‘Apollo’s Raven’ by Linnea Tanner

I am deeply honored to share the review of Apollo’s Raven that was posted by Australian Author, Anne Frandi-Coory, on her website and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/myhomelibrary/

anne frandi-coory

*****************************************

I have just finished reading Apollo’s Raven, and I absolutely loved it, every single, beautifully placed word! I didn’t want the book to end, so I am hanging out for Book Two. When I first began reading Apollo’s Raven, I had no idea of what to expect, not knowing very much about ancient Britannia, or the power of Druid magic.  Reading this wonderful book, was akin to embarking on an epic journey of love, betrayal, mysticism, and Druid’s dark magic, all of which surrounds Catrin, the Celtic warrior princess who was determined to fight for her family’s Cantiaci kingdom, no matter what.

As Catrin is struggling to interpret her mystifying connection with a particular raven, which seems to be following her everywhere, she meets the captivating Roman, Marcellus, son of a high ranking Roman official who has landed in Britannia with a cohort of reconnaissance soldiers ahead of…

View original post 248 more words

Advertisements

Prequel Roman Invasion Britain

Celtic Spiritual Warrior

In the end, Caligula drew up his army in battle array on the shore of the ocean…and gave the order: “Gather seashells!”

–Suetonius

Prequel to Roman Invasion of Britain 43 AD

Introduction

Claudius declared Britain was a country ‘where a real triumph could most readily be earned’. Several of the events leading up to the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD were bizarre based on accounts by Roman historians.

Britain's White Cliffs

White Cliffs Near Dover

Unlike the stiff British resistance in Caesar’s expeditions to Britain in 55-54 BC, there was no initial battle when the Romans landed in 43 AD. Though Claudius claimed glorious victory, he only took charge at the end of the campaign. His role in the invasion appeared staged like a Hollywood production. He was in Britain for only sixteen days and took command of the following activities:

  • Ceremonial arrival
  • Treaty discussions with local chieftains
  • Battle for capture of Camulodunum (modern day Colchester)
  • Victory celebrations
Linnea at Roman Wall at Colchester

Linnea in front of Roman wall at Colchester

This article provides an overview of key events and players leading up to the invasion based on the historical accounts from Dio Cassius and Seutonius. Some archaeological experts propose the Claudian invasion was the last in a line of interventions, both and planned, that spanned the period between 55 BC and AD 43. Some have suggested that there was already a Roman military force in Britain prior to 43 AD. The invasion was nothing more than a peace-keeping expedition. This theory will be discussed in a future post.

Colchester Sphinx Dated About 43 AD

Colchester Sphinx dated about 43 AD from Colchester

Aftermath of Augustus  

One of the greatest British kings, Cunobelin, was an astute politician who came into power about 9 AD. At this time Emperor Augustus faced one of Rome’s most calamitous periods when the German Prince Arminius destroyed three Roman legions in Germany. Cunobelin maintained a balance of power with Rome by welcoming their traders into his capital, Camulodunum (modern day Colchester). Cunobelin reigned over the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni.  A great statesman, he skillfully balanced between the bitterly opposing pro-and anti-Roman factions.

Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Emperor Caesar Augustus Marble Head

Augustus died in 14 AD and was succeeded by Tiberius. He accepted Augustus’ injunction to allow things to stay as they were and to concentrate on sound administration. There was renewal of diplomatic activity with Verica (King of the Atrebates).

Tiberius Caesar Augustus

Emperor Tiberius Caesar Augustus

The final years of Cunobelin was marred by a family upset around 40 AD, when Caligula was Emperor.  The elderly king appointed his pro-Roman son, Adminius, as ruler of the northeast tip of Kent. This included the land-locked harbor along the southeast coast and the Wansum Channel into the Thames Estuary. It appears it was Roman policy to ensure that the main landing points remain in friendly hands.

640px-Horned_helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet

The precise date of Cunobelin’s death is not certain, but it is within 1 year before or after 40 AD. His eldest son, Togodumnus, inherited the kingdom while his brother, Caratacus, struck out on his own conquering other territories. Their brother, Adminius, was ousted from Britain about 40 AD. His flight may have been connected with these events.

Caligula’s Staged Invasion

When Caligula visited the Germanian legions and auxiliaries in 40 AD, Adminius and his followers sought the Emperor’s aid to restore the status quo ante. The Roman historian Suetonius said Adminius surrendered to the Emperor after he had been banished by his father, Cunobelin. Caligula then dispatched a message claiming all of Britain had surrendered to him. He ordered his couriers to drive their chariots all the way to the Forum and the Senate house to deliver his letter.

Status of Caligula on Horseback

Statue of Caligula on Horseback

Caligula then ordered all troops and siege engines to be positioned on the ocean shoreline for battle. It was as if he was going to conduct a campaign in Britain. He embarked on a trireme (ship with multiple banks of rowers), sailed a short distance from shore, and then returned. He took his seat on a lofty platform and gave the soldiers the signal to charge with trumpeters urging them on.

Replica Ancient Roman Ship

Replica Ancient Roman Ship

No one understood what Caligula had in mind when he suddenly gave the order to gather seashells as plunder owed to Rome. He ordered the soldiers to fill their helmets and folds of their cloths with the ocean loot. Having secured these spoils, he became elated as if he had enslaved the ocean. He commemorated the victory by erecting a tall lighthouse where fires would guide ships at night.

Roman Soldiers in Formation

Roman Soldiers in Formation

Caligula gave his soldiers many presents and took their shells back to Rome to exhibit the bounty from Britain. He also selected a few German prisoners to parade in an extravagant triumph that he told his agents to prepare in Rome.

Although Caligula’s real plan is obscured by these wanton acts, he clearly intended to invade Britain. It may have been at Adminius’ urging. But this invasion was deferred, most likely as a result of mutinous soldiers refusing to cross the monster-infested British Channel.

In early 41 AD, Caligula was assassinated in Rome for his crazed behavior.

Rise of Anti-Roman Factions

The political strife in Britain did not come all at once, but by stages, starting with the removal of Adminius. Cunobelin felt he could entrust his son with the strategically important area of Kent to rule. After the death of Cunobelin, Togodumnus and Caratacus pursued an expansionist policy even more vigorously than their father. And they did this with less respect for what seemed an indecisive and ineffectual Roman authority across the Channel.

