The Castro Culture of the peninsular northwest

The Castro Culture of north-west Spain and northern Portugal is distinguished by its walled settlements, variously described according to size and sophistication of internal layout as castro, cividade or citania. The largest and most urbanized in layout, like the Citania de Briteiros and Citania de Sanfins, are essentially post-Augustan in their surviving plan, but almost certainly have a longer antecedent history. They may have double or multiple enclosing walls, and their internal occupation includes a street system with enclosed compounds of domestic buildings. Recent research (Queiroga, 2003) has shown that the castros developed from the later Bronze Age and through the earlier Iron Age. Excavations at Castelo de Matos, the Citania de S. Juliao and the Castro de Torroso and elsewhere point to a less organized settlement layout in these initial stages, with circular buildings constructed of clay and perishable materials. Stone building was evidently adopted only from around the third century bc, while more complex architectural features, such as vestibules, together with rectilinear plans, were introduced in the first century ad. One distinctive form of building, the so-called monumentos com fornos, is now believed to have functioned as a sauna, raising the possibility that bathing, attested by less substantial structures like the Irish fulachta or Scottish burnt mounds of the Bronze Age, may have been a more widespread practice in Celtic Europe than has hitherto been presumed.

Though there are rectilinear enclosures and buildings, the predominant house-plan of the Castro Culture is circular, sometimes with the distinctive vestibule, the sides of which project the radii of the circle, as in examples from the Citania de Santa Luzia at Viana do Castelo. The circular architectural plan of domestic buildings, shared principally with Britain but also known in the Netherlands and Normandy in the later Bronze Age and Iron Age, stands in contrast to the Central European tradition of rectangular building, which also characterizes the settlements of the rest of the Hispanic peninsula. Allowing for the fact that even in Britain rectangular houses are not unknown, and that house types in general are still not well documented in parts of France, there does appear to be a real contrast in building tradition between Central Europe and Atlantic Europe. To regard either of the principal traditions as typically or diagnostically 'Celtic' would be untenable, since rectangular plans are the norm in Germanic Europe and circular plans are common in parts of the Mediterranean. House-plans may be determined by many factors, social, economic, or environmental, but are hardly a diagnostic factor of ethnicity.

Despite the paucity of cemeteries, high-status metal-work includes gold torcs, among which the contrasting distributions of those with conical terminals north of the Minho and those with tulip-shaped terminals to the south led Lernerz-de Wilde (1995) to suggest tribal sub-groups, already before the region was divided under Roman administration. Despite problems of dating, these examples of prestige gold-work were probably in circulation between the fourth and second centuries bc. Torcs, as we have seen, are depicted also on the life-sized stone sculptures of warriors, equipped with daggers and circular shields, that are almost invariably found in proximity to castros, like the example from the Castro di Lezenho (Figure 9.9, 3). Dating is problematic, and dependent upon stylistic considerations or details of weapon typology that are hardly definitive in stone. The conventional dating around 100 bc, however, is based entirely on the late dating of the castros themselves, and is almost certainly too conservative. The sculptures inevitably recall the stone figures of late Hallstatt and early La Tene in Central Europe, but their context as well as their dating set them apart from this earlier tradition.

Finally, the issue of the stamped ornament of pottery from the Castro culture, and its relationship with similar styles in the early Iron Age in Brittany, south-western Britain and elsewhere, has an important bearing on the question of Celtic ceramic art. Despite Hock's (Hock and Coelho, 1985) dating of Castro stamped wares to the Roman horizon, the similarities of both motifs and combinations of motifs between the northern Portugese and Galician pottery and Armorican pottery of early La Tene seem sufficient to warrant a connection, even if the south-western British 'duck-stamped' ornament is rather more selective by comparison. Castro pottery ornament nevertheless displays local differences, and perhaps should be considered in the wider context of stamped decoration elsewhere in the western Peninsula. It serves to underline again the fact that Celtic is not synonymous with La Tene.

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