Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part eight

East Riding of Yorkshire
"Mars is Lord of warfare, and it is to him, when they have decided to fight a battle, that they generally promise the booty they look forward to taking. When they are victorious, they sacrifice the captured animals and assemble their other booty in one spot. One can see large piles of such material at consecrated places in many tribal areas, and it rarely happens that anyone dares, in defiance of religion, either to hide booty in his house or to remove anything once placed in position (on the pile). For such an act is assigned the severest of penalties accompanied by torture."
Caesar, VI, 17
The importance of gold to the La Tène Celts cannot be overestimated: it was used to create the finery displayed by powerful leaders and to pay for the hire of troops for their military campaigns.  Coin evidence clearly shows that Gaul, and even Britain had been part of the greater Greek world before the arrival of the Romans. This is not some obscure fact to numismatists who have long included Gaulish and British Celtic coins in their catalogues of Greek coins. The name of the commonest denomination in Gaulish and British gold coinage is referred to as the “stater” – the same denomination that was popular all over the Greek world. Even the division of the Celtic stater into quarters was common in Greece. The designs of the Celtic coins were mostly taken from Greek originals and the function of the gold as a wartime currency followed the Greek custom.

In his synopsis of Ancient Greek gold coinage up to the time of Philip of Macedon,  in Travaux de Numismatique Grecque Offerts à Georges Le Rider, Spink, 1999, John R. Melville Jones says:
"Coinage in gold was issued by Greek mints at first only in emergencies, when silver was not available. It was later also used when the recipients of this coinage preferred to be paid in this metal. The most usual reason for this preference was that the recipients were mercenary soldiers, or were serving away from their own countries for some other reason. Commercial considerations or a desire on the part of rulers to advertise themselves were less relevant to the choice of gold as a metal in which to strike coins. It should be assumed that most payments of large sums to soldiers were made at the conclusion of their period of service."
We have to ask ourselves why the Romans grew to prominence so rapidly that they eclipsed all of the other influences that helped to form Celtic society and even brought about an end to the classical Greek world itself.  Roman historians do not help us much in this quest, although the answers are there if one can look past the “Roman inevitability” in the tone of their writing. It is said that history is written by the victors, and although they do not always have to tell lies in these histories, they can, however decide what to tell and what to omit, and they can become especially loquacious when it comes to elaborating on facts with the addition of virtually mythical Roman heroes who often came along, in the nick of time, to save the day. Livy is well known for such elaborations, yet he does provide us with one of the best clues as to what really happened to further the interests of the Romans. The reason that this story managed to creep into the history was that it did not put the Romans in a bad light. There was no reason for him to lie about it or to make it more or less significant. It might also be that its import eluded him, as it seems to have eluded historians since then. This is what he said:
"The Etruscans also chose this year [299 B.C.] to prepare for war in contravention of the truce, but were diverted from their purpose for a little while by a huge army of Gauls which crossed their borders when they were busy with other things. They then tried to convert the Gauls from enemies to allies, relying on the money which gave them power, in order to fight the Romans with the two combined armies. The barbarian Gauls did not refuse an alliance; it was only a question of the price. This was agreed on and the money changed hands, but when the Etruscans had finished all the rest of their preparations for war and ordered the Gauls to follow them, the Gauls denied that the agreed payment was for making war on the Romans; anything they had received had been in return for not destroying Etruscan land and interrupting its cultivation by armed raids. However, they were willing to take up arms if the Etruscans really wanted them, but only on condition that they were admitted to a share in Etruscan land where they could at last settle in some definite home. Many councils of the people of Etruria were held to consider this request without reaching any decision, not so much out of reluctance to allow any reduction of territory but because everyone dreaded having men of so savage a race as his neighbour. The Gauls were accordingly dismissed, and went off with an enormous amount of money which they had acquired without effort or risk. At Rome the rumour of a Gallic rising in addition to an Etruscan war caused much alarm, and speeded up the conclusion of a treaty with the people of Picenum”
Livy, Book X, 10.10.
While the amount paid to the Gauls was not specified, it was said that it was huge and we can imagine that it was far more than had been paid to the Gauls before to release Rome back to the Romans. The Gauls demanded far more than the Romans could pay and wealthy Massallia had to come to Rome’s aid – even then having to rely on extra funds raised from her wealthiest citizens. There was no state in northern Italy richer than the Etruscans and it is reasonable to believe that the amount that they paid to the Gauls was indeed very huge. They would have expected to regain some of that sum through the capture of Roman booty and would have also then benefited from taking over Roman trade in the area. This was why Massalia had earlier paid off the Gauls, so that the Roman trade would have interfered in the expansion of the Etruscan State.

There is evidence of a large devaluation in the Etruscan monetary economy at about that time: coins of the same weight bore inscriptions of denominations of twice what they had before – the sums were in the standard unit of account, the Italian copper as. For some time, numismatists believed that there were two coin standards referred to here, but now it is accepted that there was a massive devaluation of copper (Italo Vecchi, A  Re-assessment of the dating and Identification of Etruscan Coinage in The Celator, Vol. 17, No. 5, May, 2003. pp. 6 –12.) What this meant, in essence, was that sums paid to troops following a standard formula in units of account were now half in intrinsic value. In the ancient world, such rapid devaluations often led to the collapse of any state because it could only hope to defend itself from its enemies with troops obtained locally, or more remote troops that could not find suitable pay because of their lack of skills and/or weaponry.

Returning to Caesar, he says (VI,15):
"The other class consists of the Knights. When war breaks out and they are needed (before Caesar's arrival it was almost a yearly occurrence for the Gauls to be engaged in making raids or repelling them) they all engage in it, and each has a band of vassals and retainers about him in accordance with his birth and wealth. This is the only criterion of dignity and power they recognise."
From this statement, it would seem that "Small groups of the elite" would be something of an oxymoron, yet this is sometimes stated to refer to the continental Celts who first moved to Britain. In all of their Mediterranean campaigns, the main goals of the Celts were to obtain large amounts of gold by ransoming cities or by granting protection to those states who might worry about their arrival. Gold could buy more troops, and when the Celts first minted their own coinage, they adopted the Greek designs and usage for their own gold coinage.

It seems most likely to me that the Druidic taboo on utilizing booty captured in battle was a solution to the perceived scenario of large Celtic armies returning from the Mediterranean after the Romans' rise to dominance. If unchecked, such armies could soon obtain control of all of Gaul by using captured wealth to gain even more troops. Locking up all sources of great wealth would have preserved the status quo back home. Another clue, in Caesar's telling of the taboo is "they sacrifice the captured animals": within the clan system, and attested from a number of Celtic archaeological sites, massive sacrifices of animals at a feast was conducted by clan leaders at council meetings in order to maintain or expand their support from the population. Feasting, too, could gain more potential troops through alliances so forged. Making it a religious taboo would have settled the matter for most of the population who would have even been concerned about being banned from making sacrifices, let alone facing a horrible death under torture. Quite often, when you see religious taboos, more prosaic motives can be detected.

More tomorrow...

No comments:

Post a Comment