Dynasties of Southeast Britain

Date Rome Southern Dynasty Northern Dynasty
50 BC Civil War, Murder of Caesar;
40 BC Commius
30 BC Octavian and Mark Antony Civil War Addedomaros
20 BC Augustus Tasciovanus
10 BC Tincommius Dubnovellaunos
1 AD
AD 10 Epatticus Cunobelin
Vodenos
AD 20 Tiberius Eppillus
AD 30 Verica Adminius
AD40 Caligula Caratacus
AD50 Claudius

There was ongoing, bitter rivalry between the ruling houses of the Atrebates and the Catuvellauni. The control of lands in Kent teetered back and forth between these dynasties. The Atrebates laid claim to east Kent through Eppillus, who reigned there from 5 to 20 AD until Cunobelin took control.

Verica succeeded his elder brother Eppillus as king of the Atrebates about 15 AD. He established his capital at Calleva (modern-day Silchester). Verica’s territory was pressed from the east by Cunobelin’s brother, Epatticus, who conquered Calleva (modern day Silchester) about 25 AD.

When Epatticus died in 35 AD, Verica regained his original territory. Cunobelin chose not to challenge Verica. He instead honored Verica’s treaty agreement with Rome.

Map Ancient Britain 1st Center

Map Ancient Britain 1st Century

With the death of Cunobelin, the political balance tipped when Caratacus first took control of Kent from his brother Adminius. Not content with this, he invaded south of the Thames. He succeeded where his uncle Epatticus had failed: gain control of territories in southern Britain and forge them into his kingdom. Sometime after 40 AD, he conquered the entire Atrebates territory.

This time, the British King taking flight and seeking protection was Verica. Appearing as a suppliant before Claudius, Verica claimed he had been driven out of Britain by an uprising. He called upon Claudius to fulfill his obligation under their treaty.

Clearly, critical land areas on the southeast coasts of Britain were now under hostile control and the political balance so skillfully developed and maintained by Augustus was in shambles. Evidence of further expansion of the Catuvellaunian power was provided by Dio Cassius in his Roman History. Soon after the Roman landing, Commander Aulus Plautius received the surrender of some Dobunni, who, he adds, were subjects of the Catuvellauni.

This gave the newly empowered Claudius a cast-iron justification for an invasion. Victory would elevate him to the same glory as Julius Caesar and divert Rome’s attention away from his relationship with the Senate that was charged with suspicion and hostility.

Imperial portrait of Roman emperor Claudius

Imperial portrait of Roman Emperor Claudius

To be continued:

The next post will highlight the Roman pre-launch activities that almost ended in disaster and the relative ease of the Legions to occupy Britain initially.

References:

John Manley, AD 43 The Roman Invasion of Britain: A reassessment; Tempus Publishing, Inc., Charleston, SC, 2002.

David Miles, The Tribes of Britain; Phoenix, Imprint of Orion Books, Ltd., London, UK, 2006.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, The Twelve Caesars, Translated by Robert Graves; Reprinted 2007 by Penguin Books, New York.

Graham Webster, Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, London.

Graham Webster, Rome Against Caratacus: The Roman Campaigns in Britain AD 48-58; Reprinted 2002 by Routledge, London.

Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60; Reprinted 2004 by Routledge, London.

Cassius Dio, Roman History, published in Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library, Edition 1924; Book LX   http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/60*.html

 

Celtic Tarot Card Meanings

Introduction D.N. Frost

It is a great pleasure to reintroduce D.N. Frost who has graciously agreed to provide another guest post about the rich symbolism of nature used in Celtic tarot cards. She is a talented fantasy author, cartographer, and world builder with a passion for Celtic mythology and traditions. I’ve had the privilege of working with her to create a map and world for my current project on Apollo’s Raven.

Welcome D. N. Frost! I encourage everyone to learn more about her ongoing projects on mapping and world-building and her epic saga Tales of the Known World which you can download electronically from her site.

Guest Post: D.N. Frost |Celtic Tarot Card Meaning | Apollo’s Raven

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Hello there! My name is D.N.Frost, and I’m the fantasy author, cartographer, and world-builder behind the epic saga Tales of the Known World. I love delving into the mythology and traditions of different cultures, and this guest post for Linnea Tanner was inspired by my love of Celtic mysticism. Enjoy!

The world of the ancient Celts is teemed with layers of meaning and symbols drawn from nature. Many of these assorted myths and traditions were amassed in detail by Anna Franklin, a well-known Celtic Pagan authority in the British Isles. One of her books accompanied a Celtic-themed tarot deck, and though tarot only dates back to the 15th century, the book and cards are steeped in ancient Celtic heritage.

This Celtic Tarot card depicts a Celtic shaman, alone in the forest with his familiar, the wolf.

Celtic Tarot Card: The Shaman

Celtic Tarot Card: The Shaman

Wearing deerskin, this shaman sits at his cauldron, beating his bodhran drum to call to the spirits. He brews a potion that helps him engage the spirit world, and a few of the potion’s ingredients surround him, notably the sacred herb vervain.

The path of the Celtic shaman was strongly tied to the land and the cycle of the seasons. By honoring the spirits of nature and learning their wisdom, a shaman sought to transform himself and expand his awareness. Conscious of the subtle connection between all things, Celtic shamans recognized the sacredness within everything, allowing them to form a bridge between the spirit world and the human world.

This shaman is shown brewing a sacred potion called the Cauldron of Ceridwen, which was believed to inspire eloquence and prophesy in those who drank it. This magic potion contained a number of ingredients, including rowan berries, sea foam, “Taliesin’s cresses, Gwion’s silver, flixweed, and vervain” picked on moonless nights (Franklin, 83). This potion was also used to create the Gwin or Bragwod drink used in sacred initiations, though the initiates drank it mixed with wine and barley meal.

The Celtic goddess Ceridwen is said to have captured the wisdom of the Three Realms in her potion. She charged the youth Gwion to keep the fire going beneath her cauldron, and one day he splashed three drops onto his finger. When he put his finger into his mouth to soothe the burn, Gwion instantly became one with the past, present, and future of all things. The knowledge frightened him, and Ceridwen decided to test his worthiness by appearing as a terrifying beast. Gwion fled, taking on the forms of different animal familiars, and these animal spirits helped him integrate his new knowledge. The goddess continued chasing him until Gwion took the form of a grain of wheat, and Ceridwen ate him. Nine months later, she gave birth to him as Taliesin, meaning “radiant brow.”

