Ancient Portugal

The Lusitanians are the ancestors of the Portuguese, and were the last Celtiberian tribe to submit to Roman rule, and were considered among the most rebellious tribes in Iberia.

The Ancient Lusitanian World

Head of Warrior, Lusitanian, found Galicia, 1st Century

The Lusitani, who were Indo-European and may have come from the Alps, established themselves in the region in the 6th century BC, but historians and archeologists are still undecided about their origins. Some modern authors consider them to be an indigenous people who were initially dominated by the Celts, before gaining full independence from them. This hypothesis is also backed by Avienus, who wrote Ora Maritima, inspired by documents from 6th century BC, and describes the coastal Iberians. The investigator Lambrino defended the position that the Lusitanians were a tribal group of Celtic origin related to the Lusones (a tribe that inhabited the east of Iberia). Possibly, both tribes came from the Swiss mountains. But some prefer to see the Lusitanians as a native Iberian tribe, resulting from intermarriage between different tribes. The first area colonized by the Lusitani was probably the Douro valley and the region of Beira Alta; in Beira they stayed until they defeated the Celts and other tribes, then they expanded to cover a territory that reached Estremadura before the arrival of the Romans.

The War with Rome

A Lusitanian Warrior, a 1st century sculpture

The Lusitani are mentioned for the first time in Livy (218 BC) and are described as Carthaginian mercenaries; they are reported as fighting against Rome in 194 BC, sometimes allied with the Celtiberians.

In 179 BC the praetor Lucius Postumius Albinus celebrated a triumph over the Lusitani, but in 155 BC, on the command of Punicus (perhaps a Carthaginian general) first and Cesarus after, the Lusitani reached Gibraltar. Here they were defeated by the praetor Lucius Mummius.

Servius Sulpicius Galba organized a false armistice, but while the Lusitani celebrated this new alliance, he massacred them, selling the survivors as slaves; this caused a new rebellion led by Viriathus (who was soon killed by traitors paid by romans). Viriathus was born in Lorica, today’s Loriga, in Herminius, today’s Serra da Estrela, in central Portugal. Romans scored other victories with proconsul Decimus Junius Brutus and Marius (113 BC), but still the Lusitani resisted with a long guerrilla war; they later joined Sertorius’ troops and were finally exterminated by Augustus.

Viriathus, leader of the last Lusitanian rebellion

Viriathus, leader of the last Lusitanian rebellion

Roman province: With Lusitania (and Asturia and Gallaecia), Rome had completed the conquest of the Iberian peninsula, which was then divided by Augustus (25-20 BC) into the eastern and northern Hispania Tarraconensis, the southwestern Hispania Baetica and the western Provincia Lusitana. Originally Lusitania included the territories of Asturia and Gallaecia, but these were later ceded to the jurisdiction of the new Provincia Tarraconensis and the former remained as Provincia Lusitania et Vettones. Its northern border was along the Douro, while on its eastern side its border passed through Salmantica and Caesarobriga to the Anas (Guadiana) river.

The capital of Lusitania was Augusta Emerita (currently Mérida). Near modern Coimbra, the Roman city of Aeminium and near modern Condeixa-a-Velha, the Roman city of Conimbriga was not the largest city of Lusitania, but it is the best preserved. Built on a long-inhabited site, it was sacked by the Suevi in 468, and its inhabitants fled to Aeminium, which inherited its name and is nowadays known as Coimbra. Conimbriga’s city walls are largely intact, and the mosaic floors (illustration, right) and foundations of many houses and public buildings remain. In the baths, visitors can view the network of stone heating ducts (the hypocaust) beneath the now-missing floors. Archaeologists estimate that, though excavations began in 1898, only 10 percent of the city has been excavated.

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Mythology of Ancient Portugal

The lunela, a unique type of torque used by the celtiberian Lusitanians

Lusitanian Gods were later related with the Celtic and Roman invaders. The Lusitani people adopted the Celt and Roman cults and influenced them with theirs. Many Lusitani gods were adopted by the Romans. The Lusitanians, as the Romans describe it, made human and animal sacrifices to their gods. They use their pagan religion to cure themselves, for protection and for cursing someone.

Endovelicus: was a supreme solar healing god, thus a god of Medicine. Some suspect he was also a god who wore several faces, one of which may have been an “infernal” one, since all solar gods went down to the infernos and returned with healing power.

After receiving certain rites, if a person (or a priest) slept in his sanctuary, Endovelicus would talk to them in their dreams and even tell them about their own future or offer advice. Endovelicus also protected the cities or region that venerated him. The epithets given to Endovelicus are deus, sanctus, prarsentissimus and preaestantissimus. These suggest that the god was effective, and always present and living on the sanctuary. Votative altars suggest that the god inspired the early Lusitanian resistance to the Romans.

Ataegina was the Goddess of rebirth (Spring), fertility, nature, and cure in the Lusitanian mythology. She is also seen as the Lusitanian goddess of the moon. The name of Ataegina comes from the Celtic Ate + Gena, meaning “reborn”. The consecrated animal of Ataegina was the goat. She had a devotio cult, in which someone would invoke the goddess to cure someone, or occasionally curse someone with little plagues or even to death.

Runesocesius was the God of javelins in Lusitanian mythology, possessing a mysterious nature and a martial character. With Ataegina and Endovelicus, he formed the supreme trinity of the Lusitanian religion.

Cariocecus was the god of war in Lusitanian mythology. He was equated with the Roman god Mars and Greek Ares. The Lusitanians practiced human sacrifice and when a priest wounded a prisoner in the stomach they made predictions by the way the victim fell down and by the appearance of the victim’s innards. Sacrifices were not limited to prisoners but also included animals, horses and goats specifically. That was confirmed by Strabo: “They offer a goat and prisoners and horses”. The Lusitanians cut the right hand of prisoners and consecrated it to Cariocecus.

Trebaruna is probably from celtic trebo (home) and runa (secret, mystery) was the Goddess of the House, Battles and Death. There were found two small altars in Portugal that were dedicated to this goddess, one in Roman-Lusitanian Egitania (current Proença-a-Velha) and another one in Lardosa. In the Tavares Proença Regional Museum in Castelo Branco there the altar found in Lardosa in a place where the people from a Castro settlement founded a Roman-Lusitanian villa. This altar, in the past, had a statue of the goddess, but it was lost, nevertheless, it still preserves inscriptions.

Other Minor gods included: Ares Lusitani, the God of horses, Bormanico was the god of hot springs, Duberdicus was the god of fountains and water, Nabia was the Iberian Goddess of Rivers and Water, Tongoenabiagus was the God of Oaths and Fountains, and Bandonga was a goddess of the Lusitanians with still unknown origins.

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