Pre-Roman Portuguese Tribes

New year, new challenges, therefore the W.U Hstry team started the month with posts outside of their comfort zone. Now, I am the oldest member, and I’ve written about a lot of stuff from all periods and various topics, so establishing what is outside of my comfort zone was tough. So, I did a deep analysis of my strengths and limitations as a historian, the things that interest me and the things I have ignored for long. And I came to the conclusion that, as someone who was born in the Iberian Peninsula, I had shown not much interest for this geographical area. More importantly, I had been ignoring all of Portugal! I’ve been in Portugal and found it a very eclectic and lovely visit, so the least I could do was gain some knowledge about its lost past. Hence, here I bring you a post (map included, beware!) of the pre-Roman people of Portugal and their geographical distribution.




The knowledge we have about these people comes mainly from classical sources, such as the Roman authors speaking about the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. They mainly report 3 groups of people, the Lusitanians, the Gallaeci, and the Conii. However, it has been established by historians and archaeologists that the group identified as Gallaeci would have been nothing more but the amalgamation of the various Celtic tribes inhabiting the area known as Lusitania. Moreover, there is evidence of smaller communities and ethnic distributed all over the area of modern-day Portugal which are most of the time ignored or undervalued. This, I think is unfair, therefore I have developed the above map, with the little information we have about these people and the areas they occupied. In the following lines, I will provide you with a general outline of the details we know about them in terms of occupation and culture. This is not remotely the most accurate map ever, nor do I claim to be the best cartographer, but at least it helps as a visual tool to locate the people, you know in case your Portuguese geography is as atrophied as mine.


Starting with the tribes at the north, and in close contact with the frontier at Galicia, we find 6 main groups. Represented in violet, we have the Leuni. We know that they were of Celtic origin and occupied the area between the river Lima and Minho- and that’s about it. In the area adjacent lived the Limici (dark green on the map), in the swap terrains around the Lima river. Lim in Latin relates to swap, which justifies their name and association with this area. In addition, it seems that these people are descendent of the Liguri, one of the oldest ethnic groups known in the Lusiatia area. The Quaquerni follow (yellow), being the Celtiberian tribe located in the mountains where the rivers Cavado and Tamega begin. We have found evidence that support the survival of these people up to the Suevi invasion. The forth tribe is the Tamagani (dark blue in the map). They lived in the current counties of Verin and Chaves, in the Alto Tras-os-Montes region and were probably of Celtic roots. In turquoise is highlighted the area occupied by the Equesos, whose name suggest the cult of the horse-EQVV in Latin- and this links them with the Celts. They also seemed to have lasted up until the Suevi invasion and even throughout their reign. The 6th and final tribe of the north, painted orange, is that of the Interamici, whose origins are unknown. They stretched through the limits with the Spanish autonomic regions of Zamora and Ourense.

Moving a bit further down we encounter five new tribes that dominated the area. First, in sky blue, are the Seurbi, another Celtic tribe settle between the river Cavado and Lima. There is even some indication that their area of influence may have stretched up to the Minho river, being therefore in close contact with the Leuni and Limici. Next down are the Bracari, (red). They settled around the modern city of Braga, and extended their influence across the rivers Tamega and Cavados. They were a bellicose tribe, in fact their women are well-know for being involved in warfare. In addition, archaeological evidence found in Braga suggest that this group worshiped the Celtic deity Nabia, goddess of waters and rivers.  Their neighbors  were the Paesuri, a tribe akin and dependent to the Lusitanians. They occupied a large area between the Douro and Vouga rivers, from the north to the center of Portugal. They founded the city of Talabriga, which is supposed to be located nearby modern Aveiro, although this is contested by several scholars. The forth tribe is that of the Nemetati (brown), a Celtic tribe settled around the area of Modim, by the river Douro and down to the valley of the Ave. Their origins remount to the union of two other ethnic groups: the neneus and the heteus, who supposedly descended from the people of the Efrain mountains. It seems that this tribe was in close contact, and was potentially allied to the Bracari. Finally, the last tribe occupying this area is the Luancos, whose name was given by Ptolemy. Their power base spread between the river Tamega and Tua. This tribe was also associated with hunting, and it is supposed that their name had some association with the lynx.

