He was the leader of the Celtiberian tribe of the Lusitani in their struggle against the invading Romans during the second half of the 2nd century BCE.
The prefix luso refers to Lusitania, the Roman province named after the vanquished people of Viriathus and mainly located in present-day Portugal.
The Portuguese are still know as lusitanos. The epic poem Os Lusíadas ("The Lusiads"), by Camões, tells the story of the Portuguese nation.
The Portuguese are still know as lusitanos. The epic poem Os Lusíadas ("The Lusiads"), by Camões, tells the story of the Portuguese nation.
Below is an excerpt from historian Theodor Mommsen's seminal work Roemische Geschichte, Viertes Buch: Die Revolution (translation by William Purdie Dickson, "The History of Rome, Book IV: The Revolution", available at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/10704; the original text in German is available at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3063).
The dates are in A.U.C. or Ab Urbe condita: "from the foundation of the city" of Rome in 753 BCE.
"Lusitanian WarBut more serious events occurred in 600. The Lusitanians, under the leadership of a chief called Punicus, invaded the Roman territory, defeated the two Roman governors who had united to oppose them, and slew agreat number of their troops. The Vettones (between the Tagus and the Upper Douro) were thereby induced tomake common cause with the Lusitanians; and these, thus reinforced, were enabled to extend their excursionsas far as the Mediterranean, and to pillage even the territory of the Bastulo-Phoenicians not far from the Roman capital New Carthage (Cartagena). The Romans at home took the matter seriously enough to resolveon sending a consul to Spain, a step which had not been taken since 559; and, in order to accelerate the despatch of aid, they even made the new consuls enter on office two months and a half before the legal time. For this reason the day for the consuls entering on office was shifted from the 15th of March to the 1st of January; and thus was established the beginning of the year, which we still make use of at the present day. But, before the consul Quintus Fulvius Nobilior with his army arrived, a very serious encounter took place onthe right bank of the Tagus between the praetor Lucius Mummius, governor of Further Spain, and the Lusitanians, now led after the fall of Punicus by his successor Caesarus (601). Fortune was at first favourable to the Romans; the Lusitanian army was broken and their camp was taken. But the Romans, partly already fatigued by their march and partly broken up in the disorder of the pursuit, were at length completely beatenby their already vanquished antagonists, and lost their own camp in addition to that of the enemy, as well as 9000 dead.
Celtiberian WarThe flame of war now blazed up far and wide. The Lusitanians on the left bank of the Tagus, led by Caucaenus, threw themselves on the Celtici subject to the Romans (in Alentejo), and took away their town Conistorgis. The Lusitanians sent the standards taken from Mummius to the Celtiberians at once as anannouncement of victory and as a warning; and among these, too, there was no want of ferment. Two small Celtiberian tribes in the neighbourhood of the powerful Arevacae (about the sources of the Douro and Tagus), the Belli and the Titthi, had resolved to settle together in Segeda, one of their towns. While they were occupied in building the walls, the Romans ordered them to desist, because the Sempronian regulations prohibited the subject communities from founding towns at their own discretion; and they at the same time required the contribution of money and men which was due by treaty but for a considerable period had notbeen demanded. The Spaniards refused to obey either command, alleging that they were engaged merely inenlarging, not in founding, a city, and that the contribution had not been merely suspended, but remitted bythe Romans. Thereupon Nobilior appeared in Hither Spain with an army of nearly 30,000 men, including some Numidian horsemen and ten elephants. The walls of the new town of Segeda still stood unfinished: most of the inhabitants submitted. But the most resolute men fled with their wives and children to the powerful Arevacae, and summoned these to make common cause with them against the Romans. The Arevacae, emboldened by the victory of the Lusitanians over Mummius, consented, and chose Carus, one of the Segedan refugees, as their general. On the third day after his election the valiant leader had fallen, but the Roman armywas defeated and nearly 6000 Roman burgesses were slain; the 23rd day of August, the festival of the Volcanalia, was thenceforth held in sad remembrance by the Romans. The fall of their general, however, induced the Arevacae to retreat into their strongest town Numantia (Guarray, a Spanish league to the north of Soria on the Douro), whither Nobilior followed them. Under the walls of the town a second engagement tookplace, in which the Romans at first by means of their elephants drove the Spaniards back into the town; but while doing so they were thrown into confusion in consequence of one of the animals being wounded, and sustained a second defeat at the hands of the enemy again issuing from the walls. This and other misfortunes--such as the destruction of a corps of Roman cavalry despatched to call forth the contingents--imparted to the affairs of the Romans in the Hither province so unfavourable an aspect that the fortress of Ocilis, where the Romans had their chest and their stores, passed over to the enemy, and the Arevacae were in a position tothink, although without success, of dictating peace to the Romans. These disadvantages, however, were insome measure counterbalanced by the successes which Mummius achieved in the southern province. Weakened though his army was by the disaster which it had suffered, he yet succeeded with it in defeating the Lusitanians who had imprudently dispersed themselves on the right bank of the Tagus; and passing over to theleft bank, where the Lusitanians had overrun the whole Roman territory, and had even made a foray into Africa, he cleared the southern province of the enemy.
