Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Invasion, migration or... part two

Butser Ancient Farm in West Sussex, England.
Wikimedia image by:  Midnightblueowl
That invasions and migrations were a feature of the Celtic La Tène culture cannot be disputed. Caesar gives as his reasons for going to Gaul a massive movement of the Helvetii along with some of their allies. The reasons given for their move were twofold: a growing, prosperous population without enough land, and their desire to conquer. Whether this event was originally considered a migration or an invasion depends mainly on the viewpoint: a king, or warrior might have thought of it more as the desire to conquer, while a farmer would have been more interested in supporting more livestock and growing more crops. The other tribes had two different ideas about the event: some thought of it as a way to increase their wealth through alliances with the Helvetii, while more powerful tribes would have seen it as an encroachment on their territory and a threat to their livelihood. Caesar talks of both migration and conquest with reference to the events, but his involvement thoroughly shifted the focus to military matters -- even though he was assured by the Helvetii that they were just passing through certain territories.

We also know that this was not an isolated event: embedded in the name of three or more tribes is the Celtic term Aulerci, which means "far from their tracks". One of the early coinages of eastern Armorica was that of the Aulerci Cenomani which derives, strongly, from a coinage attributed by D. F. Allen (The early coins of the Treveri, Germania 49, 1971) to that tribe, although very different from their later coinage. Despite the fact that these coins are found in the territory of the Treveri, I think it most likely that it belonged to a tribe that had been conquered by the Treveri, or less likely, who had joined them willingly as a client tribe. Allen says of the earliest variety of these coins:
Neither staters nor quarter staters are rare. They start with coins in good gold weighing 7.34 - 7.85 g., and the quarter staters, all of which appear to be early, correspond. The type of the staters evolves and coarsens, and the weight declines in step; several are plated. The latest coins are effectively of billon or bronze and weigh no more than 4.70 - 5.00 g.
The coinage of the Aulerci Cenomani starts with weights only slightly lower than the prototypes and only rarely declines to the weights of the last classes of the prototype. Although metal analyses are scarce, it would appear that the Aulerci Cenomani coins start with gold perhaps also slightly lower than the first of the prototypes but does not get as debased as the last of the prototypes. So it would seem that the tribe had separated with one branch migrating south where it picked up the appellation, Aulerci. In the northwest, the Belgic tribes had claimed to have originally moved south of the Rhine and being fierce fighters would seem to have weathered attacks from German tribes before seeking an easier life further south.

Going back further in time, to around 400 BC, a number of Celtic warriors were hired by Dionysius I of Syracuse. Usually called "mercenaries", these were really auxiliary troops -- essentially private armies. Dionysos did not have to go too far north to hire them as there were a great number of Celts already living in Northern Italy -- a surprisingly cosmopolitan area for such an early date. The luxury-loving Etruscans had attracted artisans from far and wide. The earliest La Tène art bore design elements common on eastern Greek pottery and it is believed that eastern Greek artisans had moved to northern Italy to escape domination by the Persians. But it goes even further back than that with some people of the Urnfield culture (believed to be forerunners of the Celts) who found northern Italy to be an attractive migration destination. Of course, as people move, cultural traits of the new area are absorbed and in Italy we even find grave evidence of mixed Etruscan/Celtic marriages.

Dionysius was noted for paying the best of his troops very generously. There were power struggles in many part of the Greek world at that time, and the Celts knew that they could earn much gold by working for Greek commanders. Accordingly, they set up large bases in Northern Italy. Anyone who is interested in pursuing this topic further could do no better than looking at the work (downloads available) of Daniele Vitali or the page for Celts in Italy. The two most dominant tribes in Italy were the Senones and the Boii, but it would be a mistake to think that it was only the historically recorded tribes who were represented at these bases -- the very earliest Belgic coin type is of the Ambiani and copies an issue of Taras in southern Italy. Its fine Mediterranean gold attesting the gold source as military pay (all Greek gold coinage of the time can be associated with military campaigns), Somewhat later gold coins of the Ambiani are fairly common in Britain (though usually well-worn), but there are also a few British finds of the early copies of the gold stater of Philip II of Macedon which were paid to the Celts in most of the Italian campaigns and which formed the prototype of most of the Celtic gold coinage.

So far, we have securely established that the spectrum of invasion/migration was not foreign to the La Tène culture and we even have some connections to Britain, albeit tenuous at this stage. We might wonder why Britain should be exempted from the Celtic La Tène culture migration/invasion pattern which is commoner than the few examples I have given here and which stretches as far as Asia Minor. We will start to investigate that tomorrow.

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