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The Castrexa (Hill-fort) Culture could be definied here, in order to understand at least in a short synthesis the historical context in which the Castro of Viladonga is situated, as a series of material and ideological knowledge and of behaviour, which characterize the human society which inhabit the hill-forts (castros), as generally well-defended villages or settiements, which define and give name to this culture (castrexa). We know about it through the information provided by archaeology, epigraphy, written or textual sources and also, in some way, ethnography.

It was developed during the Iron Age on a strong indigenous substrate of the final stage of the Bronze Age, together with characteristics from the pre-castrexa Northwest and cultural influences from Central Europe (with Celtic roots in some aspects such as language), from the Atiantic and also the Mediterranean. All of this would coincide with a subatlantic climatic period, characterized by an increase in the temperatura and the humidity which would lead lo the expansion of the wooded wet areas, to some extent this would force the first hill-fort dweilers to extend and settie in villages situated in high, well protected areas: the hill-forts (castros).

Therefore the first occupation of the hill-forts would date from the end of the Bronze Age, between the VII and VI centurias BC; Penarrubia (Lugo) (photograph accompanies) may be one example of these primitiva castros together with Penalba or Torroso in the province of Pontevedra, A Graña in A Coruña and others.

Its area of extension and influence reaches at least the rivers Navia and Túa to the East and the Douro to the South and within it some pre-Roman and Roman hill-forts excavated completely or partially for decades or more recently can be situated on a map.

Chronologicalles, the actual hill-fort culture dates from VI or V century BC until the change of Age or the middie of the I century AD approximately. But various interested authors have established a series of phases or stages in that wide chronological space, and we know that there exists a hill-fort culture which continuas and evolves, also in different stages, after the Gallaecia integration into the Roman Empire, becoming known as the Galaic-Roman culture.

The Castro (Hill-fort), as the external and most visible archaeological image of this culture, is essentially of three types:

-Interior Hill-forts (like the one in Coaña in Asturias or Viladonga it self among other monumental ones). These, are situated on hills or some type of high ground but rarely on large high mountains. In general they are either circular or oval shaped, with one or several walled circuits.

-Hill-forts situated on higher mountainous areas (such as those in Vilar, O Courel, or Xegunde, A Fonsagrada), generally oval shaped and on the mountain side, with artificial moats at the top and walls or slopes towards the valley. They were developed especially in Roman times, related to the mining industry of these eastern Galician regions.

-Coastal Hill-forts (such as Baroña in Porto do Son or Fazouro in Foz), of which there are many on the Galician coast. They are usually simple and well-defined although some variations exist according to the geological and geographical position of each area, like the special and much more complex case of Santa Trega at the mouth of the river Miño. They have various designs adapted to the land and in the most characteristic type the natural defence of the sea is complemented by walls and moats towards the inside.

The economy of the castros was based on crops (cereals, vegetables pulses, etc.) and cattle (cows, horses, pigs, sheep ... ) but they also hunted, fished and collected shellfish and fruit and nuts (from fruit trees, acorns and later chestnuts). They also carried out some relatively important mining and metal work, which led to important metal craftsmanship amongst other things.

Stonework also played an important part not only in construction but also as an artistic craft.

Another economic activity, from which there have been many archaeological discoveries throughout the hill-fort culture, was the pottery, with a local or regional production especially, but with signs of a certain commercialization amongst the different areas. Textile work is also archaeologically documented, as in almost all the hill-forts there have been discoveries of fusayolas for the spindie, spinning wheel weights or bronze needles, which would most certainly be a family or domestic production.

The hill-fort society probably had an equal distribution of wealth and therefore a certain social stratification would exist with signs of internal hierarchy, which for some authors would also influence the supposed warlike character, which some textual sources speak about and which would also explain the existence of defences in the hill-forts. Nevertheless, these also exist for reasons of prestige and symoblic delimitation of the inhabited space. Besides, many of them were built or extended under Roman rule. On the other hand the small amount of weapons discovered either offensive or defensiva, does not corroborase that warlike character at least in a constant and usual manner.

The existence of jewellery, like the torques, as a symbol of power and authority and an indication of a certain social status, must have been quite common in the castro culture of the Northwest.

The inscriptions from the Galaic-Roman period contains many names of indigenous divinities, which  mean that in the world of the hillfort there existed a large religious pantheon (contrary to what the roman writer Estrabon says), as well as possible cults or rituals associated or related to elements or manifestations of Nature.

The Hill-fort Culture left numerous material remains, apart from the sites themselves already mentioned.

The goldwork represents the artistic culmination of an economic craftsmanship with roots in the Bronze Age. The use of jewellery must have representad a special social importance, at times joined to a hierarchical function, as well as its ornamental, distinctive and intrinsic value.

This metalwork has its own roots, which were infuenced from Central Europe and later from the Mediterranean. The result of this union produced jewellery like the torques (rigid necklaces which are curved but not closed and of which there is a great variety of types), bracelets, earrings and arracadas, pendants and charms, spirals and rings for the hair and other objets both for men and women.

The sculpture is characterized above all by its schematic, geometric volumes, and is found especially in the southern half of the hill-fort area. A large part of its best pieces can be attributed to the transition period between the proper hill-fort world and the Galaic-Roman period, that is to say, between the I century BC and I century AD, There are examples of free-standing sculptures such as the warriors of Armea (Ourense) or Vizela (Portugal), or heads like that of Rubiás (Ourense). There are others made to attach or build in like the heads of Barán (Lugo) or the representations of animal heads especially in the south-east areas of Galicia.

We are also aware of decorativa architectural elements like jambs, lintels, fastening posts for animals and other stones of indetermined use, in the shape of triskelians, tetraskeiians and other astral, roseate, interlocked shapes.

The pottery is usually the most abundant archaeological element amongst the discoveries from the hill-fort sites, the hand-made type predominases the type made on a wheel at least until the I century BC, when the latter system became more generalizad, although it never completely substituted the former.

The most common shapes are spherical, more or less stylized and adapted to thir function, in different sizes. lf they have any decoration it is usually on the edges, necks and rounded parts of the vesseis, with geometric and schematic patterns similar to those of metaiwork and sculpture.

There are other elements of this material hill-fort culture of many different types and functions: weapons such as swords or antennna daggers (like the one from O Furco-Becerreá, Lugo, or the ones from Viladonga itseig as well as various utensils and ornaments, like brooches and several types of clasps for clothing, tools, etc.

Article of

Felipe Arias Vilas
Mª Consuelo Durán Fuentes

Original publication
A cultura castrexa
Museo do Castro de Viladonga, 1996, pp. 31-37

Mª Isabel Rubinos Fernández

Electronic version
Enrique Jorge Montenegro Rúa

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