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The Xenophile Historian

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A History of Europe


Before 200 B.C.

This chapter is divided into two parts, which cover the following topics:

Part I

Out of the Ice
From Cave to Village
The Megalith Builders
The Minoans
The Bronze Age and the Indo-European Migration
The Mycenaeans

Part II

The Phoenician Pioneers
The Villanovan Culture
The Celts
Pre-Roman Britain
The Legends of the Emerald Isle
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The Phoenician Pioneers

While Homer's Greeks fought the Trojans and each other, the Middle East's greatest traders and sailors, the Phoenicians, began sending out shiploads of colonists to settle the Mediterranean Basin. At first they seem to have been driven by the need to find new sources of metal; some of the mines at home were tapped out already. As early as 1000 B.C., they made regular trips to Spain, which was rich in silver and tin. Overcrowding in the home cities, especially Tyre, may also have been a factor, but not as much as it would be for the Greeks; the Phoenician colonies did not grow very quickly. Their main Spanish colony, founded in 770 B.C., was Gades, modern Cadiz, just west of the Pillars of Hercules (the ancient name for the Straits of Gibraltar).

The Pillars of Hercules got their name because Greek mythology asserted that Hercules moved the Rock of Gibraltar and Mt. Acho, the corresponding mountain on the Moroccan side, to their present locations. On the Atlantic side there may have been some prehistoric commerce between the Megalithic tribes of Spain, Portugal, France and Britain, but civilized men went no farther than Gades until the fifth century B.C. Because the Greeks had no idea what was beyond the Pillars of Hercules, they imagined it as the location of legendary and mythical places that couldn't be found elsewhere, like the Kingdom of Antaeus, the Garden of Hesperides--and Atlantis.

When it came to trading with Spain's inhabitants, the Phoenicians clearly got the better part of the deal. Not knowing the value of their metals, the Iberians cheerfully traded them for manufactured goods (mostly of the "glass beads & trinkets" variety), and even helped the Semitic newcomers look for new deposits, unaware that there was much more ore to be had underground than in the nuggets they picked up on the surface. Eventually they wisened up, though, and around 700 B.C. the Iberians in the Andalusia region united to form a kingdom, called Tartessos by the Greeks. This was the only native political unit of any importance before the Carthaginians and the Romans conquered the peninsula. Many Bible scholars believe that Tarshish is the Hebrew name for Tartessos, so the "ships of Tarshish" that King Solomon employed were long-distance Phoenician merchantmen.

Once the Phoenicians had the mineral wealth of Spain, the need to protect existing trade routes became the main reason for colonies. Ancient galleys rarely traveled more than thirty miles a day, and their captains liked to drop anchor at night, so well-placed outposts helped a lot. In the eighth century B.C., they colonized North Africa, Malta, Sardinia and Sicily for that reason. The preferred spot for a new city was either an offshore island or a small peninsula, so that ships could enter and leave the harbors when the winds were blowing from almost any direction; colonies planted on the mainland were only likely to survive if the indigenous tribes were friendly.

In the eastern Mediterranean the Phoenicians competed with the Greeks and came in second place; in the west they played second fiddle to nobody. The conquest of Tyre, first by the Assyrians (665 B.C.), and then by the Babylonians (573 B.C.), left the Phoenician colonies on their own, and they merged into one state, led by Carthage in North Africa, to deal with outside threats. Details on how the colonies united are not available, but the conquest of Tartessos (about 510 B.C.) and the settlement of the Balearic Islands were important steps.

Carthage sent two expeditions beyond Gades around 450 B.C., to explore the Atlantic coast of Africa and Europe. The African commander was named Hanno, while the commander who explored the European shores was named Himilco. Since two families held most of the top positions in Carthage, it is likely that Hanno and Himilco were brothers. The Phoenicians knew very little about western Europe, although they had traded with its inhabitants for centuries, hence the desire to explore. Himilco made it to the northern shore of Brittany before turning back, and described the Atlantic as a place full of calm zones where ships couldn't find any wind for their sails, vast beds of seaweed, extensive shallows, dense mists, and huge sea monsters. No doubt he was exaggerating, to scare off competitors; this area was so rich in tin that the Greeks called Britain the "Tin Isles" when they heard about it later on.

The whole process of unification and expansion was completed by 410 B.C. Thus, when the Greeks went forth to start colonies of their own, they had to steer clear of most of the places the Phoenicians had settled. The main exception was Sicily; this island had so much to offer that Phoenician and Greek colonists fought over it for three hundred years, until the Romans got interested as well. We will come back to look at this struggle when we cover the expansion of Rome in Chapter 3.

