Spanish History: Roman Hispania


Figure 1.--Salamamca in central Spain was founded in pre-Roman times by the Vacceos, a Celtic tribe. It was one of two forts built to protect their territory near the Duero river and known as Helmantica. With the Roman victory over the Carthaginians, the city began to develop and take on more importance as a commercial center in Roman Hispania. It was situated on a Roman road, known as the Vía de la Plata which connected it with Emerita Augusta (modern Mérida) to the south and Asturica Augusta (Astorga) to the north. The magnificent Roman bridge seen here was built as part of that road (1st century AD). Here we see shephered boys, probably in the 1930s. We suspect that similar shephered boys could have been seen here even before the bridge was built.

The Iberian Peninsula with rich mineral resouces nd strategic ports became a major issue in the conflict between Carthage and Rome to control the Western Mediterranean. The Romans referred to the Iberian Peninsula as Hispania. The origins of this name is largely unknown. Roman armies first landed in Hispania (218 BC). They first used it as a staging area and training ground for new officers. They also tested out tactics to be used in the Punic War tactics against the Carthaginians as well as the indigenous peoples of the peninsula (the Iberians, the Lusitanians, the Gallaecians and other Celts). Very little is know about many of these people who were a mix of indigenous people and more recently arrived Celtic tribes, often referred to collectively as Celtiberians. The Cathaginians who controlled the south and east were defeated in only a few years. Rome after defeating Carthage in the Second Punic War and forcing the Carthaginians to withdraw began the conquest of Iberia. With the departure of the Cathaginians, much of Hispania was autonomous and left in the hands of independent tribal groups. It took the Romans two centuries to complete the conquest of the rest of the peninsula, especially the far northwest. The Romans initially divided Iberia into two provinces, Hispania Citerior (valley of the Ebro) and Hispania Ulterior (the plain of the Guadalquivir River) (206 BC). The modern name Spain (España) comes from the name of the Roman provinces. Modern differences within Spain come in part from the pre-Roman Celtiberians and the Roman administration districts. Ceasar in the Gallic Wars (58-50 BC) conquered the Gauls north of the Pyrenees and laid the foundation for the final conquest of the remaining areass of Hispania south of the Pyrenees. The Roman conquest was finally completed under the Emperor Augustus (19 BC). The final step was the Cantabrian and Asturian Wars (29-19 BC). This was the Roman campaign in the modern Spanish provinces of Cantabria, Asturias and León in northwestern Spain. Romanization proceeded unevenly within Hispania. Here location, date of conquest, local resources, and reactions of the conquered tribes all affected the process. Romanization thus occurred relatively quickly in some areas and more slowly elsewhere. The Romans gradually changed the administrative districts. Information is limited on this process, but some glimses are provided by the accounts left by the togati (lawyers). After the time of Augustus, the Romans divided Hispania into three separately governed provinces which ultimately incrased to nine provinces. Thus for some 500 years, Hispania became part of the cosmopolitan Roman world tied together by law, language, and culture. Roman roads and sea trading routes tied Hispania into this world economically. This is not to say that the population was completely Romanized. The Roman influence was strongest among the educated elites and urban population. There is substantial evidence that the Celtiberians retained a degree of separate identity. Caesar mentioned during the Civil Wars that his soldiers from the Second Legion had become Hispanicized and regarded themselves as hispanicus. Of course this was before Hispania had been complrtely cinquered. The level of Romanization must have been substantial after four more centuries of Roman rule. The modern Iberian romance (Latin-based) languages are a powerful indicator of the level of Romanization. As in the rest of the Roman Empire, some of Celtiberian population was admitted into the Roman aristocratic class and were a part of the Roman administration of Hispania. The native aristocracy class continued to rule each local tribe after they were conquered or submitted to Roman rule.







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Created: 10:11 PM 11/23/2007
Last updated: 7:20 AM 12/25/2014