Wednesday, 12 March 2014

What have the Celts done for us

My daughter is studying the Romans at school and I was faced with one aspect of the teaching of history that was new to me that was the pronunciation of the warrior queen of the Iceni who led the resistance against the Roman legions in the 1st century AD- Boudica. Is it said Bow-der- ceea or Bud-dica? It seems that the later is the correct way and the error was the result of some ancient scribe incorrectly translating a text. It is a truism that history is written by the victors and the Roman historians who write about the invasion of Celtic Britain portrayed the natives as barbarians. We get a picture of an uncivilised, motley collection of peoples, undisciplined, unkempt who lived in mud huts and engaged in human sacrifice. The chroniclers write about the Ancient Britons as having moustaches on which morsels of food hung and favoured trousers as opposed to the toga.

 I read a book over the New Year which showed an entirely different picture of the inhabitants of these islands prior to the Romans. Take one example that the country had no roads and the Romans built them. According to the Ancient Paths by Graham Robb the road system of the Celts in Britain was sophisticated and as evidence he cites the chariots of the Celts which the Romans later adapted. I recall a complete chariot dating from this time was excavated in Yorkshire recently. The Ancient Britons also had towns called oppidum which the Romans later took over. Chester, St Albans and Leicester are just a few examples. They had trading links throughout Europe. The Druids were guardians of an advanced education system which utilised astronomy. In short, they were not the uncouth; illiterate savages that Roman propagandists like Tacitus attempted to make out.

The Staffordshire Moorlands at the time of the Roman invasion lay in a border zone between tribes. To the west up to the Welsh border was the territory of the Cornovii. They had townships on what became Chester and Wroxeter. They liked to wear torcs or necklaces of twisted gold. They were expert in weaving and dyeing, and loved bright colours. Women wore their hair in two thick thigh-length plaits. They resisted the legions and Caratacus their leader made a last stand in the Shropshire Hills. To the north were the Brigantes who ruled Northern England.

 Their leader was Queen Cartimandua, who ruled the Brigantes for the next few years in comparative quiet before a rebellion was put down with the support of the Romans. In the east covering what is Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire were the Corianti a peaceful people who were receptive to Roman rule, perhaps because the presence of the Romans on their territory deterred the raids by their neighbours, the warlike Brigantes. The Romans built an auxiliary fort at Rocester on the Churnet. It was probably established during or shortly after AD69 when Cartimandua, escaped from the followers of her estranged husband Venutius, who been finally forced by political pressures to seize control of the Brigantian state. The queen had to be rescued by a legion sent to help by the Roman governor Suetonius Paulinus, and a garrison was set at Rocester on the borders of the - now hostile - Brigantian client state.