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When someone says tribe, you might think of Africa or the Amazon or the American West, before the arrival of “civilized” man; the last place that most people think of is Europe, but it has been a long time since tribes roamed here…

In Northern Spain the last of the tribes were “conquered” over 2,000 years ago by the Romans.  Rome had an especially tough time with the Asturians and the Cantabrians, the latter ones being the only tribes that never officially surrendered to the Romans.  Like many  of the tribes of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, the Cantabrians were pagan and probably of Celtic origin.

Northern Spain
Pre-Roman Iberia

The Cantabrians were a larger group of different tribes that inhabited the central part of Northern Spain, roughly centered around the present day Spanish region of Cantabria but encompassing a much larger area historically.

Northern Spain

Ancient Cantabria (Red), present day (green)

Their beliefs revolved around the natural world and its elements, particularly the sun and the moon.  Trees such as the yew and oak were  sacred.  Unfortunately they didn´t have a written language so much of what we know about them is what the conquering Romans wrote about them (one sided to say the least).  Luckily they did leave some vestiges that can help us imagine a bit about who they were and what they believed in.  A series of large stone steles (discs) have been found around Cantabria, a testament to their reverence to the sun and the moon.

Northern Spain

Cantabrian Stone Steles

The Cantabrians lived in fortified stongholds located strategically atop many of the mountains of ancient Cantabria.  The remains of most of these have not yet been excavated but from the few that have we know they lived in wooden and mud huts surrounded by a large defensive perimeter wall and moat.

Northern Spain

Cantabrian tribal stonghold wall

Northern Spain

Interior of the stronghold with huts, crop field and stables

The Romans fought a drawn out 10 year war with the Cantabrians from 29-19 B.C. who refused to give in to Roman domination.  The Emperor Ceasar Augustus personally led part of the wars against the Cantabrians, eventually conquering them, although they never totally assimilated Roman culture returning to their ancient ways when the Roman empire collapsed.

A yearly festival in late August, early September called Guerras Cantabras commemorates the Roman-Cantabrian wars with reenactment of historical events including battles, crucifixions and funerals among others.

Northern Spain

One of the mock battles at Guerras Cantabras

Northern Spain

Crucifixion of Cantabrian prisoners

Northern Spain

Funeral ritual

Even today, Cantabrian roots run deep in this part of Spain with many elements of this ancient culture still quite apparent.  One of the steles is incorporated in the regional flag of Cantabria, the region has a unique mythology that revolves around nature and the yew and oak trees are still considered sacred here, as they were by our ancestors thousands of years ago.  One of the many interesting eras in the history of Cantabria, spanning millennia and many different periods, each worth getting to know first hand.

I´ve never had my DNA checked but have little doubt about my genetic makeup… I´m a bit of a sun-worshiper, love to howl at the moon, find myself at home in nature and play the bagpipe, it´s in there… this is my tribe.

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