MarcellusTo the northern province in the following year (602) the senate sent considerable reinforcements and a new commander-in-chief in the place of the incapable Nobilior, the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who had already, when praetor in 586, distinguished himself in Spain, and had since that time given proof of his talentsas a general in two consulships. His skilful leadership, and still more his clemency, speedily changed theposition of affairs: Ocilis at once surrendered to him; and even the Arevacae, confirmed by Marcellus in thehope that peace would be granted to them on payment of a moderate fine, concluded an armistice and sent envoys to Rome. Marcellus could thus proceed to the southern province, where the Vettones and Lusitanians had professed submission to the praetor Marcus Atilius so long as he remained within their bounds, but afterhis departure had immediately revolted afresh and chastised the allies of Rome. The arrival of the consul restored tranquillity, and, while he spent the winter in Corduba, hostilities were suspended throughout the peninsula. Meanwhile the question of peace with the Arevacae was discussed at Rome. It is a significant indication of the relations subsisting among the Spaniards themselves, that the emissaries of the Roman party subsisting among the Arevacae were the chief occasion of the rejection of the proposals of peace at Rome, by representing that, if the Romans were not willing to sacrifice the Spaniards friendly to their interests, they hadno alternative save either to send a consul with a corresponding army every year to the peninsula or to makean emphatic example now. In consequence of this, the ambassadors of the Arevacae were dismissed without a decisive answer, and it was resolved that the war should be prosecuted with vigour. Marcellus accordingly was asserted, from his unwillingness to leave to his successor, who was to be expected soon, the glory of terminating the war, or, as is perhaps more probable, from his believing like Gracchus that a humane treatment of the Spaniards was the first thing requisite for a lasting peace--the Roman general after holding asecret conference with the most influential men of the Arevacae concluded a treaty under the walls of Numantia, by which the Arevacae surrendered to the Romans at discretion, but were reinstated in their formerrights according to treaty on their undertaking to pay money and furnish hostages.
LucullusWhen the new commander-in-chief, the consul Lucius Lucullus, arrived at head-quarters, he found the war which he had come to conduct already terminated by a formally concluded peace, and his hopes of bringing home honour and more especially money from Spain were apparently frustrated. But there was a means of surmounting this difficulty. Lucullus of his own accord attacked the western neighbours of the Arevacae, theVaccaei, a Celtiberian nation still independent which was living on the best understanding with the Romans. The question of the Spaniards as to what fault they had committed was answered by a sudden attack on thetown of Cauca (Coca, eight Spanish leagues to the west of Segovia); and, while the terrified town believed that it had purchased a capitulation by heavy sacrifices of money, Roman troops marched in and enslaved or slaughtered the inhabitants without any pretext at all. After this heroic feat, which is said to have cost the livesof some 20,000 defenceless men, the army proceeded on its march. Far and wide the villages and townships were abandoned or, as in the case of the strong Intercatia and Pallantia (Palencia) the capital of the Vaccaei, closed their gates against the Roman army. Covetousness was caught in its own net; there was no community that would venture to conclude a capitulation with the perfidious commander, and the general flight of the inhabitants not only rendered booty scarce, but made it almost impossible for him to remain for any length oftime in these inhospitable regions. In front of Intercatia, Scipio Aemilianus, an esteemed military tribune, theson of the victor of Pydna and the adopted grandson of the victor of Zama, succeeded, by pledging his word ofhonour when that of the general no longer availed, in inducing the inhabitants to conclude an agreement byvirtue of which the Roman army departed on receiving a supply of cattle and clothing. But the siege of Pallantia had to be raised for want of provisions, and the Roman army in its retreat was pursued by the Vaccaei as far as the Douro. Lucullus thereupon proceeded to the southern province, where in the same yearthe praetor, Servius Sulpicius Galba, had allowed himself to be defeated by the Lusitanians. They spent thewinter not far from each other-- Lucullus in the territory of the Turdetani, Galba at Conistorgis-- And in thefollowing year (604) jointly attacked the Lusitanians. Lucullus gained some advantages over them near the straits of Gades. Galba performed a greater achievement, for he concluded a treaty with three Lusitanian tribes on the right bank of the Tagus and promised to transfer them to better settlements; whereupon the barbarians, who to the number of 7000 came to him for the sake of the expected lands, were separated into three divisions, disarmed, and partly carried off into slavery, partly massacred. War has hardly ever been wagedwith so much perfidy, cruelty, and avarice as by these two generals; who yet by means of their criminally acquired treasures escaped the one from condemnation, and the other even from impeachment. The veteran Cato in his eighty-fifth year, a few months before his death, attempted to bring Galba to account before the burgesses; but the weeping children of the general, and the gold which he had brought home with him, provedto the Roman people his innocence.
