1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Iberians

IBERIANS (Iberi, Ἲβηρες), an ancient people inhabiting parts of the Spanish peninsula. Their ethnic affinities are not known, and our knowledge of their history is comparatively slight. It is almost impossible to make any statement in regard to them which will meet with general agreement. At the same time, the general lines of Iberian controversy are clear enough The principal sources of information about the Iberians are (1) historical, (2) numismatic, (3) linguistic, (4) anthropological.

1. Historical.—The name seems to have been applied by the earlier Greek navigators to the peoples who inhabited the eastern coast of Spain; probably it originally meant those who dwelt by the river Iberus (mod. Ebro). It is possible (Boudard, Études sur l’alphabet ibérien (Paris, 1852) that the river-name itself represents the Basque phrase ibay-erri “the country of the river.” On the other hand, even in older Greek usage (as in Thuc. vi. 1) the term Iberia is said to have embraced the country as far east as the Rhone (see Herodorus of Heraclea, Fragm. Hist. Gr. ii. 34), and by the time of Strabo it was the common Greek name for the Spanish peninsula. Iberians thus meant sometimes the population of the peninsula in general and sometimes, it would appear, the peoples of some definite race (γένος) which formed one element in that population. Of the tribal distribution of this race, of its linguistic, social and political characteristics, and of the history of its relation to the other peoples of Spain, we have only the most general, fragmentary and contradictory accounts. On the whole, the historical evidence indicates that in Spain, when it first became known to the Greeks and Romans there existed many separate and variously civilized tribes connected by at least apparent identity of race, and by similarity (but not identity) of language, and sufficiently distinguished by their general characteristics from Phoenicians, Romans and Celts. The statement of Diodorus Siculus that the mingling of these Iberians with the immigrant Celts gave rise to the Celtiberians is in itself probable. Varro and Dionysius Afer proposed to identify the Iberians of Spain with the Iberians of the Caucasus, the one regarding the eastern, and other the western, settlements as the earlier.

2. Numismatic.—Knowledge of ancient Iberian language and history is mainly derived from a variety of coins, found widely distributed in the peninsula,[1] and also in the neighbourhood of Narbonne. They are inscribed in an alphabet which has many points of similarity with the western Greek alphabets, and some with the Punic alphabet; but which seems to retain a few characters from an older script akin to those of Minoan Crete and Roman Libya.[2] The same Iberian alphabet is found also rarely in inscriptions. The coinage began before the Roman conquest was completed; the monetary system resembles that of the Roman republic, with values analogous to denarii and quinarii. The coin inscriptions usually give only the name of the town, e.g. plplis (Bilbilis), klaqriqs (Calagurris), seqbrics (Segobriga), tmaniav (Dumania). The types show late Greek and perhaps also late Punic influence, but approximate later to Roman models. The commonest reverse type, a charging horseman, reappears on the Roman coins of Bilbilis, Osca, Segobriga and other places. Another common type is one man leading two horses or brandishing a sword or a bow. The obverse has usually a male head, sometimes inscribed with what appears to be a native name.

3. Linguistic.—The survival of the non-Aryan language among the Basques around the west Pyrenees has suggested the attempt to interpret by its means a large class of similar-sounding place-names of ancient Spain, some of which are authenticated by their occurrence on the inscribed coins, and to link it with other traces of non-Aryan speech round the shores of the Western Mediterranean and on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe. This phase of Iberian theory opens with K. W. Humboldt (Prüfung der Untersuchungen über die Urbewohner Hispaniens vermittelst der waskischen Sprache, Berlin, 1821), who contended that there existed once a single great Iberian people, speaking a distinct language of their own; that an essentially “Iberian” population was to be found in Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, in southern France, and even in the British Isles; and that the Basques of the present day were remnants of this race, which had elsewhere been expelled or absorbed. This last was the central and the seminal idea of the work, and it has been the point round which the battle of scholarship has mainly raged. The principal evidence which Humboldt adduced in its support was the possibility of explaining a vast number of the ancient topographical names of Spain, and of other asserted Iberian districts, by the forms and significations of Basque. In reply, Graslin (De l’Ibérie, Paris, 1839), maintained that the name Iberia was nothing but a Greek misnomer of Spain, and that there was no proof that the Basque people had ever occupied a wider area than at present; and Bladé (Origine des Basques, Paris, 1869) took the same line of argument, holding that Iberia is a purely geographical term, that there was no proper Iberian race, that the Basques were always shut in by alien races, that their affinity is still to seek, and that the whole Basque-Iberian theory is a figment. His main contention has met with some acceptance,[3] but the great current of ethnographical speculation still flows in the direction indicated by Humboldt.