This legend of consumption and rebirth symbolized how shamanic initiates had to be absorbed into the womb of the goddess before emerging wiser and forever changed. The harvest festival of Samhain celebrated the two aspects of this divine womb, both the dormant seed that lies within, and the wisdom shared from the spirit world. This celebration used the herb vervain, an ingredient in Ceridwen’s potion and one of the most sacred herbs for the Celtic druids. Vervain was only gathered on moonless nights when the “dog star” Sirius was rising, and Celtic lore associates the wisdom of this herb with the wisdom of the wolf.

Ancient Celts viewed the wolf with awe and respect. Considered very wise, the wolf only chose to share its wisdom with certain people, and many shamans sought the wolf as their familiar. The wizard Merlin was said to have an old wolf companion during his years as a forest hermit. The white wolf Emhain Abhlac once met the druid Bobaran, who threw three rowan berries at the wolf, three into the air, and three into his own mouth to receive the wolf’s wisdom. The Gundestrup cauldron shows a wolf beside the horned god Cernunnos, and the goddess Brighid is often shown with a wolf nearby. The wolf was a totem guardian of Britain, and one of Brighid’s four sacred animals.

According to the ancient Celts, the winter quarter of the year was ruled by the wolf. Winter was a dead time, a time of purification while the earth rested in darkness and grew ready for the rebirth of spring. This period stretched from Samhain in October to the Imbolc festival in February, which celebrated the goddess Brighid with a giant feast. In ancient Gaelic, the month of February was known as Faoilleach, which can translate to “the wolf month,” “the storm month,” or “the month of bleak death.” For the Celtic shaman, the wolf taught about instincts and psychic intuition, as well as the cyclical powers of the moon. The wolf’s wisdom guided shamans to trust their inner voice and to seek their answers within.

This Celtic Tarot card depicts the warrior queen Boudicca of the equestrian Iceni people.

Celtic Tariot Card: The Chariot

Celtic Tarot Card: The Chariot

Boudicca led the Iceni tribe to fight the ancient Romans as they sought to conquer Britain. With woad spirals on her face, she cracks a whip from atop her chariot, drawn by one black horse and one white horse.

Horses were known as the chosen mounts of the gods, particularly the sun and moon deities. They symbolized the virility of the land itself, as well as strength and swiftness. The Iceni tribe derived their name from the word for horse, and Britain’s horse cults predate the arrival of the ancient Celts. Horses were shown on the earliest Celtic coins, and they were common god or totem creatures through the Iron Age and into the Bronze Age. For ancient Celts, horses represented the instinctive aspects of humanity, which often needed to be tamed and controlled. The horse’s master used the bit and bridle to control his horse, and this symbolized the intellect that tempered destructive impulses. While horses symbolized raw life-force, the reigns betokened the willpower and intelligence needed to harness this life-force effectively.

Fal, the Celtic god of horses and hounds, symbolized light within the darkness. In the cycle of the year, the northern quarter was called the Plain of Fal, associated with wisdom and truth. The Stone of Fal was the station of the yearly cycle connected with the winter solstice, when the midwinter sun was reborn. Ancient Celts believed this was when the horse goddess Rhiannon gave birth to her son. White horses represented the sun and were affiliated with the light of spring and summer. Like other white animals, white horses symbolized sky deities to the ancient Celts, while black animals were correlated with Underworld deities. Black horses, generally considered unlucky, were connected with the darkness of autumn and winter, as well as with the Underworld. They were an omen of death, symbolic of funerals and of chaos. A black horse was said to rule the twelve days of midwinter chaos between the old and new year.

Modern Celtic folklore still honors horses, and the horsing ceremonies of midwinter depict a play of death and resurrection. Also, May’s Beltane festival features the Hobby Horses of Padstow and Minehead. A black horse winds through town in a musical parade, and it falls to the ground whenever the music stops. Each time, the horse rises again when the music resumes, until the parade dies down at midnight. Then the sinister horse is considered truly dead, until it is born again in the fall.

This Celtic Tarot card depicts the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, England.

Celtic Tarot Card: Seven of Swords

Celtic Tarot Card: Seven of Swords

The hillsides of Britain are carved with many chalk horses, but this is the oldest carving, dating to around 1400 BCE. Sacred to both the ancient Celts and the earlier peoples of Britain, horses fostered the spread of Celtic civilization with their swiftness and strength.

Though ancient Celts carved the Uffington horse, the site was important to Britain’s Neolithic people. Well before the carving, the hill was part of a ley network said to harness dragon power. In fact, there is some dispute that the Uffington horse is really a dragon, since it looks down on Dragon Hill, where St. George allegedly slew a mighty dragon. It is said that nothing will grow where the dragon’s spilled blood poisoned the ground, and to this day there is a bare patch atop the hill. Near the head of the Uffington horse is a Bronze Age burial mound, and less than a mile away is a Neolithic burial chamber known as Wayland’s Smithy. There, legend has it, a magical blacksmith forged the shoes for the giant Uffington horse.

Ancient Celts believed that dead souls rode to the Underworld on horseback, and that horses carried living souls to and from the spirit world. Gods and shamans traveled through the axis mundi, or World Tree, and they tethered their horses to this tree before making the journey. Famously, the hero Conan traveled to the Otherworld on Aonbharr, the steed of the sea god Manannan. Aonbharr was said to make her rider invulnerable to any attack. According to Celtic lore, the white horse of the elf queen took Thomas the Rhymer to the land of the fairies, and Tam Lin stole a white horse to escape that fairy realm.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into the world of the ancient Celts! For more fun with prophesy and magic, visit me at DNFrost.com, on Twitter @DNFrost13, and on my Facebook page.

My love of cultures and mythology inspired an epic fantasy saga.

Let me send you my free ebook today!

References

  1. Anna Franklin, The Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
  2. Paul Mason, The Shaman; Mixed media illustration. Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
  3. Paul Mason, The Chariot; Mixed media illustration. Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.
  4. Paul Mason, Diplomacy: The Seven of Swords; Mixed media illustration. Sacred Circle Tarot: A Celtic Pagan Journey; Llewellyn Publications, 2000.

Ancient Britain History: Trading and Regionalism

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials…The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into the region.—Joseph Campbell 

Introduction

To understand the historical context that led to Rome’s decision to invade and conquer Britain in 43 AD, one needs to look back as far as 600 BC to understand the development of Ancient Britain and its connections to Continental Europe. Similar to the Modern World, the Ancient World had a global economy that allowed various regions to share their technology, philosophies, and religion. Major events in Continental Europe also impacted Britain.

