Celtic Heroines: Golden Age of Warriors and Queens

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly know. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path…And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all of the world.”—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Introduction

The epic historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, is the first novel in the Spirit Warrior Chronicles set in 1st Century Britain and Rome. The primary character is Catrin, a Canatiaci warrior princess in southeast Britain. Not only is she trained as a warrior, but she uses raven mystical powers to help her parents defend their kingdom against a rival tribal king and her half-brother. She meets the great-grandson of Marc Antony, Marcellus, when he accompanies his father, a Roman senator, to arbitrate a settlement between the rival tribal kingdoms. Catrin and Marcellus bridge their cultural differences and form an unlikely friendship that develops into a deeper relationship which could threaten the political powers in Britain and Rome.

Celtic Spiritual Warrior

Catrin, Celtic Spirit Warrior

This unpublished novel is inspired by historical accounts and mythology of Celtic heroines who had significant roles as warriors, rulers, and spiritual advisers in the Celtic society. Celtic women were distinctly different from their Greek and Roman counterparts, as they had more liberty, legal rights, and status. This may be due, in part, because females often fended for themselves at home while their menfolk plundered, invaded, or served as mercenaries in foreign lands. Ancient classical historians also provided accounts that women incited, participated, and led battles.

Celtic Heroine Warriors 

Classical writers described Celtic females as not only strong and courageous warriors, but they were beautiful with comely bodies. Classical writer Diodorus wrote Celtic women were “nearly as tall as the men, whom they rivaled in courage.”

Roman historian Marcus Borealis further elaborated: “The women of the Celtic tribes are bigger and stronger than our Roman women. This is most likely due to their natures as well as their peculiar fondness for all things martial and robust. The flaxen haired maidens of the north are trained in sports and war while our gentle ladies are content to do their womanly duties and thus are less powerful than most young girls from Gaul and the hinterlands.”

Celtic Woman Warrior Prepares for Battle

Celtic Woman Warrior Prepares for Battle

Ammianus Marcellinus wrote a lively description of Celtic woman in battle as follows: “…a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Celt] in a fight if he calls on his wife, stronger than he by far and with flashing eyes; least of all when she swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her huge white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult.”

Celtic Spiritual Warrior

Celtic woman warrior in sword fight

Though men usually held the highest political authority, it was not uncommon for women to rule as queens and military commanders. The 1st-century Roman historian Tacitus wrote the Britons “are used to women commanders in war,” and offered detailed reports on the exploits of two warrior queens—Cartimandua and Boudicca.

Celtic Heroine Queens

The Sleek Pony

Cartimandua, known as the sleek pony, was queen of the Brigantes, a vast tribal confederation in north-central Britain. Although Cartimandua ruled with her husband, Venutius, she held the real power to the kingdom. When the Romans invaded in 43 AD, both Cartimandua and Venutius realized the political advantages of siding with the aggressors and thus their kingdom because a thriving Roman client state around 50 AD.

However, Cartimandua lost popularity among her subjects when she betrayed the famous rebel leader Caratacus, turning him over to the Romans after he had sought asylum in her court. Her power eroded when she divorced Venutius and then married his armor bearer who she made the new king. Her actions prompted a civil war with her former husband, the Romans entering the fray and helping her to defeat Venutius in 71 AD. Though she may not have been viewed favorably in history, she still nonetheless was a powerful leader.

Celtic Woman Warrior with Sword

Celtic Woman Warrior with Sword

Boudica

Boudica was a charismatic warrior queen who united several British tribes to drive the Romans out of Britain in 61 AD. A bronze statue of Boudica driving her chariot is prominently displayed on the bank of the Thames (London) in honor of her valiant attempt to overcome her oppressors. Roman historian Dio Cassius described her as “very tall in stature, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, harsh in voice…and with a great mass of bright red hair falling to her hips.”

Boudica Statue

Statue of Boudica

Like the Brigantes, the Iceni had formed an alliance with the Romans that at first gave them prosperity and independence. That changed when her husband, King Prasutagus, died in 60 AD and she became the leader of the Iceni. He willed half of his personal estate to Rome in the hope the gesture would demonstrate his fealty and appease the Roman Nero. The other half was bequeathed to Boudica.

But Nero would not settle for half the fortune—particularly to a mere woman. He ordered his subordinates to seize Boudica’s estate and annex the Iceni territory. When Boudica protested, the Roman soldiers flogged the queen and raped her two teenage daughters.

But the Romans would soon face her fury. The details of this rebellion will be provided in the next post.

