Iberians: Appian of Alexandria (mid-second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Iberians: Appian of Alexandria (mid-second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified October 14, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=7277.

Ancient author: Appian of Alexandria, Roman Matters: Iberian Book 6.1.1-3 (link)

Comments: We know very little about Appian beyond that he was a Greek from Alexandria, spent time as a lawyer in Rome, belonged to the equestrian order, and likely took a position as procurator. Appian’s work on Roman Matters is an important source not only for the Roman civil wars but also for Rome’s engagements with other peoples (the so-called “Foreign Wars” section of the work), including the Iberians or Celtiberians in what is now Spain. Here Appian sketches out some information about the land and the people, but this is not a deep ethnographic analysis, by any means. Notable is his suggestion that the inhabitants of the region were a result of migrations of Celts from the east and that there were early Phoenician settlements. Appian tends to avoid stereotyping the peoples he discusses.

Source of the translation: H. White, Appian’s Roman History, 4 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1912-13), public domain, adapted by Harland.


Book 6

[Introduction to Celtiberians in Iberia / Hispania (modern Spain)]

1 (1) The Pyrenees mountains extend from the Tyrrhenian sea to the Northern [North Atlantic] ocean. The eastern part is inhabited by Celts, otherwise called “Galatians,” and more lately “Gauls.” The Iberians and Celtiberians live from this part westward, beginning at the Tyrrhenian sea and making a circuit by way of the Pillars of Herakles to the Northern ocean. So the whole of Iberia is surrounded by sea, except the part embraced by the Pyrenees, the largest and perhaps the most precipitous mountains in Europe. In coasting they follow the Tyrrhenian sea as far as the Pillars of Herakles [straits of Gibralter]. They do not traverse the Western and Northern ocean, except in crossing over to Britannia, and this they accomplish by taking advantage of the tide, as it is only half a day’s journey. For the rest, neither the Romans nor any of the subject peoples navigate that ocean. The size of Iberia (now called Hispania by some) is almost incredible for a single country. Its width is calculated at 10,000 stadium-lengths [about 6,000 km], and its length is equal to its width. Many peoples (ethnē) of various names inhabit it, and many navigable rivers flow through it.

(2) It is not very important for me to inquire about what peoples occupied it first and who came after them because I am only writing about the Romans. However, I think that the Celts, passing over the Pyrenees at some former time, mingled with the natives, and that the name “Celtiberia” originated in that way. I think also that from an early time the Phoenicians frequented Iberia for purposes of trade, and settled certain places there. In a similar manner, the Greeks visited Tartessos and its king Arganthonios, and some of them settled in Iberia. For the kingdom of Arganthonios was in Iberia. It is my opinion that Tartessos was then the city on the seashore which is now called Karpessos [perhaps near modern Seville]. I think also that the Phoenicians built the temple of Herakles which stands at the straits. The worship performed there is still of the Phoenician style, and the god is considered by the worshippers the Tyrian, not the Theban, Herakles [i.e. Melqart, patron deity of Tyre]. But I will leave these matters to those who study ancient things.

[Roman involvement in Iberia]

(3) This fruitful land, abounding in all good things, the Carthaginians (Karchedonians) began to exploit before the Romans. A part of it they occupied and another part they plundered, until the Romans expelled them from the part they held, and immediately occupied it themselves. The remainder the Romans acquired with much toil, extending over a long period of time. In spite of frequent revolts they eventually subdued it and divided it into three parts and appointed a praetor over each. How they subdued each one, and how they contended with the Carthaginians for the possession of them, and afterwards with the Iberians and Celtiberians, this book will show, the first part containing matters relating to the Carthaginians, since it was necessary for me to introduce their relations with Iberia in my writing about Iberian matters. . .

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