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The Villanovan Culture

Italy was another rich source of metals, but unlike Spain, the natives were numerous and fierce enough to keep Phoenician colonists out; the nearest Phoenician settlements were on Sardinia. In the second millennium B.C., Italy was not the smiling land of vineyards and olive groves that it is today, but a rough country of marshes and hilly forests. The soil was extremely fertile, thanks to volcanic activity; there were fifty volcanic craters within twenty-five miles of Rome, some of them smoking as recently as 1000 B.C. This, and the mild "Mediterranean" climate, allowed a steady growth of the population, which was divided among several tribes and villages. The villages were hillside agricultural settlements with no fortifications, suggesting to us that life was generally peaceful. Except for the introduction of bronze tools, the scene would have looked familiar to someone like Oetzi (see footnote #9).

The late Bronze Age occurred in Italy somewhat earlier than it did in the rest of Europe, about 1300 to 1000 B.C. During this time some villages began to grow, and urnfield-style cremations replaced burials as the dominant funeral custom. Artifacts from Greece and the Middle East start to appear, suggesting that merchants from the civilized world were already making trips here.

The next period, 1000 to 700 B.C., was the beginning of the Iron Age for Italy. One district progressed more rapidly than the rest of the peninsula--the northwestern province called Etruria by the Romans, and Tuscany by us. Etruria's boundaries were the Arno and Tiber Rivers, the Apennine mts. and the Mediterranean. Here the first permanent towns, Vetulonia and Tarquinii, appeared by 800 B.C. The inhabitants of Etruria called themselves Rasna, but we know them by their Latin name, the Etruscans. To the Greeks they were Tyrsenoi or Tyrrhenoi, and from that we get the name for the nearest part of the Mediterranean, the Tyrrhenian Sea. Archaeologists call the early Etruscan civilization the Villanovan culture, after the estate near Bologna where early Iron Age artifacts were first identified. The most common artifacts were more burial urns; many of these were made to look like their houses, showing us that they lived in clay-walled huts with thatched roofs.

This burial urn from the Villanovan period had a bronze helmet for a lid; it probably contained the ashes of a warrior.

Today the coast of Tuscany is smooth, but three thousand years ago it had several harbors, now silted in. Blessed by yet another advantage, the Etruscans quickly became good sailors--and feared pirates. During this period, they came to dominate the Tyrrhenian Sea; anyone else who sailed in the waters west of Italy did so at their peril. However, most Etruscan cities were built inland, perhaps to give some defense against enemy fleets.(23)

The Etruscans are one of the most mysterious peoples of ancient times. From the small portion of their language we have translated, we know they were not Indo-European. Ancient historians argued about their origin. Herodotus reported that they came from Lydia, in Anatolia, when half the people of that kingdom moved to Europe to escape a long famine. His argument must have made sense at the time, because both the Etruscans and the Lydians were luxury-loving, and both cultures were alien to the Greeks. Likewise, the Romans thought they came from Asia, too, as refugees from the Trojan War(24). However, Dionysus of Halicarnassus, writing in the first century B.C., thought they had always lived in Italy: "This nation migrated from nowhere else, but was native to the country, since it is found to be a very ancient nation and to agree with no other in its language or its manner of writing." Modern scholars have continued the debate, speculating whether the Etruscans are the same as the Teresh, mentioned in Egyptian records among the "Peoples of the Sea," who attacked Egypt in the reign of Ramses III. Currently it looks like the solution could be a compromise of these views; the Etruscans were the first Italians, but an infusion of Asian immigrants did much to help their civilization develop.

Around 775 B.C., Greeks from the Aegean island of Euboea founded a colony on Pithecusae (modern Ischia), a small island in the bay of Naples. The Etruscans had already explored as far south as Naples, so Pithecusae initiated regular commerce between the two civilizations. In return for the manufactured goods the Etruscans imported from Greece, they traded their metals, especially iron mined from Populonia and the nearby island of Elba. The effects of this trade on them were tremendous; the Etruscans also learned Greek art, and the use of the alphabet. What's more, the Euboean Greeks had a colony at Al Mina on the Syrian coast, so Asian products became available in Italy, too. Thus, Etruria was prepared to play a major (though underrated) part in early classical history. When the Romans got started, they would acquire much of their civilization from the Etruscans, until they met the Greeks themselves.

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The Celts

In the section on the Bronze Age, we looked at the ancient commerce in metals and other valuables like amber. For the early Europeans, however, the most important commodity they traded was salt. They needed salt for food preservation, because most of northern Europe is too cold and wet to dry meats and fruits in the sun. The people living on the coast could always get salt by evaporating seawater, but the best quality salt came from the Hallstatt salt mines, in the Austrian Alps. Indeed, the name of Salzberg, the nearest city to Hallstatt in modern Austria, means "salt mountain," showing the value of its sodium deposits even today. Naturally the people who ran this enterprise, the Celts, did well; they prospered so much that they became the dominant ethnic group on the Continent in the last millennium B.C.