References

Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Ph.D., Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History Hidden Heroines; 2002; Warner Books, Inc., New York.

Cassius Dio: The Neronian Revolt of the Iceni under Suetonius Paullinus; Book LXII, Chapters 1-12 (AD 61)

Ammianus Marcellinus: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus, published in Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1935; Book XV, 12 The Manners and Customs of the Gauls.

Celtic Warrior: Greek and Roman Accounts

 

 

Their [Celtic warriors] songs as they go into battle, their yells and leaping, and the dreadful noise of arms as they beat their shields in some ancestral custom, all this is done with one purpose: to terrify their enemies

— Livy, Roman Historian

Age of the Warriors

As discussed in a previous post on APOLLO’S RAVEN, the 3rd Century was classified as the Age of the Warriors for the Continental Celts, based upon Greek and Roman written accounts of their exploits. Burial sites also provide evidence that the warrior nobility was the dominant social group in the Celtic society, as evidenced by the stockpile of swords, lances, armor and shields in the burial sites. The emphasis on weaponry suggests a society geared for war.

Many Celts searched for fame and fortune in the rich, exotic Mediterranean world, in the hope of returning home with their reputations made. Many young warriors sought mercenary service that removed them from the tribe at a time when their drive to achieve high status was most intense. The Greek historian Strabo wrote: “The whole race is war mad, high-spirited and quick to battle.”

Coastline Near Marseille

Provence Coastline Near Marseille

The stereotypical image of the Celtic warrior was engraved onto the consciousness of Greeks and Romans after their fierce encounters with these pillagers.

Greek Accounts

Celtic groups moved southeast that took some of them through the Balkans, into Greece and across into Asia Minor. During this age, many foreign armies used Celtic mercenaries in their ranks, including Greece, Macedonia, Sicily, and Egypt. It is known that Alexander the Great had established friendly relations with Celts in the Balkans before embarking upon his campaigns in Asia.

Dagda Gundestrup cauldron

Dagda Gundestrup cauldron

What encouraged the Celts to continue their mass invasion into Macedonia in the early 3rd Century BC is uncertain, but the area was in turmoil after the break-up of Alexander’s empire. In 280 B.C., Celtic hoards led by Brennus pillaged Macedonia and, then in the middle of winter, some thirty thousand warriors attacked Greece itself. The Greek author Pausanias wrote that Brennus campaigned against Greece to take advantage of the nation’s weakness at the time and to gain even greater wealth from its great sanctuaries. The richest of these was Delphi located high on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, where a temple had been dedicated for the worship of Apollo.

Apollo-WaltersArs

Apollo, God of Sun

Brennus had initial success, but his army was ultimately defeated by forces of nature: lightning, hail, and landslides. Terrified, the Celtic leader interpreted these natural forces as punishment from the gods, and he withdrew his army. The retreating Celtic forces suffered retribution at the hands of the Greeks and subsequently,  Brennus committed suicide.

The Greek historian Polybius wrote of one encounter of how the Celtic enemies were terrified by the dreadful din of innumerable horn blowers and trumpeters, the whole army shouting their war cries. After these events, the Celtic fury was deeply etched in the Greek minds.

Celtic Shield British Museum

Celtic Shield La Tène Style

Roman Accounts

In 391 B.C., Celtic warriors marched on Rome and captured the entire city, except for the capital which was saved by the Roman garrison. After receiving a bribe of one thousand pounds of gold, the Celtic attackers moved northward to what would be known as Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy). From this time forward, the Celtic attacks were so numerous upon the Roman territory that it can be argued that the city was obliged to become a major military power—the first step towards becoming a world power—because of their need to crush the Celtic barbarians. During the long conflict between 390-285 B.C., the Celts were a close-range threat. The best known Celtic mercenaries were those who joined Hannibal during his invasion of Italy during the Second Punic War and helped contribute to his victories. Hence, Rome’s image of the fierce Celtic warriors was created.

Replica Celtic Helmet Britain

Celtic Helmet

In 225 B.C., another group of Celtic mercenaries came south over the Alps to fight with the Cispalpine Gauls against the Romans in the Battle of Telamon. These Celtic mercenaries were called the Gaesataetranslated as ‘spearmen’. These mercenary warriors were a distinct group outside the normal social structure of the clan and tribe. The custom of the Gaesatae was to appear naked on the field of battle, a ritual action to demonstrate their ferocity and lack of fear. The Romans threw volleys of javelins at the naked Gaesatae who fought only with small shields. Some of them rushed wildly at the Romans and were slaughtered. Others withdrew, their retreat causing disorder among their allies.

Dying Gladiator

Statue of Dying Gaul

According to Caesar, the bravery of Celts sprang from their lack of fear of death. They believed the soul did not die. The classical authors, Lucan and Diodorus Siculus, emphasized the Celt’s belief in metempsychosis—that after death the soul passes from one body to another. Welsh and Irish mythologies talk about the easy passage to and fro from the physical world to the Otherworld, the world of the dead.

In his accounts, Julius Caesar regarded only two classes of any status in the Celtic society—the druids (priests) and the knights (noble warriors)—which were evidenced in Irish and Welsh culture. Druids were recruited from the sons and daughters of free-born warriors. They officiated the worship of the gods and interpreted divine purpose and will. The druids had a strong political role in this warrior society.

Julius Caesar Statue

Statue of Julius Caesar

The next posts will further describe the Celtic warrior culture and their religious beliefs.

References:

John Davies, The Celts: Prehistory to Present Day;  2005; United States: Sterling Publishing Co., New York.
Stephen Allen, Celtic Warrior: 300 BC — AD 100; 2001 Osprey Publishing LTD., Westminster, MD, USA.
Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, 2005. The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc.

 

Roman Hostage-Taking; After Caesar’s Invasion of Celtic Britain; Part 7—Apollo’s Raven


//
(ll. 131-132) ”The lyre and the curved bow shall ever be dear to me (Apollo), and I will declare to men the unerring counsel of Zeus.’ Homeric Hymn to Apollo, god of music, shooting, and divination (foresight and knowledge of the future)

INTRODUCTION

The unpublished epic historical fantasy [1st novel: APOLLO’S RAVEN; 2nd novel: RAVEN’S FIRE] is envisioned to be a trilogy [Spirit Warrior Chronicles] set in Celtic Britain, Gaul (modern day France) and Ancient Rome prior to the invasion of Claudius in 43 AD. The trilogy begins in 24 AD when the heroine Catrin—a Celtic spirit warrior—begins a perilous odyssey that starts in southeast Britain (modern day Kent), ventures into Gaul, and finally ends in Rome where she must overcome slavery before she returns to her homeland.

This is Part 7 of historical and archaeological evidence supporting 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 for the trilogy where Catrin meets the great-grandson of Marc Antony and is destined to become a warrior queen.

Pebble Beach Deal UK

Shingle Beach, Deal, UK; Landing Site Julius Caesar 55 – 54 BC

Hostage Taking Under Augustus

The previous posts highlighted the importance that Julius Caesar placed on retaining several hostages from the most powerful Celtic tribes in 54BC Britain for his political advancement. Emperor Augustus continued the strategy of exercising authority over hostages in the belief their thinking about the Roman Empire could be altered as follows:

  • Realign  loyalties by accepting hostages as wards in an extended Roman family headed by the paterfamilias, Roman father
  • Acculturate hostages in the Roman culture by offering formal, controlled education

Realign Loyalties

The historian Strabo stressed Britain kings came to Rome to pay obeisance to Emperor Augustus, practically giving the entire island to the Romans. In the Res Gestae, Augustus listed kings who had bowed to him in search of some kind of assistance, including the British king Dumnobellaunus. Based on ancient coinage, the Celtic king ruled northeast Kent before being supplanted by Cunobeline of the Catuvellauni tribe. Dumnobellaunus fled Britain in 7 AD to join the growing community of refuge British princes living in Rome. With the acquisition of the territory of the Trinovantes tribe, Cunobeline governed from Camulodunum (modern Colchester) for more than thirty years and issued a series of gold, silver, and bronze coins. The Romans came to regard him as Britannorum Rex, the king of the Britons.

Roman Fort Celtic Britain

Richborough Ruins Kent UK Landing Site Roman Invasion 43 AD

Augustus emphasized he did not need to fight these outlying countries because he could further Rome’s interest by sheer intimidation. An example of this is mentioned by Augustus in Res Gestae where he says the children of a Parthian king were given to him out of friendship. Augustus bragged he controlled the eastern states to such an extent that he could appoint their kings from among the batches of heirs who had surrendered. These heirs probably included the Parthian King’s children who resided with Augustus. The historian Seutonius reported Augustus once appeared with the Parthian children in public at the theater.

Gallo Roman Museum Mosaic

Roman Mosaic Gallo Roman Museum Lyon France

The ironic message of peaceful conquest was further articulated at the mausoleum complex of the sculpted frieze that depicts a procession of senators and members of the imperial family. As can be seen in the photograph below, there is a bare-footed child who looks distinctly Celtic in a short tunic, with long curly hair and a twisted torque necklace around his neck. This boy may represent a “barbarian” from Western Europe. It is theorized that this child may have been a prince of Gaul who was accepted by Augustus when he visited Lugdunum (modern day Lyon). The altar’s message is the children were in Rome as a result of peace and had come to him “not conquered by Rome.”

Celtic Child in Roma Ara Pacis Procession Nord Particolare

Celtic child in Frieze of Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace)

Acculturate Hostages

Acculturation of hostages into the Roman culture included offering a formal, controlled education. Loyalties could be realigned by placing hostages, viewed as helpless and savage, into an environment that taught them about Roman’s culture. The initial fear turns to sympathy, which grows into an appreciation of the captors. The younger the hostage, the more likely the transference. The longer a hostage is detained, the more likely he will identify with his captor. By holding hostages for years and by judiciously applying the threat of violence with a promise of salvation, the Romans essentially invited the hostage to collaborate with them.

Conclusions

The role of hostages probably played a role in Rome’s influence over Britain. Most likely, some of the British princes were formally educated by the Romans as described above.

The next series of posts will focus on the rise of client kings loyal to Rome and the subsequent rivalry between tribal kings that, in part, precipitated the Roman invasion in 43 AD.

References:

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

John Peddie, Conquest: The Roman Invasion of Britain; Reprinted 1997 by St. Martin’s Press, New York.

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

Fritz Graf, Apollo; Published 2009 by Routledge, New York.

Heroine Mythological Adventure

//

Introduction

Linnea Tanner is a native of Colorado where she attended the University of Colorado and earned her BA and MS in chemistry. After working in the pharmaceutical industry, she is now an aspiring writer of historical fantasy, romance, and adventure based on her lifelong passion for Ancient Rome, Celtic Britain, and mythology.

 

Life Venture of Linnea Tanner

As a child, Linnea was an avid reader of Greek/Roman/Nordic mythology which opened up a new world of gods/goddesses, heroes, and mythological adventure.  Using this fantastical world as a base, Linnea imagined herself as a heroine warrior on a perilous odyssey to overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles. Other characters joined Linnea on this journey, including Romans, who taught her about courage, love, duty, loyalty, and sacrifice. Yet most schools taught history and mythology in the biased viewpoint of male conquerors; women were invisible in the background.

Linnea’s childhood characters stayed with her as she began her life venture: marriage to her soul mate, birth of two children, education, and professional career. However, she rediscovered the wonder of the goddess mythology from ancient civilizations where women and men worked in partnership (“The Chalice & the Blade” by Riane Eisler). She was inspired by accounts of Celtic women warriors and rulers, and extensive research and expeditions to the UK and France. In the Celtic warrior society, the rights and status of women far exceeded those of the patriarchal societies of Greece and Rome. During her travels to the UK, Linnea’s passion for writing was ignited after she researched the historical account of the Celtic queen Boudica, whose rebellion almost resulted in the withdrawal of all Roman forces from Britain in 60 AD.

Vision of Celtic Spirit Chronicles

Linnea Tanner has taken the next step in her next life’s adventure of becoming a writer. She envisions completing the Spirit Warrior Chronicles, an epic historical fantasy set in 1st Century Celtic Britain prior to the Roman invasion in 43 AD. The story is about the heroine, Catrin—a Celtic spirit warrior destined to meet the great grandson of Marc Antony (Marcellus) and to become a warrior queen in her tribal kingdom.

The first two unpublished novels of the Spirit Warrior Chronicles are:

  • APOLLO’S RAVEN is set in 24 AD when Catrin begins a perilous odyssey that starts in Celtic Britain (modern day Kent) where she meets Marcellus; ventures into Gaul (modern day France) where she becomes a gladiatrix; and ends in Rome where she reunites and falls in love with Marcellus.
  • RAVEN’S FIRE continues the odyssey where Catrin must take on the dark powers of her raven spirit to fulfill her destiny to become warrior queen. The draft of this manuscript is near completion.

Purpose of Apollo’s Raven Blog

Linnea has begun this blog to share and to survey the opinions of others regarding ancient Celtic and Roman culture and mythology. In addition, she will share some of her research findings and photographs of sites in Britain (ancient Roman Britannia) and France (ancient Roman Gaul) where the heroine, Catrin, travels in her odyssey.