The people that inhabited Asturies from the Navia in the west (limiting with the Galaicos) to the Sella to east (limiting with the Catabrians) and that extended south to the Douro. We were subjugated by the Romans during nomad Cantabrian-Asturian wars spread out between the years 29-19 A.D. The historians that that studied these wars were the ones who produced reputable written sources about them. There are several of them, like contemporary geographers such as Strabo or later ones like Pomponius Mela or the naturalist Pliny the Elder, who was a governor in the area. Another fundamental source of information were the epigraphies (several dozen inscriptions) and other written documents (especially bronze tablets), and in recent years archaelogy, which tries to provide a basic flow of information.
The picture that Latin authors offer of Asturians is mostly of the domination that came after the conquest, when there was possibly a redistribution of people in the territory. In this sense we interpret the information given by Floro that Augustus ” wary of the protection provided by the forests in which they lived, he ordered them to inhabit and establish themselves in the camps on the plains.’ The Ástures (Ástoures or Astyres for Strabo) were the inhabitants that peopled the region that Pliny the Elder names Asturia, and that stretched from the Cantabrian to the Douro.
Dion Casius, war historian, said that they lived ” in the most rugged part of the Pyrenees (name given by Latin authors to the Cantabrian mountains), facing Spain, and the plateau to the south”. Under the generic name of Ástures there were some peoples among which ethnic and cultural differences existed, although it is difficult to point them out at this time. Pliny mentions 22 Ástur peoples which comprised 240.000 free men that were divided into “Augustans”, or “cismontans”, and “transmontans”, according to their position to the north or to the south of the Cantabrian mountains, called ‘Iuga Asturum’ by Pliny.
This division must be considered a purely geographical one, as it seems that the mountains did not always divide people, but in fact some tribes lived on either side, established both in the north and in the south.
Nevertheless, in the inscription of Pintaius, an Astur soldier who died on the Rhine front near Bonn, dated in the first century, the text clearly states that he was a ” transmontan” Ástur.
The Augustan Ástures occupied the major part of the current provinces of León and Zamora and part of Ourense, as well as Tras-os-Montes in Portugal. The western limit of the transmontan Ástures was marked by the river Navia, and in the east it was the river Sella and its affluent the Ponga.
Belonging to the Augustans were the Gigurros, the Amacos, the Zoelas, the Superatios, the Tiburs, the Lougei, the Bedunians, the Lacians, the Brigaecians and the Orniacs among others. Transmontan Ástures were the Pesicans and the Luggones. Both Pesicans and Luggones must have had a strong identity that distinguished them from the pure Ástures. This is due to the fact that Pliny, who had originally included the Pesicans as one of the 22 Ástur tribes goes on to distinguish them later in his work (IV, 111), situating them on a peninsula -probably Cape Peñas- between the Ástures and the Lucian convent. Ptolomeus also referred to Flavionavia as the city of the Pesicans. The same can be said of the Luggones, first cited by Ptolomeus in the second century, who assigns Paleontium (actually Beloncio, near Infiesto) as their capital. They occupied the central and eastern part of Asturies up to the limits of Cantabria.
They are also documented in Llión, in the Duerna valley. In modern day Asturies, there are two epigraphs of the Luggones: one in Grases (Villaviciosa) and another of unknown origin from the area between the Sueve mountain and the Sella river, as it was found in the collection of Sebastián Soto Cortés, next to works with diverse intrerpretations. It says briefly ” Asturu et luggonu” and it is commonly considered a boundary mark.
For some like Diego Santos, if it came from the area surrounding the Sella which limits with the Cantabrians, it would indicate the beginning of the land of the Ástures as opposed to the Cantabrians, and among the Ástures , the Luggones.
Mª Cruz González Rodríguez, on the other hand, says that the aforementioned stone indeed expresses a boundary but between the civitas (or territory) of the Luggones with their capital in Paleontium (Beloño) and the civitas of the Ástures with their capital in Lucus Asturum (Lugo).
This would imply the existence of a purely transmontan Asturian people whose name during the Roman wars gained predominance and was then used as a generic name for the people of a bigger territory which is then called Asturia.
Diego Santos, for whom the purely Asturian zone would include a wedge between the west of Asturies and the Mariña, where we could find Noega, the most important city of the Ástures according to Roman authors, including the Nalón basin, had already expressed a similar opinion, Strabo said: ” Through the Ástyres flows the river Melsos (Nalón)” and also its affluents, the Ayer, L.lena and Trubia.
The Ástures, together with the Cantabrians, maintained their independence from Rome that already dominated the rest of the Iberian Peninsula until the end of the first century B.C. After a bloody war that prolonged itself from 29 B.C to 19 A.D., Ástures and Cantabrians were subjected to the emperor Augustus, giving way to a long period of incorporation of these tribes to the Roman Empire, know as ‘Romanisation’, whose reach and depth has been well indicated.