VariathusIt was not so much the inglorious successes which Lucullus and Galba had attained in Spain, as the outbreak of the fourth Macedonian and of the third Carthaginian war in 605, which induced the Romans again to leave Spanish affairs in the first instance to the ordinary governors. Accordingly the Lusitanians, exasperated ratherthan humbled by the perfidy of Galba, immediately overran afresh the rich territory of the Turdetani. The Roman governor Gaius Vetilius (607-8?) marched against them, and not only defeated them, but drove thewhole host towards a hill where it seemed lost irretrievably. The capitulation was virtually concluded, when Viriathus--a man of humble origin, who formerly, when a youth, had bravely defended his flock from wild beasts and robbers and was now in more serious conflicts a dreaded guerilla chief, and who was one of the few that had accidentally escaped from the perfidious onslaught of Galba--warned his countrymen against relying on the Roman word of honour, and promised them deliverance if they would follow him. His language and his example produced a deep effect: the army entrusted him with the supreme command. Viriathus gave orders tothe mass of his men to proceed in detached parties, by different routes, to the appointed rendezvous; hehimself formed the best mounted and most trustworthy into a corps of 1000 horse, with which he covered thedeparture of his men. The Romans, who wanted light cavalry, did not venture to disperse for the pursuit underthe eyes of the enemy's horsemen. After Viriathus and his band had for two whole days held in check theentire Roman army he suddenly disappeared during the night and hastened to the general rendezvous. The Roman general followed him, but fell into an adroitly-laid ambush, in which he lost the half of his army andwas himself captured and slain; with difficulty the rest of the troops escaped to the colony of Carteia on theStraits. In all haste 5000 men of the Spanish militia were despatched from the Ebro to reinforce the defeated Romans; but Viriathus destroyed the corps while still on its march, and commanded so absolutely the whole interior of Carpetania that the Romans did not even venture to seek him there. Viriathus, now recognized aslord and king of all the Lusitanians, knew how to combine the full dignity of his princely position with the homely habits of a shepherd. No badge distinguished him from the common soldier: he rose from the richly adorned marriage-table of his father-in-law, the prince Astolpa in Roman Spain, without having touched the golden plate and the sumptuous fare, lifted his bride on horseback, and rode back with her to his mountains. He never took more of the spoil than the share which he allotted to each of his comrades. The soldier recognized the general simply by his tall figure, by his striking sallies of wit, and above all by the fact that hesurpassed every one of his men in temperance as well as in toil, sleeping always in full armour and fighting infront of all in battle. It seemed as if in that thoroughly prosaic age one of the Homeric heroes had reappeared: the name of Viriathus resounded far and wide through Spain; and the brave nation conceived that in him it hadat length found the man who was destined to break the fetters of alien domination.
