Although the Romans reached Spanish and Portuguese territory in the second century BCE there is no description of the country and its people at this early date.
Polibius, Artemidorus and Posidonius first describe the Iberian peninsula. Polibius may have based his account on the record of the expedition of Decimus Junius Bruto in 138-137 BCE, the account by Artemidorus can be dated around 100 BCE whereas Polibius informs us of the situation around 90 BCE. Their accounts should be the most reliable. Later accounts by Strabo and Mela, writing at the time of Augustus, and Pliny writing around 70 CE do not always agree among themselves and are probably less reliable.
Ptolemy gives some names of natural features and a large number of place-names and tribal names. Very little is known about the early population of the peninsula.
On the Mediterranean coast a strip of varying depth is separated from the interior by hills and mountain ranges. This strip extends through the straits of Gibraltar onto the Atlantic seaboard and gives access from the Algarve to the Alentejo.
From earliest times the coastal strip seems to have been home to cultures distinct from those of the interior and marked from the very beginning by contact with the eastern Mediterranean cultures.
The Phoenicians believed that their foundation of Gadir (Gades, Cadiz) occurred around 1100 BCE. Nothing on the site can be dated before 600 BCE but the island on which Gades stood, now connected by an isthmus, has been continuously occupied and is not accessible for excavation. Gades gave access via the valleys of the Guadalquivier and the Guadalete to the silver and copper deposits of the interior.
The trade in metals was controlled by the Turdetani from the city of Tartessos which has not been located but which must have been to the west of Gades. Strabo located Tartessos on an island at the mouth of the Guadalquivier and says it was destroyed by the Carthagenians in 500 BCE.
Beyond the Turdetani in the Algarve and possibly the Alentejo, were the Coinii. Both peoples were literate after their contact with the Phoenicians.
The Mediterranean littoral was occupied by the Iberians who seem to have expanded to the south from their original lands on the Golfe du Lyons. This movement could be related to the influx of Celtic speaking peoples in the first half of the first millennium BCE into what was to become Gaul. Nothing is known of the conditions in the north and west at this early date.
In the Biscay area the Aquitani occupied south west France (but not the Bordeaux region) and part of the modern Basque speaking provinces in Spain. It is now generally accepted that the language of the Aquitani was a proto-Basque.
The Spanish interior and the western and northwestern seaboards were certainly inhabited. Place-names and river-names point to an Indo-European speaking population (pre-Celtic or proto-Celtic) with the possible exception of the north coast.
Linguistically, the peninsula was home to at least three non Indo-European languages, Iberian, the Tartessan, (the language of the Turdetani and possibly the Coinii) and proto-Basque. These three are unrelated. Phoenician trading posts spread northward along the Mediterranean coast and there is evidence of their trading activity as far west as the mouth of the Tagus.