Stonehenge, also known as Apollo's Temple since classical antiquity.

Stonehenge, also known as Apollo’s Temple since classical antiquity.

Ancient British history must be pieced together with accounts from classical writers (Greek and Roman) and archaeological finds. Unfortunately, many classical accounts did not survive in their entirety and the significance of archaeological finds are sometimes subjective.

The next series of posts on APOLLO’S RAVEN will provide a backdrop on how the events in Continental Europe impacted Ancient Britain.

 

Ancient Britain History

Descent into Regionalism (600 – 400 BC)

In the two centuries between 600- 400 BC, regional cultures that formed across the face of Britain framed the next thousand years of development. Britain could be divided into three broad settlement zones: 1) eastern zone characterized by open villages and enclosed homesteads, 2) western zone of strongly-defended homesteads, and 3) central hill-fort dominated zone.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses

The eastern zone stretching from the Thames to southern Scotland has an array of landscapes. Each area had its own settlement patterns and economic systems. In the southern midland river valleys, often unenclosed farmsteads and villages prevailed. The North had a more broken landscape of upland, small enclosed farmlands.

Cliffside Dover Cliffs Britain

Coastal White CliffsBritain

The landscape in the western zone extending from Cornwall to the Northern Isles was more varied. The settlements were more characteristic of homesteads for single or extended family, often enclosed with earthworks or walls offering some defense. In the latter part of the Iron Age, these smaller homesteads gave rise to a multiple of defended homesteads to establish more strength.

Celtic Roundhouse of Chieftain (Interior)

Ancient Celtic Roundhouse of Chieftain (Interior), Wales

The hill-fort dominated zone stretched from the south coast to North Wales. It is here where hill-forts proliferated in landscapes. These hill-forts were characterized by a rampart and ditches of defensive proportions and were accessed usually through two gates on opposing sides. There were evidence of large settlements on these hill-forts with streets, houses, storage facilities, and domestic activities suggestive of permanent occupation. These hill-forts reflected a larger community, comprising a group of lineages that brought together a society with a common pursuit.

Maiden Castle Hill-Fort, England.

Maiden Castle Hill-fort, Dorset, England.

Various body decoration and hairstyles were important identities for all of the above societies.

Trading Connection Massilia

The founding of the Greek Colony of Massilia (modern day Marseilles) on the Mediterranean coast in about 600 BC was a significant moment in Western Europe. Even before this Greek city was established, Greek and Etruscan traders had been visiting Britain for several decades, building friendly relations with the natives of the coastal zone and the more inland regions. The sixth century saw the development of formal trading that stretched from eastern France to Southern Germany, where the local Hallstatt chieftains were able to acquire Mediterranean luxury goods to display and to consume in feasts and in elaborate burial rites.

Calanques Limestone Cove

Calanques Limestone Cove Near Marseilles (Ancient Massilia)

In the 5th Century BC, the Islands began receiving notice by the Mediterranean world based on claims from Herodotus that he heard rumors of tin-rich islands in the Atlantic. Herodotus wrote that in “the extreme tracts of Europe towards the west there were islands called Cassiterides (Tin Islands) where the metal was resourced.” Most likely, his information came from traders at Massalia who were secretive about where the tin was mined. Most likely, the Tin Islands referred to Cornwall which had significant ore deposits.

Linnea Tanner at Château d'If Marseille

Château d’If Prison Overlooking Bay into Marseille


Tin and Pytheas

The importance of tin in the ancient world cannot be over-stressed. As an essential component in bronze, it was constantly in demand. Its rarity within Europe meant that knowledge of where to obtain this commodity was highly valued and protected.

Pytheas, entrepreneur and scientist, set out from Massalia about 320 BC to explore the northwestern extremities of Europe. He was probably the first to observe tin trade between Cornwall and the ports of Atlantic Gaul. Only fragments of the accounts of his remarkable travels survive. However, he probably travelled through Gaul (modern day France) and crossed to the western end of the Channel to Belerion, an ancient name given to Cornwall or Kernow, which has been translated as “Shining Land” or “Seat of Storms.”

Dover Cliffs United Kingdom

Dover Cliffs England

He observed first-hand the processes of tin extraction and exchange. His description may have been used by 1st Century writer, Diodorus Siculus, who describes the inhabitants as follows:

The inhabitants of Britain living on the promontory called Belerion are especially friends to strangers and have adopted a civilized way of life because of their interactions with traders and other peoples. It is they who work the tin, treating the layers. This layer, being like rock, contains earthy seams and in them the workers quarry the ore, which they melt down to clean of its impurities. Then they work the tin into pieces the size of knuckle-bones and convey it to an island which lies off Britain, call Ictis.

Cornwall Coastal Region

Cornwall Coast Porthcurno Beach

After Cornwall, Pytheas sailed northwards through the Irish Sea, stopping at the Isle of Man. He may have also made an open-sea voyage to Iceland and returned along the east coast of Britain. The description of the tin trade implies a regular and well-ordered process was used in the trading with established rules. A place of assembly was designated as a free zone where all were given a guarantee of safe conduct. The traders would have timed their visits based on sailing conditions. On offshore islands, natives would be ready to trade ingots for Mediterranean goods.

Collapse White Cliffs Wall Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Near Dover

Localized Warfare

From the third century BC, archaeological findings indicate localized warfare became more aggressive, particularly in the hill-fort zone of central southern Britain. This could have been due to tensions caused by a growing population and the desire of chieftains to acquire and hold onto productive land at a time when fertility may have begun to fail in some regions. Disputes could flare into hostile and bloody confrontations.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

During this time, fortresses were strengthened for defense. Ditches were re-dug and ramparts rebuilt, now with a continuous slope from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the rampart. Several of these hill-forts were rebuilt as a result of a devastating fire.

Maiden Castle Hill-Fort

Ramparts and Ditches Maiden Castle Hill-Fort

At Danebury, in Hampshire, a fire seemed to have damaged large areas of the interior in the last 4th Century. The hill-fort was then as strongly re-defended in the third century, but another fire in the 1st Century destroyed the gate, after which the site was abandoned. Though the fires may have not been result of enemy action, the large number of sling-stones found at this site suggests inhabitants were ready to defend their position. Further evidence of warfare is based on archaeological finds of human skeletons scarred with marks of violence.

