The Barbarians

The problem with them Celts (eng., ger.) is that we have no written first hand source: Their image is determined by the picture Greek and Roman authors create when confronted with nasty barbarians from the North: Blokes who do not speak a civilized language (hence „barbaros“, the one who makes childish and un-understandable noises like bal-bal-barr-barr-bla-bla), conquer Rome (Gauls (eng., ger.) under Brennus (eng., ger.), 387 (eng., ger.) before Christ) and give one of the most sacred places of the Antike, the oracle of Delphi (eng., ger.), a near miss: Uncivilized and aggressive neighbours one better keeps at a pilum’s distance.
The Celts on the other hand formed a comprehensive culture throughout Europe, from Portugal to Turkey, with one language (as we can assume), one kind of money, one art and style – celtic pieces of art do show a pretty close relationship no matter whether they are produced and found in central France or on the Balcans. It was not one “race” or “nation” (I am aware of the different meanings and use of the word “race” and “Rasse”, it is difficult to translate the German word “Volk” appropriately – believe me, I am a Volkskundler.), not one Staatsvolk, but a set of different tribes.
The research of the last two decennia brought interesting new aspects and our knowledge about the barbarians is expanding. A conferrence was helt some weeks ago about this topic, the DFG (Deutsche Forschungs-Gemeinschaft) had a pretty large project and bundled together different tasks and research activities – namely in Southern Germany – over the last years.
As a result we can see that around 600 b.C. the nasty barbarians where close to establishing a real “Hochkultur”: They had founded cities, formed a kind of stately organisation, there must have been an organized kind of rule within a defined geographical area, all the symptoms that define a high developed culture were there, but they did not take the last step and made it a steady, a lasting development.
What we see from finds is that they had close trade relations with the Mediterranean South, they imported Greek ceramics and food, namely wine (yeah!) and exported weapons, golden artwork, and textiles.
The German Southwest can be seen as the place or origin of the Celtic culture, at least southgerman researchers do like this idea. A string of important early Celtic places can be found: From the Heuneburg (eng., ger.) at the upper Donau near Sigmaringen, the Ipf-mountain (eng., ger.), the Hochdorf grave (eng., ger.), the religious site at the Glauberg in Hassia (eng., ger.) to the Mount Lassois (eng., ger.) in France. At the Ipf we have regular and planful built structures on the mountain and large houses at its basis. The grave at Hochdorf shows the importance of the nearby site, the mountain of Hohenasperg, whose ruler had this remarkable and unique mausoleum. At the Glauberg we find massive walls and – at the current state of knowledge – no traces of living quarters or manors, but it is a very huge religious instalation (Kultanlage) with streets for processions and gravesites for nobility: Fritz-Rudolf Herrmann, the archeologist of the site calls it an “Olympia of the North”. At the Mount Lassois a regular town planning with rectangular streets could be proofen. And there’s the city of Manching (eng., ger.) after all.
We can have a glance at the history of the Heuneburg as an example for the celtic history in its early stage: It’s a “Höhenburg”, a castle or “Burg” built up on a mountain (in the height, auf der Höhe). From 1000 b.C. onwards these structures can be found on both sides of the Donau. Around 600 b.C. most of them are vanishing – but the Heuneburg attracts all the power of the adjacent castles: It surrounds itself with a stonewall and other structures, not with a simple wall made from earth and some wooden pallisades. The wall is whitened, so really not to miss, and they have an entrance constructed in stone – very expensive, very representative. Two generations later the show is over and the castle is empty, nobody knows why.
In the following centuries the centre of the Celtic culture moves North into Hassia, to the Harz: The castles become smaller and smaller and are reduced to only functional shelters for protection – there is a cultural declining.
We do not know enough about them. Their religion? Their use of the new material, iron that is, and its social impact? Their social organisation – who went to war? How lived the average Celt? What we have found are important places of rulers, of nobility and priests. But for the people not in the castles – how was it then? And why did these barbarians not learn to write?
A kind of summary, an overview under consideration of the new finds needs to be written.

17 thoughts on “The Barbarians

  1. I’ve always been fascinated by the Celts, though I don’t claim to have very thorough knowledge about them. However, and you’re free to smack me upside the head for this, this statement
    „barbaros“, the one who makes childish and un-understandable noises like bal-bal-barr-barr-bla-bla
    leads me to believe that the Beach Boys song Barbara Ann was misinterpreted. It is actually “Barbarian.”
    Ba ba ba, barbarian
    Take my hand
    You’ve got me rockin and rollin rockin and reelin Barbarian, ba ba!

    I dare anyone to top that for sheer foolishness!

  2. Permit me to gush…

    I love popping on here as I’m never sure where your mind will be dipping into next.

    Much of modern Paganism claims to have Celtic roots. Much of modern Paganism I take with a big pinch of salt. So it’s good to see what actual historians say about their culture and impact on Europe.

    Thank you for that. I will put that list on Things to Research.

  3. Like many of the uneducated masses, I thought: Celts = Ireland = Druids and Dwarfs with pots of gold.

    Now I know better Bavarians = Barbarians!

    And why did these barbarians not learn to write?

    Business rule No. 1: Never put down anything in writing.

  4. XL
    In those areas are still people living who claim to have some celtic heritage. Druids sickling through the forrest …
    Vince’s a rocker! As always with American irony I am not sure: Does he mock people who say “Bomb them!” or is it a serious kind of propaganda sponsored by the bombsellers. I simply do not know what Americans do find funny.
    Thirty years of cloak and agger, open warfare and misunderstanding … “Eat it!” “Thanks, Al.”

    To gush? Waitaminute … “quellen, rieseln, strömen, schwärmen” .. aw yes, I pick “schwärmen” …
    I think I have to post about the last druid.
    Generally there is nothing bad about paganism. But what I am unhappy with is the idea of continuity, like the golden chain from Adam onwards, for systems of learning and organizations and such: In the end it’s a bloke with a beard who wants sex.
    These are more or less instable constructions.
    I am not talking about spirituality, there other rules may be applied, there are things to be recovered and re-discovered by any single human which are there since our ancestors started to walk. A lot of paganism is turned around christianity, litterally, and expresses in my opinion discontentment and frustration with ruling forms of religion more than the serious try to find a new spiritual home. One good priest can make a hell of a difference.
    As for the Celts: We simply do not know enough about their religion to honestly claim that elements would be still around. This leads deep into ideas of (european) ethnology and such theories. What we can say for sure is that ideas are around that are not christian. Go see the light yer heathen!

  5. By the way the “bavarians” are the result of the cohabitation from different groups travelling through the area since the Romans went out. The weak, diabled and mentally retarded were left at the foot of the Alps and formed the genepool of these tribe. Franconians on the other hand are Gods answer of perfection to this corruption of nature, the incorporation of the great gifts, the living proof of mankinds uniqueness, hui ….

  6. Thank you very much Mago!

    I see the Celts in parallel to the Native tribes of Norht America. Rich in an oral tradition, you would think it was necessary to write things down, but passed in stories from genration to genration. Different tribes were at different levels of mondernity. They traded with eachother, fought against eachother, partied together, and those who were captured in war, sometimes they became part of the victorious tribe often as a second-class citizens, or they were traded for goods and serivices to other tribe.

    The Christian crusaders, both here and there, made a point to tear down the old religious sites and rituals and put up their own in place. So much has been lost just by that. American scholars might call it old world “gentrification” process.

    And now today, with so many Christians. Who would dare to pull down the Sistine Chapel to see what’s under it?

    They are like the birds who take the nests of others, eat their childeren (symbolically speaking) and make it their own.

    Long live the Barbarians!

  7. correction: “Rich in oral tradition, you would not think it was important to write things down.” (except maybe in pictographs through artistic expression in everyday items or cave walls)


  8. Savannah
    “Franc” is good.

    The actual center of finds and excavations is in the East of Germany, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt. The Nebra disk is from circa 1.600 b.C. – maybe in this relations some new ideas about them Celts may be found.

    Seemingly keepers of the flame …

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