Iberians: Trogus on their extreme courage (first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Iberians: Trogus on their extreme courage (first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 12, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=6745.

Authors: Pompeius Trogus as cited by Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus 44 (link; link to Latin).

Comments: We know very little about Pompeius Trogus (first century BCE) beyond what his abbreviator (Justin) summarizes at the end of book 43: Trogus was a Gaul of the Vocontian tribe whose grandfather had been granted Roman citizenship and whose father served under Gaius Caesar. So Trogus would be a “barbarian” from the perspective of some, even if a Roman citizen. Trogus’ work only survives in abbreviated form thanks to Justin, about whom we know even less. In this section, Trogus engages in an ethnographic excursus on Spain and its peoples, outlining how the peoples reflect the environment.


Book 44

[Spain’s land and peoples]

1 Spain, as it forms the boundary of Europe, will also form the conclusion of the present work. The ancients first called this land Iberia, from the river Iberus, and afterwards Hispania, from some person named Hispanus. It lies between Africa and Gaul, and is bounded by the Ocean Strait and the Pyrenees mountains. It is smaller than either of these lands, but more fruitful than either. For it is neither scorched by a burning sun, like Africa, nor disturbed by incessant winds, like Gaul. Being situated between the two, it is characterized by moderate heat on the one hand and genial and seasonable showers on the other.

It is fertile in all kinds of fruits of the earth, so that it supplies an abundance of everything, not only for its own inhabitants but also for Italy and the city of Rome. Indeed, not only plenty of grain comes from here, but also wine, honey, and oil. Its iron is excellent, and its breed of horses swift. Not only is the produce of the surface to be admired, but the abundant riches of the metals hidden beneath it. There is also plenty of flax and hemp, and certainly no land is more productive for vermilion. The courses of the rivers are not violent and rapid, so as to be hurtful, but gentle as they water the vineyards and the plains. The rivers are also well stocked with fish from the estuaries of the sea, and most of them are rich in gold, which they carry down with their waters.

It is joined to Gaul by one unbroken ridge of the Pyrenees mountains. On every other side, it is surrounded by sea. The shape of the land is almost square, except that it becomes more narrow towards the Pyrenees, the shores contracting in that area. The length of the Pyrenees is six hundred miles. The healthy climate is the same through the whole of Spain, for its atmosphere is infected with wholesome mists from fens. Besides, there are constant breezes from the sea on every side, by which, as they penetrate the whole land, the exhalations from the earth are dispersed and this provides good health for the inhabitants.

2 The bodies of the inhabitants are well adapted to endure hunger and fatigue. They are courageous to the point of death. A strict and rigorous abstinence prevails among them all. They prefer war to peace and, if no foreign enemy presents himself, they seek war at home. Many have died under torture to conceal what has been entrusted to them because their love of honour is so much stronger than their love of life. There is a story of a patient slave who is greatly praised. Having avenged his master in the war with the Carthaginians, this slave laughed in the midst of tortures and defied the utmost cruelty of his tormentors with calmness and cheerfulness. The people are nimble and agile; their minds are restless. To many, their war-horses and arms are more important than their blood. There is no sumptuous banquets prepared among them for festival days. Nor was it till after the second Punic war that they learned from the Romans to use warm baths.

During so long a course of years they have had no great general besides Viriathus (Viriatus), who maintained a struggle against the Romans for ten years with various success. So much more similar are their dispositions to those of wild beasts than of men. This very leader they followed, not as having been chosen by the judgment of the people, but as being well qualified to take precautions against the enemy, and artful in avoiding danger. His temperance and moderation were such that, though he often defeated armies commanded by consuls, after such achievements he still made no change in the fashion of his dress or arms or in his diet, but adhered to the same way of life with which he commenced his military career. The result was that any one of the common soldiers seemed better off than the general himself.

[Gallaecia and Lusitania]

3 Near the river Tagus in Lusitania, many authors have said that the mares conceive from the effect of the wind. But such stories actually originate in the fertility of the mares and in the vast number of herds of horses. They are so numerous and fast in Gallaecia and Lusitania, that they may be thought, not without reason, to have been the offspring of the wind. As for the Gallaecians, they claim for themselves a Greek origin. For they say that Teucer, after the end of the Trojan war, having incurred the hatred of his father on account of the death of his brother Ajax, and not being admitted into his kingdom, retired to Cyprus. There he built a city called Salamis, from the name of his native land. Some time afterwards, on hearing a report of his father’s death, he returned again to his land but, being hindered from landing by Eurysaces the son of Ajax, he sailed to the coast of Spain. He took possession of those parts where New Carthage now stands and, travelling from there to Gallaecia and fixing his abode there, gave name to the people.

