the language of the
Vascones is the lack of direct classic records regarding the language
spoken by this people, with the exception of a vague description
Strabo and Pomponius Mela, or the description made by Julius Caesar
on the language of the Aquitanians in his work Commentarii de Bello
The study of epigraphic documents has been of greater interest, as
some of them date the introduction of writing among the
the 2nd century. Among them, the oldest are the numismatic
evidence coming from both Vasconic mints and others located nearby. A
great importance is given to a funerary stele found in the Hermitage
of Santa Bárbara in Lerga, which is considered to be the oldest
known written testimony of the Proto-Basque language. It is also
believed that the
Iberian language has left some traces on the Basque
language, as with the Iberian term ili, adopted in Basque as hiri with
the meaning of town or city, and present in the Vasconic name for the
city of Pompaelo: "Iruña", as well as in other names of cities and
See also: Basque mythology
The epigraphic and arqueological testimonies have allowed experts to
determine some of the religious practices that were present among the
Vascones since the Roman arrival and the introduction of writing.
According to research done on this topic, religious syncretism
lasted until the 1st Century; from that moment onwards and until the
Christianity between the 4th and 5th centuries, Roman
mythology was predominant.
Vasconic theonyms have been found on tombstones and altars, which
further proves the syncretism between the pre-Christian Roman systems
of beliefs and the Vasconic religions. Two altars have been found
in Ujué, one dedicated to Lacubegi, identified as the God of the
lower world and another one dedicated to Jupiter, although has not
been possible to date them. In Lerate and Barbarin two tombstones have
been found, both dedicated to Stelaitse and dated in the 1st
Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula
^ Vasco - Historia in the Spanish-language Auñamendi Encyclopedia.
^ Classical authors, such as Livy, name cities as Calagurris,
Cascantum and Graccurris as Vascon cities.
^ "La Tierra del Toro. Ensayo de identificación de ciudades vasconas,
article by Alicia M. Canto (1997), includes map with cities and
archeological remains (see electronic edition and also "Ptolomeo y las
ciudades vasconas. Ensayo de localización", and map of the territory
"Ciudades vasconas_Propuestas de localización") (in Spanish).
^ (Schulten 1927), (Blázquez 1966),(Canto 1997),(Gómez Fraile 2001).
^ (Arce,1999),(Gómez Fraile 2001:28).
^ (Schulten 1927:226),(Blázquez 1966:2).
^ ...dimissis eis ipse profectus per Vasconum agrum ducto exercitu in
confinio Beronum posuit castra,... ("...after taking his (Sertorius)
army through the territory of the Vascones, he installed his camp on a
border area of the Berones,..."). Text according to P. Jal, Tite-Live.
Histoire Romaine XXXIII. Livre XLV et Fragments. Paris, 1990 (1979),
^ (Blázquez 1966:3)
^ Natural History, 4,110-111: Proxima ora citerioris est eiusdemque
Tarraconensis situus a Pyrenaeo per oceanum Vasconum saltus, Oiarso,
Vardulorum oppida, Morogi, Menosca, Vesperies, Amanum portus, ubi nunc
Flauiobrica colonia 8. Ciuitatium VIIII regio Cantabrorum, flumen
Sauga, portus Victoriae Iuliobricensium. ac eo loco fontes Hiberi XM
passuum portus Blendium, Orgonomesci e Cantabri. portus eorum
Vereasueca, regio Asturum, Noega oppidum, in poeninsula Paesici, et
deinde conuentus Lucensis, a flumine Nauialbione Gibarci, Egiuarri
cognomine Namarini, Iadoui, Arroni, Arrotrebae, pronunturium Celticum,
amnes Florius Nelo. Celtici cognomine Neri et super Tamarici 9 quorum
in paeninsula tres arae Sestianae [-182→183-] Augusto dicatae,
Copori, oppidum Noeta...
^ Str. III, 4, 10:...Ύπέρκειται δε τής
Ίακκητανιίας πρός άρκτον τό τών
Ούασκώνων έθνος, έν ώ πόλις Πομπέλων,
ώς άν Πομπηιόπολις. (...after, above the Lacetani, on
north direction, is located the nation of the Vascones, who have for
main city Pompelon, the "city of Pómpeios".). Text according to F.
Lasserre, Strabon, Géographie II. Livres III et IV. Les Belles
Lettres. Paris 1966.
