Friday, 3 April 2009

Who Were The Celts: Overview Society

To the extent that sources are available, they depict a pre-Christian Celtic social structure based formally on class and kingship. Patron-client relationships similar to those of Roman society are also described by Caesar and others in the Gaul of the first century BC.
In the main, the evidence is of tribes being led by kings, although some argue that there is evidence of oligarchical republican forms of government eventually emerging in areas in close contact with Rome. Most descriptions of Celtic societies describe them as being divided into three groups: a warrior aristocracy; an intellectual class including professions such as druid, poet, and jurist; and everyone else. There are instances recorded where women participated both in warfare and in kingship, although they were in the minority in these areas. In historical times, the offices of high and low kings in Ireland and Scotland were filled by election under the system of tanistry, which eventually came into conflict with the feudal principle of primogeniture where the succession goes to the first born son.
Little is known of family structure among the Celts. Athenaeus in his Deipnosophists, 13.603, claims that "the Celts, in spite of the fact that their women are the most beautiful of all the barbarian tribes, prefer boys as sexual partners. There are some of them who will regularly go to bed – on those animal skins of theirs – with a pair of lovers", implying a woman and a boy. Such reports reflect an outsider's observation of Celtic culture. It is unknown whether Athenaeus, born in Egypt of Greek origin ever visited any Celts since little is known about him beyond his surviving writings.
Patterns of settlement varied from decentralised to the urban. The popular stereotype of non-urbanised societies settled in hillforts and duns, drawn from Britain and Ireland (there are over 2000 hill forts known in Britain) contrasts with the urban settlements present in the core Hallstatt and La Tene areas, with the many significant oppida of Gaul late in the first millennium BC, and with the towns of Gallia Cisalpina.
There is archaeological evidence to suggest that the pre-Roman Celtic societies were linked to the network of overland trade routes that spanned Eurasia. Large prehistoric trackways crossing bogs in Ireland and Germany have been found by archaeologists. They are believed to have been created for wheeled transport as part of an extensive roadway system that facilitated trade. The territory held by the Celts contained tin, lead, iron, silver and gold. Celtic smiths and metalworkers created weapons and jewelry for international trade, particularly with the Romans.
Local trade was largely in the form of barter, but as with most tribal societies they probably had a reciprocal economy in which goods and other services are not exchanged, but are given on the basis of mutual relationships and the obligations of kinship. Low value coinages of potin, silver and bronze, suitable for use in trade, were minted in most Celtic areas of the continent, and in South-East Britain prior to the Roman conquest of these areas.
There are only very limited records from pre-Christian times written in Celtic languages. These are mostly inscriptions in the Roman, and sometimes Greek, alphabets. The Ogham script was mostly used in early Christian times in Ireland and Scotland, and was only used for ceremonial purposes such as inscriptions on gravestones. The available evidence is of a strong oral tradition, such as that preserved by bards in Ireland, and eventually recorded by monasteries. The oldest recorded rhyming poetry in the world is of Irish origin and is a transcription of a much older epic poem, leading some scholars to claim that the Celts invented Rhyme. They were highly skilled in visual arts and Celtic art produced a great deal of intricate and beautiful metalwork, examples of which have been preserved by their distinctive burial rites.
In some regards the Atlantic Celts were conservative, for example they still used chariots in combat long after they had been reduced to ceremonial roles by the Greeks and Romans, though when faced with the Romans in Britain, their chariot tactics defeated the invasion attempted by Julius Caesar.According to Diodorus Siculus:
"The Gauls are tall of body with rippling muscles and white of skin and their hair is blond, and not only naturally so for they also make it their practice by artificial means to increase the distinguishing colour which nature has given it. For they are always washing their hair in limewater and they pull it back from the forehead to the nape of the neck, with the result that their appearance is like that of Satyrs and Pans since the treatment of their hair makes it so heavy and coarse that it differs in no respect from the mane of horses. Some of them shave the beard but others let it grow a little; and the nobles shave their cheeks but they let the moustache grow until it covers the mouth."
—Diodorus Siculus

The Dying Gaul, a Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic work of the late third century BC Capitoline Museums, Rome

During the later Iron Age the Gauls generally wore long-sleeved shirts or tunics and long trousers (called braccae by the Romans). Clothes were made of wool or linen, with some silk being used by the rich. Cloaks were worn in winter. Brooches and armlets were used but the most famous item of jewellery was the torc.
Gender and sexual norms
According to Aristotle, most "belligerent nations" are strongly influenced by their women, but the Celts were unusual because of openly preferred male lovers (Politics II 1269b). H. D. Rankin in Celts and the Classical World notes that "Athenaeus echoes this comment (603a) and so does Ammianus (30.9). It seems to be the general opinion of antiquity." In book VIII of his Deipnosophists, the Roman Greek rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus, repeating assertions made by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BC, wrote that Celtic women were beautiful but that the men preferred to sleep together and "the young men will offer themselves to strangers and are insulted if the offer is refused" (Diod 5:32). Rankin argues that the ultimate source of these assertions is likely to be Poseidonius There are no direct sources from ancient Celtic cultures to confirm or contradict these statements. Rankin speculates that these authors may simply be recording male "bonding rituals".
Under Brehon Law, which was written down in early Medieval Ireland after conversion to Christianity, a woman had the right to divorce her husband and gain his property if he was unable to perform his maritial duties due to impotence, obesity, homosexual inclination or preference for other women.
The sexual freedom of women in Britain was noted by Cassius Dio:
...a very witty remark is reported to have been made by the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta. When the empress was jesting with her, after the treaty, about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: "We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest." Such was the retort of the British woman.
Very few reliable sources exist regarding Celtic views towards gender divisions, though some archaeological evidence does suggest that their views towards gender roles may have been different from those of their contemporary classical counterparts. There are instances recorded where women participated both in warfare and in kingship, although they were in the minority in these areas. Plutarch reports Celtic women acting as ambassadors to avoid a war amongst Celts chiefdoms on the Po valley during the 4th century BC.
There are some general indications coming from Iron Age burial sites in the Champagne and Bourgogne regions of Northeastern France suggesting that women may have had roles in combat during the earlier portions of the La Tène period. The evidence is, however, far from conclusive. Examples of individuals buried with both torcs (generally associated as being female grave goods), and weaponry have been identified, and there are some questions regarding the sexing of some skeletons that were buried with warrior assemblages.
Among the insular Celts, there is a greater amount of historic documentation to suggest warrior roles for women however. In addition to commentary by Tacitus about Boudica, there are indications from later period histories that also suggest a more substantial role for "women as warriors" in symbolic if not actual roles.
Posidonius and Strabo described an island of women where men could not venture to for fear of death and the women ripped each other apart. Other writers, such as Ammianus Marcellinus and Tacitus, mentioned Celtic women inciting, participating, and leading battles. Poseidonius' anthropological comments on the Celts had common themes, primarily primitivism, extreme ferocity, cruel sacrificial practices, and the strength and courage of their women.

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