A part of Gallaecia is inhabited by the Amphilochians. The land produces an abundance of brass and lead, as well as of vermilion, which has given name to a river Minius near the part in which it is found. It is also very rich in gold, so that they sometimes turn up clumps of gold with the plough. In the territory of this people there is a sacred mountain, which it is thought impious to open with any tool of iron. But whenever the earth is struck by lightning, which is common in these parts, it is permitted to pick up the gold that may be exposed as a gift from the deity of the place. The women manage household affairs, and the cultivation of the ground. The men occupy themselves only with war and the pursuit of spoil. Their iron is of an extraordinary quality, but their water is more powerful than the iron itself. For the iron, by being tempered in it, becomes sharper. Nor is any weapon held in esteem among them which has not been dipped either in the river Birbilis or the Chalybs. From the latter river those who dwell on its banks are called Chalybians, and are said to surpass the rest of the people in the manufacture of steel.

[Legend of Gargoris and Habis]

4 The Curetes inhabited the forests of the Tartesians, in which it is said that the Titans waged war against the gods. The Curetes’ most ancient king Gargoris was the first to collect honey. This prince, having a grandson born to him (the illegitimate offspring of his daughter), tried various means to have the child put to death due to the shame associated with her unchastity. However, being preserved by some good fortune through all disasters, he came at last to the throne due to a compassionate feeling for the many perils that he had undergone. First of all, Gargoris ordered the child to be exposed, so that he would starve. When he sent some days after to look for his body, the child was found nursed by the milk of various wild beasts. When he was brought home, he caused him to be thrown down a narrow road, along which herds of cattle used to pass. Being so cruel that he would rather have his grandchild trampled to pieces, than dispatched by an easy death. As he was unharmed in this case as well, and required no food, he threw him to hungry dogs, that had been exasperated by want of food for several days, and afterwards to swine. But since he remained not only unharmed but even fed by the udders of some of the swine, he ordered him at last to be cast into the sea. On this occasion, as if, by the manifest intervention of some deity, he had been carried through the raging tide and flux and reflux of the waters, as though on a ship and not on the billows. He was put on shore by the subsiding ocean. Not long after, a female deer came up and offered the child her udders. By constantly following this nurse, the boy acquired extraordinary swiftness of foot, and long ranged the mountains and woods among herds of deer, with swiftness not inferior to theirs. At last, being caught in a snare, he was presented to the king. Then, from the similarity of his features and certain marks which had been burned on his body in his infancy, he was recognized as the king’s grandson. Afterwards, from admiration at his escapes from so many trials and dangers, he was appointed by his grandfather to succeed him on the throne.

The name given him was Habis and as soon as he became king, he gave such demonstrations of greatness that he seemed to have been deliberately rescued, through the power of the gods, from so many exposures to death. He united the barbarous people by laws. He was the first that taught them to train oxen for the plough and to grow grain from tilling the soil. He required them to adopt a better diet, instead of food procured from the wilds, perhaps through a dislike for what he had eaten in his childhood. The adventures of this prince might seem fabulous if the founders of Rome had not been said to have been suckled by a wolf and if Cyrus, king of the Persians, had not been brought up by a dog. Habis ordered that the people should not carry out servile duties, and he divided the population among seven cities. After Habis was dead, the kingship was retained for many generations by his successors.

In another part of Spain, which consists of islands, the supreme power was in the hands of Geryon. Here there is such abundance of food for cattle that the cattle would burst if there was not an occasional interuption of feeding. So the herds of Geryon, which in those days were accounted the only form of wealth, were so renowned that they tempted Hercules out of Asia by the greatness of such a prize. Geryon himself, too, they say, was not a man with three bodies, as is told in fables, but that there were three brothers living in such unanimity that they seemed to be of one mind about everything. They also say that they did not attack Hercules of their own accord, but, seeing their herds driven off, endeavoured to recover what they had lost by force.

[Carthaginians and Hannibal]

5 After the rule of kings was at an end, the Carthaginians were the first that made themselves masters of the land. For when the inhabitants of Gades removed sacred things of Hercules from Tyre, according to directions which they received in a dream, which is how the Carthaginians originally came into Spain, and had built a city there, the neighbouring people of the land grew jealous of the rise of this new city. For this reason, they attacked Gades in war, but the Carthaginians sent assistance to their cousins. The expedition being successful, they both saved the inhabitants of Gades from injury, and added the greatest part of the province to their own dominions. After the success of their first attempt encouraged them, they subsequently sent their general Hamilcar, with a large army, to take possession of the whole land. Having performed great exploits but pursuing his fortune too quickly, Hamilcar was drawn into an ambush and killed. His son-in-law, Hasdrubal, was sent in his place but also killed by the slave of a certain Spaniard, to avenge the unjust death of his master. Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar, succeeded him, a greater general than either of them. For, surpassing the achievements of both, he subdued the whole of Spain, and then, making war upon the Romans, he harassed Italy for sixteen years with various disasters. During this period, the Romans sent the Scipios into Spain and first drove the Carthaginians out of the province, and afterwards carried on terrible wars with the Spaniards themselves. Nor would the Spaniards submit to subjugation even after their land was over-run, until Caesar Augustus, having subdued the rest of the world, turned his victorious arms against them. He reduced this barbarous and savage people into the form of a province, and brought them by the influence of laws to a more civilized way of life.


Source of the translation: J.S. Watson, Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), public domain, thoroughly adapted by Harland.

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