Did the Legendary Battle of Monte Medulio Really Happen?
Monte Medulio is the name of a legendary battle which is believed to have happened in 22 BC between the Romans and the united army of Cantabrians, Asturians, and Galicians. It is said to be the most important meeting of two armies in the western part of the Iberia Peninsula in ancient times, but some researchers believe that the story is nothing more than a legend. The main problem is a lack of archaeological evidence for the battle. If the story is to be proven as real, it is necessary to find the location of the battlefield.
Roman Troubles in Iberia
Before the Romans arrived in northern Spain, it was a land of local tribes (who were perhaps related to Celts.) People lived in hillforts and had a lifestyle which apparently shocked the Romans. According to their descriptions, these people were fighting during the day, and eating, drinking, and dancing at night.
After the end of the Punic Wars between the Carthaginians and Romans, the Romans continued the conquest of Iberia. During the battle at the Douro river in 137 BC, the Romans defeated about 60,000 Galicians. The proconsul Decimus Iunius Brutus called the conquered land Gallaicus. The second invasion was led by Julius Caesar and it started at Brigantium (now La Coruña).
The last chapter of the conquering of north-western Iberia by Romans were the Cantabrian Wars, which took place from 26 to 19 BC. One of the main battles is known as the battle of Monte Medulio.
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This battle is said to have taken place in 22 BC when the people of Galicia, Cantabria, and Asturias wanted to defeat the army of Octavian Augustus. It is believed that there were at least 20,000 Galician soldiers with the support of warriors from other regions.
Roman campaigns versus the Cantabria and the Asturias (Green) 22 BC campaign (Red) 25 BC campaign (Purple) D.J. Brutus 137 BC campaign (Yellow) Caesar’s arrival. ( CC BY 2.5 )
According to the description by Andres Alvares:
''Surrounded by the enemy in the mountains, they had no choice but to await the arrival of the Romans. When they climbed over the moat they began to pelt them with stones and torches which soon set fire to the brush, making it harder for the Romans to climb the great Mount Medulio. Many inhabitants of different villages within the occupied territory of Lugo sought refuge at the top of Mount Medulio, unwilling to give up their freedom.''
It is unknown how many warriors died on the battlefield. However, the Romans who won the battle described a field full of blood and dead bodies. The discovery of graves would be evidence that the battle really happened, however, archaeologists have been unable to discover anything.
A Lost Battlefield
The descriptions left by ancient writers suggests that the battle took place in an area between a river and a mountain. In the case of Galicia and Asturias, there are many possible places where the battle could have been. Nowadays, nobody knows for certain where the battlefield could be located. However, many groups of researchers have tried to find the place described in the ancient sources.
As a result, every region where the battle could have happened has their own theory about it. In Leon, researchers suggest that it could have been in Sierra de la Lastra. Asturians have at least three possible locations: Castro Meduales in Belmonte de Miranda, or in the mountains of the council of Lena and Picu Cervera. There is also a theory that the battle could have occurred in the Monte los Cintos.
In 1982, Eutimio Martino published his theory that the battle was in Sierra de Peña Sagra, Cantabria. He believes that the oldest texts related to the story of the battle described this place. Nonetheless, the rich Roman history in Galicia suggests another possibility.
Peña Sagra. ( CC BY 2.0 )
In Galicia, the battlefield is believed to be in one of several locations - Montes de la Sierra Del Caurel (Lugo), Montes Aloia (en Tui), Santa Cruz de Arrabaldo (Orense), or Pereiro de Aguiar, (Orense). However, the most likely location is in the mysterious Mount de Santa Tegra.
Mount de Santa Tegra or Santa Tecla, is one of the most magnificent places located in Galicia. It has been excavated since the end of the 19th century by Adolf Schulten (1870 – 1960). He was searching for the remains of the battle’s warriors, but he didn't find any hard evidence on this site.
Santa Tegra is currently a beautiful archaeological site with one of the most impressive pre-Roman hillforts. The location of the mountain matches perfectly with the battle’s description. Even though the excavation site is very rich in artifacts, nothing related to the battle has been discovered as of yet.
Photo of Adolph Schulten. ( uv.es)
Searching for the Truth
Some researchers believe that the legend of Monte Medulio is a story based on real battles but it is more of a symbol than an actual historical description. It is possible that the battle was a story which was used to increase warriors’ morale in the late ancient and early medieval times.
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There is a lack of resources about the battle of Monte Medulio as well. Additionally, in place of searching for the real battlefields, many people are trying to prove that the battle took place in their homeland instead.
The battle of Monte Medulio is considered to be proof of the bravery of Galicians, Asturians, and Cantabrians. The battle, which was lost by the native inhabitants of Spain, became one of the most important symbols of these lands. This legend seems to apply a famous proverb from Galicia, which says ''Better dead, than slaves''.
Top image: Legendary Battle of Monte Medulio. Source: bitacoradocaurel.blogspot
Adolf Schulten, Los Cántabros y Astures y su guerra con Roma, 2000.