Last year we visited the Museum of Numancia in Soria and so this year it was time to visit the actual site of Numancia. It was a cold, wet day but wearing several layers of clothes and armed with umbrellas we set off.
A brief history
Numancia stands on top of hill called ‘La Muela’ which is just outside Garray, a small town about twenty minutes north of Soria.
‘Celtiberia, an area in present north-central Spain occupied from the 3rd century BC onward by tribes thought to be of mixed Iberian and Celtic stock. These Celtiberians inhabited the hill country between the sources of the Tagus (Tajo) and Iberus (Ebro) rivers, including most of the modern province of Soria and much of the neighbouring provinces of Guadalajara and Teruel. In historic times the Celtiberians were composed of the Arevaci, Belli, Titti, and Lusones. The earliest population of Celtiberia was that of the southeastern Almería culture of the Bronze Age, after which came Hallstatt invaders, who occupied the area shortly before 600 BC. The Hallstatt people were in turn subjugated by the Arevaci, who dominated the neighbouring Celtiberian tribes from the powerful strongholds at Okilis (modern Medinaceli) and Numantia. The Belli and the Titti were settled in the Jalón valley, the Sierra del Solorio separating them from the Lusones to the northeast.1
The Romans had been fighting the Numantians for c. twenty years and to bring this to a head the Romans under Julius Cornelius Scipio besieged the town, building a wall and forts around it. In 133BC the Romans destroyed the city of Numantia and Clunia became the administrative centre of the region. Clunia is just outside Osma de Burgo, about forty minutes from Soria, and it will have to wait til next time…
Not only was the day cold and damp, it was also windy on top of the hill. It must have been horrific in Celtiberian and Roman times in winter! The ‘Roman’ ladies on the site told us the area is 9 months of winter and 3 months of hell… So, the remains of Numancia we visit today are the remains of a Roman settlement and it was built here on top of the destroyed Numantian site, presumably to underscore Roman superiority. But it was more complex.
The Douro River to the west and the Merdancho River to the south are natural barriers to the site. And the Roman Road no.27 on the Itinerary of Antonino2 passed here and connected Asturica Augusta (Astorga) with Zaragoza. The transhumance3 passes this way as well, so Numantia was truly on a crossroads.
Roads and water system
The town was laid out on a grid system although cross roads were staggered so that the flow of rainwater down the hill was slowed. (This fact was forgotten when rivers were culverted in towns, and in Lewisham this fact was only rediscovered in c.2000.) The large stones in the middle of the road were stepping stones.
Rainwater collected in wells around the town and wells were sometimes joined with underground piping. Google maps (satellite view) show these wells all over.
A house has been reconstructed and is people with local people and their children dressed appropriately for nearly 2,000 years ago.
This was a rather posher villa, with a patio and guarded by two soldiers.
Walls and fighting
A section of Celtiberian wall stands in another part of the site. Here some ladies were blowing horns and making an extraordinary noise, while below them the lads were playing at soldiers and fighting.
I have a horror of guided tours. Guides talk too fast and always seem to feel a duty to pass on every known fact about a site whether you want it or not. Nevertheless, wherever we went to a popular site we saw these ‘crocodiles’ of unhappy looking people.
Numancia was a fascinating visit and of course leaves one with many trails to follow – Celtiberians, transhumance, Roman roads in Spain…
- Celtiberia: www.britannica.com/place/Celtiberia ↩︎
- The Antonine Itinerary: https://taller.iec.cat/itiner-e/fitxa-una.asp?id_fitxa=38 ↩︎
- Sorian transhumance route: https://trashumanciaynaturaleza.org/canada-real-soriana-oriental ↩︎