Celtic Greaves

Celtic Greaves

Beginning in the first century, there was an increase of horse bones found at some of these hill-forts suggesting the build-up of war chariots and the training of horses to power them. After the destruction of the hill-fort at Danebury, the hill-fort at Bury Hill was brought back into use with a new set of defenses comprising a ditch with an inner and outer rampart. The most significant find from this site was horses accounted for more than a quarter of the animal bones. There were exceptional quantities of horse gear and chariot fittings. It seems that the building of war chariots and training of teams of horses to power them reflect a more excitable and aggressive stance among the elite.

Footpath Around Bury Hill-Fort

Footpath Circling Bury Hill-Fort; Photograph by Chris Talbot

By the time Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 – 54 BC, the localized political rivalries were very much in evidence and the war strategy of using chariots that at first confounded his Roman army. He took advantage of the localized political rivalries by pitting British tribal rulers against each other so they would not unite as a formidable force against the Roman legions (previously discussed in the last two posts.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC


To be Continued

The next post will detail how the changing political climate in Continental Europe impacted Britain.

References

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Oxford University Press, 2013.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain, Reprinted 1999 by Routledge (Imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group), NY.

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces; New world Library, Novato, CA; 2008.

Caesar Second Invasion Britain

 

 THE STANDARD PATH of the mythological adventure of the hero is represented in the rites of passage: separation, initiation, and return—Joseph Campbell

 


Introduction

The unpublished epic historical fantasy [First Novel: APOLLO’S RAVEN] is envisioned to be a series set in Celtic Britain, Gaul (modern day France) and Ancient Rome prior to the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD. The first novel begins in 24 AD Celtic Britain (modern day Ken) when a Celtic warrior princess begins a perilous odyssey to help save her kingdom from rival rulers.

Historical and archaeological evidence supports the theory that Julius Caesar’s invasion in 55-54 BC helped establish Celtic dynasties in southeast Britain loyal to Rome. Political unrest of rival tribal rulers in 24 AD provides the backdrop to APOLLO’S RAVEN where the Celtic heroine first meets the great-grandson of Mark Anthony.

Collapse White Cliffs Wall Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Near Dover


Caesar Second Invasion Britain

Political Support

Although Caesar’s first expedition to Britain in 55 BC had limited success, the Romans were wildly enthusiastic he had conquered the ocean by invading the island. It would be similar to the excitement of landing on the moon in modern times. The Roman Senate voted twenty days of thanksgiving to celebrate his accomplishment. The political support paved the way for his second campaign in Britain the following year in 54 BC.

Based on his experience from the first expedition, Caesar’s second campaign launched in early July 54 BC was on a grander scale. It is not clear from Caesar’s accounts whether the purpose of the second invasion was to conquer Britain, punish hostile tribes, or open the British Isles to more lucrative Roman trade. The unfolding events in his accounts suggest the primary objective was to establish pro-Roman dynasties that would subsequently be rewarded with lucrative trade for their loyalty.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar


Lessons Learned From First Invasion

Caesar documented what he learned from the first invasion that helped him effectively prepare for the second campaign. The primary lesson was the ocean, with its massive tides, racing currents, and variable winds, was a more formidable opponent that the Britons. These forces of nature wreaked havoc on Roman logistics. Further, he gained invaluable insight on the British fighting tactics, diverse populations, political complexities, and powerful rulers that helped him in the second invasion.

Chariot Battle Tactics

In the first expedition, Julius Caesar faced stiff resistance from fierce warriors that included approximately 4,000 chariot teams. His Roman Legion had not previously faced chariot fighting tactics. Although chariot racing was a popular past time in Rome, it was not used in Roman warfare.

Gallo-Roman Chariot Race Mosaic

Chariot Race Mosaic

Caesar describes chariot battle tactics as follows:

First, they drive in all directions hurling spears. Generally they succeed in throwing the ranks of their opponents into confusion just with the terror of the galloping horses and the din of the wheels. They make their way through the squadrons of their own cavalry, then jump down from their chariots and fight on foot. Meanwhile, the chariot drivers withdraw a little way from the fighting and position the chariots in such a way that if their masters are hard pressed by the enemy’s number, they have an easy means of retreat to their own lines. Thus, when they fight they have the mobility of cavalry and the staying power of infantry. And with daily training and practice they have become so efficient that even on steep slopes they can control their horses at full gallop, check and turn them in a moment, run along the pole, stand on the yoke, and get back into the chariot with incredible speed.

Celtic Horned Helmet

Celtic Horned Helmet Found at River Thames Date 150-50BC

Nonetheless, Caesar was able to overcome these obstacles with an established, well-disciplined army  against the more chaotic battle assaults by the various tribal leaders and their armies.

Roman Legion

Professional Roman Soldiers in Legion


Diverse Tribal Regions

Caesar describes the population along the southeast coast of Britain to be densely populated by Belgic immigrants of Germanic ancestry, who had crossed the channel from Gaul to plunder and eventually settle. The inhabitants of Cantium (modern day Kent), an entirely maritime district, were far more advanced than the inland tribes consisting of the original pastoral inhabitants who had their own traditions. Caesar’s first attack in Kent is not surprising given the long period of social relations between the peoples in Gaul and Britain. British war-leaders who had served in all Gallic wars against Romans were rewarded with gold coinage minted in Belgic Gaul.

Gold Coin of Suessiones

Gallo-Belgic Gold Coin

 

Coinage appeared as early as 125 BC in Britain. Early coins adopted the Greek design showed the head of Apollo and the horses and chariot on the reverse side. This design was eventually abstracted more in line with Celtic art. Low value bronze coins were minted in the Kent region to support the early first century development of their market economy. The bronze coins used by the Cantiaci tribe in this region were prototypes of those produced in Massilia (Marseille) that featured a charging bull. For the first time the British were exposed to writing in the form of Latin script. In the 70s and 60s BC other tribes in Britain followed the example of the Cantiaci and adopted coinage: the Atrebates in Hampshire/Berkshire and the Catuvellauni/Trivovantes north of the Thames.

There were major centers of population, the oppida (town), where traders assembled. Many of these tribal centers were built from fortified hill-forts. Structures in southeast Britain were set close together and included thatch-roof, round houses. Flocks of sheep and herds of cattle were plentiful. Interestingly, the Britons had a taboo against eating hares, fowls, and geese, which they kept as pets.

Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Ancient Celtic Village of Roundhouses

Powerful Tribes and Rulers

No doubt the preparation for the second invasion included political negotiations with powerful British leaders, one of whom was Mandubracius. He was a prince of the Trivovantes, a powerful tribe occupying the Essex region. Mandubracius fled to Gaul to put himself under Caesar’s protection after his father was killed in a conflict with his neighbor Cassivellaunus, the king of the Catuvellauni. According to Caesar, the Catuvellauni had been in continual state of war with other tribes in the area.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

Mandubracius was an invaluable source of intelligence about the complexities of the local politics and the primary centers of power in eastern Britain. He also provided information about the terrain through which Caesar would fight. Armed with this information, Caesar’s strategy was clear. He  would move with lightning speed through Kent to the Thames where he would meet Cassivellaunus. Caesar also planned to use Mandubracius as a political pawn to negotiate the prince’s reinstatement as ruler of the Trivovantes.

Redesign of Ships to Counter Tidal Changes

Due to the frequent tidal changes that Caesar encountered in his first expedition, he ordered his generals to construct smaller transports with shallower drafts for easier loading and beaching. The vessel’s beam was built wider to carry heavy cargoes, including large numbers of horses and mules. As a result of the redesign, the ships were difficult to maneuver and thus were equally fitted for rowing and sailing.

Ancient Roman Warship Model

Roman Warship Model


Landing Without Opposition

At sunset on July 6th, Caesar embarked from Portis Itius (modern day Wissant France) to Britain with a fleet of 800 ships that transported five legions (25,000 soldiers) and 2,000 cavalry. The tide turned the following morning and took the ships with it. As a result, the soldiers had to row the ungainly vessels without stop to reach the Kent coast (near Deal) by mid-day. Unlike the first expedition, there were no signs of enemy to oppose the landing. Caesar learned later the tribal forces had been dismayed to see the vast flotilla in the English Channel and thus decided to seek a stronger position inland to fight.

Without any opposition, Caesar’s ships anchored and a site was chosen for camp.

Pebble Beach Deal UK

Landing Site for Julius Caesar’s Flotilla (Deal UK)

Initial Conflict

With typical audacity, Caesar immediately marched his legions 12 miles inland in early morning darkness the next day to the River Stour near Canterbury. Shocked at the sudden appearance of the Roman army, Britons fell back to a formidable position in the woods which Caesar described as being fortified by immense natural and artificial strength. The hill-fort was strongly guarded by felled trees that were packed together. Possibly this site was initially built for tribal wars. The Roman soldiers locked their shields above their heads to form a testudo (tortoise) to protect themselves from missiles while they hacked their way into the fortress and drove the British forces into the woods. Further pursuit was forbidden by Caesar as the countryside was unfamiliar. He needed sufficient time to entrench his camp.

Hillside Coastal White Cliffs Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Britain


Storm’s Wrath

The following morning, the Roman pursuit of the British fugitives began in earnest. Again Caesar underestimated the powerful forces of the English Channel. A terrible storm along the coast tore the ships from their moorings and drove them ashore. When Caesar received the bad news about the shipwrecks, he abandoned his speedy advance which would have desolated the Britons He returned his army to repair the damages to his vessels.

Ancient Roman Ship Frieze

Roman Ship Image on Frieze

 

(To be continued)

References:

Barry Cunliffe, Britain Begins; Reprinted 2013; Oxford University Press, United Kingdom

Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes  & Noble, Inc.

Graham Webster, The Roman Invasion of Britain; Reprinted 1999 by Routledge, New York.

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces; 3rd Edition Reprinted by New World Library, Novato, CA.

Ancient Celtic Religion: Apollo, God of Sun

Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind…the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth—Joseph Campbell


Ancient Celtic Religion: Apollo, God of Sun

Historical and archaeological evidence provide both utopian and horrific images of Ancient Celtic Religion.The Celts demonstrated their spiritual kinship to nature through their artwork and reverence for sacred groves. The Ancient Druids believed the human soul was indestructible and was a continuation of a person’s existence that included all the functions of personality. Warriors kept their enemies’ heads as trophies after battle based on their belief that the skull was the temple of the soul. Possessing an enemies’ skull was the same as capturing his soul and retaining his power.

The Celtic belief in the immortal soul was similar to that of Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, who thought the soul transmigrates from one body to another (metempsychosis) and could include the bodies of animals and plants (reincarnation). Perhaps, this belief in reincarnation accounts for the Celtic mythology of shape shifting—the ability of an entity to physically transform into another being or form.

Panel on Gundstrup Cauldron

Inside Panel of Gundestrup Cauldron

There were other religious and philosophical similarities between the Celts and Greeks, both of whom were world travelers and traders. Some of the Greek fables of Hyperborea may be based on accounts from those who explored France and the British Isles. Further, there is evidence suggesting the Greek rituals of Apollo may be based on Celtic festivities to their sun god. Stonehenge was known as Apollo’s Temple in classical antiquity.

 

Celtic Cauldon Gundstrup

Gundestrup Cauldron

Celtic Trading Connections 

The Phoenicians traded extensively within Gaul (France) and the British Isles. They discovered Ireland when they sailed to trade with natives in Britain. Ireland was always a great place to trade and for this reason, the Roman Historian Tacitus said, “Its ports are better known for trade, and more frequented by merchants, than those of Britain.”

The Phoenicians undoubtedly imported their language, bartered their commodities, and exchanged their religious beliefs with the Celts.

Most geographical accounts of Celtic regions came from the Greeks, which the Romans later adopted. At the time of Alexander the Great, Pytheas, a citizen of the Greek colony of Massilia (Marseille, France), published accounts of his voyages entitled, “Tour of the Earth.” Commissioned by the Senate to explore the north, Pytheas landed in Britain and Ireland, the German and Scandinavian coasts, and possibly beyond Iceland.

Coastline Marseille, France

Marseille Coastline

 

In his accounts, Pytheas describes a frozen sea. The oldest Irish books refer to this as the foggy or coagulated sea. In both Greek and Celtic mythology, this northern sea is where departed souls go before they come to the icy part. The coagulated sea may refer to the contrary tides around the British Isles that could impede a ship’s travel, whirling it around and swallowing it up. These tides were formidable forces which destroyed several of Julius Caesar’s warships when he invaded Britain in 55 – 54 B.C. (see previous posts in APOLLO’S RAVEN).