At the time of the conquest, the Ástures and other northern tribes such as Galaicos, Cantabrians and Vascones, are presented by Strabo as eminently barbarian, as opposed to the civilisation represented by the Roman conquerors, although archaeology has silently nuanced his affirmations. According to the Greek geographer, their economy had archaic patterns, their diet consisting mainly of acorns, from which they made flour, and goat meat for three fourths of the year. Today we know that they had a cereal based agriculture, in which there was no shortage of the variety of wheat called spelt or emmer, as well as oats, barley and millet. It was a hoe-based agriculture- of which there are several good examples of hoes at the settlement in Caravia- as ploughs tended to be used by Romanised peoples, and it was complemented by gathering vegetables and acorns. Some northern settlements, like the one at Campa Torres in Gijón, had stone basins that were used to grind the acorns and also hand operated mills for the same purpose.
Animal farming followed previous practices, some of which originated from the Bronze Age and megalithic culture, with a predominance of goat and sheep raising but also including cows and pigs, as well as the Asturian horses, the asturcón and tieldón, whose virtues were acknowledged by Roman authors.
Next to animal farming, agriculture and gathering, seaside areas benefitted from marine resources both on shores and cliffs and at sea. They also hunted deer and wild boars as we know from certain evidences, although we can’t ascertain as to the importance of this activity in their diet.
Apart from these economic practices linked to subsistence, in some areas there was an important use of mineral resources, following from the mining tradition of previous times.
At Campa Torres there is evidence of large scale metallurgic activity and the melting of bronze objects.
In Caravia there was iron mining in Fitu, from which there was a wide range of instruments. Metallurgic activity has also been proven in other settlements like Llagú (Uviéu) and Camoca and Moriyón in Villaviciosa.
Similarly, to the west there was gold mining, confirmed by the abundant gold work of the settlements, although the indigenous extraction points were covered by Roman works. It shouldn’t be forgotten that some of the terms used by Pliny to describe mining procedures are of indigenous and not Latin origin ( therefore: “arrugia”, “palagae”, “palacurnae”, “balux”).
In some coastal settlements, and particularly Campa Torres, there are ceramic remnants that suggest the existence of an Atlantic commerce with an unknown reach, but where the metal objects manufactured by them were of importance. They lived in fortified settlements, set on high grounds (the ‘castros’), some of which were abandoned after the conquest, as Floro testifies.
The social organisation of the Ástures is another aspect that is subject to continuous revision. In the central-eastern area there seemed to have been organisations of a supra-familiar type, which were formed by ties of relations, whether real or ficticious. In the areas closer to Galicia it appears that the place of residence was the point of union, expressed by the belonging to a particular ‘castellum’.
There is also the possibility of a third variant in the central zone, where there would be a combination of both of the other types, however with scant testimonies. With regards to the social differences that existed within these groups, Strabo says that they ate sitting on benches, aligned according to ‘age’ and ‘dignity’. Some of the findings in settlements are also indicative of social ‘status’, although everything indicates that they would not be important as all the buildings are quite similar and no signs of privilege are found. The bigger buildings are believed to have been destined to common uses. It is also apparent that they had not yet progressed to a private appropriation of the land, taking into account the development of their economy, but that the use and property of the land would be collective, whether it was the ‘gens’ or the ‘gentitlitates’ or the ‘castellum’.
Their funerary rites are not known, even though the most probable hypothesis points to a tradition of incineration which is based on the interpretation as ‘incineration ovens’ those found in Cuaña and Pendia as well as in other places and Galicia.
What little is known about their religion points to archaic traditions, such as the definition of natural elements such as bodies of water, seas, the forests, etc. that we know through linguistics, as there are no plastic representations of divinities, which may have given the impression that they lacked gods. They made sacrifices to a god of war, to the Goat god and also captives and horses. Some names of divinities are known through epigraphy, like “Evedutonio Braciaeco”, or “Nimmedo Seddiago” and the name of the Luggones was related to the Celtic god Lug, from which they derived their name, as well as other well known toponyms.
“Historical dictionary of Asturies”; J. R. M.; Asturian Press Editorial.
Photographs and illustrations:
1st.- Map of Asturia, Nation of Astures. Author: Xabel Lavilla, Hugo.
2nd.- Funeral stele of the Astur Transmontano called Pintaius located in the Archaeological Museum of Bonn – Germany. Source: LNE newspaper.
3rd.- Roman inscription in which you can read: “Astvurv et Lvggonv”, found between the Sella river and the Sueve mountain range (Asturies).
4th.- Asturian Princeps. Source: educastur.princast,es
5th.- Llangreu torc (Asturies). Source: Wikipedia.