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The Lusitanians were a tribe, or various tribes, from the western Iberian peninsula, who spoke a Lusitanian language until the conquest of their territory by the Romans. The Lusitanians are seen as the ancestors of the modern Portuguese living in the western portion of the Iberian peninsula. The most notable among the Lusitanians was Viriathus.



The Lusitanians are classified as having being influenced by Celtic culture. Theirs was a developed culture, although not as developed as the Romans and Greeks, but they became infamous to the Romans due to their surprising capacity in fighting them; it is by this Roman perspective that we know about this people.

The Lusitanians used such weapons as the dagger, the iron-made javelin, and the brass spear. They greased their bodies, and used vapour baths before bathing more properly in cold water; and usually ate once a day. They were known to practice human sacrifices, and when a priest wounded a pregnant prisoner in the womb, they drew predictions by the way the victim collapsed. They sacrified to Cariocecus, god of war: not just prisioners but also horses and goats. They practiced gymnastic exercises such as boxing and racing, combat simulations on foot and on horse; Lusitanians practiced monogamy and usually took one wife. They used boats made of leather, or from harvested lumber.

Early Roman records classify them as Carthaginian mercenaries; this arose from early reports that there were reports of Lusitanians fighting along the Carthaginians in the Pyrenees on the way to Rome.

The Lusitanians lived in a small quadrangular houses (round in the north) of a single floor, made of stones. Their clothes were made of wool or of goat skin. They used necklaces, bracelets and other jewels 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, goat milk, or beer.


Main article: Lusitanian mythology

The Lusitanians worshipped various gods in a very caotic 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 maintained until the 5th century. Goddess Ataegina was especially popular in the south. Lusitanian mythology was related with Celtic mythology, and with later Roman rule it also became influenced by the Roman one.

The Lusitanians practiced the cult of the dead, and used cremation.


Main article: Lusitanian language

The Lusitanian language was a paleo-Iberian, Indo-European language with particular characteristics, different from the languages spoken in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, being more archaic than the Celt-Iberian language.

The filiation of the Lusitanian language 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".


Missing image
Map showing the main pre-Roman tribes in Portugal and their main migrations. Turduli movement in red, Celtic in brown and Lusitanian in a blue colour. Most tribes neughbouring the Lusitanians were dependent of them. Names are in Latin.

The Lusitanians were primarily a single tribe that lived between the rivers Douro and Tagus. Later, the name Lusitania was adopted by ancient Calaicians or Gallaeci (tribes living in the north of Douro River) and other closely surrounding tribes, eventually spreading as a label to all the local people fighting the Roman rule - but also because they were all culturally and ethnically very similar. Most of these tribes were from the north of the Douro river.

Tribes, often known by their Latin names, living in the area of Portugal prior to the Roman rule:

  • Bracari - living between the rivers Tâmega and Cávado, in the area of the modern city of Braga;
  • Callaeci -living north of the River Douro;
  • Celtici - Celts living in Alentejo;
  • Coelernos - living in the mountains between the rivers Tua and Sabor;
  • Conii - from the Algarve and south of Alentejo;
  • Equaesi - living in the extremely mountainous region of modern Portugal;
  • Grovii - mysterious tribe living in the Minho valley;
  • Interamici - living in Trás-os-Montes and in border areas with Galicia (modern Spain);
  • Leuni - living between the rivers Lima and Minho;
  • Luancos - living between the rivers Tâmega and Tua;
  • Lusitanians - being the most numerous and dominant of the region;
  • Limici - living in the swamps of the river Lima, in the border between Portugal and Galicia);
  • Narbasos - living in the north of modern Portugal (interior) and nearby area of southern Galicia;
  • Nemetatos - living in the north of Douro Valley in the area of Mondim;
  • Paesuri - a dependent tribe of the Lusitanians, living between the rivers Douro and Vouga;
  • Quaquerni - living in the mountains at the mouths of rivers Cavado and Tâmega;
  • Seurbi - living between the rivers Cávado and Lima (or even reaching the river Minho);
  • Tamagani - from the area of Chaves, near the river Tâmega;
  • Tapoli - another dependent tribe of the Lusitanians, living in the north of the river Tagus, in the border between modern Portugal and Spain.
  • Turduli - East of Alentejo (Guadiana Valley);
  • Turduli Veteres - ancient Turduli living south of the estuary of the river Douro;
  • Turdulorum Oppida - Turduli living in the Portuguese region of Estremadura;
  • Turodos - living in Trás-os-Montes and border areas in Galicia;
  • Zoelae - People living in the mountains of Serra da Nogueira, Sanabria and Culebra until the mountains of Mogadouro in the north of Portugal and adjacent area of Galicia.

War with the Romans and eventual Romanisation

Since 193 BCE, the Lusitanians had been fighting the Romans. In 150 BCE, 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 BCE), Viriathus became the leader of the Lusitanians and severely damaged the Roman rule in Lusitania and beyond. In 139 BCE, he was betrayed and killed by three of his companions, having been bribed by Servilius Cipianus.

After Viriathus' rule, the Lusitanians became largely romanised and more interbred with them, acquiring 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 itself is a local evolution of the Roman language, Latin.

see also



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