Monday, 4 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part twelve

Inner ditch at Kemerton Camp, Bredon Hill, Dobunni hillfort
photo: Bob Embleton (Geograph)
When I first came up with the Iceni hypothesis, it was a method that might be able to associate coin types with the inhabitants of a number of hillforts in Norfolk even after those coins had become thoroughly mixed through circulation. Why not just excavate the hillforts to discover the information? Some hillforts have been excavated to a greater or lesser degree, but the information is usually a bit spotty and instead of answering the questions we already have, the evidence often presents us with new questions that we have not even thought about before, while not answering those we already have.

top: silver unit of Boduoc..., VA 1057-1
bottom: gold quarter stater of Corionos, VA 1039-1
The finds were about a hundred years apart.
Let's take a look at an excavated Dobunni hillfort to see what we can discover. I have picked Kemberton Camp promontory fort at Bredon Hill. The linked article gives us the basics, and poses another question or two. We get the dates of both defences, but we are especially drawn to:
"The fort was attacked and destroyed early in 1st century AD, possibly by Belgic raiders prior to the Roman invasion. The inner gate was destroyed by fire and the mutilated bodies of over 50 young men were strewn about the area. A row of heads on poles was also displayed above the razed gateway."

Whoah! call Hollywood, we could have a pretty exciting movie here! Better look into the details first, though. Why are Belgic raiders a possibility? I think that it comes from an idea that a tribe called the Belgae were occupying the land between the Dobunni and the Durotriges. This idea was inspired mainly by something Ptolemy said in his Geography written in Alexandria in about 150 AD, but also probably a bit by the Antonine itinerary. It was formulated by a person or persons who seem to have been unable to find a copy of Caesar's commentaries. Caesar, who not only was in Gaul, but knew and had spoken to quite a number of Belgae got his information about the Belgae from them and from previous geographers and historians. He says (II, 4):
"On being asked for the names of the tribes that had taken up arms, and particulars of their numbers and military strength, the envoys stated that most of the Belgae were descended from tribes which long ago came across the Rhine from Germany and settled in that part of Gaul on account of its fertility, expelling the former inhabitants. The Belgae, they said, were the only people who half a century earlier, when all the rest of Gaul was overrun by the Teutoni and the Cimbri, prevented the invaders from entering their territory — the recollection of which made them assume an air of much importance and pride themselves on their military power. Regarding their numbers the Remi professed to have detailed information, explaining that they were united by ties of blood and marriage, and knew the strength of the contingent that each had promised in the general council of the Belgae. The most powerful of all, they said, were the Bellovaci..."
The Remi were in good position to tell Caesar these things as they were not only at that council, but it had given them a large number of gold staters (Gallo-Belgic E) that were at that very moment, buried back at the Remi main settlement. It was their payment for their promise of help. They kept the money (the hoard was discovered in modern times), but informed on their fellow Belgae to Caesar. The Remi envoy went on to tell Caesar about their close neighbours, the Suessiones, who "had an extensive and very fertile territory. They had been ruled within living memory by Diviciacus [same title, different person than the Aedui Diuiciacus], the most powerful king in Gaul, who controlled not only a large part of the Belgic country, but Britain as well."

So there is another mystery solved: Britain was at one point, at least part of the political structure of Gaul ruled by the same overking. It is not too surprising that the researchers did not read Caesar's commentaries. Caesar was, after all, a pretty obscure historical figure, and I have found that copies of his commentaries published by some equally obscure publisher called Penguin of all things, tend to fall apart after a while. I am currently reading my fourth copy but, like the other three, it is also falling apart.

In his paper in Rethinking Celtic Art, Ian Leins says (p.106): "... the significance of this observation has been completely ignored by those who refuse to believe that the area of the later Roman Civitas Dobunnorum may not have been a coherent socio-political entity in the late Iron Age." I think I detect a straw man here: the place is more usually known as Corinium Dobunnorum and it later became Cirencester. Where I live, it might have been called Fort Dobunni: Like that place, Calgary started as a few buildings surrounding a fort. Not a Roman one like at Cirencester, but a North West Mounted Police Fort originally called Fort Brisebois, after its commanding officer, but later called Fort Calgary. I suppose that the closest translation possible of Corinium Dobunnorum would be "the military place among the Dubunni. These were the Roman Imperial period Dobunni, not the Iron Age. If you are looking for an ancestral Dobunni Iron Age hillfort, then Bagendon would be a better pick, but then the whole point would be lost, wouldn't it? Besides, hillforts had different periods when it was busy, then quiet, and then busy again.