As we move further down into Portugal, one can appreciate that the Southern pre-Roman tribes seemed to have a better defined area of occupation- the reasons for this? I am yet to discover them. Perhaps it is due to their proximity with the Mediterranean colonists and traders which allowed a better recording of their culture. So right at the Atlantic verge of Portugal, in the region known as Algarve, we have the Conii or Cynetes (light blue). Their culture was acknowledged by the Romans due to their alliance during the Roman conquest of Iberia, and indeed they are mentioned by Polibius, Avienus and Herodotus. Their ethnic origins are still unknown, although everything seems to point to an Indo-European pre-Celtic past, and they seem to have occupied this area as far back at the 8th century B.C. Their main city was Conistorgis, which was destroyed by the Lusitanians during the time of the conquest due to their ties with the invaders. Above the Conii, the Celtici (pink) amassed a vast area of influence. Located in what today is the Alentejo region, the Celtici were another conglomerate of  Celtic people. They included minor tribes with key communities and settlements in Lacobriga, Caepiana, Braetolaeum, Mirobriga, Arcobriga, Meribriga, Cataleucus, Turres, Albae and Arandis.


And finally we have the middle of Portugal occupied mainly by the Lusitanians- represented by the black polygon in the map. But before we move on to the main Portuguese tribe, lets give a quick mention to the Tapoli. The Tapoli (purple) were also a Celtic tribe who were akin to the Lusitanians, therefore their close share of geographical space. They were smaller in numbers, and settled mainly on the north of the Tagus river, around the frontier between Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless, it seems that this ethnic group was wiped out by the Romans during the occupation of the Peninsula. Now I have spent the last thousand words or so mentioning the Lusitanians here and there, so I think it is time for an explanation. They were the most prominent Celtic tribe settled in Portugal. Their area of influence spread across the area of Castelo Bronco (in the map they are represented by the big black polygon). From the Roman authors we understand that their power didn’t reach the Atlantic shore, and this has been backed up by the archaeological record. It is likely that they established themselves in this area around the 6th Century BC, however their ethnic background is still disputed. Even though as far as we are concerned they belong in the Celtic group, there are scholars who believe they may actually be pre-Celtic as some recent findings in the Iberian Peninsula point to this- some writing examples which suggest an older Indo-European tradition.


There are abundant material about the culture of this people. We know that their main deity was Ares, usually called Ares Lusitani to differentiate him from the classical God of War. The Lusitanian Ares was the god of horses, a very popular deity amongst the Celts. There was also a strong worship of Ataecina, especially in the south. She was the goddess of fertility, rebirth, nature and medicine as well as the moon. Moreover, the Lusitanians also worshiped Nabia, like many of the other tribes, and Endovelicus, god of public health and safety. It seems that his cult prevailed well after the Roman conquest of Iberia, up to the 5th Century, when Christianity started acquiring weight and importance in the territory. Some other sociocultural aspects of this people were the use of wool clothes and items such as bracelets and necklaces similar to those of the rest of Iberian/Celtic tribes. Furthermore, scholars support the idea that the Lusitanians were monogamous, lived in squared stone houses, and were boat builders. These boats appear to have been made with lumber or even leather. In addition, the classical authors described them as being well versed at guerrilla warfare. An example of this is what the Roman troops had to face when invading Portugal and confronting Viriato, one of the most famous Lusitanian leaders. One of their weapons of predilection was the falcata, always popular amongst the Celts. Nevertheless, the power of Rome was not something to be taken lightly. War between the Lusitanians and many of the other ancient Portuguese people against the Romans began around 193BC, from there on the Romanisation process became a relentless and persistent changing force in the culture and identity of the Iberian Peninsula, and so many of these old ancestors perished while others struggled to survive in a world similar, yet different from what they used to know.


3 thoughts on “Pre-Roman Portuguese Tribes

  1. Diego

    Very interesting! It is curious the fact of the poor historical knowledge we Spanish have, about our dear neightbour Portugal…


    1. Lillian C.G

      Well, certainly. I dont ever remember learning about Portugal in school except when it was about Spain conquering it or sorting some sort of marriage, which I think is sad considering we are just separated by an imaginary line…


  2. Pingback: W.U Hstry 2015 Awards! | W.U Hstry

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