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Iberian Peninsula at about 200 BC [1].

The Lusitanians (or Lusitani in Latin) were an Indo-European people living in the west of the Iberian Peninsula centuries before it became the Roman province of Lusitania (most of modern Portugal, Extremadura and a small part of the province of Salamanca). They spoke the Lusitanian language, an Indo-European language which might have been heavily influenced by Celtic or was closely related to Celtic, if not a form of archaic Celtic or proto Celtic. Modern Portuguese people see the Lusitanians as their ancestors. The most notable Lusitanian was Viriathus.


Some modern authors consider them to be indigenous and initially dominated by the Celts, before gaining full independence from them. Alternatively, archeologist Scarlat Lambrino proposed that they were originally a tribal group of Celtic origin related to the Lusones of Saefs origin. Diodorus Siculus considered the Lusitanians a 'Celtic' people: "Those who are called Lusitanians are the bravest of all Cimbri".1 Strabo differentiated the Lusitanians from the Iberian tribe.2 The classical sources also mention Viriathus as the leader of the Celtiberians.3 The Lusitanians were also called Belitanians, according to Artemidorus.45

Ethnological speculations abound on the origin of Lusitanians and whether they had some substantial connection with the Lusones or the similarity in their tribal names was merely accidental.

The first area settled by the Lusitanians was probably the Douro Valley and the region of Beira Alta; then they moved south, and expanded on both sides of the Tagus River, before being conquered by the Romans.

The original Roman province of Lusitania briefly included the territories of Asturia and Gallaecia, but these were soon ceded to the jurisdiction of the Provincia Tarraconensis in the north, while the south remained the Provincia Lusitania et Vettones. After this, Lusitania's northern border was along the Douro River, while its eastern border passed through Salmantica and Caesarobriga to the Anas (Guadiana) river.


Categorising Lusitanian culture generally, including the language, is proving difficult. Some believe it was essentially a pre-Celtic Iberian culture with substantial Celtic influences, while others argue that it was an essentially Celtic culture with strong indigenous pre-Celtic influences.

Lusitanian lunula from Miranda do Corvo (Portugal)

Lusitanians lived in round and rectangular houses with a single floor, made of stones. Their clothes were made of wool or of goat skin. They wore necklaces, bracelets, and other jewelry made of gold. They made their jewels using a filigree method, or by hammering. Wine was only used in festivities, and they usually drank water, goats' milk, and beer. Lusitanians practiced monogamy and lived in a primitive social organization, which appears to be linked to the Atlantic Late Bronze Age. They used boats made of leather or harvested lumber.

They used anointing-rooms twice a day and took baths in vapors that rose from heated stones, then bathed in cold water.

They practiced gymnastic exercises such as boxing and racing. They sacrificed goats, horses, and human prisoners to Cariocecus, god of war.

In battles with the Romans, Lusitanians gained a reputation as fierce fighters. They used weapons such as the dagger, the iron javelin, the falcata, and the brass spear. Roman records attest to their presence among Carthaginian mercenaries in battles in the Pyrenees.

Lusitanians were successful against Carthaginian attempts of conquest with Kaukainos or Caucenus leadership. They were also, for some time, with Viriathus' leadership, successful against the Romans, but their chief was murdered by three bribed men of Viriathus' own warriors serving as Roman agents. They were later defeated, conquered, Romanized, and integrated into the Roman Empire and Roman civilization.

Success in the resistance against Carthaginian attempts of conquest and the inicial success in repelling Roman conquer attempts demonstrate, although Lusitanians were formed by several tribes and clans, they had a cultural sense of unity and coordinated the warriors of several tribes for a common goal under a leadership of a common chief (it also demonstrates some kind of more complex military organization).


The Lusitanians worshipped various gods in a very diverse polytheism, using animal sacrifice. They represented their gods and warriors in rudimentary sculpture. Endovelicus was the most important god: his cult eventually spread across the Iberian peninsula and beyond, to the rest of the Roman Empire and his cult was maintained until the fifth century; he was the god of public health and safety. The goddess Ataegina was especially popular in the south; as the goddess of rebirth (spring), fertility, nature, and cure, she was identified with Proserpina during the Roman era.

Lusitanian mythology was related to or heavily influenced by Celtic mythology, and during later Roman rule, it also became heavily influenced by Roman mythology, while the Romans also adopted some Lusitanian gods. Also well attested in inscriptions are the names Bandua, often with a second name linked to a locality such as Bandua Aetobrico, and Nabia, possibly a goddess of rivers and streams. The Lusitanians practiced the cult of the dead, and used cremation.


The Lusitanian language was a paleohispanic language that clearly belongs to the Indo-European family and may be related to the Celtiberian language.

The precise filiation of the Lusitanian language inside Indo-European family is still in debate: there are those who endorse that it is a Celtic language with an obvious "celticity" to most of the lexicon, over many anthroponyms and toponyms. A second theory relates Lusitanian with the Italic languages; based on a relation of the name of Lusitanian deities with other grammatical elements of the area. Finally, Ulrich Schmoll proposed a new branch to which he named "Galician-Lusitanian".

Lusitanian language is one of the most important pre-Roman substrates of the Portuguese language (a Romance language descendant from Latin through Vulgar Latin).