They spread over a large part of the Continent because they liked to wander, though they were not true nomads. By 800 B.C. they had overrun all of France except the southwestern quarter; because of that, France will be known as Gaul for the next four chapters of this work. Around 700 they began migrating into Spain, mixing with the indigenous Iberians to produce a hybrid tribe, the Celto-Iberians. Besides the usual desire to find greener pastures, local customs motivated the Celts to keep moving. A man was not allowed to marry unless he owned property, so landless young men had to go out and find some turf of their own, if they didn't inherit any from their parents. A custom of foster parenting may have also encouraged Celtic travel, if not expansion. Called fosterage, it involved sending the children to foster families, usually in another settlement, before they reached the age of seven. The purpose was to teach them skills appropriate to their social standing, and to promote good relations between two communities. For example, the daughter of a farmer learned to grind grain and make bread, while the daughter of a noble learned sewing and embroidery; all boys learned physical skills, especially if they were expected to lead a band of warriors when they grew up. Girls usually returned to their real parents when they turned fourteen, boys at seventeen; despite the shorter stay away from home, a girl's parents paid about a third more for her education, because they felt she needed more attention.

Despite their accomplishments, the Celts have received a bad press for most of the past two thousand years, proving the maxim that history is written by the winners. To the Greeks and Romans, the Celts were wild-haired barbarians, who loved both wine and war, and were so fearless in battle that sometimes their women would fight alongside them. Classical authors describe them as tall and hardy, having fair complexions, blond or red hair, big mustaches, and a fondness for one-piece necklaces called torques. Often the men would use lime to mold their hair into spikes, and sometimes they would charge their enemies naked; both techniques usually scared the daylights out of everyone they met. As with some other ancient civilizations, battles between Celts might begin with a duel between champions from each side. Occasionally this was enough to decide the outcome, but more often the rest of the warriors jumped in for a free-for-all, once the first contest ended. As the Greek historian Strabo put it: "the whole race is madly fond of war."

It didn't take much to start a feast or a fight among the Celts. They were so concerned with keeping fit that they might impose fines for obesity, but when a major religious festival came along, the resulting feast often lasted for several days. Typically the main course was pork, because the young men liked to show their courage and skill by hunting wild boar. Accompanying it would be lots of drink and trimmings like butter, cheese and honey--but none of the elaborate sauces and spices that the Romans were fond of. Guests gathered in a long building made of wood or mud bricks, sat on animal pelts or hay instead of chairs, and used low tables. Seating was done according to rank, with the best cut of meat going to the man whose boastful war stories were the most convincing. Very often the heavy drinking led to fights; as in battle, the combatants were daring, but not well organized. "Every single step the Celts took," the Roman Polybius explained, "being commended to them by the heat of passion rather than cold calculation."

All Celts shared the same religion and spoke different dialects of the same language, but they never seemed to consider themselves a single people. Nobody tried to unite the Celts into a single state, and no political organization existed above the tribal level. Each tribe was willing to fight its neighbors as much as it was willing to fight non-Celts, so their villages remained fortified, even after some of them grew into towns. That is why the Celts ultimately failed, despite their bravery, when a better organized opponent (i.e., Rome) took them on. This may also explain why they had several names; the Greeks called them Keltoi, and the Romans called them Gauls. Even today we disagree on how to pronounce the name "Celt"; English-speakers say Kelt or Selt, while Italians say Chelt.

Normally we divide Celtic history (and prehistory) into three periods, the Hallstatt (800-450 B.C.), La Tene (450-50 B.C.), and the Roman Periods (50 B.C.-500 A.D.). The urnfield culture that preceded these in central Europe (1200-800 B.C.) is also thought to be theirs, though as we noted earlier, no documentation exists to identify them at this early date. The Roman Period, when Rome ruled all of the Celtic-speaking peoples except the Irish and Picts, is beyond the scope of this chapter, so when we talk about the Celts, our main interest will be the Hallstatt and La Tene Periods.

If salt was the key to the Celts' economic success, iron was the key to their military success. They were the first people in Europe to become masters at iron working (the Greeks still preferred bronze armor), and though they probably learned the techniques from Middle Eastern smiths, they soon did better than their teachers. Iron smelting requires higher temperatures than copper, lead or tin, but iron ore is easier to find, so whoever knew how to shape and cast iron had a decided advantage. The Celts made a variety of tools and weapons with it: long swords, spears, plowshares, bridle bits for horses, and iron rims for their chariot wheels. Eventually the most skilled smiths invented steel, when they learned that adding carbon to iron under extreme heat produced weapons even tougher and sharper than what they had already. The blacksmith became the most esteemed craftsman in his village; other Celts thought his work was a type of magic.

