Wednesday, 29 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part nine

Gold stater of Vercingetorix
Did the ancient Celts even have proper nouns? Whenever I see an ancient Celtic name given in a text or on an object, I think about its meaning. Almost always the meaning says something pertinent about the person who has it. Let's take Vercingetorix (actually Uercingetorix) uer = over/superior; cinegto = warrior/hero; rix = king. So Delamarre gives: "Roi-Suprême-des-Guerriers'". Borrowing the first part from the English translation of the Irish laws of status and franchise, I give the English translation as Overking of warriors (or heroes, if you prefer). If we assume that this name is really a title (as we understand titles in English), then we would expect that it would be used for more than just one individual as would be "General" or "Commander-in-Chief". Another historical person who could be given this title was the British Cassivellaunos. The simplest definition offered for this name is "Chief (or commander) of the Cassi (a tribe in Britain reported by Caesar). Of course, then we will have to define "Cassi" as that, too, is supposed to be proper noun. Delamarre shows us that this is not a straightforward task by starting:

"cassi-, -casses, 'étain> bronze' ? ; 'chevelure' ?"

As anyone who has been following my blogs will know, the mention of tin in a Celtic name gets my attention. The possibility of "hair" is not without merit as Delamarre gives examples like tri-casses for the three-coloured hair of Cú Chulainn. As for me, I think of the iconic three locks of hair shown on Coriosolite, and other Armorican coins. I think that Delamarre's question mark is warranted as this definition might have a regional bias and and a mythological background that would not, necessarily, be understood by Celts from a different region.

As for "tin", "cassi" would appear to come from the Greek, Κασσίτερος, and they wrote of the Cassiterides (The tin islands).  The problem here is that the word is not Greek in origin, and might not be even of Indo-European origin either. Could it be that this word existed in England before the Celts and then became a borrowed word in Celtic? If this is so, then the Cassi might be thought of as occupying the area of the Cornish tin mines. The problems with that idea are many: that area was at an earlier stage of society than that of the tribes who issued coins and it does not figure in the politics of the late British tribes. Communication with them might be expressed mainly among the Durotriges and/or the Dobunni and to do with the importation, by those tribes, of tin and other metals. If Cassivellaunos (Cassiuellaunos) was the chief of the Cassi, and the Cassi were the tin producers, then we must wonder why Cassiuellaunos seemed to want to cut out a shipping port that might have exported tin. If John Kent was right about the British A gold staters being the issue of Cassiuellaunos, their range would better connect with the trade in tin rather than control over its source area as these gold staters were being given to people positioned between the production area and the areas where we find the later British potin issues that I believe were intended to be shipped to the continent from the south-east. Could Cassiuellaunos have been the "tin boss"?

In the early Irish Law manuscripts, kings are given various grades, and an overking was at the top. The position of  "overking" was even more extreme in Gaul when Caesar was there because there was a tradition of having one king acting as the king of all of the Gauls. A king at the other end of the spectrum would have been the master of a small village. The levels of complexity in grading kings would follow the levels of complexity of the society itself. Life was fairly basic in seventh-century Ireland: a king would be in possession of a ring-fort befitting his grade, and his society would have been simpler than that of his counterpart at the first century BC oppidum of the Aedui. Thus, any levels of kingship in Caesar's Gaul have a good chance of being more complex than we find at a much later date in Ireland. So here's the Irish king grades (same link as yesterday, scroll down or search for the text in your browser):

"The king, rí, why is he so called? Because he exerts (riges) the power of correction over the members of his tuath. Question — How many classes of kings are there? Three classes. What are they? A king of peaks, a king of troops, a king of the stock of every head.

"A king of peaks, first, why is he so called? This is a king of a tuath, who has the seven grades of the Féni with their subclasses in clientship, for these are the peaks of rule that we have stated. Seven cumals are his honourprice...

"A king of troops, why is he so called? because he is a vice-king of two troops or of threee troops. Seven hundred in each troop. This is the king of three tuatha or of four tuatha. Eight cumals are his honourprice, for he takes a number of hostages...

"A king of the stock of every head, now, why is he so called? Because it is under the power of his correction that every head is whom its lord does not constrain; for every head that is stronger takes precedent over that which is less strong. This is the king of overkings. There are twice seven cumals in his honourprice, because kings and tuatha are under his power and correction. ..."

Even at the lowest level, the king would have had quite the number of retainers and clients, and at the highest level, the king would have had many other kings below him. Just when you might think that all of this could not get even more complex, Delamarre notes a shift in king name equivalents at a very late date: the rix ending starts to be used in a way that connects with -miiros later expressed as maros. This means "big", but also has connections to "rich", So we get TINCOMARUS with the tinco-, I think, coming from tenko = "peace". (Delamarre gives a CeltIberian -TinCounei). So was Tincomarus advertising peace after a period of hostilities? Another possibility, I think, is that the "name" meant something like "wealthy benefactor"; something that might be applied to a leader in economic matters rather than in warfare. It would be in keeping with its late appearance at a time when chiefdoms were becoming more like modern states and wealth was starting to come more from an expanded trade producing a "middle-class", than from war booty and captured land. Remember also, about the classical observation of Gauls speaking darkly and in riddles, saying one word when they mean another. We cannot thus expect a lot of simplicity in naming practices, either.

Tomorrow, how the Celts developed a series of regulations for everything that starts to look like the end result of a psychotic "condo-board" policy meeting.

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