Lusitanian War

The Lusitanian War, called in Greek Pyrinos Polemos ("the Fiery War"),[1] was a war of resistance fought by the Lusitanian tribes of Hispania Ulterior against the advancing legions of the Roman Republic from 155 to 139 BC. The Lusitanians revolted on two separate occasions (155 BC, and again in 146 BC) and were pacified. In 154 BC, a long war in Hispania Citerior, known as the Numantine War, was begun by the Celtiberians. It lasted until 133 and is an important event in the integration of what would become Portugal into the Roman and Latin-speaking world.

Lusitanian War
Date155 to 139 BC
Result Roman victory
pacification of Lusitania (modern Portugal between the rivers Tagus and Douro and Extremadura, Spain)
Roman Republic Lusitanian tribes
Commanders and leaders
Servius Sulpicius Galba
Caius Vetilius
Caius Plancius
Caius Nigidius
Fabius Maximus Aemilianus
Fabius Servilianus
Servilius Cipianus
Marcus Popillius Laenas

In 194 BC, war first broke out between the Romans and the Lusitanians, who were an autonomous people.[2] By 179 BC, the Romans had mostly succeeded in pacifying the region and signed a peace treaty. In 155, a major revolt was reignited under the leadership of Punicus, who allied with the Vettones. Caesarus succeeded after Punicus's death. Another warlord, Caucenus, made war against the Romans in the region south of Tagus down to North Africa.

The praetor Servius Sulpicius Galba and the proconsul Lucius Licinius Lucullus arrived in 151 and began the process of subduing the local population. Galba betrayed the Lusitanian people he had invited to peace talks and had roughly 10,000 massacred in 150, thus ending the first phase of the war. This would be later proven to have been a costly mistake as the Lusitanians became embittered and began open warfare against Rome and its allies. Not only that, but future Lusitanian leader Viriathus had escaped alive from the massacre, having now developed a vendetta against Rome.

In 146 BC, the Lusitanians elected Viriathus leader, after he rescued a great number of Lusitanian warriors pinned down by a Roman Legion after reminding them of Rome's betrayal three years prior and convincing them not to accept any Roman offers. Preying upon the Legions' unwillingness to break formation, he succeeded in saving the entire band from massacre or capture, an incredible feat. Viriathus was to gain renown throughout the Roman world as a guerrilla fighter. In the words of Theodor Mommsen, "It seemed as if, in that thoroughly prosaic age, one of the Homeric heroes had reappeared." In 145, the general Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus campaigned successfully against the Lusitanians, but failed in his attempts to arrest Viriathus. In 143 BC, Viriathus formed a league against Rome with several Celtic tribes, for resisting the Romans and getting revenge against them for the betrayal and massacre three years previously.

In 139 BC, Viriathus was killed in his sleep by three of his companions (they were Tartessians, Lusitanian allies), Audax, Ditalcus and Minurus. The three men had escaped by the time the Lusitanians discovered the death of their leader. Unable to avenge him they instead held feasts, gladiator battles and a grand funeral. These three men who had been sent as emissaries to the Romans had been bribed by Marcus Popillius Laenas into betraying their mission. The popular story of their fate has Roman general Servilius Caepio having them executed, declaring "Rome does not pay traitors."

See also


  1. This is the name for it in Polybius and Appian.
  2. Appian's History of Rome


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