Two groups of people were known as Iberians to the ancient Greeks and Romans. These two unrelated cultures lived at opposite ends of the Mediterranean Sea. Greek contacts with Iberia date from the late seventh century B.C., while Roman interest in the region intensified after the second Punic War in the third century B.C.

The ancient Greeks gave the name Iberians to the people who lived along the Iberus River (known today as the Ebro River) in Spain. Greek contact with the Spanish, or Iberian, peninsula began in the 600s B.C., when Greek traders traveled to the region and several Greek city-states* established colonies there. The Romans took a deep interest in Spanish Iberia after their enemy, the Carthaginian general Hannibal, used Iberian troops in his attack on Rome in the late 200s B.C. The Greek geographer Strabo, who spent part of his life in Rome, described Iberia and the Iberians in his Geography. The Iberian population included some people known as Celtiberians. They lived in central and western Spain and were descended from Celts, who had invaded from the north.

The other Iberian people in the ancient world lived at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, in the region around the Black Sea that is now the nation of Georgia. A Roman army led by Pompey entered this region in 65 B.C. After that time, Rome used both military force and diplomacy to keep the Iberians on their side. Archaeologists* have found Roman silver plates and bowls in the area, probably presented as gifts to Iberian rulers by Roman envoys. The eastern Iberian people converted to Christianity in the A.D. 330s. For a time, both Rome and Parthia* claimed Iberia, but in the late A.D. 300s, Persia gained control of the region and Rome’s influence came to an end. (See also Colonies, Greek; Colonies, Roman.)

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

* archaeologist scientist who studies past human cultures, usually by excavating ruins

* Parthia ancient kingdom in Asia, southeast of the Caspian Sea

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