Cantabrian Wars

Cantabrian Wars

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Astur-Cantabrian Wars

caption= Territories of the Iberian Peninsula where the Astur-Cantabrian Wars took place
date= 29- 19 BC
place= Ancient Cantabria and Asturias
territory= Cantabria and Asturias fell under Roman control as part of Hispania
result= Decisive Roman victory
combatant1= Cantabri,
combatant2= Roman Empire
commander1=Corocotta (Cantabri)
Gausón (Astures)
commander2=Caesar Augustus,
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
strength1= 70,000-100,000
(Based on pop. estimate)
strength2= 70,000-80,000
casualties1= All male Cantabri and Astures of "military age"
casualties2= Unknown
notes= The casualties are unusual in that both the Roman army did not take prisoners, nor did the Cantabri or Astures allow themselves to be taken alive as slaves. The result was a massive slaughter of Cantabri and Astures at the end of the conflict.

The Cantabrian Wars or Astur-Cantabrian Wars (29 BC-19 BC) occurred during the Roman conquest of the ancient provinces of Cantabria and Asturias. They were the final stage of the conquest of Hispania.


The Cantabri first appeared in history in earlier wars in Iberia, where they served as mercenaries on various sides. In this way, in the years preceding the wars in Cantabria and Asturias, the Roman military became familiar with the warlike characteristics of the peoples of northern Hispania. There are accounts, for instance, of Cantabrians in the army of Hannibal during the Second Punic War. Additionally, there is evidence that they fought alongside the Vacceos in 151 BC, and helped break the Roman siege of Numantia. It is also believed that there were Cantabrian troops present in the Sertorian Wars. According to Julius Caesar's own testimony, there were Cantabrians at the battle of Ilerda in 49 BC.

With all these antecedents, the Cantabrians began to be known throughout the Roman Empire. Roman troops even lost one of their standards to them, something inexplicable and humiliating in those days. Such were the disasters and the embarrassments that, although the Roman historians justified the campaigns as retribution for Cantabrian incursions in the Roman-controlled Meseta Central, there must have been a certain lust after Asturian gold and Cantabrian iron as well. Finally, in 26 BC, the Emperor himself, Caesar Augustus, went to Hispania, establishing his base in Segisama (Burgos)

Armies and strategies

According to the Roman historian Dio Cassius, the tactics of the Cantabri and Astures were of guerrilla warfare, avoiding direct attacks on the Roman forces because of their inferior numbers. Their better knowledge of the difficult and mountainous terrain allowed them to conduct quick surprise strikes with ranged weapons, with ambushes followed by quick retreats, causing great damage to the Roman columns and supply lines.

According to what remains from representations on coins and steles, the Cantabri were skilled in light arms. Lucan referred to this when he wrote, "Cantaber exiguis et longis Teutonus armis" (The Cantabrian with his small arms and the Teuton with his long ones). They went equipped with small swords, daggers, small spears or javelins, lances, round or oval shields of wood, and leather chest protection. They also used a weapon like the Iberian falcata, and the "bipinnis", a type of double-headed axe particular to the peoples of Northern Hispania. There is no proof of their use of archery or slings, although it is quite probable that they knew and used them.

The Cantabri were able at the time to ride horses, as reflected in the fact that some of their cavalry tactics would be adopted by the Roman army. Examples include the 'circulus cantabricus', a semicircular formation, and the 'cantabricus impetus', a massive frontal attack against enemy lines with the goal of breaching them, as described by Flavius Arrianus.

The quality of the Cantabrian enemy was such that Augustus was obliged to deploy a number of legions in the conflict:

* Legio I "Augusta"
* II "Augusta"
* IIII "Macedonica"
* V "Alaudae" (operated in Asturias)
* VI "Victrix" (operated in Asturias)
* VIIII "Hispana"
* X "Gemina" (operated in Asturias)
* XX "Valeria Victrix"

to which he added various auxiliary troops:

* Ala II Gallorum,
* Cohors II Gallorum,
* Ala II Thracum Victrix Civium Romanorum,
* Cohors IV Thracum Aequitata,
* Ala Parthorum
* Ala Augusta

The Roman navy was also sent to the Cantabrian coast from Gallia Aquitania. It was an important factor in the conflict's resolution, since it completed the encirclement of the Cantabri begun by the ground forces. It is calculated that, in total, the Roman Army deployed 70,000 men, although these calculations vary amongst authors, because they used a 5,000 men per legion base. In reality, the figure should surpass 80,000 men counting auxiliaries since, through the reforms of Gaius Marius, the legion had more than 6,000 soldiers. However, in Augustus' time, although a legion was officially composed of 6,200 men, for various reasons, the number usually oscillated between 5,000 and 8,000.

Bellum Asturicum

right|thumb|440px|Roman campaigns versus the Cantabri and the Astures">legend|#FFCD33|Cesar arrival

The Astures joined the Cantabri in a common defense. In the spring of 25 BC, there were three Roman legions established near the Astura River (modern Esla River), with troops from the "Tarraconensis". According to contemporary Roman historian Florus in his "Epitome of Roman History" [] , the armies of the Astur Transmontani came down from their snow-covered mountains (which is perfectly possible in the Picos de Europa in spring) and settled near the Astura River, getting ready to take the three Roman winter camps.