^ (Schulten 1927: 230-232)(Canto 1997)
^ (Blázquez 1966:11)
^ (Gómez Fraile 2001:58)
John of Biclaro (Chron. Min. II, 216):Leovigildus rex partem
Vasconiae occupat et civitatem quae Victoriacum... (Schulten 1927:234)
^ Grégoire de Tours, Histoire des Francs: Les Gascons descendirent de
leurs montagnes dans la plaine, dévastèrent les villes, les
champs... le duc Austrovald marcha souvent contre eux, mais ne parvint
guères à en tirer vengeance, editor J.-L.-L. Brière, Paris 1823.
Volume II, Book IX, De l'année 587 à l'année 589. Gontran,
Childebert II et Clotaire II, Rois page 8. Available on November 16h,
2006 in bnf.fr
^ (Schulten 1927:234)
^ (Schulten 1927:235)
^ España un enigma histórico. Barcelona 1973. 451-452
^ (Schulten 1927:240)
^ (Schulten 1927:238)
^ Collins, Roger (1990). The
Basques (2nd ed.). Oxford, UK: Basil
Blackwell. pp. 53–56. ISBN 0631175652.
^ Collins (1990), p. 51.
^ Collins (1990), pp. 75-76.
^ Caro Baroja, Julio (1985). Los vascones y sus vecinos. San
Sebastian: Editorial Txertoa. p. 89.
^ Collins (1992), p. 214.
^ Collins (1990), p. 124-126.
^ "Iñigo Iñiguez Arista". Auñamendi Entziklopedia. EuskoMedia
Fundazioa. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
^ Collins (1990), p. 139.
^ Collins (1990), p. 179.
^ (Gil Zubillaga 2006),(Fatás Cabeza 1972), (Knörr 2004),
(Gorrochategui 1999), J. Caro Baroja sourced in (Blázquez 1966:10)
^ Koldo Mitxelena, Koldo Zuazo
^ (Knörr 2004)
^ Nueva Síntesis de la Historia del País Vasco: Desde la Prehistoria
hasta el gobierno de Garaikoetxea, Ed. TTartalo, San Sebastián, 2004.
Koldo Zuazo and the Basque dialects on Hiru.com
^ Towards a History of the Basque Language. p. 190. José Ignacio
Hualde, Joseba Andoni Lakarra, Robert Lawrence Trask, Koldo Mitxelena,
etc. John Benjamins publishing company. Amsterdam/Philadelphia. 1997
^ Joaquín Gorrochategui, La romanización del País Vasco: Aspectos
lingüísticos., Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea - Filología. Artículo
en Guipuzkoakultura.net Ed. digital
^ (Gil Zubillaga 2006)
^ The inscription in the funerary stele of
Lerga has been studied
since the 19th Century by Achille Luchaire,
Koldo Mitxelena and
Joaquín Gorrochategui as a part of different researches about the
Aquitanian language, as it includes the Aquitanian anthroponym of
Vmmesahar (from ume, young child, and zahar, old); "umme sahar" =ume
zahar = oldest son: Um.me, Sa.har(i) fi(lius), / Nar.hun.ge.si Abi- /
sun.ha.ri fi.lio, / ann(orum) XXV. T(itulum) p(osuit) s(umptu) s(uo)..
^ Koldo Mitxelena,Los nombres indígenas de la inscripción
Lerga (Navarra), Príncipe de Viana magazine, XXII,
82-83, pp 65-74, (1961)
^ Irun (Gipuzkoa), Iruña (Alava)
^ Juan José Sayas Abengoechea, Algunas consideraciones sobre la
cristianización de los Vascones, Príncipe de Viana magazine, XLVI,
174, pp 35-56, 1985
^ Roldán Jimeno, Orígenes del Cristianismo en la tierra de los
vascones, Ed. Pamiela, Pamplona, 2003.ISBN 84-7681-380-5
^ Epigraphic catalog (in Basque)
^ Lacubegis: Coelii Te- / sphoros / et Festa / et Telesi- / nus, Lacu-
/ begi. Ex voto. - Tesphoros, Festa and Tesesinus Coeli-
^ "Peremustae" teonimoaren inguruan
^ The altars read: Semprini- / us Betunus, Se- / latse. V(otum)
s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)
Collins, Roger. "The Vaccaei, the Vaceti, and the rise of Vasconia."
Studia Historica VI. Salamanca, 1988. Reprinted in Roger Collins, Law,
Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain. Variorum, 1992.
Collins, Roger (1990). The Basques. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.
Lewis, Archibald R. (1965). The Development of Southern French and
Catalan Society, 718–1050. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Sorauren, Mikel. Historia de Navarra, el Estado Vasco. Pamiela Ed.,
1998. ISBN 84-7681-299-X.
Vascones in the Auñamendi Encyclopedia, by Bernar