Tag Archives: pre-roman spain

The Iberian ruins of Ullastret

When I began to plan my linguistic tour of northern Spain, I knew that visiting Ullastret would be a top priority. One of the 101 questions in my book is “What other languages were spoken in pre-Roman Spain?” (this comes after two questions about Basque), and I illustrated it with a reproduction of this Iberian lead plaque, found in Ullastret. I was dying to see it in person.

Iberian lead plaque, from Ullastret, Spain

I’m using “Iberian” here to refer not to the Iberian Peninsula itself, but to a community, with a distinct language and culture, that populated the eastern part of the Peninsula in pre-Roman days. They shared the Peninsula with Greeks (on the northeast coast), Phonecians (in the south), Celts (in the north and center), and Tartassians (in the southwest). Ullastret was the capital of a specific group of Iberians called the Indiketes (see map below). They were known for their extensive contact with the nearby Greek settlements. To quote the wall text from the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia at Ullastret, Fou una zona intensament hel·lenizada, per la presència de les colònies gregues d’Emporion (fundad cap a 600 a.C.) i de Rhode (fundada molt probablement a finals del s. Vè a.C.).

[The middle dot in hel·lenizada shows that the double ll is pronounced as a long l and not like a Spanish ll — which Catalan also has.]

Map of Iberian settlements in Spain (from Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia at Ullastret)

Map of Iberian settlements in Spain (from Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia at Ullastret)

According to our guidebook, one sign of the Indiketes’s Hellenization is the purely decorative groove they added to the main gate of the city:

One side of Ullastret's main gate, with a decorative groove, a sign of Greek influence.

One side of Ullastret’s main gate. Its decorative groove is believed to show Greek influence.

Ullastret was a full-fledged city, with protective walls, streets and houses, temples, water cisterns, and grain silos. The silos were reused as garbage receptacles once the grain had been consumed (or sold to other settlements). This makes them a gold mine for the archaeologists who have studied Ullastret, since garbage is always a prime source of information about a culture.

“My” lead plaque was easy to find. It is part of a display of artifacts showing Iberian writing. Please see the presentation below. You can click on the double-headed diagonal arrow to the left of the LinkedIn “in” logo to see the presentation in full-screen mode.

In conclusion, I have to say that as much as my friend Sue and I enjoyed Ullastret, we both strongly preferred our previous visit to the Castro of Ulaca. The latter ruins are harder to get to, but are more impressive, and the location itself is more beautiful and magical.


The ghost of Celtic Spain

Today was without question the most exciting day so far of my linguistic tour of northern Spain with my friend Sue. We picked up a rental car in Madrid and drove west by northwest to Ávila, then southwest to Ulaca, the ruins of a fortified Celtic hill-town, or castro. Ulaca was on our itinerary because the Celts were one of the most important pre-Roman peoples in the Iberian Peninsula. They left their linguistic imprint on both Spanish vocabulary and toponymy (place-names). Spanish words of Celtic origins include álamo ‘poplar’ and serna ‘plowed field’; Celtic place-names include Segovia and Lugo.

I can’t recommend Ulaca highly enough. You need a car to get there, and you need to be in decent shape for the climb, but the ruins are fascinating, the views are beautiful, and the combination of granite rocks and purple and yellow wildflowers is unbeatable. The slideshow below tries to share some of the excitement that Sue and I felt today. It also has practical information about how to get to Ulaca and where to learn more.