Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Rethinking -- part seven

Paul Sandby, 1730 or 1731 - 1809
Red chalk on laid paper.
Yale Center for British Art

"...Some broad changes probably can be discerned, so that large impressive objects connected to the human body and display (such as shields, swords and helmets) may have been most prevalent before 100/50 BC, connected with various forms of personal presentation and fighting. There is a shift later on to smaller objects for the human body and horse gear..."
Chris Gosden and J. D. Hill, Introduction: re-integrating 'Celtic' Art, in: Rethinking Celtic Art, p. 10.
This view exhibits a certain passivity where changes are described without reference to their agency. Like weather, things seem to just happen. There is nothing wrong with the perception: if the description was of the contents of an archaeological site it would be adequate to simply describe the finds and their position and leave it for others to interpret (although most might hope for some sort of summary interpretation). But this is a book with a philosophy and we want explanation.

My own philosophy is different so I will describe the same happenings from that view:

After the large private Celtic armies returned from the Italian campaigns that eventually saw the Roman state taking control of Magna Graecia in about 200 BC, their martial life style shifted to internal conflict with chieftains fighting chieftains and it was not until Rome's eyes turned toward Gaul and Britain in the mid 1st cent BC that the Celts became more united against a common foe. In Britain, even before the Gallic wars, things were changing: through combinations of victories, defeats and alliances, the chieftains had started on the road to statehood. Authority had shifted first toward tribal centres, and then toward confederations.

When Caesar invaded Britain, Cassiuellaunos was the commander-in-chief of a number of tribes, both large and small, in southeast England. I am sure that the British defeat was more in the eyes of Caesar than Cassiuellaunos. The real British losers of that campaign had taken no active role in the fighting. They were the Durotriges, who lived in what is now Dorset. After enjoying the benefits of Roman trade, indirectly, from their port at Hengistbury with Armorican middlemen, Cassiuellaunos appears to have negotiated a trade deal with Caesar as part of the terms of his "surrender". Caesar knew that he could not stay in Britain any longer as the change in the season would have made a return to Gaul very risky, and Cassiuellaunos' forces could have easily starved him out by attacking Roman foraging parties in the valleys using chariots from their hilltop trackways. Just as the Menapii had done in Gaul (Caesar IV.38) , the Britons could have burned much of their grain storage and taken refuge in the woods and Caesar would have been unable to respond to this situation in the winter.

After the invasion, much Roman trade shifted to north of the Thames, and the amphorae evidence supports this view. The Durotriges started to enter a phase of monetary devaluation, and by about 10 AD their unit of currency had gradually fallen from its original gold stater of Caesar's time to a pathetic small cast bronze stater. No neighboring warriors could have been purchased  with this money. This was an old problem: Lesbos had been forced to debase its currency in 480 BC, and the Etruscans found it difficult to hire foreign troops after the Gauls had depleted their treasury -- their gold currency appears to have been reduced to half
its former weight by unit of account.

The British artists in fine metalwork also faced hardships in these gradual changes in the society: while, originally, continental artists had brought their skills to Britain in the service of wealthy warlords who had managed to return from foreign campaigns with great wealth, increasing consolidation had reduced the numbers of such patrons. The British Dobunni artists, having no conflicts with anyone outside of their territory, saw everyone as a potential customer and were able to maintain their skills for some time. Even after the Claudian conquest, the Dobunni managed to keep good relationships with the new Roman overlords although the artists had lost all of their military-minded customers. Perhaps some of them moved to Ireland, along with other British artists, because without Roman interference, the demand for fine weaponry in the Celtic styles continued there for a long time. The weapons of Cassieullaunos' forces had become less showy and more utilitarian, but far to the southwest, chariot fittings and the like continued to be highly decorated. The north, too, was unaffected by Caesar's arrival.

Eventually, though, the days of wealthy patrons was over everywhere and Celtic artist had no foreign markets to exploit either. A growing middle class, benefiting from a more economically-minded southeastern leadership among (especially) the Trinovantes, Cantii and Atrebates had started to embark on their process of Romanization even before the arrival of Claudius. Continental Roman gem engravers had moved to Britain and while most of their products have now vanished, their side-line of producing coin dies based on Roman designs have left plenty of evidence. Like any successful  artisans, they were able to convince the natives into putting some of their new wealth into personal finery and to "keep up with the Jones's", so their products changed to reflect the requirements of their later customers. The Iceni, maintained a warrior art for much longer and never became too happy about the Roman presence there -- especially retiring soldiers, as Boudicca's revolt so well demonstrates. Roman expansion into the north allowed for more trade in the form of Roman soldiers' "dress-accessories" and these, in turn, travelled far across the Roman world, as troops were reassigned here and there.

It had all been very different (Hooker, forthcoming) long before: When Syracuse in Sicily was at its height and it was essentially the capital of Greece, it attracted the best artists and philosophers. On its decline, some of the artists found patronage among the Thracians and the native art started to become unfashionable there among the elite. Some of the Thracian artists also moved, to take advantage of less classically-minded patrons -- the Celts, and these artists set up shop in the cosmopolitan Etruscan territory, close to the large Celtic bases of the Senones, Boii, and other tribes. The Gundestrup cauldron being the only survivor of this, so far found. The other silver vessels (in the Gallic style as Livy mistakenly described it) were captured by Roman forces from Gauls fleeing Italy. Thracian native art died out, but was revived -- in a weakened state and with Roman influence under Rhoemetalces I (11 BC- 12 AD) who was Augustus' eager puppet. The Stara Zagora phalera is a product of that time, and Augustan period Roman silver was in the same hoard. It can also be seen in the silver phalerae of the Sark hoard in the Channel Islands. Combining Roman and revived native Thracian styles, these objects differ greatly from the purely native Thracian style of the Gundestrup cauldron which is honest to its stylistic origins but combines Celtic and Greek Mysteries iconography along with Italianate subjects and models.

Ancient multiculturalism
Pyrrhus' elephants are drawn from description rather than live models on this Gundestrup Cauldron plate (made some time between 272 BC and 195 BC -- Hooker, forthcoming). A Celtic Persephone beats her chest in grief over the Pyrrhic victory -- the "rosettes" representing sarcophagus garlands. Below, a Cerberus welcomes the dead to the island of the underworld. They have been carried there, across the sea, by the Etruscan hippocamps. Dionysian ivy-scrolls represent "the winter of the dead" and Persephone will restore the dead to life in the spring -- (Celtic/Pythagorean metempsychosis)
From a reproduction of a 19th century printed photograph, digitally altered and enlarged.

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