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Viriathus (known as Viriato in Portuguese and Castilian) (180 BC - 139 BC) was one of the leaders of the Lusitani tribe that resisted Romans expansion into the regions known today as Portugal and Extremadura. Viriathus led the Lusitanian guerrilla fighters to several victories over the Romans between 147 BC and 139 BC before he was betrayed to the Romans by some of his own men and killed.
Little is known about Viriathus. He may have been a shepherd, the occupation of most of the Lusitanians. He was known among the Lusitanians as a great warrior. Many nominated him as leader, which he repeatedly refused. Some say that he lived near Herminius Mons (today's Serra da Estrela in central Portugal) - the great fortress and heart of Lusitania. Others claim that he lived in Viseu. Today, some people refer to Viseu has being the "city of the Lusitanians". In addition, some studies indicate that the people from this area preserve greater traces of local ethnicities. During the Roman period and afterward, many mixed marriages were made, and the population of Portugal became widely mixed, but traces of the Lusitanians persist, especially in the area of Beira Interior.
Most of his life and war against the Romans are part of legend and Portuguese national myths. Viriathus is seen as the earliest Portuguese national hero. The historian Apianus of Alexandria in his book about Iberia in part of "Historia Romana" (Roman History), commented that Viriathus killed numerous Romans and showed great skill.
Conquest of Lusitania by Rome
The consul Sergius Galba commanded the Roman troops in Iberia circa 150 BC and started destroying the rest of the Lusitanian resistance. Fearing the destruction of their lands, the Lusitanians send an embassy to him. Galba received the Lusitanian embassy politely, suspended the offensive and promised to give lands to the Lusitanian people.
The offer turned out to be a trap. When the unarmed Lusitanians, among them Viriathus, tried to reclaimed the lands promised by Galba, many were killed. Viriathus was among those who escaped.
Viriathus never forgot the Roman treachery. Later, when some Lusitanian leaders prepared to make a new agreement with the Romans after a major loss of lives to the Roman army of Caius Vetilius , Viriathus reminded them of Galba's trick and proposed a Lusitanian War against the Romans. The Lusitanians cried with joy.
Viriathus organized an attack against Caius Vetilius in Trobila . Since the Romans were better armed, he organized guerrilla tactics and sprung imaginative ambushes. Charging with iron spears, tridents and roars, the Lusitanians defeated Vetilius. After him, the Lusitanians clashed with the armies of Caius Plancius , Unimanus and Caius Nigidius .
To complete the pacification and humiliation of Lusitania, Rome sent Fabius Emilianus , with 15,000 soldiers and 2,000 horses to strengthen Caius Lelius. The Romans lost most of these reinforcements in Ossuma . When Emilianus risked combat again, he was totally defeated near what is today the city of Beja in Alentejo. This defeat gave the Lusitanians access to today’s Spanish territory, modern Granada and Murcia.
Learning of these events, Rome sent one of its best generals, Servilianus , to Iberia. Near Sierra Morena , the Romans fell into a Lusitanian ambush. Viriathus did not harm the Romans and let the soldiers and Servilianus go. Servilianus declared Viriathus to be a "Friend of Rome " and recognized the Lusitanian rule over their own lands.
The Roman senate did not accept the treaty made by Servilianus with the Lusitanians. However, the Romans did things differently this time. Knowing that the Lusitanian resistance was largely due to Viriathus' leadership, Marcus Pompilius Lenas bribed Audax, Ditalco and Minurus, three Lusitanians sent by Viriathus as an embassy to establish peace. These ambassadors returned to their camp and killed Viriathus while he was sleeping. When they returned to the Roman camp for their reward, the consul Scipio ordered their execution, declaring, "Rome does not pay traitors".
With the death of Viratthus, the Lusitanian resistance ended. Under Roman rule, Lusitania and its people gradually acquired Roman culture and the language. Centuries later, after the dissolution of the Roman empire, Lusitania became the heart of Portugal.
The heroic feats of Viriathus, who was only defeated by treason, were a lasting inspiration to Portuguese nationalism.
- Ribeiro, Ângelo & Saraiva, José Hermano História de Portugal I - A Formação do Território QuidNovi, 2004 (ISBN 9895541066).
- Loução, Paulo Alexandre: Portugal, Terra de Mistérios Ésquilo, 2000 (third edition; ISBN 9728605048).
- Muñoz, Mauricio Pasto: Viriato, A Luta pela Liberdade Ésquilo, 2003 (third edition; ISBN 9728605234).
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