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by. Miguel A. Gonzalez


1 Introduction

3 The castros

11 Language and religion

18 Economic activity

23 Warfare

26 BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES | 136 Finaghy road north. Belfast. BT10 0JD


Castro of Barona, Porto do Son. Galicia

Getting to know how our ancestors lived is always

interesting. In the Galician Castro culture, as in every culture
where either the sources of information are not written or
they are written but have an alien origin, the problem is that
the information is often scarce and must be contrasted
because the results are now, for different reasons, not very
reliable. To reconstruct the elements that characterise the
lifestyle of these people that preceded and even coexisted
with the Romans, we can use the information provided by
the archaeology, the information (sometimes not very clear
and reliable) supplied by the classical historians and we can
even compare them with other cultures of the same period.

The information is often scarce and we think we will get to

know more as the archaeological works go on. Now we are
going to offer a short description of some aspects of the way
of living of the Gallaeci.
Castro culture is the archaeological term for the material
Celtic culture of the north-western regions of the Iberian
Peninsula from the end of the Bronze Age (c. 9th century
BC) until it was subsumed by Roman culture (c. 1st century

The most notable characteristics of this culture are: its

walled oppida and hill forts, known locally as castros, from
Latin castrum "castle", and the scarcity of visible burial
practices, in spite of the frequent depositions of prestige
items and goods, swords and other metallic riches in rocky
outcrops, rivers and other aquatic contexts since the
Atlantic Bronze Age.This cultural area extended east to the
Cares river (Asturias) and south into the lower Douro river
valley and tributaires.

The Castro culture emerged during the first two centuries

of the first millennium BCE, in the region extending from the
Douro river up to the Minho, but soon expanding north
along the coast, and east following the river valleys,
reaching the mountain ranges which separate the Atlantic
coast of the Iberian peninsula from the central plateau or
meseta. It was the result of the autonomous evolution of
Atlantic Bronze Age communities, after the local collapse
of the long range Atlantic network of interchange of
prestige items.


Bath complex. Castro of Coana. Asturias

The castro culture is one of the Indo-European cultures

existing in Western Europe in the Iron Age and presents some
elements from Celtic origin. It is not uniform either in space or
in time, but it has some basic aspects that last persist
throughout the centuries. It's typical villages, the castros,
appear in the 8th to the 7th centuries b. C. and they last until
the 1st or even the 5th century a.D.

hey were small fortified villages inhabited by peasants that

grew cereals, collected wild fruits (basically acorn from oak),
raised cattle and practised the metallurgy of bronze and iron.
In the coastal areas they also caught fish and seafood.

In Galicia most of the castros were medium or small size; the
small ones appear in all the stages of this culture, whereas
the big ones only belong to the final moment. In the first stage
(until the 5th-4th centuries b.C.) they were located basically
on high, easy-to-defend places. In the second stage (until the
end of the 2nd century b. C.) they were situated in places
where both strategic position and access to resources were
important; at this time the hillside hillfort appeared. The last
stage (until the end of the 2nd century a.D.), after the Roman
conquest, was that of big villages.

In Galicia in general we can distinguish three kinds of

settlement :

Seaside castros like the one in Fazouro on the coast of

Lugo and Baroa on the coast of A Corua. They usually
present a simple sketch, with varied plan, adapted to the land
and the natural defences of the seaside were complemented
with moats in the inside.

Plain and valley inland castros (for instance Castromao in

Ourense and Viladonga in Lugo) located on more or less high
places but never on the top. They have a circular or oval plan
and one or more walled circuits.

Castros placed in the East mountain ranges, situated in

high mountainous areas (Castro de Vilar and de Torre at
Courel, castro de Formigueiros in Samos, the three of them at
Lugo's province) located generally on the slopes. They had
oval or irregular plan , artificial moats in the upper part and
walls and embankment to the valley. They developed
especially in the Galician-Roman period linked to mining

The castro people used to place their villages in places that
combined defensive position and proximity to arable lands,
except some castros situated in inhospitable places like
Baroa or Porto do Son. In approximately one kilometre
around the hillfort there were the arable lands and all the
resources like water, firewood, pastures and so on.

Rodrguez Colmenero portrays in the following words the

habitat of this people:

When trying to describe their type of habitat, it could be said

that typical castro is a settlement located on raised grounds,
upon a hill, on the slope of a mountain or a sloping bank of a
river. When selecting their location, the determining factors
were both the availability of a drinking water supply for
population and livestock, and the optimisation of their
defensive attributes since they were a war-like society,
always aware of possible invasions, foreign migrations or
territorial disputes amongst tribes, and therefore they would
look for the most appropriate locations which could be
defended with walls, moats and stockades.

