Friday, 29 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: pre-Roman Celtic Society, part three

Ambiani uniface gold staters (Gallo-Belgic E), Fring, Norfolk, hoard
(click photo to enlarge) 
© Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service


"contrived - When referring to a work of art, one that has been created in a labored way, not spontaneously, with dexterity but little inspiration. Brought into being as a trick or in an obvious way, especially in its content, intent, and / or process."

Artlex Art Dictionary


To say that there were no Celts, no Celts in Britain, or that the Iron Age Britons were not Celts requires some mental dexterity. Most of the arguments are semantical. The weakest one is that kελτοί was name applied by the Greeks. Its root, however is not Greek. The same word was quoted by Lucian as spoken by a bard in Massalia who was explaining Ogmios to Lucian at the time. The bard said, "We Celts..."  (Lucian, Herakles). If that is too obscure for you just refer to Caesar: "... and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls." (I.1). I covered Caesar's division of Gaul, yesterday, and how it differed from that of Strabo.

The question of whether the Britons were also Celts is another matter. To claim that they were not requires applying modern concepts of nations instead of using anthropological cultural frames which says that cultures are built around subjects and that every person is a member of multiple cultures. It replaces the older ethnocentric model and its use has become commonplace in today's world with terms like "Internet culture"; "hip-hop culture" and so on. Yesterday, I applied it to ancient Celtic culture by showing that Celtic coinage styles revealed different regional patterns than did Celtic art styles. The weakest argument claiming that the ancient Britons did not call themselves Celts is that such does not show up in the literature and that Celtic was only applied to to anyone in Britain in relatively modern times. Had the Celts been a literary society, it might carry some weight, but as they were not, it is entirely irrelevant. Even the statement that the term is not applied to the British before the seventeenth century is meaningless. Not only is it using the absence of evidence fallacy, but it gives far too much praise to pre-seventeenth century scholarship.

One thing missing from the argument that the Celts did not inhabit Britain is why that would be so. Even if we drop the name Celts and say Gauls, instead, we know that the Gauls inhabited northern Italy for a while; had a brief stay at Tylis in Bulgaria and even set up residence in Asia Minor where they were called Galatians. All of these were people who originated in ancient Gaul. The Celtic culture occupied a very large part of Europe. Britain, according to Caesar, was the birthplace of Druidism. British Celtic coins are inscribed in Gaulish and there are not even British variations on the language. The continental Atrebates and the Parisii also existed in Britain. Perhaps we could avoid the whole Celtic problem and say that Britain was a part of Gaul even though Caesar uses Gaul and Britain, independently, as geographical terms:
"...Caesar made active preparations for an expedition to Britain, because he knew that in almost all the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons" (IV. 20)

Here, we see yet another cultural frame uniting Britain and Gaul: shared military campaigns. An editor of the Penguin edition of Caesar is quick to dispel Caesar's statement in an endnote:
 "Although there was much intercourse between Gaul and Britain, the military aid which Caesar says the Gauls received from the Britons cannot have been the real reason for his invasion. Such assistance could hardly have been of much importance, and in any case the Romans were now in control of the Channel."

All of what is said, there, is unfounded. The idea of Roman warships controlling the Channel is just too funny: Their ships had a hard enough time even getting to Britain because of the strong currents, and that part of the Channel is fairly narrow. Caesar had Gaulish transports built to get his troops to Britain. Gaulish ships were far better suited to those waters, and they had more than one shipping route across the Channel. There is far stronger evidence, though, with which to dismiss the first part of the endnote comment.

