Thursday, 4 February 2016

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

Your money's no good here
part of the Hallaton, Leicestershire, hoard
photo: Portable Antiquities Scheme
The Corieltauvi were a confederation of a number of small tribes centred in Lincolnshire.The Hallaton, Leicestershire, hoard of multiple deposits (see, also, PAS link below photo), contains about 5,000 British Celtic coins (mostly Corieltauvian) which is almost ten percent of what survives for all Celtic coins of Britain. Yet, the PAS records only 119 stray finds of Celtic coins in the entire county of Leicestershire. This disparity appears not to have been noticed.

The dominant weasel word in the archaeologist's vocabulary is "ritual". It is applied wherever a very clear function for what is discovered cannot be made. As most archaeologists and most archaeology is psychologically extraverted materialist the subjects of art and religion are either avoided, or are loaded with enough weasel words to protect what little is said about these subjects. "Ritual" is especially useful, because the word does not have to refer to anything religious, and the word "religiously" can be applied to anything done frequently as a matter of course. So you can say "He performed his morning shaving ritual" or " he would shave, religiously, every single day". By shying away from anything as introverted as art and religion, no further study takes place and the entire subject is removed to the "black box" of the unconscious, a place that the extreme extravert avoids, and often then suffers the effects of such repression.

Ironically, there is a very clear function for such hoards as Hallaton and other sites with a similar profile. These are only religious sites in the sense that their location was on "hallowed ground". In Celtic terms, this could be at the border of a territory, or at its centre; a place that had a bog or springs; somewhere near a cave; or at any location deemed numinous for any reason. These I call Druid council sites:
"On a fixed date in each year they hold a session in a consecrated spot in the country of the Carnutes, which is supposed to be the centre of Gaul. Those who are involved in disputes assemble here from all parts, and accept the Druids' judgements and awards. The Druidic doctrine is believed to have been found existing in Britain and thence imported into Gaul; even today those who want to make a profound study of it generally go to Britain for that purpose." Caesar, (VI.13).
A little later, Caesar explains how some tribes handle booty:
"When they have decided to fight a battle they generally vow to Mars the booty that they hope to take, and after a victory they sacrifice the captured animals and collect the rest of the spoil in one spot. Among many of the tribes, high piles of it can be seen on consecrated ground; and it is an almost unknown thing for anyone to dare, in defiance of religious law, to conceal his booty at home or to remove anything placed on the piles. Such a crime is punishable by a terrible death under torture." (VI, 17)
Anyone who has read the histories of Celtic warfare in the Mediterranean knows that booty was one of the main goals and that even when in paid service to a Greek commander, the Celts took whatever wealth they could find, even to the point of digging up graves in cemeteries to find gold objects. Anyone who has studied Greek numismatics to any degree also knows that gold coin was the currency of warfare: issues of gold were mostly used, in the classical period, to buy troops. Gold was the object of the Celts business in the Mediterranean and it increased their worth by allowing them to obtain more troops. It was not all done because they wanted to make a big offering to their gods. Much of the gold that returned to Gaul with them was turned into more coin to pay for more troops. As the gold started to diminish, the coinage was further debased. When the debasement got too extreme, they were unable to hire outside troops and their battles became more localized. This also happened to the Etruscans and to the Greeks at Lesbos. It usually was the first step in being conquered by outside forces.The Druids, as leaders of their society, soon realized that as wealth accumulation would lead to more control by fewer and fewer people, tyrants could easily emerge. As the Druids were represented in all tribes and at all levels of society in their main role as judges and policy makers, it was in everyone's best interests to limit available wealth, or too change such wealth to something that would not purchase troops.

Later functions for gold in Britain also included tributes paid by leaders to lesser leaders; smaller tribes, and likely even settlements so that, in the case of an outside military threat, such people would then come to the aid of the central leader. This practice continued and can also be seen in the Scottish clan system: Robert A. Dodgshon, Modelling chiefdoms in the Scottish Highlands and Islands prior to the '45, in: Celtic chiefdom, Celtic state: The evolution of complex social systems in prehistoric Europe, Cambridge, 1995.

The clan system was also exhibited by lavish feasts, and in Celtic Britain lasting into the Roman period, by displays of wealth like casting coins on the ground to show a surplus of wealth. In one site in South Worcestershire, these coins remained on the original surface and were never buried. Coins were buried, however when they entered an area that had no use of money and where the economy was based on livestock. An example of that is the Frome hoard and I explain its details in my series on the subject.The coins and other wealth were held  and loans of lifestock, etc, were them made in return. In this way, the arrival of new wealth would not destroy the existing social fabric.

In prehistoric times, and in every culture, there was no division between the religious and the secular so you would find the religious in the practical and the practical in the religious. Only when religion became more law-based, extraverted  and materialistic was such a division even conceived.

More on Celtic money, tomorrow.

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