Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part four

South Worcestershire site, Dobunni.
Corionos ( = "army commander")

silver units, some quite base
VA 1042-1, VA 1045-1
It was one of those observations you make and don't think much of at the time, but later, it starts to nag at you. I saw, in a dealer's catalogue, a few Iceni silver pattern/horse units in fairly good condition. Nothing strange about that, but two of the reverses were from the same dies. They were said to have come from a scattered hoard. Quite often, when you see just a few ancient coins of a very large issue from lots of dies and there are die links, you suspect fakes, but these were real. If the coins are from a very small issue, there would be far fewer dies and some coin types are even known only from one set of dies, but these did not fit the profile.

What had started to nag at me was Dean Crawford's find of a Dobunni site that might give the first impression of a scattered hoard, but Dean had noted that all of the coins and other objects were on the original ground surface, so we have a stratified site where the coins were originally scattered. No plough had touched that ground.

From the description of the finds and the geographical description of the area, I identified the Dobunni site as a Druid council meeting site. I have seen evidence of a number of such sites but they are never described as such and are either said to be the site of a religious offering, or the remains are of a plough scattered hoard. So after it had nagged me for a while, I thought that the Iceni "hoard" in question must be from another Druid council meeting site. These sites, as we learn from Caesar's description of the Carnutes annual Druid council meetings, take place on consecrated ground, hence the impression of a site that had religious offerings. Long ago, it was common for finds at such sites to be called a hoard, because of the wording of the old Treasure Trove laws about things hidden with the intention of recovery.

With the Celts, there are no really sharp differences in the religious and the social, no "separation of church and state", as it were. Anything religious has cultural overtones and anything cultural has religious overtones. These connections are always made by the modern unconscious mind and, providing they do not enter the conscious mind, leave a numinous feeling that gets translated (still unconsciously, but at a "higher level" into "all artifacts and coins are sacred". The person most likely to do this would be an extravert and their unwillingness to look inside prevents the image from becoming conscious so it remains repressed as a neurosis. The cultural aspect is also prevented from becoming conscious so it is projected onto a nationalistic outlook. The museum, too can then sometimes take the place of the sacred ground. Although living a very long time before Jung, the Druids understood all of this, and were quite the masters at translating the profane into the sacred, while not believing at all, in the gods of the population they ruled. Syncretism was used quite intentionally, because the Druid's was a pantheistic Mystery religion while that of his untrained people was polytheistic.

Caesar gives an example of tribes who had piles of war-spoils, left untouched and unused at their oppida. It was sacred to the gods, and there were very harsh punishments in store for anyone violating that "sacred law". Captured cattle, too, had to be sacrificed and eaten at a feast. The real reason for all of this was so that a commander could not use a victory as a way to finance an even larger army. Cattle could be loaned at interest (some of the offspring) to ranchers which would not only improve their lot, but give the lender greater power in the society. Obtaining gold from foreign commanders for their military service was the Celts' purpose in the Greek campaigns, and they are known, too, to have raided cemeteries for the same. In the story of Brennus at Delphi, the Wikipedia account fails to mention that he scoffed at the Greeks for having anthropomorphic deities.

The Celts, too, were masters of psychological warfare: the rumours of the Celts raping women and killing children were probably spread by the Celts, themselves, to terrify the Greek populations; a group of Armorican Celts baited the Roman inhabitants of a fort into leaving their posts at an unfavorable time for battle by accusing their commander of being a coward; I read one story that a Celtic bard could cause hives to break out on the skin of an enemy he satirized; After seeing enough Celtic chariot linchpins that had one very worn-away surface, often with striations, I became convinced that the Celts bent the linchpin to rub against a moving part of the wheel to create a screaming sound: Caesar reports that the noise of the horses and chariots first terrified his troops in Britain. Still, these tactics did not work so well against the Romans as it did to their own people who had been conditioned to it. Commios did manage to fool a Roman cavalry attachment that had been sent to capture him after his falling out with Caesar: according to Frontinus in his Stratagems, when Commios reached the coast where his ship was waiting to take him to his Atrebatan friends in Britain, the tide was out and the cavalry were only a couple of miles away. He ordered that the sails be unfurled and they filled with wind. The Romans, thinking that the sea was deep enough for Commios to set sail, abandoned the chase and turned back. Commios waited on the mud for the tide to come in. It might be apocryphal, but it's a great story. When the Teutones (aka the tribe or people) were on their big migration they passed the Roman fort in the Alps that was commanded by Marius. So big was the convoy of wagons that it is said that it took six weeks to pass the fort. The people just ignored the Romans until the warriors at the end stopped and hailed the guards:

"Any messages for your wives in Rome?" one called out, "After all, we will be there soon." 

When Druid arrives at a meeting, he or she might bring a large amount of livestock for a feast, or "treasures" like coins to scatter on the ground signifying a great surplus of wealth. The sacred ground is chosen because it sets the mood and associates those present with an entry to the Underworld: it is a liminal place thus, and all liminal places (even borders of territories, hillforts etc.) are thus sacred. If we accept that the Druid also represents tribal power (Dunham), then the association with the sacred gets transferred to the tribe or clan and it just becomes a matter of who is more religious or socially active.

A suitable entry to the Underworld can often be a "watery place", like a river or bog, and especially a spring. There was more than one spring at the south Worcestershire site. It can also be a cave, well, storage pit, or any entry to below the ground surface. The animal most associated with the liminal is the boar as pigs root around in the ground, are dark creatures, and have tusks shaped like the new moon (Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology). To translate lunar imagery to solar imagery, a sun is placed below the boar above a line representing the horizon. Originally, this indicated the dawn of the winter solstice, but as calendars and cultures change and evolve, it became the symbol for whenever their year started, like Samhain, in the verse from the Vale of the Dee reported by John Rhys in a lecture of 1886 and published in John Rhys, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by Celtic Heathendom, London 1898, p 516:
Hwch ðu gwta
Ar bob camfa
Yn nyðu a chardio
Bob nos G'langaea'. 
A cutty black sow
On every stile,
Spinning and carding
Each November Eve.
The stile, of course, is a cross which is another symbol of the passage between worlds, and there is a tradition of meeting the Devil at a crossroads on Halloween night.

So, last night, I searched high and low and went through my paper lists, and lists on my had drive for the details of that Iceni multiple deposit. I did not find it. Perhaps it exists in a folder I forgot to transfer on the hard drive of one of my other dying or dead computers. I really should back things up more often. No matter, it will be available, I'm sure, for anyone who wants to test the hypothesis. Of course, when you are looking for one thing, you sometimes find other things. I found an example of my Coriosolite Series X, Group E, Coin 19 (fairly common) that a dealer had said was neither in Hooker nor Rybot, so that was fun. I also found some interesting Iceni and Dobunnic coins that got me wondering about something and had me rummaging through some of my other books. What I found was very startling and I'll tell you all about it tomorrow together with something I spotted a few days earlier that is related to it. It is all part of this topic.

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