The Hillforts Of Iberia: Ruins Of Proto-Celtic Tribes Who Resisted The Romans

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José de Madrazo's painting of the death of Viriathus

The Hillforts Of Iberia: Ruins Of Proto-Celtic Tribes Who Resisted The Romans

Dotted like an ancient matrix in western Iberia are hillforts that once belonged to the ancient Celtic peoples of Iberia. Some of these forts were dismantled, others left untouched, but they were all abandoned by those who built them. When circumstances during the brutal oppression and ethnic cleansing by the Roman armies made it impossible for the lifestyle which was celebrated by the people who constructed them to continue, they were left standing or destroyed depending on the particular negotiations between the conquered and conqueror or, sometimes, simply on the mood swing of the Roman generals involved. Despite resistance from valiant leaders like Viriathus (died 139 BC) who fought the Romans during the Lusitanian Wars, the region was conquered and the hillforts fell into ruin.

Four well-known hillforts today, clockwise from top left: Escarigo; Argemela; Saint Martinho and Saint Roque (Images: Courtesy Tom Hamilton)

The hillforts were distinct from the more complex proto-urban centers, like the walled Oppida, and exclude the larger fortifications of the Meseta (the large plateau which extends over 81000 square miles in the Iberian interior, now including Madrid as its capital). Each hillfort (castro in Portuguese) controlled a small territory and its surrounding resources: houses, agricultural plots of land, water, roads and mines. The hillforts had a de facto control over the territory in such a way that the Romans, in order to dominate the region, had to destroy them.

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