Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Rethinking Iberian warfare: Were ancient guerrillas in Iberia a myth?

I was rather excited last week to discover that Prof Fernando Quesada-Sanz, an archaeologist working on Iron Age Spain was about to have his work published in English translation by Pen & Sword on 30 September 2016.

Have a butchers at the cover:

Looks like your typical Iberian with scutum and the odd caetra, right?

Have a closer look. They're wielding long spears, not javelin and falcata.

Quesada-Sanz has argued, based on archaeological finds, that the typical wargamer's image of an Iberian warrior as scutarii - wielding heavy javelins, cut and thrust falcata, and shielded by the long oval scutum - only became commonplace in the eastern and southern coast of Spain after contact with Carthage and Rome.

Before the book comes out you can read a summary of his thesis in this review:
"[T]he round shield was the main defensive weapon of the Iberians from the end of the sixth century B.C. Indeed, the scutum-type oval shield appears only late, at the end of the third century B.C., under the influence of the Carthaginians and the Romans, and becomes common only during the second century B.C.
"In the same way, the author's typology, which is the first of its kind, demonstrates that the spear, not the javelin or the sword, was the main offensive weapon in the Iberian area from the sixth and fifth centuries to the end of the third century B.C. Otherwise, according to anotherof the author's studies (Arma y símbolo: La falcata ibérica [Alicante 1992]), he qualifies the supremacy of the falcata in Iberian weaponry: the massive diffusion of this weapon, which first appears in the fifth century, is in fact limited to the southeastern part of the peninsula (Bastetania and Contestania)."
Lots of implications here for wargaming the resistance of the peninsula to Carthaginian and Roman conquest.

The takeaway message appears to be:
  • For battles with Carthage and Rome up until the end of the third century BC, long spear and caetra would be more prominent amongst Iberians. It is possible that they may be dominant for Celtiberians after this period, unless the Celtic influence there also transmitted a form of scutum. We will have to see what the new book sheds light on.
  • Note that the Second Punic War runs from 218 BC to 202 BC. I.e., the end of the third century BC, meaning that the spear may be more dominant amongst Iberian troops than previously adopted by Punic War gamers.
  • If you already possess an Iberian force that is predominantly armed with javelins and falcata then you still have some wiggle room to describe them as a depiction of a hybridising force. The same goes for the use of Montefortino style helmets (jockey-style) that only crop up via contact with Rome and Carthage. (On the Montefortino being introduced via Rome/Carthage rather than by Celts, see this article by Fernando-Sanz).
Now, the question wargamers may have is whether the Iberians fought in close order, mass 'heroic' battles ala the Greeks, Romans and Carthaginians, or whether they favoured a small band guerrillero-style raiding approach?

Quesada-Sanz has his response to the 'myth' of Iberian guerrilleros in an article from Ancient Warfare here. Amongst the observations:
  • The Iberian peoples fought in battle line comprised of line infantry backed up by light infantry and cavalry. There were sophisticated formations such as gaps in the line for cavalry to charge through, and the opportunistic adoption of infantry wedge formation by the Celtiberians.
  • "[F]ar from being the Hispanic sword par excellence, the falcata was only typical of the Bastetani and Contestani in the Southeast and then in a 4th to 2nd century BC context. The weapon was quite rare in the rest of the Iberian-inhabited regions and almost unknown in the northern and western areas of the Peninsula."
  • There is an 'antenna' sword with a leaf-shaped blade used by the Celtiberians that is not often seen in miniatures.
  • The article contains a nice list of 20 pitched battles between Iberians, Celtiberians and Romans between 210 BC and 133 BC.

Hat tip to Emilio on TMP for these links.



  1. Thanks for the tip - will have to grab this!

    Really interesting blog. Will be following from now on.


    1. You're welcome, Aaron. I've been a keen reader of your blog, too.

      Though note that the publication date for Quesada's book has been pushed back to 2017 now. However, the various other articles I've linked above provide a decent account of his views.

      For studies on Celtiberian war, see:

      It has great arms and armour charts for the wargamer.