Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part three

Word cloud of the top 75 words generated from all Classical text passages mentioning Druids

No Classical author claimed that the Druids were priests. While associating them with philosophical and religious matters, their function at sacrifices was official and supervisory. Their main function appears to be judicial and their decisions were absolute whether in deciding private disputes or sanctioning warfare between tribes. They ran schools where a student could attend for up to twenty years. After the death of a Druid, they appointed another by common assent, through election, or rarely, by fighting it out.

Every year, in Caesar's time, they held a pan-Gallic council in the territory of the Carnutes which was supposed to be the centre of Gaul (including Belgica). As magistrates at some oppida, they also decided what news from outside should be passed or suppressed. Caesar stated that Druidism was a British import, and that people still went there for advanced studies.

"Not even among barbarians is the practice of divination neglected since there are Druids in Gaul, one of whom I knew myself your guest and eulogist Diviciacus the Aeduan. He claimed to have knowledge of nature, which Greeks call 'physiologia' and he used to tell the future partly by means of augury and partly by conjecture." Cicero, De Divinatione I, 90, 44 BC
Caesar, however, cast Diviciacus in different roles: as a leader and spokesman for the Aedui he even commanded troops at one point. Sean B. Dunham, in Caesar's Perception of Gallic Social Structures, Celtic chiefdom, Celtic state, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p.110-115 says:
"Dumnorix was also described as being the brother of the highest Aeduan magistrate [Diviciacus]. Since no two Aedui from the same family could hold public office simultaneously, Dumnorix seems to have been an eques after the Roman fashion." (p.113).
It would be a simple mistake to see a divination meaning in the name "Diviciacus" because of the Latin divinātio, but despite the 'us" Latinization of the end of his name, his name is Celtic and the root is diuic- "avenge", "punish" (Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise: Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique, 2nd edition, 2003, p. 145f.). Dumnorix' name consists of two roots that mean "underworld" (dumno- or dubno-) and "king" (-rix). A common confusion is seen in translations of Dumnorix as "world king", such a name would actually be "Biturix" and thus we get the tribal name Bituriges which does mean world kings. Another translation for dubno- etc. is "the Deep".

We also have to be very careful with the title Rex. Dunham explains its Roman meaning as a title which was eliminated during the Republic: "The Roman rex acted as a war leader, a priest and a judge". When it was eliminated as a position, it was replaced by the elected appointment of two senators, and the Gauls also had a senate structure. Their word for "senator" was comaterecos (Delamarre, op. cit.).

What we can understand about the Druids in Gaul must also apply, to a great degree, for Britain. There are probably a few functions for the Druids which developed at the larger centres in Gaul, that we might not find in Britain, at least for a while after Caesar, because Celtic society did not advance, everywhere, in unison. While the La Tène styles were starting to appear on the continent in the early 5th cent BC, Britain was still in the Hallstatt phase, and that style does not start to appear before the mid fourth century, and even then it seems to have been rare. It was not until about 300 BC when things really started to pick up in Britain.

Even though Caesar says that Druidism originated in Britain, it is just possible that because it appeared in Britain during the time of Caesar, to be more detailed, traditional and conservative, the continent might also have experienced such a state long before the living memories of the Gauls at the time of Caesar and this would give an impression of it originating in Britain.

The fact that the only historically surviving name of a Druid during the classical world is Diviciacus, and his name means "The Avenger" or "The Punisher" should support the idea that being a judge was at the very core of being a Druid. But is this a name at all, at least, in the way we understand given names? When we translate a lot of Celtic names, we find the meanings to be a pretty good description of what they did, or how they wanted to be seen. Vercingetorix becomes something like "Supreme king of warriors" and Dubnouellaunos, "Ruler of the Underworld".

In China, the emperors took reign titles as names: To be correct, you should not write "The emperor Kangxi" but should write, "The Kangxi emperor". He also had a temple name: Shengzu. His birth name, however, was Xuanye. During the last two dynasties, the emperor used only one reign title as a name, but earlier in Chinese history, the name could change many times during the reign, even every year. It is clear that in Britain and Gaul something similar was happening with some of the names of those in authority.

We also see, with the situation of Diviciacus and Dumnorix, that being a judge was a higher position than being a king. Although Dunham does not deal with such things, we do know that there was not just one king per tribe in Britain. Caesar names three kings of the Cantii who came to talk to him. This does not mean that the Cantii had three kings, either. They probably had all sort of kings of varying rank as is attested for the later Irish kings. Caesar explains that society was divided into two opposing factions from the very highest level of nation, down through tribes and even to the family unit. Each level would have druid representation, and you might even be the king of a very small village.

Because Celtic legends were written down during the Medieval period and have that veneer, we still tend to think that when any king dies, the job then goes to the son. It did happen, sometimes, but you can see that the Celts were a bit apprehensive about family rule. Not only did we have the situation whereby Diviciacus and Dumnorix could not be joint rulers and the latter became subservient to the former, but a son of Celtic man of status would be raised by a non-related foster father, and would only be allowed to come into the presence of his birth father once he became an adult. This would break the usual bonding patterns of the natural psychological father son relationship and have an added bonus of extending affiliations between different families, villages, regions and even tribes. I think it is more realistic to say that most succession was conducted in a similar way to the succession of Druids.

In the later Celtic world, we have the Scottish clans and the clans sought out support from the population through events of feasting and demonstrations of largess and wealth. In the same book as Dunham's paper, there is Modelling chiefdoms in the Scottish Highlands and islands prior to the '45, by Robert A. Dodgshon. I particularly like the story of a Laird candidate who wanted to be a little more economical with his feast. He was dropped in favor of a younger brother and it started a feud.

Among the northern Pacific First Nations, the Potlach could be compared and in almost all primitive governments (excepting some "hill peoples") societies develop through such social obligations and mutual dependence.

With the names that appear on British Celtic coins, then, it is only safe to assign family succession whenever we have historical verification of such as it was probably not the usual way of doing things. Even when we see "son of" as with Latinized legends such as COMMI F or TASCIOVANI F, we cannot assume a literary filius: Verica came to power around 10 AD and he styled himself as son of Commios, but Commios was made king of his tribe by Caesar about sixty years earlier. We see Tasciovanus in the territory of the Catuellauni and Cunobeline in the territory of the Trinovantes and Cunobeline calls himself son of Tasciovanus only on those coins that circulated in the border area of the two tribes.

I am particularly interested in a Corieltauvi legend: DUMNOC / TIGIR SENO. The latter "name" is no name at all, It is an abbreviation of Tigirni (lord) Senos (elderly or ancient). I think it most likely that it means something like tribal or village elder or perhaps even "senator". Tigirni is an exceptionally common word with a very long life (i.e. Vortigern). It is possible that Dumnoc... was giving his title, or another person was named by only his title. Another "name" includes VOLISIOS but I can find no translation and Delamarre does not even have a word that starts "uoli..." although the ending "...sios" is well attested. VOLISIOS appears with three different names.

With such uncertainties, it becomes risky basing much on ruler's names and there would have been plenty of kings of varying status in each tribal area. As with the Tascovanus f. legends of Cunobeline, a regional focus might be at play and the Corieltauvi legends could also reference a notable ancestor (assumed or real) like Commios was referenced by Verica.

With the Iceni, however, and their homogenous silver hoards, we know nothing of the original distribution patterns. This is where my hypothesis starts, but some background on Celtic society was essential in order to weaken the Medieval model of having a hereditary king at the apex of power. If we can track the influences, then titles and adoptions might even shine a light on how these words were used. So tomorrow I will describe and explain the observation that served as the seed of the idea, and then we can look into how to do the impossible.

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