Enough of this, let's get back to the movie idea. The coins give us a couple of plot themes:
As Boduoc... and Corinius were evidently of different factions, we might have the coin's owners being brothers belonging to these factions. One brother is visiting the other, one day, when the fort is attacked by his own faction. I like this, it foreshadows similar situations in the American Civil War. Hollywood might go for that one. Alternately, the fort was in control of one of the factions, and the owner of the coin who was not of from that faction was a spy who had infiltrated the fort and had set up the best time for his friends to attack it. Intrigue sells too. What are we forgetting? Right! There has to be a love interest. How about the son of Corinius is in love with the daughter of Bodouc... and is visiting her when his father's troops attack the fort and end up killing Corinus' own son whom they do not recognize as he had put on a disguise in order to creep into the fort. In the final scene, a prince or overking of the Dobunni addresses the whole tribe saying: "Where be these enemies, Corinius, Boduoc? See what a scourge is laid upon your hate that..." No, it's been done already.

We have to come up with something very emotional. The audience is not going to buy the idea that the hacked apart bodies of fifty young men, and the heads on spikes above the gate are just part of the standard cattle raiding practices. This was personal and emotive, or it was a dramatic message that was being left for someone. I will come up with something. I suppose that the idea of a raid by the Belgae must have come about through the misunderstanding that the Belgae were a tribe, instead of many tribes. one of them, the Atrebates, were already there anyway, but I would bet you could find a few Suessiones, Bellovaci, or others in the vicinity. Even the Catuuellauni had originated among the Belgae, although much earlier, and of course the Arras culture was named after a place in Gaul before some of them went to Yorkshire, also a long time before our fort was attacked. I really do not think that this was just a normal raid.

The thing about a movie script is that movies get critiqued a lot, so you have to make sure that there are no glaring plot holes in the typescript. With such glaring holes, your market will be limited to readers of archaeological site reports (a semi-legendary group of people who study only what others have excavated in order to maintain some professional distance). When things come from experts, nobody questions them at all, especially if they are fashionable. You can only get ahead by obeying fashion, although I'm not quite sure how that could work.

We could look at the other site finds, but they do not fill in any gaps either: a few iron tools (probably blacksmithing); a large fragment of a spear; and a piece of pottery with a line of shallow S shapes slanted forward. It's not very inspiring, but you can make up a story about anything. There is term for it: contextual archaeology. This is where you you weave a story together from bits of evidence, that will confirm whatever the latest theory happens to be. It's much like a poetry sweatshop where the contestants get a random page from a thesaurus, and then have to write a poem using a word on the page as its theme. My wife used to supplement our income by entering such contests. She always won. One day she was given a page that contained the word "thesaurus", Well, she had fun with that one. The Kemerton Camp site actually has a lot more going on than at many other Iron Age hillforts.

If this sort of thing is not to your liking, or you cannot be as inventive as an archaeologist, my Iceni hypothesis might help you discover something real. I have not tested it, and it depends on the right sort of evidence, but I'm not sure how much of that evidence exists. I will explain it, step by step, tomorrow, and then we can look into expanding it in other directions.


  1. I can allow you everything written but this..'.published by some equally obscure publisher called Penguin of all things, tend to fall apart after a while'.
    I only hope you had your 'tongue in cheek mood' present, Penguin paperbacks played a large part on the shelves of many a bookcase. Yellowed they were, the rough paper falling apart, but they published all the Classics at one time and as a child I loved them! ;)

    1. Oh, yes, Thelma. My tongue was stuck in my cheek for most of this post. I love the Penguin Classics and have quite the collection of them. Whenever I see one in second hand bookshop that I don't have, I buy it even if it is not one of my main interests.

      Of all the classical authors who wrote histories, Caesar is the most reliable, and Livy is the least. Many people have tried to catch Caesar in a lie, but no one has yet succeeded. One Penguin editor said something to the effect that the wisest do not even try. (that was in my first copy of Caesar's commentaries). I would like to collect the Loeb Classics, too, but they are a bit more expensive to buy new, and I never see them in bookshops.Those little green books are specially good because they have the original Greek or Latin on the opposite page to the translation. I only have bits of Strabo and Diodorus, but would love to have the entire sets. I see, today, that Loeb is producing e-books as well, but it looks like it is only for libraries. Princeton sells the complete works of C. G. Jung as an e book for $500 or so. (it's on my shopping list).