Collapse White Cliffs Wall Britain

Coastal White Cliffs Near Dover; Initial Site Where Julius Caesar May Have Tried to Land


Hyperborea and Association with Apollo

In Greek mythology, Hyperboreans were a mythical people who lived beyond the North Wind. The Greeks thought Boreas, the God of the North Wind, lived in Thrace and thus, Hyperborea lay north of Thrace. Diodorus Siculus identified the region of Hyperborea as Britain, an island in the ocean no smaller than Sicily. The island was reported to be fertile and have an unusually temperate climate. Hecateaus of Abdera wrote the Hyperboreans had a ‘circular temple’ on their island that some scholars have identified as Stonehenge, also known as Apollo’s Temple since classical antiquity.

Stonehenge Britain

Stonehenge; Also Known as Apollo’s Temple

Eratosthenes said an arrow that Apollo used to slay the Cyclops was hidden among the Hyperborians in his Temple made of wings. The Hyperborian high priest, Abaris, traveled to Greece and presented the sun god’s arrow to Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher who believed the soul was immortal. It is of interest that inhabitants of the British Islands adorned themselves and their buildings with feathers, and many of them paid their rent with plumage. The Isle of Skye is in the native language called Scianach, the winged island.

Diodorus Siculus said that above all other gods, the Hyperboreans worshipped Apollo. Beyond the Gallic regions (France) to the north, the harp which was associated with Apollo was frequently played. Of particular interest was the Beltane Festival held on the eve of May, when Druids kindled prodigious fires on cairns (stacks of stones) to honor the sun god they referred to as Beal, Bealan, or the Latin name of Belenus. Near Edinburgh, there was a stone dug up with the inscription to Apollo Grannus.

Apollo-WaltersArs

Apollo, God of the Sun

During the Beltane Festival, two fires were lit side-by-side in every Celtic village. Men and beasts to be sacrificed passed between these fires, one of which was on a cairn while the other was on the ground. The purpose of the midsummer fires was to obtain the sun god’s blessings on the fruits of the earth.

It is remarkable that certain Greek feasts of Apollo were called Carnea, supposedly based on the killing of the prophet Carnus—the son of Jupiter and Eruope, and Apollo’s lover. Ancient Greeks, by their own confession, learned some of their philosophy and many of their sacred fables from the Gauls (Celts in France) and other ancient civilizations. It is highly probable they learned of the Beltane rituals either from travelers from Gaul or from citizens of the Phoenician colony of Massilia.

Even today, the Beltane Festival is wildly celebrated in certain locations on the British Isles.

 

Celtic Round House

Celtic Round House for Assembly


Immortal Soul

As discussed above, Abaris was a legendary Hyperborean healer, seer, and priest of Apollo. He traveled over Greece and into Italy where he discussed philosophy with Pythagoras and presented him with Apollo’s sacred arrow. It has been suggested by scholars that the doctrine of transmigration taught by Pythagoras may have actually been the Druidic philosophy that he learned from Abaris.

Pythagoras believed the soul was immortal and went through a series of reincarnations. He believed humans could reincarnate into either animals or plant forms. Pythagoras was reported to have said, “Once, they say, he was passing by when a puppy was being whipped, and he took pity and said: ‘Stop, do not beat it; it is the soul of a friend that I recognized when I heard it [i.e., the soul’s voice.]’” Obviously, Pythagoras believed his friend’s soul was actually doing the yelping.

Dagda Gundestrup cauldron

Dagda Gundestrup Cauldron

Diodorus Siculus, a 1st Century Greek historian, wrote: “The Druids studied the nature of moral philosophy, asserting the human soul is indestructible, and also the universe, but that some time or other, fire and water will prevail.”

According to Caesar, the bravery of the Celts sprang from their lack of fear of death, the result of their belief that the soul does not die. Certainly, the abundant evidence of grave goods is ample proof of faith in the existence of an afterlife. The Druids taught souls move between this world and the world of the dead—the Otherworld. Death in the physical world results in a soul moving to the Otherworld, whereas death in the Otherworld brings a soul back to this world.

Dying Gladiator

Statue Dying Celt

Cult of the Head

There is a prevalence of images of the human head at cult sites in virtually all regions believed to have been inhabited by the Celts. Similar to the Greek world, the Celts viewed humans as consisting of a body, soul, and spirit; the world they inhabited as earth, sea, and area; the divisions of nature as animal, vegetable, and mineral; the cardinal colors as red, yellow and blue and so forth.

The Celts venerated the human head above all else because it was the temple of the soul—the center of emotions as well as of life itself and a symbol of divinity and the powers of the Otherworld, the world of the spirits. To possess the enemy’s head was to possess his soul. As with so many aspects of the warrior’s life, the taking of an opponent’s head in battle, preferably by single combat, had a mystical significance. The head of the fallen enemy became an important prestige object for the warrior, as it revealed a deep bond between the victor and the vanquished.

The importance and extent of the cult of the severed head among the Celts is demonstrated by their display in shrines, either mounted in stonework as at La Roquepertuse in southern Gaul (France), or on wooden poles at the Bredon hill fort in western Britain. In both instances the heads were set up at the entrances. Perhaps the souls of these unfortunate warriors were now being used to provide symbolic protection for these fortresses.

 

Stonework at La Roquepertuse Cult of Head

La Roquepertuse Doorway

In Welsh and Irish myth, the severed head is believed to be imbued with supernatural power. When Bendigeitfran, one of the principal heroes in the cycle of Welsh legends called the Mabinogion is mortally wounded in battle, he commands his own men to cut off his head and bury it in London facing the east to guard Britain again foreign invasion. There are many other examples of talking heads of slain heroes found in Celtic mythology.

Conclusions

There are universal beliefs in the Ancient Celtic Religion which are similar to other religions, most notably the Greeks. Some of these similarities may be result of these ancient civilizations interacting with each other and adopting each other’s philosophies and gods. Based on Greek accounts, some of their mythology and gods (e.g. Apollo) may have been adopted from the Celts in addition to other ancient civilizations such as Egypt.

The next post will discuss the pantheon of Celtic gods and their association to Greek and Romans Gods.