Gallo-Belgic E VA 54-1.
photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
The currency the Celts used to finance the Gallic war was the Ambiani uniface gold stater (Gallo-Belgic E). This is common knowledge. It is Type 24 in Simone Scheers, Traité de numismatique celtique II : La Gaule Belgique, Paris, 1977, p. 334-358, pl. VI, 151-158. In this work, she gives a list of the known find spots on the continent and in Britain. The exact numbers of coins are impossible to determine because some reports were not very detailed. Once, I tried to estimate them but I had to use an arbitrary number for those examples that said something like "a few". I do not like to do that sort of thing. In my expert design system, I do not use fuzzy logic for the same reason, and when I was constructing flood maps, I used the exact elevations that the software gave, even though I knew that it was unreliable in practice and previous maps had used broad, hypothetical, lines to mark the levels. All of these methods add even more data corruption. In the case of the flood maps, some of the lines drawn were very accurate because the river passed through narrow gorges at some places where the high water levels could not have possibly overflowed. In one example, the flood maps I was replacing because they had been rejected by the Alberta government showed a main road to be flooded where it would have been dry. I believe in keeping to the measured data even when that data is known to be faulty. To do otherwise just adds extra "drift" to the picture.

Another value of Scheers' data is that the coin finds were all dating to before the use of metal detectors. Although the book was published in 1977, the last find date I saw recorded was 1964. Most of the finds, continental and British, were 1, 2, or 3 coins but there were a few hoards and some multiple deposits of more coins. The largest hoards were on the continent and I assumed these to be tribal payments. One might expect such, but this is still hypothetical. The only way to treat the data in a scientific way is to compare the numbers of find spots (dots on the map). Scheers recorded 197 find spots in total. There were 92 for France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, and 102 for Britain.

Even with my crude estimates for the numbers of actual coins, the British coins still gave a substantial percentage of the total finds and this is especially significant when you compare the area of the British finds with that of the continental finds. I forget what I came up with as a percentage, but it was more than 20%. There is no argument: even if one says that some Gallo-Belgic E came to Britain later "in trade" (which is a silly notion, anyway as trade is commodity for commodity except on a very local level) the same would apply for the other areas, too.

Most important of all, though, is that no evidence at all was offered in the note denying Caesar. The author might just as well have said "Caesar is wrong because he does not reflect my prejudices". Long ago, a classicist said that it is unwise to accuse Caesar of lying. He had a number of errors of judgement, and believed a few "tall tales" but no one has ever caught him in a lie.

Have a culturally diverse weekend.


John's Coydog Community page

6 comments:

  1. Hi John:
    Now you have my attention. I'll have a diverse weekend for sure.

    John Howland
    UK

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi John, Just be careful not to trip on any Gallo-Belgic E staters when crossing a field ;-)

    I will be reading a lot this weekend. A friend gave me the Orlans book as a gift! and I have another book for TEL research on order (A Touch of Genius). There's also a small note in the 7 Pillars volume containing the letter which looks to be in _his_ handwriting and lists some exact dates for events in 7 Pillars!

    I would think that the contemporary photo of the crash site you sent me would be out of U.S. copyright now so I can use that on a Google blog.

    Best,

    John

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi John:

    There are two markers about 200 yards apart at the crash site. However, the most accurate position is given in the police report. If you can't get Legge's book, I'll bung you a copy.

    I'd like to see that letter.

    Best

    John
    UK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi John,

      Just ordered a copy through Abebooks. Strangely, it was much cheaper than buying it through the West Sussex bookshop's own site! It should come in at less than $20 Can. including shipping once the dust settles.

      The letter from TEL's associate in India and the mysterious unsigned note and other enclosures in the 7 Pillars volume will all be published on the blog series (images and transcripts). The letter will add much to what little is known of his thoughts about Miranshah.

      Best,

      John

      Delete
  4. if there are so many british finds, couldn't it be a british production?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, the type descends, in design, from earlier Ambiani coins on the continent and the earlier large-flan Ambiani stater, when found in Britain, are usually in a very worn state compared to the continental finds.

      Corresponding to Gallo-Belgic E, in Britain, is British A (Westerham staters) which are found spanning different tribe's territory and John Kent at the British Museum, had attributed them to a "federal" issue of Cassivellaunus as commander-in-chief of the British forces against Caesar at home.

      Best,

      John

      Delete