4. Anthropological.—Humboldt’s “Iberian theory” depended partly on linguistic comparisons, but partly on his observation of widespread similarity of physical type among the population of south-western Europe. Since his time the anthropological researches of Broca, Thurnam and Davis, Huxley, Busk, Beddoe, Virchow, Tubino and others have proved the existence in Europe, from Neolithic times, of a race, small of stature, with long or oval skulls, and accustomed to bury their dead in tombs. Their remains have been found in Belgium and France, in Britain, Germany and Denmark, as well as in Spain; and they bear a close resemblance to a type which is common among the Basques as well as all over the Iberian peninsula. This Neolithic race has consequently been nicknamed “Iberians,” and it is now common to speak of the “Iberian” ancestry of the people of Britain, recognizing the racial characteristics of “Iberians” in the “small swarthy Welshman,” the “small dark Highlander,” and the “Black Celts to the west of the Shannon,” as well as in the typical inhabitants of Aquitania and Brittany.[4] Later investigators went further. M. d’Arbois de Jubainville, for example (Les Premiers habitants de l’Europe, Paris, 1877), maintained that besides possessing Spain, Gaul, Italy and the British Isles, “Iberian” peoples penetrated into the Balkan peninsula, and occupied a part of northern Africa, Corsica and Sardinia; and it is now generally accepted that a race with fairly uniform characteristics was at one time in possession of the south of France (or at least of Aquitania), the whole of Spain from the Pyrenees to the straits, the Canary Islands (the Guanches) a part of northern Africa and Corsica. Whether this type is more conveniently designated by the word Iberian, or by some other name (“Eur-african,” “Mediterranean,” &c.) is a matter of comparative indifference, provided that there is no misunderstanding as to the steps by which the term Iberian attained its meaning in modern anthropology.

