The invincible leader of the Lusitanians.
During the Roman occupation in the Iberian Peninsula, in that period also known has Roman Hispania, there were three Roman provinces: Hispania Baetica, Hispania Lusitania (or just Lusitania) and Hispania Tarraconensis.
So, the famous Lusitania was a Roman province, whose boundaries were defined by the emperor Augustus Caesar in 29 BC. It occupied a good part of what is now Portugal, south of the River Douro, the current Spanish Extremadura and part of the Spanish provinces of Salamandra, Toledo and Mérida.
This region was occupied by the Lusitanian people, lusitani in Latin, since Neolithic times. With probable Celtic and Indo-European origins, the Lusitanians, like other people, will have moved from the Swiss Alps and settled in the Iberian Peninsula due to the hot weather. It was also said that this would be the most brave people, and there were records they should have had women warriors. In fact, it was the Lusitanians who have been offered more resistance to the Romans during the Roman invasions, and even caused huge casualties among the troops of Rome.
Historical records indicate that a Roman chief, name Galba, and Lusitanian chiefs have made a peace treaty. Galpa have promised to deliver them fertile lands in the plains if the Lusitanian drop their weapons. So it happened, the Lusitanians dropped their weapons and devoted themselves to the cultivation, dispersing themselves through the lands granted by Galpa.
However, the Roman chief failed to fulfill his promise and, seeing them unprotected, he attacked! Thousands of Lusitanians were killed and many more were enslaved.
Given this feat, Galpa was very satisfied and have reported this victory to Rome, believing that this would be very welcome. But despite that military victories were highly valued, the Roman authorities imposed the respect and loyalty to enemies in war. Knowing that Galpa, a Roman chief, had betrayed the Lusitanians attacking unarmed men, they called Galpa to Rome and judged him in court. Galpa has never returned to the Iberian Peninsula.
The Lusitanians, who escaped the attack, won a huge rage to the Romans and yearned for revenge. Among them was Viriatus that, having he also believed in the word of Galpa, have settled in the plain to live in peace. There are no records about the birth of Viriatus. There are legends that say he will have been a young shepherd in Montes Hermínios today Serra da Estrela. It is also said to have participated in lightning assaults to Roman settlements at a young age and he was appreciated for his strength, agility and warrior intelligence.
Hided in the mountains, these survivors have manufactured weapons and were preparing a counterattack to avenge those who had died before the attack led by Galpa.
According to history, around 147 BC, about ten thousand Lusitanians, led by Viriatus, rebelled furiously, seeking revenge, and headed toward to one area dominated by the Romans in order to plunder their villages. However, they were surprised by being surrounded at a distance by a circle of Roman soldiers.
Fearing a new bloodshed, the Lusitanians bosses will have weighted to negotiate a surrender. However, Viriatus disagreed and speaking aloud, he will have said:
«The Romans do not respect promises. They fooled me once, they will not fool me again. Do not count with me for negotiations. I prefer to fight or die.»
All have been impressed with the speech and firmness of Viriatus, especially the chiefs. Viriatus have continued:
«If we can not beat them by force, We’ll beat them by cunning. Now listen to my plan.»
He told them the following: the men who fought on foot should form groups and at a combined signal they should start firing in all directions and break the barrier around them without giving the enemy time to organize.
«As you flee, I and other riders will fell on them and keep switching sides in order to defeat them and protect your escape.»
The plan has been accepted, the signal was combined:
“Stay tuned. When I ride a horse, you know … is order to go. “
So, after some time, battle cries echoed across the fields. Arrows and spears were thrown in all directions and the sound of the swords made themselves heard almost everywhere. As Viriatus had predicted, the Romans did not expect such tactics and became disoriented, many of the Lusitanians who were on foot escaped the siege and flee, while the brave Lusitanians’ knights, despite being outnumbered and with weaker weapons, fought relentlessly. There were many Roman soldiers who fell dead, including the Roman general himself.
Viriatus have managed not only to win the battle, but to save the Lusitanians as well. Such brave act, granted him a great respect by all the tribes and will have become the top leader of the Lusitanians. For years, many followed him enthusiastically in brutal battles against the Romans. Viriato seemed invincible and was never knocked down in battle.
However, around 139 BC, having been lured and bribed by the Romans, three men of the tribe of Viriatus have betrayed him and murdered him while he slept in his tent. It is said that these men have never come to receive any reward and were even received with contempt by the Roman leader who have said them:
«Rome does not pay to traitors.»
The Lusitanian people have long lamented the loss of this dear and beloved chief and have become weakened.
After the death of Viriatus, before successive attacks of the Romans, many Lusitanians lost their lives. The peace in this region have been achieved around 19 BC.
Curiously, although the Portuguese consider Viriatus as the first of their heroes, is through Roman writers, impressed by the strong, stern and upright personality of this Lusitanian chief, who wrote several texts praising him, making known to the world this historic personality.
- Portugal – História e Lendas, Ana Maria Magalhães e Isabel Alçada, Ed. Caminho