References

  1. John Davies, The Celts: Prehistory to Present Day; 2005; Sterling Publishing Co., New York.
  2. Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
  3. Peter Berresford Ellis, The Druids, 1995William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI.
  4. Delaney, Frank, The Celts (London, 1986)
  5. John Toland, A Critical History of the Celtic Religion and Learning; 2013; AlbaCraft Publishing, Scotland.
  6. Stephen Allen, Celtic Warrior: 300 BC — AD 100; 2001. Osprey Publishing LTD., Westminster, MD, USA.
  7. Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 2008Bollingen Series IVII, Third Edition; New World Library, Novato, CA

Celtic Mystique: Ancient Druid Philosophy

Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region—Joseph Campbell

Ancient Druid Philosophy

The word ‘priest’ was never applied to Druids by any Classical writer. Instead, Greeks and Romans used the term ‘philosopher’ to describe them. According to Diogenes Laertius, a 3rd Century Greek writer, the Druids’ chief maxim was people should “worship the gods, do not evil, and exercise courage.” Druids were taught to live in harmony with nature, accepting that pain and death are not evils but part of the divine plan and that the only evil is moral weakness. Another interesting doctrine the Druids evolved was the belief in the immortality of the soul which is further discussed below.

Dagda Gundestrup cauldron

Dagda Gundestrup Cauldron

Immortality of Soul

Diodorus Siculus, a 1st Century Greek historian, wrote: “The Druids studied the nature of moral philosophy, asserting the human soul is indestructible, and also the universe, but that some time or other, fire and water will prevail.” Julius Caesar remarked that the belief in the immortal soul accounted for the Celts’ bravery in battle.

Dying Gladiator

Statue Dying Celt

The Druids taught souls move between this world and the world of the dead—the Otherworld. Death in the physical world results in a soul moving to the Otherworld, whereas death in the Otherworld brings a soul back to this world. Flavius Philostratus (170-249 AD) observed that Celts celebrated birth with mourning for a death in the Otherworld while they regarded death with joy for the birth in the Otherworld. Pre-Christian graves throughout the Celtic world are filled with personal belongings, weapons, food and drinks and other items to give the departed a good start in the Otherworld. At Hochdorf in southern Germany is the grave site of a Chieftain who was buried in extravagant clothes, including shoes decorated with gold. Also found at this site were a cauldron that could hold 400 liters of wine, weapons, cooking and eating utensils, and a four-wheeled wagon.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

The Celtic philosophy is similar to that of the 6th Century BC Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, who believed in the soul’s reincarnation or transmigration. The soul, by its actions, determines how it will be reincarnated—in human, animal, or even plant form. A similar philosophy was widely accepted in India where it was believed that due to its karma a soul transmigrates from one life to another in a never-ending cycle which could be broken in Nirvana—a state of supreme bliss which, once achieved, liberates the soul from the repeating circle of death and rebirth. Interestingly, there has been a lot of debate whether Pythagoras adopted his philosophy from the Celts or did he influence them? Most likely, the concept of immortal souls evolved in parallel. Not only did the Celts believe the soul is reborn into human bodies from one world to the other, but their literature reveals that souls could migrate through various births from one form to another. In Irish texts, Fintan survives the Deluge by changing into a salmon while in the Welsh texts Gwion Bach reincarnates as a hare, fish, bird, and a grain which is then swallowed by a chicken before he is eventually reborn as Taliesin.

Celtic Cauldon Gundstrup

Gundestrup Cauldron

Death and rebirth is a consistent theme throughout Celtic mythological sagas and tales. The warrior’s resurrection can be found in the story of the battle between the Tuatha Dé Danaan and the Fomorii in which bodies cast into magic cauldrons return to life. There is a scene of a god accompanying a group of warriors as he drips one of them in a drinking vessel on the Gundestrup Cauldron. The rest are symbolically carrying a tree – perhaps the crann na beatha or tree of life.

Teutates Celtic God of War on Gundstrup Cauldron

The War God Teutates on Gundestrup Cauldron

Cult of Severed Head

The Druids believed that the dwelling place of the immortal soul was the head. There is a prevalence of images of the human head at cult sites in virtually all regions believed to have been inhabited by the Celts. The human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celts the soul, the center of emotions as well as of life itself, and a symbol of divinity and the powers of the world of the spirits. To possess the enemy’s head was to possess his soul. As with so many aspects of the warrior’s life, the taking of an opponent’s head in battle, preferably in single combat, had a mystical significance. But it was this gruesome practice that was regarded as most barbaric by the Greeks and Romans who were apparently appalled at the desecration of the bodies. Diodorus Siculus wrote: “When their enemies fall, they cut off their heads and fasten them to the bridles of their horses; and handing over to their retainers the arms of their opponents all covered with blood, they carry them off as booty, singing a song of victory. These first fruits of victory they nail to the sides of their houses just as men do in certain kinds of hunting with the heads of wild beasts they have killed. They embalm the heads of their most distinguished foes in cedar oil and carefully preserve them. They show them to visitors, proudly stating that they had refused a large sum of money for them.”

Replica Celtic Helmet

Celtic Helmet Replica

It can be concluded from this account that, apart from the tangible proof of the warrior’s courage and prowess, the fallen enemy’s head was an important prestige object. The care in its preservation, the pride in its exhibition and the fact that it was considered of great value not only to the warrior who had taken it but also to others, reveals a deeply felt bond between the victor and the vanquished. The importance and extent of the cult of the severed head among the Celts is demonstrated by their display in shrines, either mounted in stonework as at La Roquepertuse in southern Gaul, or on wooden poles as at the Bredon Hill Fort in western Britain. It is interesting to note that in both instances the heads were set up at the entrances. Perhaps the souls of these unfortunate warriors were now being used for symbolic protection of their enemies’ strongholds. In Welsh and Irish myth, the severed head is imbued with supernatural power. When Bendigeitfran, one of the principal heroes in the cycle of Welsh legends called the Mabinogion is mortally wounded in battle, he commands his own men to cut off his head and bury it in London facing the east to guard Britain against foreign invasion.

Celtic Sword

Celtic Sword and Scabbard

To be continued The next posts will continue with the roles of the Druids and their dark ceremonies and rituals. References: Peter Berresford Ellis, The Druids; 1995; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. Stephen Allen, Celtic Warrior 300 BC – AD 100; 2001; Osprey Publishing Ltd, New York. John Davies, The Celts: Prehistory to Present Day;  2005; United States: Sterling Publishing Co., New York. Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc. Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces—Bollingen Series XVII Third Edition; 2008; Joseph Campbell Foundation; New World Library, Novato.