Rodrguez Colmenero affirms that in the Prerroman stage of

what would later become Gallaecia, no sign of political unity
could be found. On the contrary, there was a mosaic of tribal
units of limited geographical scope that Rome would adopt
after the conquest to organise its own domains.

Pliny wrote there were 40 units, called civitates, within the

Conventus Bracarensis (24) and populi within the Conventus
Lucensis (16).

The settlements included in each of these units were different

in size and category and they were subordinated to each

A romanized castro, at Viladonga, Castro de Rei, Galicia

Partial view of a castro at Coaa, Citnia de Sanfins, Paos de Ferreira,

Asturias Portugal
Epigraphic sources and a document written on bronze that
has recently been found in the Bierzo (Leon) area let us know
that the civitas or populus were organised in inferior territorial
units, all of them with the same category, called castella
(castros), each of them covered a territory named after a main
settlement to which the other smaller castros were

The main castellum was the place of residence of the local

authorities, who were sometimes presided by indigenous
aristocrats called principes.

Even amongst the main castros there was a dominant one

where the executive power had its seat and the general
assemblies took place, which was the territorial administrative
centre and so on. It was also the place where the
representatives of all castella in the civitas would meet
periodically in order to discuss government matters, or where
the citizens with the right to vote would go in order to
participate in the general assemblies of the tribe.

Regarding the number of inhabitants in the period in the area

of what is Galicia today, we only have hypothetical data. Pliny
comments that around the 1st century b.C. it could be more or
less two hundred ten thousand people, which would give an
average of seven inhabitants by square kilometre, but this
population would be distributed irregularly along the territory.
There was a remarkable increase of population throughout
the long history of this culture, from the beginning with few
small-size castros until the last stage with many medium-size
or even big castros. The life expectancy would be thirty-two
years. We can think that, like other ancient populations, these
people would have a high infant mortality rate and an
acceptable birth rate that made the demographic growth

Pre-Roman tribes in Gallaecia

Regarding the system of inheritance of property, Strabo
commented that it was women who received the dowry, who
inherited, and afterwards they had the responsibility to fix
their brothers matrimonial arrangements. We can assume
from this that the real property (the property or usufruct of the
family lands) was transfered by the mothers lineage and it
was women that were in charge of cultivating the land. Men
would get the livestock, the booty conquered in the war
expeditions and the gold or silver articles like torques. This
system of inheritance and property implies that men would go
to live to their wives homes.

"Torques" of Burela. Galicia



With regards to the language they spoke, we have few data,

because we can only count on the epigraphic sources and
the toponymy. Armada Pita says that the analysis of some
Gallaecian-Lusitan inscriptions written in indigenous
language but using the Latin alphabet, together with the
information given by the epigraphy, toponymy and classical
sources, gave rise to two currents of opinion about the origin
of the language.

Some authors think the Lusitanian was a Indo-european

language, but the archaic elements it presents make it
different from the Celtic languages. So it should be
considered Proto-Celt, and therefore previous to the division
of the primitive Indo-european branch into the different
linguistic groups.

On the contrary, some authors think that the presence of
archaic elements is not a solid and conclusive criterion to
deny that the Lusitanian language belonged to the Celtic
group of languages.

Armada Pita gives also information about the controversy on

whether Gallaeci and Lusitanians spoke one or several
languages. Although he recognizes there must have been
variants inside the territory, he affirms that it existed a relative
linguistic unit.

Concerning religion, we have the same or even more
difficulties that in other fields to characterize this culture
because all the data are the result of the contact with the
Roman religion, in fact we dont have any castrexo
document about religion. We can say that they practised the
polytheism, because we know many names of gods
worshipped by this people, but the frequency with which
they are mentioned lets us think that some of them would be
more important than others, which also leads us to believe
that there should exist a defined and perfectly structured

The most important god should have been Lug, identified

with Mercury by the Romans and associated to the wild boar
or the bear. Another one is Bandua, that would occupy the
inferior place, and which the Romans associated with Mars.
Penha Granha affirms that The Gallaecian god of war dies
fighting defending the comrades, but later he rises from the
dead to lead the fallen to paradise.

We also have a great amount of inscriptions dedicated to

Jupiter, which leads us to think that behind the Roman god
hides an indigenous one. Another is Coso, identified with the
Roman god Mars in some epigraphs.

We also have many gods in relation with the waters and

others like Durbedicus, Edovius, Veroca, some of whom
surely protected the harvests and the livestock and helped
fertility. There were also the gods of the ways, the Lares
Viales, almost surely represented by some statues of heads
with two or four faces.

