Iberians in Andalucia

When the Romans arrived in northeast Spain, they found a well-organised group of tribes living in what is now Catalonia, Valencia, Castilla-La Mancha, Murcia and Andalucia. They were the Iberians, so named by the Greeks with whom they traded, and they lived in fortified settlements that the Romans called ‘oppidum’. We still use that name today.

Whether the Iberians, like the Tartessians, existed as an identifiable people is open to dispute. Both became part of the post-Franco dictatorship (ended 1975) search for regional identity which led to demands that artefacts displayed in national museums be returned to their region of origin; for example, both Elche (Valencia) and Baza (Granada) respectively reclaim their Iberian damas presently displayed at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional in Madrid. It is a fascinating story of how we attempt to make the past fit ideas of nationhood at particular times.

For the following set of articles, ‘Iberians in Andalucia’ we will be taking the view that the Iberians were the indigenous people of Andalucia who had lived here since Neolithic times. They were influenced by traders from the eastern Mediterranean, particularly the Greeks. Their ancestors were the people of the El Argar culture that had regressed to a scattered agricultural society around 1550 BC.

The Iberians emerged as a cultural unit during the 7th century BC although traces of what was to be their culture, on the eastern and southern coasts of Spain, go back as far as 3000 BC. Their culture survived the Punic period; indeed, their culture was supplemented by fashions, ceremonies, architecture and beliefs brought from the eastern Mediterranean, and they thrived during the following Roman period. Many of the settlements are referred to as Ibero-Romano, signifying this continuity. Although the Iberian people lived on under the Visigoths and Moors, their culture changed beyond recognition.

Variously called Bastetani, Bastitani or Bastuli, they were the biggest Iberian tribal confederation in area, they dwelt in a territory that included large areas of the Mediterranean coast and the Sierra Nevada, in what today are parts of the modern regions of Murcia, Castilla-La Mancha and Andalucia. Within Andalucia their territory extended into the provinces of Jaén, Almería, Granada and Málaga. Basti (today's Baza in Granada province) was their main centre.

The Oretani or Oretanii were Iberians that lived in northeastern Andalusia, in the upper Guadalquivir river valley, eastern Sierra Morena, and the southern area of present-day La Mancha.