His SuccessorsExtraordinary successes in northern and in southern Spain marked the next years of his generalship. After destroying the vanguard of the praetor Gaius Plautius (608-9), Viriathus had the skill to lure him over to theright bank of the Tagus, and there to defeat him so emphatically that the Roman general went into winter quarters in the middle of summer--on which account he was afterwards charged before the people with havingdisgraced the Roman community, and was compelled to live in exile. In like manner the army of the governor-- apparently of the Hither province--Claudius Unimanus was destroyed, that of Gaius Negidius was vanquished, and the level country was pillaged far and wide. Trophies of victory, decorated with the insigniaof the Roman governors and the arms of the legions, were erected on the Spanish mountains; people at Rome heard with shame and consternation of the victories of the barbarian king. The conduct of the Spanish war was now committed to a trustworthy officer, the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, the second son ofthe victor of Pydna (609). But the Romans no longer ventured to send the experienced veterans, who bad justreturned from Macedonia and Asia, forth anew tothe detested Spanish war; the two legions, which Maximus brought with him, were new levies and scarcely more to be trusted than the old utterly demoralized Spanish army. After the first conflicts had again issued favourably for the Lusitanians, the prudent general kept together his troops for the remainder of the year in the camp at Urso (Osuna, south-east from Seville) without accepting the enemy's offer of battle, and only took the field afresh in the following year (610), after histroops had by petty warfare become qualified for fighting; he was then enabled to maintain the superiority, and after successful feats of arms went into winter quarters at Corduba. But when the cowardly and incapable praetor Quinctius took the command in room of Maximus, the Romans again suffered defeat after defeat, and their general in the middle of summer shut himself up in Corduba, while the bands of Viriathus overran the southern province (611). His successor, Quintus Fabius Maximus Servilianus, the adopted brother of Maximus Aemilianus, sent to the peninsula with two fresh legions and ten elephants, endeavoured to penetrate into the Lusitanian country, but after a series of indecisive conflicts and an assault on the Roman camp, which was with difficulty repulsed, troops after the wont of Spanish insurrectionary armies suddenly melted away, he was obliged to return to Lusitania (612). Next year (613) Servilianus resumed the offensive, traversed the districts on the Baetis and Anas, and then advancing into Lusitania occupied a number of townships. A large number of the insurgents fell into his hands; the leaders--of whom there were about 500--were executed; those who had gone over from Roman territory to the enemy had their hands cut off; the remaining mass were sold into slavery. But on this occasion also the Spanish war proved true to its fickle and capricious character. After all these successes the Roman army was attacked by Viriathus while it was besieging Erisane, defeated, and driven to a rock where itwas wholly in the power of the enemy. Viriathus, however, was content, like the Samnite general formerly at the Caudine passes, to conclude a peace with Servilianus, in which the community of the Lusitanians was recognized as sovereign and Viriathus acknowledged as its king. The power of the Romans had not risen more than the national sense of honour had sunk; in the capital men were glad to be rid of the irksome war, and the senate and people ratified the treaty. But Quintus Servilius Caepio, the full brother of Servilianus and his successor in office, was far from satisfied with this complaisance; and the senate was weak enough at first to authorize the consul to undertake secret machinations against Viriathus, and then to view at least with indulgence the open breach of his pledged word for which there was no palliation. So Caepio invaded Lusitania, and traversed the land as far as the territories of the Vettones and Callaeci; Viriathus declined aconflict with the superior force, and by dexterous movements evaded his antagonist (614). But when in the ensuing year (615) Caepio renewed the attack, and in addition the army, which had in The meantime become available in the northern province, made its appearance under Marcus Popillius in Lusitania, Viriathus sued for peace on any terms. He was required to give up to the Romans all who had passed over to him from the Roman territory, amongst whom was his own father-in-law; he did so, and the Romans ordered them to be executed or to have their hands cut off. But this was not sufficient; the Romans were not in the habit of announcing to the vanquished all at once their destined fate.
His DeathOne behest after another was issued to the Lusitanians, each successive demand more intolerable than its predecessors; and at length they were required even to surrender their arms. Then Viriathus recollected thefate of his countrymen whom Galba had caused to be disarmed, and grasped his sword afresh. But it was toolate. His wavering had sown the seeds of treachery among those who were immediately around him; three ofhis confidants, Audas, Ditalco, and Minucius from Urso, despairing of the possibility of renewed victory, procured from the king permission once more to enter into negotiations for peace with Caepio, and employedit for the purpose of selling the life of the Lusitanian hero to the foreigners in return for the assurance of personal amnesty and further rewards. On their return to the camp they assured the king of the favourable issue of their negotiations, and in the following night stabbed him while asleep in his tent. The Lusitanians honoured the illustrious chief by an unparalleled funeral solemnity at which two hundred pairs of champions fought in the funeral games; and still more highly by the fact, that they did not renounce the struggle, but nominated Tautamus as their commander- in-chief in room of the fallen hero. The plan projected by the latter for wresting Saguntum from the Romans was sufficiently bold; but the new general possessed neither the wise moderation nor the military skill of his predecessor. The expedition utterly broke down, and the army on its return was attacked in crossing the Baetis and compelled to surrender unconditionally. Thus was Lusitania subdued, far more by treachery and assassination on the part of foreigners and natives than by honourable war."