You are here

Cultural Transformation of the Roman Army in Republican Spain

Dominic Machado

College of the Holy Cross

The experience of Roman soldiers fighting in Spain in the Middle Republic was markedly different from those serving in other theaters during the same period. Beginning with the Second Punic Wars, troops commissioned to the Iberian Peninsula were stationed in the region for prolonged periods of time, often in excess of six years. Throughout the extent of their service, Roman soldiers did not just keep to themselves. They were meeting, communicating, and creating relationships with various local inhabitants throughout the Iberian Peninsula. This paper examines the impact of these interactions by investigating how both Iberian and Roman representations of war changed throughout the second and first centuries BCE. What emerges from this analysis is that these interactions produced significant change in the visual cultures of the Iberian Peninsula and the Roman world. Consequently, the armies that fought in Spain during Republic can be seen not just as military machines hell-bent on imperial expansion, but as cultural agents who played a key role in defining what it meant to be Iberian and Roman.

In interpreting changes to visual representations of warfare in this context, this paper will use the theoretical framework of creolization, taking inspiration from new approaches to the study of the Roman provinces (Webster 2001; Dietler 2010). As opposed to more traditional theories of acculturation, the framework of creolization has the advantage of recognizing cultural exchange as multi-directional, while still acknowledging the importance of power imbalances in these exchanges. Further, this paper also draws on recent work on the Roman Imperial army as an important socio-cultural force in provincial life and extends it to a similar situation in Republican Spain (Pollard 2000; Allison 2013). 

The impact of Roman soldiers on Iberian culture can be clearly seen in the changing depiction of warriors in local artwork. Beginning in the second century BCE, Iberian pottery begins to feature soldiers with headgear that closely resembles the Montefortino helmet worn by Roman soldiers during the Middle Republic (Quesada Sanz 1997a). This new iconography is mirrored by a change in armory among Iberian warriors who adopted the helmet in the wake of Roman incursions into the peninsula. As Roman rule became more firmly established in first century BCE, the visual representations of Iberian soldiers reflected the resultant changes in warfare in the peninsula. For example, in the Osuna reliefs, which date to the middle of the first century BCE, Iberian soldiers are depicted in auxiliary garb, a change of reflective of the new role for Spanish soldiers in Roman warfare (Mierse 2008).  

It was not just the Iberian peninsula that was transformed by interactions between Roman soldiers and local inhabitants. Visual representation of Roman warfare took on new forms after the experience of war in Spain. The gladius Hispaniensis, which was modeled closely on similar Celtiberian weaponry, found its way immediately into visual representations of Roman warfare (Quesada Sanz 1997b). Roman soldiers with the gladius Hispaniensis already appear in large-scale reliefs, such as the Pydna monument and the Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus, by the second century BCE. The presence of the gladius Hispaniensis in these highly publicized displays of aristocratic excellence and martial dominance illustrate how that the sword had quickly become instantiated in Roman military culture. Over the course of the first century BCE, the pugio, which was modeled on the Iberian bidiscoidal dagger, also became a prominent part of the visual representation of Roman soldiers. This can be seen in the grave stele of the centurion, Minicius Lorarius, which prominently displays a stylized pugio in the center of the relief (Keppie 1991). The centrality of the dagger on Lorarius’ tomb is matched by the broader archaeological evidence: finds from the first century BCE reveal a preponderance of decorative pugiones in Roman military contexts beyond the Iberian Peninsula.

Session/Panel Title

The Roman Army During the Republican Period

Session/Paper Number


Share This Page

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy