The Gallaeci, Callaeci or Callaici were a largely Celtic[1][2] tribal complex who inhabited Gallaecia, the north-western corner of Iberia, a region roughly corresponding to what is now Northern Portugal, Galicia, Western Asturias and Western Castile and León in Spain, before and during the Roman period. They spoke a Q-Celtic language related to Northeastern Hispano-Celtic, sometimes called Gallaic, Gallaecian, or Northwestern Hispano-Celtic.[3][4] The region was annexed by the Romans in the time of Caesar Augustus during the Cantabrian Wars, a war which initiated the assimilation of the Gallaeci into Latin culture.

Galician-Roman Stele from Crecente (Galicia). Held at the end of the century, was dedicated to a deceased aristocrat called Apana, from the Gallaecian tribe of Celtici Supertamarici, as can be read at the bottom of the stele itself.

The endonym of modern day Galicians, Galegos, derives directly from the name of this people.


Overview of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.
  The core Hallstatt territory (HaC, 800 BC) is shown in solid yellow,
  the eventual area of Hallstatt influence (by 500 BC, HaD) in light yellow.
  The core territory of the La Tène culture (450 BC) is shown in solid green,
  the eventual area of La Tène influence (by 50 BC) in light green.
The territories of some major Celtic tribes of the late La Tène period are labeled.

The fact that the Gallaeci did not adopt writing until contact with the Romans constrains the study of their earlier history.[citation needed] However, early allusions to this people are present in ancient Greek and Latin authors prior to the conquest, which allows the reconstruction of a few historical events of this people since the second century BC.[citation needed]

Thanks to Silius Italicus, it is known that between the years 218 and 201 BC, during the Second Punic War, some Gallaecian troops were involved in the fight in the ranks of Carthaginian Hannibal against the Roman army of Scipio Africanus. Silius described them as a contingent combined with Lusitanian forces and led by a commander named Viriathus, and gave a short description of them and their military tactics:[5]

[…] Fibrarum et pennae divinarumque sagacem flammarum misit dives Gallaecia pubem, barbara nunc patriis ululantem carmina linguis, nunc pedis alterno percussa verbere terra ad numerum resonas gaudentem plauder caetras […]

Rich Gallaecia sent its youths, wise in the knowledge of divination by the entrails of beasts, by feathers and flames, now howling barbarian songs in the tongues of their homelands, now alternately stamping the ground in their rhythmic dances until the ground rang, and accompanying the playing with sonorous shields.

The first known military conflict between Gallaeci and Romans is mentioned in Appian of Alexandria's book Iberiké, narrating events during the Lusitanian War (155–139 BC). In 139 BC, after being cheated by the Lusitanian chief Viriatus (not to be confused with the aforementioned), Quintus Servilius Caepio's army devastated few Gallaecian and Vettonian regions. The attack on these Southern Gallaecian peoples, near the border with Vettones, was punishment for Gallaecian support to Lusitanians. Orosius later mentioned that Brutus surrounded the Gallaeci, who were unaware, and crushed sixty thousand of them who had come to the assistance of the Lusitani. The Romans were victorious only after a desperate and difficult battle and fifty thousand of them were slain in that battle, six thousand were captured, and only some escaped.[6] The legates Antistius and Firmius fought appalling battles and subdued the further parts of Gallaecia, forested and mountainous and bordering the Atlantic.[7]

The oldest known inscription referring to the Gallaeci (reading Ἔθνο[υς] Καλλαικῶ[ν], "people of the Gallaeci") was found in 1981 in the Sebasteion of Aphrodisias, Turkey, where a triumphal monument to Augustus mentions them among other fifteen nations allegedly conquered by this Roman emperor. [8]

Pomponius Mela, who described the Galician seashore and their dwellers around 40 of our era, divided the coastal Gallaeci in non-Celtic Grovii along the southern areas; the Celtic peoples who lived along the Rías Baixas and Costa da Morte regions in northern Galicia; and the also Celtic Artabri who dwelled all along the northern coast in between the later and the Astures.


Archaeologically, Gallaeci evolved from local Atlantic Bronze Age people (1300–700 BC). During the Iron Age they received additional influences, including from other Iberian cultures, and from central-western Europe (Hallstatt and, to a lesser extent, La Tène culture), and from the Mediterranean (Phoenicians and Carthaginians). The Gallaeci dwelt in hill forts (locally called castros), and the archaeological culture they developed is known by archaeologists as "Castro culture", a hill-fort culture (usually, but not always) with round or elongated houses.

Partial view of the Castro de Santa Tegra, an oppidum from the 2nd century BC.