Authorities.—K. W. von Humboldt, “Über die cantabrische oder baskische Sprache” in Adelung, Mithridates iv. (1817), and Prüfung d. Untersuchungen ü. die Urbewohner Hispaniens vermittelst der waskischen Sprache (Berlin, 1821); L. F. Graslin, De l’Ibérie (Paris, 1838); T. B. G. M. Bory de St Vincent, Essai géologique sur le genre humain (1838); G. Lagneau, “Sur l’ethnologie des peuples ibériens,” in Bull. soc. anthrop. (1867), pp. 146-161; J. F. Bladé, Études sur l’origine des Basques (Paris, 1869), Défense des études, &c. (Paris, 1870); Phillips, Die Einwanderung der Iberer in die pyren. Halbinsel (Vienna, 1870), Über das iberische Alphabet (Vienna, 1870); W. Boyd Dawkins, “The Northern Range of the Basques,” in Fortnightly Rev. N.S. xvi. 323-337 (1874); W. T. van Eys, “La Langue ibérienne et la langue basque,” in Revue de linguistique, pp. 3-15 (1874); W. Webster, “The Basque and the Kelt,” in Journ. Anthrop. Inst. v. 5-29 (1875); F. M. Tubino, Los Aborigines ibericos o los Berberos en la peninsula (Madrid, 1876); A. Luchaire, Les Origines linguistiques de l’Aquitaine (Paris, 1877); W. Boyd Dawkins, Early Man in Britain (London, 1880); A. Castaing, “Les Origines des Aquitains,” Mém. Soc. Eth. N.S. 1, pp. 183-328 (1884); G. C. C. Gerland, “Die Basken und die Iberer” in Gröber, Grundriss d. roman. Philologie, 1, pp. 313-334 (1888); M. H. d’Arbois de Jubainville, Les Premiers habitants de l’Europe (1889–1894); J. F. Bladé, Les Vascons avant leur établissement en Novempopulanie, Agen. (1891); W. Webster, “The Celt-iberians,” Academy xl. 268-269 (and consequent correspondence) (1891); J. Rhys, “The Inscriptions and Language of the Northern Picts,” Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot. xxvi. 263-351 (1892); F. Fita, “El Vascuence en las inscripciones ógmicas,” Bol. Real. Acad. Hist. Madrid (June 1893), xxii. 579-587; G. v. d. Gabelentz, “Baskisch u. Berberisch,” Sitz. k. preuss. Akad. Wiss. 593-613 (Berlin, 1893), Die Verwandtschaft der Baskischen mit der Berber-Sprache Nordafrikas nachgewiesen (Braunschweig, 1894); M. H. d’Arbois de Jubainville, “Les Celtes en Espagne,” Rev. celtique, xiv. 357-395 (1894); G. Buschan, “Über die iberische Rasse,” Ausland, lxvi. 342-344 (1894); F. Olóriz y Aguilera, Distribucion geografica del indice cefalico en España (Madrid, 1894), “La Talla humana en España” in Discursos R. Acad. Medicina xxxvi. 389 (Madrid, 1896); R. Collignon, “La Race basque,” L’Anthropologie, v. 276-287 (1894); T. de Aranzadi, “Le Peuple basque, résumé” Bull. soc. d’anth. 510-520 (1894), “Consideraciones acerca de la raza basca” Euskel-Erria xxxv. 33, 65, 97, 129 (1896); H. Schuchhardt, Baskische Studien, i. “Über die Entstehung der Bezugsformen des baskischen Zeitworts”; Denkschriften der K. Akad. der Wiss., Phil.-Hist., Classe, Bd. 42, Abh. 3. (Wien, 1893); Ph. Salmon, Rev. mens. Éc. d’anthr. v. 155-181, 214-220 (1895); R. Collignon, “Anthr. du S.-O. de la France,” Mém. Soc. Anthr. § 3. 1. 4. p. 1-129 (1895), Ann. de géogr. v. 156-166 (1896), and with J. Deniker, “Les Maures de Sénégal,” L’Anthr. vii. 57-69 (1897); G. Hervé, Rev. mens. Éc. d’anthr. vi. 97-109 (1896); G. Sergi, Africa: Anthropologia della stirpe Camitica (Turin, 1897), Arii ed Italici (1898); L. de Hoyos Sainz, “L’Anthropologie et la préhistorique en Espagne et en Portugal en 1897,” L’Anthropologie, ix. 37-51 (1898); J. Deniker (see Collignon) “Les Races de l’Europe,” L’Anthropologie, ix. 113-133 (1898); M. Gèze, “De quelques rapports entre les langues berbère et basque,” Mém. soc. arch. du Midi de la France, xiii. See also the works quoted in the footnotes; and the bibliography under Basques.  (J. L. M.) 

  1. For the prehistoric civilization of the peninsula as a whole see Spain.
  2. P. A. Boudard’s Études sur l’alphabet ibérien (Paris, 1852). and Numismatique ibérienne (Béziers, 1859); Aloiss Heiss, Notes sur les monnaies celtibériennes (Paris, 1865), and Description générale des monnaies antiques de l’Espagne (Paris, 1870); Phillips, Über das iberische Alphabet (Vienna, 1870), Die Einwanderung der Iberer in die pyren. Halbinsel (Vienna, 1870); W. M. Flinders Petrie, Journ. Anthr. Inst. xxix. (1899) 204, and above all E. Hübner, Monumenta linguae Ibericae.
  3. W. van Eys, for example, “La Langue ibérienne et la langue basque,” in Revue de linguistique, goes against Humboldt; but Prince Napoleon and to a considerable extent A. Luchaire maintain the justice of his method and the value of many of his results. See Luchaire, Les Origines linguistiques de l’Aquitaine (Paris, 1877).
  4. Compare the interesting résumé of the whole question in Boyd Dawkins’s Early Man in Britain (London, 1880).