Where's Numantia


(The confrontation with the Romans 143-133 BC)

by Helga Fröhlich

Numantia was originally an Iberian settlement that existed around 300 BC. Was taken over by the immigrant Celts.


Numantia was in the north of Spain, near today's Soria near the village of Garray, on the plateau of Old Castile, at almost 1100 m. It was a small town (approx. The rivers Duero and Tera flow to the west of the hill, and the Merdancho to the south. They make defense easier, but also circumvallation. In ancient times, according to Appian, the area was surrounded by dense forests. The fields lay in the plain to the east. There was relatively little arable farming, cattle breeding dominated. The Numantines got grain from the Vakkaiers. Numantia is located on one of the few bridges over the Duero. Several streets converged there, so the small town was of great strategic importance. It was the capital of all Duero tribes and had important alliances.
The wall that surrounded the city was six meters thick. Today only the foundation of it is preserved. So far only two gates (in the south and in the west) have been found; but there was probably another one in the east. Appian writes about the population that it was 143 BC. 8000 warriors were. But probably only 2000 came from the city itself, the others came from the surrounding area. When allied neighbors join, the city grows beyond the walls. But no new wall was built, only the east side (which was most endangered) was secured by sharp stones and trenches.


There had been a treaty peace with Rome since 180, which was broken in 154 by an uprising of the Celtiberi and Lusitani. Consul Nobilior tried to storm the city, which he failed. Consul Marcellus made peace through negotiations in 151. This peace lasted eight years - no new wall was built during this time either.
In 143 the war broke out again; this ten-year phase will be Bellum Numantinum because the allied tribes gradually made peace and Numantia waged the war alone.
The first generals were mainly occupied with neighboring tribes, where they also lost many troops. Q. Pompey Aulus tried to divert a river into the plain, but failed because the Numantines attacked in the meantime. The Numantines repeatedly inflicted defeat on the Romans, although they were far in the minority. They were only about 8,000 men, the Romans 60,000 on the other hand. They attacked the Romans again and again skillfully and killed many of them. The soldiers who followed, who had no experience in the war, were not used to the cold and were severely decimated as a result.
Pompey Aulus secretly signed a treaty with Numantia, but then denied the deal as soon as his successor was in office - the war continued.
His successors were also unsuccessful. One of them, Mancinus, was trapped by the Numantines and forced to make peace. The Senate was outraged by conditions, so Mancinus had to go to court in Rome. There it was decided that he should be handed over to the Numantines without clothes - but they did not want to take him in. Appian does not write what happened next with Mancinus.
The next generals concentrated again on the neighbors and no longer dared to go to Numantia.
The war had dragged on for almost ten years. Rome had lost many troops and there was still no end in sight. But in 134 Scipio, the victor over Carthage, was re-elected consul. (His full name at this point was P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus - after the war he was also nicknamed Numantinus.) He took over command of the war. Scipio first traveled ahead to Spain with a few companions and had 4,000 men from Italy follow suit. He was accompanied, inter alia. by Polybios, the historian who was already over 60 at the time and who was at his side as an advisor.
Scipio had only 10,000 Italian troops, besides them a total of 50,000 Italian and Iberian allies. Some of these are added during the siege (e.g. Numidian, Pergamene and Syrian auxiliaries.) 30,000 men (i.e. half of his army) are Spaniards! These 30,000 probably came from more distant areas because the neighboring Arevacians were not yet so trustworthy to the Romans. Archers and slingers were particularly important to Scipio. They should weaken the enemy from afar, because Scipio knew that his troops were worse in battle.
His arrival in Spain was around April 134. The army had wintered in Carpetania; the handover probably took place in Tarraco (today's Tarragona), on the coast.
The first steps taken by the new general in the camp could be described as "cleaning up":
... expelled all merchants and hetaires, as well as fortune tellers and sacrificial priests [from the camp] and forbade bringing anything unnecessary into the camp . He also ordered the sale of unnecessary items. `` Nobody was allowed to have more than a skewer, a single pot and a single mug to prepare food ... Scipio also forbade the use of beds and was the first to sleep on a bed of straw himself