The Gallaecian way of life was based in land occupation especially by fortified settlements that are known in Latin language as "castra" (hillforts) or "oppida" (citadels); they varied in size from small villages of less than one hectare (more common in the northern territory) to great walled citadels with more than 10 hectares sometimes denominated oppida, being these latter more common in the Southern half of their traditional settlement and around the Ave river. This livelihood in hillforts was common throughout Europe during the Bronze and Iron Ages, getting in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, the name of 'Castro culture" (Castrum culture) or "hillfort's culture", which alludes to this type of settlement prior to the Roman conquest. However, several Gallaecian hillforts continued to be inhabited until the 5th century AD.

Aerial view of Castromaior, Portomarín, 1950

These fortified villages or cities tended to be located in the hills, and occasionally rocky promontories and peninsulas near the seashore, as it improved visibility and control over territory. These settlements were strategically located for a better control of natural resources, including mineral ores such as iron. The Gallaecian hillforts and oppidas maintained a great homogeneity and presented clear commonalities. The citadels, however, functioned as city-states and could have specific cultural traits.

The names of these hill-forts, as preserved in Latin inscriptions and other literary sources, were frequently composite nouns with a second element such as -bris (from proto-Celtic *brixs), -briga (from proto-Celtic *brigā), -ocelum (from proto-Celtic *okelo-), -dunum (from proto-Celtic *dūno-) all meaning "hill > hill-fort" or similar: Aviliobris, Letiobri, Talabriga, Nemetobriga, Louciocelo, Tarbucelo, Caladunum, etc. Others are superlative formations (from proto-Celtic *-isamo-, -(s)amo-): Berisamo (from *Bergisamo-), Sesmaca (from *Segisamo-). Many Galician modern day toponyms derive from these old settlements' names: Canzobre < Caranzovre < *Carantiobrixs, Trove < Talobre < *Talobrixs, Ombre < Anobre < *Anobrixs, Biobra < *Vidobriga, Bendollo < *Vindocelo, Andamollo < *Andamocelo, Osmo < Osamo < *Uxsamo, Sésamo < *Segisamo, Ledesma < *φletisama...[9]

Political-territorial organizationEdit

The Gallaecian political organization is not known with certainty, but it is very probable that they were divided into small independent chiefdoms or nations, who the Romans called populus or civitas, each one ruled by a local petty king or chief (princeps), as in other parts of Europe. Each populus comprised a sizeable number of small hillforts (castellum). So each Gallaecian considered themselves a member of his or her populus and of the hillfort where they lived, as deduced by their usual onomastic phormula: first Name + patronymic (genitive) + (optionally) populus or nation (nominative) + (optionally) origin of the person = name of their hill-fort (ablative):

  • Nicer Clvtosi > Cavriaca principis Albionum: Nicer son of Clutosius, from (the hill-fort known as) Cauria, prince of the Albions.
  • Apana Ambolli f Celtica Supertam(arica)> [---]obri: Apana daughter of Ambollus, a Supertamaric Celtic, from (the hill-fort known as) [-]obri.
  • Anceitvs Vacci f Limicvs > Talabric(a): Ancetos son of Vaccios, a Limic, from (the hill-fort known as) Talabriga.
  • Bassvs Medami f Grovvs > Verio: Bassos son of Medamos, a Grovian, from (the hill-fort known as) Verio.
  • Ladronu[s] Dovai Bra[ca]rus Castell[o] Durbede: Ladronos son of Dovaios, a Bracaran, from the castle Durbeds.

Gallaeci tribesEdit

Origin of the nameEdit

The Romans named the entire region north of the Douro, where the Castro culture existed, in honour of the castro people that settled in the area of Calle — the Callaeci. The Romans established a port in the south of the region which they called Portus Calle, today's Porto, in northern Portugal.[10] When the Romans first conquered the Callaeci they ruled them as part of the province of Lusitania but later created a new province of Callaecia (Greek: Καλλαικία) or Gallaecia.

The names "Callaici" and "Calle" are the origin of today's Gaia, Galicia, and the "Gal" root in "Portugal", among many other placenames in the region.

Gallaecian languageEdit

Gallaecian or Gallaic was a Q-Celtic language or group of languages or dialects, closely related to Celtiberian, spoken at the beginning of our era in the north-western quarter of the Iberian Peninsula, more specifically between the west and north Atlantic coasts and an imaginary line running north–south and linking Oviedo and Mérida.[11][12] Just like it is the case for Illyrian or Ligurian languages, its corpus is composed by isolated words and short sentences contained in local Latin inscriptions, or glossed by classic authors, together with a considerable number of names – anthroponyms, ethnonyms, theonyms, toponyms – contained in inscriptions, or surviving up to date as place, river or mountain names. Besides, many of the isolated words of Celtic origin preserved in the local Romance languages could have been inherited from these Q-Celtic dialects.