The importance of the rites with sacrifices makes us think

that there probably were priests of druidical type.

The religious pantheon was extensive, and
included local and pan-Celtic gods. Among the
later ones the most relevant was Lugus; 5
inscriptions are known with dedication to this
deity, whose name is frequently expressed as a
plural dative (LUGUBO, LUCOUBU). The votive
altars containing this dedications frequently
present three holes for gifts or sacrifices. Other
pan-European deities include Bormanicus (a god
related to hot springs), the Matres, and Sulis or

More numerous are the votive inscriptions

dedicated to the autochthonous Cosus, Bandua,
Nabia, and Reue. Hundreds of Latin inscriptions
have survived with dedications to gods and
goddesses. Archaeological finds such as
ceremonial axes decorated with animal sacrificial
scenes, together with the severed head sculptures
and the testimonies of classical authors, confirms
the ceremonial sacrifice of animals, probably
including humans, as among Lusitanians and

Late Bronze Age golden helmet The largest number of indigenous deities found in
the whole Iberian Peninsula are located in the
Lusitanian-Galician regions, and models proposing
a fragmented and disorganized pantheon have
been discarded, since the number of deities
occurring together is similar to other Celtic peoples
in Europe and ancient civilizations.

Cosus, a male deity, was worshipped in the

coastal areas where the Celtici dwelt, from the
region around Aveiro and Porto to Northern
Galicia, but seldom inland, with the exception of
the El Bierzo region in Leon, where this cult has
been attributed to the known arrival of Galician
miners, most notably from among the Celtici
Supertamarici. This deity has not been recorded in
the same areas as Bandua, Reue and Nabia
deities occur, and El Bierzo follows the same
pattern as in the coast. From a theonymical point
of view, this suggest some ethno-cultural
differences between the coast and inland areas.
With the exception of the Grovii people,
Pomponius Mela stated that all the populi were
Celtic and Cosus was not worshipped there. Pliny
also rejected that the Grovii were Celtic, he
considered them to have a Greek origin.

A Gallaecian warrior's head, wearing a torc

Bandua is closely associated with Roman Mars and
less frequently worshipped by women. The
religious nature of Cosus had many similarities
with that of Bandua. Bandua had a warlike
character and a defender of local communities.
The worship of these two gods do not overlap but
rather complement each other, occupying
practically the whole of the western territory of
the Iberian Peninsula. Supporting the idea, no
evidence has been found of any women
worshipping at any of the monuments dedicated to
Cosus. Cosus sites are found near settlements,
such as in Sanfins and the settlement near A

Nabia had double invocation, one male and one

female. The supreme Nabia is related to Jupiter
and another incarnation of the deity, identified
with Diana, Juno or Victoria or others from the
Roman pantheon, linked to the protection and
defence of the community or health, wealth and
fertility. Bandua, Reue, Arentius-Arentia,
Quangeius, Munidis, Trebaruna, Laneana, and
Nabia worshipped in the heart of Lusitania
Triskelion of the oppidum of Coeliobriga vanishes almost completely outside the boundary
Galicia with the Vettones.

Bandua, Reue and Nabia were worshipped in the

core area of Lusitania (including Northern
Extremadura to Beira Baixa and Northern
Lusitania) and reaching inland Galicia, the
diffusion of these gods throughout the whole of
the northern interior area shows a cultural
continuity with Central Lusitania.

Funerary rites are mostly unknown except at few

places, such as Cividade de Terroso, where
cremation was practised.

Nabia Fountain in Braga. The deity

probably had an association with water,
the sky and the earth

"Rapa das bestas". Lugo. Galicia

Classical authors, when talking about the culture of this

people, play down their dedication to agriculture and
emphasize their habit of picking acorns. Archaeological
studies proved this idea wrong; it had obviously been upheld
to portray them as barbarian. They actually had an
agricultural activity we cannot call archaic, based on winter
and spring cereals together with pulses and cabbages.

They cultivated mostly wheat and barley, together with oats

in scarce proportions and corn. In the group of pulses we can
mention peas and beans. They would also cultivate linen and
wool of sheep, which were the base of a domestic textile
industry well documented in all the castros through
spinning tools. Antonio Colmenero maintains that the
agricultural production was organised in the nearby plains,
leaving the fertile marshland and the closer mountains for
shepherding and large and small wild game hunting.
Also from the most immediate surroundings of the castro
would be obtained the basic materials for the handicrafts
industry and the combustion; this being wood, iron, various
minerals and coal for cooking and heating up the homes.

Regarding the cattle farming, we can say that it was used

mostly to produce milk, to pull the ploughs and, at the end of
their life, as stock of meat and leather. They would not eat
horse meat because this animal, used probably in the war
and in sacrifices, was also a symbol of wealth and power.

The exploitation of the sea began in the initial phase of this

culture. They used to gather seafood from the rocks and
sandy bottoms near their villages. The list of seafood picked
is long and it depends on the area where the castro was
situated: mussels, limpets, snails, cockles, oysters, clams,
razorshells and so on. Regarding the fishing, there were found
in the castros remains of pounting, hake, scad, white
seabream, red bream and so on. They used hooks and nets to
fish.These people had a variety of food resources. The most
important ingredients in the cooking of this culture were:

Vegetables: acorns, wheat, barley, corn, oats, beans, peas,

cabbage and wild fruit.
Animals: In the goup of fishes we can mention pountings,
hakes, scads, white seabreams, red breams and sea bass; in
the group of seafood they ate oysters, clams, cockles,
mussels, limpets, goose barnacles, sea urchins and spider
crabs; in the goup of meats they usually ate goat, sheep,
bovine meat and pork; less frequently they took badger, wild
boar and deer.
Drinks: water, zythos (a kind of beer) and wine (imported,
scarce and appreciated).

All these elements let us affirm they had a complete and

balanced diet. Archaeology did not detect changes in the
feeding of this people from the most ancient phases till the
beginning of the contact with Rome.

It seems that these communities were self-sufficient to cover
most of their basic needs and they had an even capacity to
produce surpluses. On the other hand, they could not satisfy
directly the supply of mineral or metallic objects to make
weapons or jewels.

They also needed some other goods like wine, balls of glass
or different kinds of ceramics.

To cover these needs they developed the exchange not only

between the different communities in Galicia but also with
foreign places to obtain products that were produced in other
areas of the Peninsula or in the Western Mediterranean.

For two-thirds of the
year the mountaineers
feed on the acorn,
which they dry, bruise,
and afterwards grind
and make into a kind
of bread, which may
be stored up for a long

(Strabo, Geography,
III, 3, 7)

Bronze swords

Regarding the war activity of these people we have some

information, but also numerous gaps. The first thing that
should be said is that we do not know whether all men were
assigned to the military activity or not. It is almost sure there
were structured associations of warriors similar to the ones
that existed in other Indo-European societies. It is also
supposed that to get the status of warrior there was an
initiation ceremony but we do not know the content of the

If we take into account that the men had to keep and

increase the inherited cattle to preserve their prestige in
society, one of the possible ways to do this should have been
the military practice.

Some historians state there should be a hierarchy in the
group of warriors: there would be an elite, made up of those
who had a heavier and more sophisticated weaponry and
fought on horseback and in a lower position we would find
people armed in a lighter manner who probably fought on
foot. This practice fitted in with what was usual in other Indo-
European societies.

As to the practice of war, ancient sources constantly mention

ambushes, explorations, fast manoeuvres, that is, the
opposite to what the civilized peoples of the Antiquity did.
According to these sources, the warriors had long hair, which
they tied up for the fight, they sang hymns while they waited
for death and the prisoners committed suicide. They also
mention the participation of women in the war. In this case it
is difficult to know what reality was like, but it seems clear
that they preferred death to defeat, that slavery and
servitude were inconceivable to them and that, if they took
prisoners, they would kill them or send them back to their
communities in exchange for a ransom. The participation of
women in the war would only happen in extreme situations.

Pena Granha mentions the existence of permanent armies of

unmarried boys, aged from fourteen to twenty years,
organized in groups under the control of noble young men.
One part of the year, in the summer, they worked as a border
police and in the winter they would act as outlaws getting
through the enemy line, taking revenge for their dead
colleagues, committing burglaries, getting a dowry for their
wedding. This can be deduced from Diodoros works. These
groups would also exist in other Indo-European societies.


ARIAS VILAS, FELIPE (2009). A cultura castrexa na
provincia de Lugo. Aspectos diferenciais in Actas do curso
A prehistoria en Lugo luz das descubertas recentes.
Lugo, 24th e 25th April 2009.

ARMADA PITA, X.L. El debate sobre los celtas y la etnicidad

del noroeste peninsular. Una revisin crtica y algunas

Pena Granha, A. (2011) O Ciclo de Inverno en Teoria de

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Municipal de Arqueoloxa, Lugo.


A vida coti na Galicia castrexa. Servicio de Publicacins da
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