Scipio tried to restore the morale of the poorly led army for years. He drilled and accustomed the men to long marches and digging as they moved west toward Numantia. He devastated the land of the Vakkaier, from whom the Numantines received their food. For example, he had the grain cut green and used it as fodder for the animals of the Romans. What he couldn't use, he burned.
Although the Numantines challenged the Romans several times, Scipio never entered a battle. His army was not good enough, and his predecessors had already been defeated by the Numantines with better troops. Scipio also took a detour as he marched towards Numantia to avoid a collision. He was determined to starve the city out. The Roman army probably arrived at Numantia around September or October. Scipio had the city enclosed by a wall. In the east a trench was dug 100m in front of it so that the Numantines could not shoot at the builders. Otherwise the rivers were an obstacle. The wall below was 4m wide and 3m high.
Scipio had two main camps built: in Castillejo he himself was in command, in Pena Redonda his brother Fabius Maximus.
There was 1 legion in each of these camps. In between there were five sub-camps that surrounded the hill of Numantia.
The Numantines tried again and again to disrupt the building, but in vain. Scipio's people were too many. The city was completely cut off from the outside world by the wall. So far, food, weapons etc. came to Numantia via the Duero River. Because the river was too fast to build a bridge, long beams were tied up. These floated on top, were fitted with knives and spearheads and kept in constant motion by the current. Nobody could get around this construction of the Romans, whether in a boat or as a swimmer or diver.
Scipio hadn't been able to surprise the Numantines, so they were well supplied with food - the siege dragged on. Due to circumvallation, attackers and defenders had swapped roles, the Romans were now defenders, the Numantines attackers. Along the wall stood towers at a distance of 100 feet from each other, from which signals were given as soon as the Numantines tried to break through. A red flag was used during the day and a torch at night to indicate when a tower was in danger. There was a detailed plan of what to do then. Each one of them had his or her designated place.
Scipio, however, was not prepared for an attack from outside; he wasn't afraid anyone would help Numantia.
A man named Rectugenos managed, despite the sophisticated warning system, to climb over the wall at night and ask for help in the neighboring town of Lutia (55km west). The young team from Lutia wanted to help, but the older ones informed Scipio; the company was unsuccessful. Scipio forced them to hand over those involved and had their right hands cut off. The crackdown shows that a Roman defeat would probably have been enough to immediately rekindle resistance in the rest of Spain.
Many Numantines died of starvation in the course of time and they had to eat the dead first, and later the sick and weak, in order to survive. In 133 they sent envoys to Scipio, demanding the delivery of the city and arms. Finally Numantia surrendered. Most of the residents committed suicide, the rest surrendered themselves and their weapons. They were a terrible sight:
`` Hunger, plague, long hair, and the length of time made their bodies resemble those of wild animals ...
Their bodies were unkempt, their hair and nails were long, and they themselves were staring with dirt.
They smelled unbearably and the clothes they wore were also dirty and no less foul smelling

Scipio chose 50 of them for his triumphal procession, the rest were sold into slavery. His triumph was glorious but poor because he had made almost no booty. Since then he was nicknamed Numantinus.


Numantia was razed to the ground (according to Appian by Scipio, according to another report the Numantines set it on fire themselves). Scipio did not wait for instructions from Rome for this.
The victory over Numantia meant the end of the Spanish wars.
The area was divided among the neighbors who had submitted.
Later a new settlement was built on the site. A new city was founded under Augustus and existed until 400.
It was probably abandoned when the Germans immigrated.


Library of Greek Literature Vol. 23: Appian of Alexandria. Roman history, part 1, the formation of the Roman Empire.
Üs: Otto Veh, Anton Hiersemann, Stuttgart, 1987
A. Schulten: RE XVII, 1 (1936), Sp. 1254-1270, see v. Numantia DNP s. V. Numantia
H. Simon: Roms Wars in Spain, 154-133 BC Chr., Frankfurt am Main, 1962
A. Schulten: Numantia, A Topographical-Historical Study, Berlin 1905
L. Keppie: The making of the roman army. From republic to empire, 1984 Routledge, London