Gallaecian deitiesEdit

The Fonte do Ídolo (Portuguese for Idol's Fountain), in Braga.

Through the Gallaecian-Roman inscriptions, is known part of the great pantheon of Gallaecian deities, sharing part not only by other Celtic or Celticized peoples in the Iberian Peninsula, such as Astur — especially the more Western — or Lusitanian, but also by Gauls and Britons among others. This will highlight the following:

  • Bandua: Gallaecian God of War, similar to the Roman god, Mars. Great success among the Gallaeci of Braga.
  • Berobreus: god of the Otherworld and beyond. The largest shrine dedicated to Berobreo documented until now, stood in the fort of the Torch of Donón (Cangas), in the Morrazo's Peninsula, front of the Cíes Islands.
  • Bormanicus: god of hot springs similar to the Gaulish god, Bormanus.
  • Nabia: goddess of waters, of fountains and rivers. In Galicia and Portugal still nowadays, numerous rivers that still persist with his name, as the river Navia, ships and in northern Portugal there is the Idol Fountain, dedicated to the goddess ship.
  • Cossus, warrior god, who attained great popularity among the Southern Gallaeci, was one of the most revered gods in ancient Gallaecia. Several authors suggest that Cosso and Bandua are the same God under different names.
  • Reue, associated with the supreme God hierarchy, justice and also death.
  • Lugus, or Lucubo, linked to prosperity, trade and craft occupations. His figure is associated with the spear. It is one of gods most common among the Celts and many, many place names derived from it throughout Europe Celtic Galicia (Galicia Lucus Latinized form) to Loudoun (Scotland), and even the naming of people as Gallaecia Louguei .
  • Coventina, goddess of abundance and fertility. Strongly associated with the water nymphs, their cult record for most Western Europe, from England to Gallaecia.
  • Endovelicus (Belenus), god of prophecy and healing, showing the faithful in dreams.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Luján, E. R. (2006). "PUEBLOS CELTAS Y NO CELTAS DE LA GALICIA ANTIGUA: FUENTES LITERARIAS FRENTE A FUENTES EPIGRÁFICAS" (PDF). xxii seminario de lenguas y epigrafía antigua. Retrieved 16 July 2021.
  2. ^ 'If, as is the first criterion of this Encyclopedia, one bases the concept of ‘Celticity’ on language, one can apply the term ‘Celtic’ to ancient Galicia', Koch, John T., ed. (2006). Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 790. ISBN 1-85109-440-7.
  3. ^ Luján Martínez, Eugenio R. (3 May 2006). "The Language(s) of the Callaeci". E-keltoi. 6: The Celts in the Iberian Peninsula: 689–714. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  4. ^ ' In the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, and more specifically between the west and north Atlantic coasts and an imaginary line running north-south and linking Oviedo and Mérida, there is a corpus of Latin inscriptions with particular characteristics of its own. This corpus contains some linguistic features that are clearly Celtic and others that in our opinion are not Celtic. The former we shall group, for the moment, under the label northwestern Hispano-Celtic.'Jordán Cólera, Carlos (16 March 2007). "Celtiberian" (PDF). E-keltoi. 6: The Celts in the Iberian Peninsula: 750. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  5. ^ Silius Italicus, Punica, 3
  6. ^ Orosius. A History, against the Pagans - Book 5.
  7. ^ Orosius. A History, against the Pagans - Book 6.
  8. ^ "9.17. Title for image of people of the Callaeci". IAph. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  9. ^ Búa, Carlos (2018). Toponimia prelatina de Galicia. Santiago de Compostela: USC. ISBN 978-84-17595-07-4.
  10. ^ "Roteiro Arqueológico" (PDF). Eixo Atlântico. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-02-15. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Jordán Colera 2007: 750
  12. ^ Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 481. ISBN 9781851094400.


  • Coutinhas, José Manuel (2006), Aproximação à identidade etno-cultural dos Callaici Bracari, Porto.
  • González García, Francisco Javier (coord.) (1 February 2007). Los pueblos de la Galicia céltica. Ediciones AKAL. ISBN 978-84-460-3621-0.
  • Queiroga, Francisco (1992), War and Castros, Oxford.
  • Silva, Armando Coelho Ferreira da (1986), A Cultura Castreja no Noroeste de Portugal, Porto.

External linksEdit