However, the "brigaecini" (Astur Cismontani) peoples of the Benavente region informed Augustus on their intentions. Augustus gave Brigantum, the camp of Augustan Asturica, to the "brigaeci" as a reward for their help. Additionally, he shared out land in the plains to the allies. His general Carisius [] attacked the Astur armies (probably commanded by Gausón), forcing them to take refuge in the fortified city of "Lancia", the most important Astur Cismontani fort according to Florus.

Once "Lancia" was besieged, the Astur armies took refuge in the "Mons Medullius" (some scholars locate it at Las Médulas basing their opinions on Florus who specifically names the site in his history of Rome). The Roman legions besieged the mountain, building a fifteen-mile-long moat and ditch. According to Orosius, the Astur soldiers preferred to commit suicide with their own weapons and yew tree poison rather than surrender.

A year after his arrival, Augustus had to retire to Tarragona, presumably because of sickness. The conflict, however, lasted more than ten years (it serves as a reference that the Roman Empire conquered all of Gallaecia in less than seven years). It was one of only two campaigns directed personally by Augustus against barbarians, the other being the one against the Illyrians from 35 BC to 33 BC.

End of the conflict

Different from similar conflicts, the Roman Empire chose not to take prisoners, which supposes the elimination of Cantabri of military age. Moreover, there was a tradition among the Cantabri soldiers to commit suicide rather than be taken into slavery. They did this by sword, by fire, or, primarily, through poisoning themselves with potions made for the purpose. According to Silius Italicus they used a conconction made from the seeds of the yew tree, a plant with mythic significance for the Celts. Strabo said that they belittled death and pain, to the point of singing hymns of victory while being crucified. For them, according to Strabo, to die as soldiers and free men was a victory.

The major fighting was completed in 19 BC, although there were minor rebellions until 16 BC. Rome, as was their practice with other territories, began to impose their reforms. They did not have too much success due to the strong character of the Cantabri people. Despite being massacred, their resistance was such that the Romans had to station two legions (X "Gemina" and IIII "Macedonica") there for seventy more years.

Through the Cantabrian War and the surrender of the Cantabri to Rome, the Roman legions adopted from them the solar symbol of twin crosses and lunar symbols, such as the Cantabri lábaro.Fact|date=February 2007 They would still be carrying this standard 300 years later. The Roman army would also copy from the Cantabri the cavalry tactics "circulus cantabricus" and "cantabricus impetus" as already mentioned.


* "Los Cántabros antes de Roma, 2ª edición": Dr. Eduardo Peralta Labrador, Real Academia de la Historia. (2003)
* "Las Guerras Cántabras": Angel Ocejo Herrero y vv.aa.
* "Estelas Cántabras: Símbolos de un pueblo": Juan Carlos Cabria Gutiérrez, editorial Brenes XXI.
* "Onomástica de Cantabria - Los Nombres de Persona Cántabros": Jesús J. Maroñas.
* "Roma y la Conquista del Norte Peninsular": Carmen Fernández Ochoa, Historia de Asturias - La Nueva España.
* "The Conquest of North-West Spain. Legio VII Gemina": Ronald Syme. 1970
* "Epitome of Roman Wars. XXXIII. Bellum Cantabricum et Asturicum." [] : Florus

External links

(All of the following in Spanish)
* [ The Cantabrian War Association]
* [ The Cantabri]
* [ The Cantabrian Wars in]
* [ History of the Cantabrian Wars in]
* [ The formidable Cantabri soldiers.]
* [ The "Bellum Asturicum"]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Cantabrian — may refer to:* People from modern Cantabria and things relating to this autonomous community in Spain. **Cantabrian Mountains, mountain range in Northern Spain. **Cantabrian Sea, southern end of the Bay of Biscay. ** Cantabrian language, also… …   Wikipedia

  • Cantabrian circle — The Cantabrian circle (Latin: circulus cantabricus) was a military tactic employed by ancient and to a lesser extent medieval horse archers. As Flavius Arrianus [1] and Hadrian [2] relate, this was the most habitual form to appear in combat of… …   Wikipedia

  • Celtic Gallaecia — Gallaecia (comprising modern Galicia and Northern Portugal) has had human settlers since prehistoric times, dating back to the 30th century BC. The Greeks (so told by Strabo) knew the settlers resided on the north of the river Douro by the name… …   Wikipedia

  • Cantabria — For other uses, see Cantabria (disambiguation). Cantabria   Autonomous Community   …   Wikipedia

  • Roman conquest of Hispania — This article is part of the series on: Military of ancient Rome (portal) 753 BC – AD 476 Structural history Roman army (unit types and ranks …   Wikipedia

  • Campaign history of the Roman military — This article is part of the series on: Military of ancient Rome (portal) 753 BC – AD 476 Structural history Roman army (unit types and ranks …   Wikipedia

  • Hispania — For other uses, see Hispania (disambiguation). Hispania ← …   Wikipedia

  • Кантабрийские войны — Территория вдоль Бискайского залива, где происходили военные действия …   Википедия

  • Kingdom of Asturias — Infobox Former Country native name = Asturorum Regnum conventional long name = Kingdom of Asturias common name = Asturias continent = Europe region = Iberian country = Spain era = government type = Monarchy| event start = year start = 718 date… …   Wikipedia

  • Guerras Cántabras — Bellum Cantabricum et Asturicum Parte de la Conquista de Hispania …   Wikipedia Español

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.