Lusitanian War


The Roman conquest of Spain is one of the most shameful episodes in Roman imperial expansion; characterized by greed, mendacity and mass homicidal behavior. The Lusitanian War constitutes the second round of Roman aggression against native Spanish tribes, the first taking place during the second Punic War. The third and final war (Cantabrian) took place during the reign of Augustus. In short, it took 200 years to conquer the Iberian Peninsula.

Why conquer Spain when it took so much effort and time to not only defeat the various Spanish tribes but also to keep peace on the peninsula? At least three full legions had to be stationed there for 70 years. There were two major reasons; 1) prestige for the military leader in a militaristic state that rewards conquest, and 2) economic opportunity. Aside from covering themselves with glory, Roman aristocrats could make money from plunder; especially the selling of conquered populations into slavery. Furthermore, offering their legionnaires the opportunity for plunder bound soldiers to their military leaders with feelings of personal loyalty and mutual advantage.

The other opportunity, one of governing and maintaining control of the peninsula, resulted in government by corruption; bribes for various services rendered, especially representing provincial interests in Rome itself; loans made at usurious levels of interest to cover ruinous taxes; commandeering various resources such as wheat for the military at artificially low prices or for no compensation at all. And of course, silver mines for the minting of money as well as lead, copper, zinc and iron.

Economically, Spain offered manpower (for military and economic exploitation), metals, salt, salted fish and meat, olive oil and wine. Also, a translucent stone called Lapis Specularis was mined for window making and building ornamentation.

With the Roman conquest and the advent of roads and peninsula-wide stability, commerce flourished. The only question is who did well economically; the native elite and Spanish population in general or the visiting Roman aristocrats, Equites and merchants? A preliminary answer to this question may be found in the fact that the city of Gades (Cadiz in Spanish) contained the largest number of Roman equestrian families (about 500) after Patavium (Modern Padua; in Cisalpine Gaul) and Rome itself. One could draw an analogy with the arrival of Northern Carpetbaggers in the American South after the Civil War and the appearance of the Chinese Han after the conquest of Tibet. Rapacious foreigners backed by the army were pretty much able to have their own way.


War with the Lusitanians and Vettones 155 BC

[VISUAL: Spain 200 BC-Lusitani, Vettones]

In 153 BC, the Lusitanians under the leadership of Punicus, invaded Roman territory. They were accompanied by the Vettones. These tribes defeated two Roman governors and raided south as far as the Mediterranean. They also raided east almost as far as New Carthage. Things were bad enough for the Roman Senate to send the consul, Quintus Fulvius Nobilor at the head of any army. In the meantime, the praetor Lucius Mummius and his Roman force were defeated with 9,000 dead. The Lusitanians then attacked the Celtici, Roman allies. They sent the captured standards of Mummius to intimidate the Celtici.

Egan, Julia M. “Comparative Resistance in Iberia: the Turdetanians and the Lusitanians,” Studies in Mediterranean Antiquity and Classics. 2013;(3):Iss.1, Article 2. Available at: