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Not all singing round the camp fire

April 19, 2011

One of the joys of writing fiction about the ancient world is that the huge gaps in the evidence are just ripe for filling with one’s own fond imaginings. And when it comes to the ancient Celts, or Britons, or whatever you choose to call them, those imaginings can be very fond indeed.

While we all know about the Roman penchant for violence, there’s a tendency to dismiss Roman reports of Celtic violence as propaganda.  In this fantasy version of the past, Druids float through the woods waving mistletoe and reciting poetry, while the common folk sit around the campfire quaffing the ancient equivalent of Guinness, and fall asleep singing plaintive laments about lost homelands.

Now, I don’t doubt that a certain amount of quaffing and singing went on – indeed, it goes on in my own books. But there’s always been a darker side. We’ve known about the apparent murder of ‘bog bodies’ for some time, but now we have stark evidence of a massacre that apparently pre-dates Roman control.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it, here’s a link to the recent BBC article on an Iron Age mass burial site. Part of the mystery of what the Iron Age did with its dead seems to have been solved.

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4 comments

  1. That’s very similar to my reaction to news of the Fin Cop excavations. People seem to like going with the romantic version of history, whereas the truth is rather more, er, down to earth …


    • Absolutely, as various televised attempts to recreate ‘Iron Age’ society have shown!

      I’m sure a psychologist could have a good time with this one. It would be interesting to know when the ‘romantic’ view took hold, and whether it relates in any way to the loss of faith in Paradise that accompanied Darwin, etc. (Oh dear, I have an uneasy feeling I ought to remember something about this from Uni…) Meanwhile those old illustrations of ‘celtic’ women with flowing hair have a lot to answer for.


  2. Yes, just because the Romans could be brutal and violent, it doesn’t follow that the peoples they invaded and conquered were any less so – just not very successful at resisting invasion, so they became under-dogs, and we Brits do love an under-dog!


    • Indeed! On the subject of being violent but not triumphant, I see there’s a Time Team special on Boudica this Wednesday (Channel 4, 9 pm). It’ll be interesting to see if they come up with anything new.



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