Map showing the main pre-Roman tribes in Portugal and their main migrations: Turduli movement in red, Celtici in brown, and Lusitanian in blue; most tribes neighbouring the Lusitanians were dependent on them. Names are in Latin.

The Lusitanians were a people formed by several tribes that lived between the rivers Douro and Tagus, in most of today's Beira and Estremadura regions of central Portugal, and some areas of the Extremadura region (Spain). They were a tribal confederation, not a single political entity; each tribe had its own territory and was independent, and formed by smaller clans. However, they had a cultural sense of unity and a common name for the tribes. Each tribe was ruled by its own tribal aristocracy and chief. Many members of the Lusitanian tribal aristocracy were warriors as happened in many other pre-Roman peoples of the Iron Age. Only when an external threat occurred did the different tribes politically unite, as happened at the time of the Roman conquest of their territory when Viriathus became the single leader of the Lusitanian tribes. Kaukainos (or Caucenus) was another important Lusitanian chief before the Roman conquest. He ruled the Lusitanians (before Viriathus) for some time, leading the tribes in the resistance against Carthaginian attempts of conquest, and was successful.

The known Lusitanian tribes were:

It remains to be known if the Turduli Veteres, Turduli Oppidani, Turduli Bardili, and Turduli were Lusitanian tribes (coastal tribes), were related Celtic peoples, or were instead related to the Turdetani (Celtic, Indo-European pre-Celtic, or Iberians) and came from the south. The name Turduli Veteres (older or ancient Turduli), a tribe that dwelt in today's Aveiro District, seems to indicate they came from the north and not from the south (contrary to what is assumed on the map). Several Turduli peoples or tribes possibly originally were not Lusitanians, but instead were Callaeci tribes that came from the north towards the south along the coast and then migrated inland along the Tagus and the Anas (Guadiana River) valleys.

More Lusitanian tribes are likely, but their names are not known.


The Lusitanians were considered by historians to be particularly adept at guerilla warfare. The strongest amongst them were selected to defend the populace in mountainous sites.7 They used hooked saunians made of iron, and wielded swords and helmets like those of the Celtiberians. They threw their darts from some distance, yet often hit their marks and wounded them deeply. Being active and nimble warriors, they would pursue their enemies and decapitate them. In times of peace, they had a particular style of dancing, which required great agility and nimbleness of the legs and thighs. In times of war, they marched in time, until they were ready to charge the enemy.8

Apiano claims that when Praetor Brutus sacked Lusitania after chasing Viriathus, the women fought valiantly next to their men.9

Falcata, a fourth-century BC dagger

War with the Romans and eventual Romanisation

Since 193 BC, the Lusitanians had been fighting the Romans. In 150 BC, they were defeated by Praetor Servius Galba: springing a clever trap, he killed 9,000 Lusitanians and later sold 20,000 more as slaves in Gaul (modern France). Three years later (147 BC), Viriathus became the leader of the Lusitanians, and severely damaged the Roman rule in Lusitania and beyond. In 139 BC, Viriathus was betrayed and killed in his sleep by his companions (who had been sent as emissaries to the Romans), Audax, Ditalcus, and Minurus, bribed by Marcus Popillius Laenas. However, when Audax, Ditalcus, and Minurus returned to receive their reward by the Romans, the Consul Servilius Caepio ordered their execution, declaring, "Rome does not pay traitors".

After the death of Viriatus, the Lusitanians kept fighting under the leadership of Tautalus (Greek: Τάυταλος), but gradually acquired Roman culture and language; the Lusitanian cities, in a manner similar to those of the rest of the Romanised Iberian peninsula, eventually gained the status of "Citizens of Rome". The Portuguese language is a local evolution of the Roman language, Latin.

Contemporary meaning

Lusitanians are often used by Portuguese writers as a metaphor for the Portuguese people, and similarly, Lusophone is used to refer to a Portuguese speaker.

Lusitanic is at present a term used to categorize persons who share the linguistic and cultural traditions of the Portuguese-speaking nations and territories of Portugal, Brazil, Macau, Timor-Leste, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea Bissau and others.

See also


  1. ^ Siculus. Bibliotheka Historia: The Historical Library. Book V: Britain, Gaul, and Iberia.
  2. ^é María Gómez Fraile. (1999). "Los coceptos de "Iberia" e "ibero" en Estrabon" (PDF) (in spanish). SPAL: Revista de prehistoria y arqueología de la Universidad de Sevilla (8): 159-188.)
  3. ^*.html%7CSextus Julius Frontinus. Stratagems: Book II. V. On Ambushes
  4. ^ Pérez Vilatela. Lusitania: historia y etnología (in spanish)[S.l.]: Real Academia de la Historia, 2000. 33 p. vol. 6 of Bibliotheca archaeologica hispana, v. 6 of Publicaciones del Gabinete de Antigüedades.
  5. ^é de Resende. As Antiguidades da Lusitânia (in portuguese). [S.l.]: Imprensa da Univ. de Coimbra. 94 p.
  6. ^ Jorge de Alarcão, “Novas perspectivas sobre os Lusitanos (e outros mundos)”, in Revista portuguesa de Arqueologia, vol. IV, n° 2, 2001, p. 312 e segs.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^

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