The Iron Age in Navarra
The study of the pre-Roman age in this region has, since ancient times, been based on the information provided by archaeology given that the human communities which inhabited it were preliterate; the first historical references available are indirect, tardive, brief and confusing, originating from the Roman conquest of the Ebro valley. Writing did not appear until relatively ‘recently’ in this territory and can be dated to the second and first centuries BC, from when we know the names of the indigenous cities or oppida which hierarchically structured settlement as, being state-level political entities (and as such, seats of the governmental structures of a territory dotted with small villages), they began to mint coins with their names and emblems, firstly in order to pay tribute to Rome.
The oldest sources of archaeological research focussing on this period date back to 1870 when Juan Iturralde y Suit, from the Navarrese Monuments Committee, excavated several graves and caves in Etxauri, where the numerous iron weapons and tools studied by Pere Bosch Gimpera in 1921 had only recently been found. Since then, archaeological surveying and excavation work has been carried out time and again in the Central Zone and Ribera of Navarre, as duly documented in the bibliographical section.
In the book titled DE ALDEAS A CIUDADES. El poblamiento durante el primer milenio a. C. en Navarra, (click here to download it) published by the Government of Navarre, the author Javier Armendáriz Martija summarises his doctoral thesis (2004) based on the archaeological research he carried out in Navarre during the fifteen years previous. This is an exhaustive archaeological review of the territory which we have called Navarre since the Middle Ages through surveys and excavations. The research work conducted recognises a total of 261 archaeological sites – Iron Age castros (fortified villages) and settlements -, most of them unknown in print until now, analysed one by one through the cataloguing data which come with the book in digital format (a CD-ROM containing 1,275 pages of text and illustrations).
The title of this publication conceptualises its content: a long-term historical study of the evolution of settlement and the processes of change in this vast territory over the specified time frame. The background analysis takes the historical reconstruction back to the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age (5th-2nd millennia BC), but the work focuses on the socio-political developments of Central European Celtic influence which started to reach the Ebro valley from the year 1,000 BC. The social and cultural contributions received led to the adoption of a new model of habitat and settlement (in perfectly urbanised, fortified villages which grouped together houses with adjoining walls and rectangular floor plans) which denotes an apparently balanced society, notable economic development (outstanding in grain farming) and the adoption of new funeral rituals (cremation). The transposition of this innovative social model to the Navarrese geography resulted in the creation of numerous castros and riverside settlements (also fortified, like Las Eretas) and their cemeteries from the eighth century BC onwards, not only in the Ribera and the Central Zone but also, in some instances, in the Pyrenean valleys.
In the middle of the first millennium BC, the Orientalising revolution made itself felt on that part of the Iberian peninsula which was open to the Mediterranean, leading to the emergence of the Iberian culture and a little later the Celtiberian culture in the Iberian System and, subsequently, all along the banks of the Ebro river in Navarre. As a consequence of these events, social and settlement patterns were modified, the first city-states, ruled by aristocratic warrior elites, such as those buried in the necropolis at Castejón, arriving in Navarre in the 5th and 3rd centuries BC and, from a political point of view, hierarchising the territory into regions with their dominion over other smaller villages.
The Romanisation of the Ebro valley at the beginning of the 2nd century BC initially supposed some changes of location for the settlements located in the vicinity of the river, while, at the same time, with the minting of their own indigenous currency, these city-states enhanced their identity through their name (Arsaos, Arsakos, Barscunes, Kaiskata, Olcairum, Tirzoz, Uaracos, etc.) and the symbols accompanying them in a multilingual territory – Navarre – (Celtiberian, Proto-Basque, Iberian and Latin) where the first written sources identify Vascones, Celtiberians, Berones and Varduli. But it was not until the Roman civil wars in the 1st century BC had got under way that the model of indigenous settlement of the middle of the century definitively shaped the political map that we recognise as that of the Roman imperial era.