Besides the blacksmiths, two other professions had skills so important that laymen credited them with the power to work magic: Druids and bards. The Druids were the priests who interpreted omens and observed the rituals needed to placate the gods and ward off evil; next to the chiefs they had the most power in the tribe. Most of their worship took place in forests, near the oak trees that they considered sacred. Mistletoe, holly and fire were special symbols, with the power to heal or purify when the Druids wielded them, while bogs were evil places to stay away from. The Druids also had the job of making sense out of the chaotic Celtic pantheon, which had several hundred gods that could change from one tribe to the next. Finally, the Druid committed most of his tribe's legends and laws to memory, as well as sciences like medicine, genealogy and astronomy; Julius Caesar reported that it took a novice Druid 20 years to memorize all that he needed to know, and he almost never shared that lore with the uninitiated.

No Celtic community was complete without a bard, who was more than just a minstrel. Besides providing music and entertainment, the bards served as oral historians, political critics, eulogizers, and motivators of the warriors. In fact, they were a subclass of the Druids, who passed their verses and poems from one bard to another orally, each adding some personal embroidery to the text. The use of certain formulas, such as fixed phrases and repeated verses or groups of verses, made memorization easier. With the conversion of the Celts to Christianity, the nature-worship of the Druids disappeared, but the bardic tradition continued throughout the medieval era, especially in Wales and Ireland. In Wales many medieval bards were nobles, and they had guilds to set their standards for writing and reciting. Even today Ireland produces more than its share of musicians, from folk singers to rock & roll bands like U2, so calling them modern-day bards is probably appropriate.

The Celtic religion was a bloody one, often calling for human sacrifice; from time to time we find the bodies of their victims in the bogs of northern Europe, especially in Denmark and the British Isles. They also had a head fetish, putting pictures of human heads on art objects, and keeping the severed heads of enemies as trophies, either nailed to poles or swinging from the necks of horses. Oddly enough, they believed that a head could still sing, speak, and guard against evil after its owner had died--though they had plenty of opportunities to learn this was not the case. The most prized heads--those of slain heroes--were embalmed in cedar oil, while at least one tribe coated skulls with gold to make drinking cups out of them. Sometimes a head might be placed in a food storage pit, presumably because they thought it would keep vermin and rot away.

For a wild and woolly people, the Celts had a remarkable sense of beauty. They combined human and animal characteristics to create mysterious images of their gods, and instead of going for realism, the way the Greeks did, they produced stylized interpretations of the world around them. This prompted one Italian archaeologist, Sabatino Moscati, to call the Celts "the world's first abstractionists, the first true moderns." In fact, when it comes to the basic elements of civilization (the arts, an economy, common language and religion, etc.), the Celts had nearly all of them; the main exceptions are a strong political organization and writing, so the author classifies them as a borderline civilization. And the lack of writing doesn't mean they were unable to learn it; we have a few Celtic language inscriptions written in the Etruscan, Latin, Greek and Carthaginian (Phoenician) alphabets. These probably came from individual Celts who served as mercenaries in the armies of the great classical empires. Eventually the Irish Celts invented a runic script, known as Ogham, made completely of vertical lines of different lengths; a modified version of Ogham was adopted by the Picts in Scotland. However, the oldest Ogham inscriptions date to the fourth century A.D., meaning they were written long after the Romans submerged Celtic culture elsewhere. That, combined with the reluctance of the Druids to put down their knowledge in writing, explains why so little is known about Celtic history today. The first Celts who wrote down their literature were Irish monks in the eighth century A.D.; by then all that remained were myths and the eyewitness accounts of non-Celts like Julius Caesar.

Despite their raids, the Celts lived as simple farmers most of the time. Merchants from the nations of the Mediterranean, especially the Etruscans, would cross the Alps to trade with them. The Celts gave them amber, salt and metals; in return, the commodity they wanted the most was wine. Thus, we can thank Etruscan traders and Celtic connoisseurs for introducing grapes to France, beginning the French love for wine that continues to this day. When the Greeks founded Massilia (modern Marseilles) around 600 B.C., they started trading with the Celts, too, though they got a shock when they found that their new customers liked to drink Greek wine straight, without watering it down like they did back in Greece.

Both the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures got their names from the first sites of theirs to be excavated. Georg Ramsauer, the director of the Hallstatt salt mine, began exploring the local graves in 1846, while a dry spell in 1857 lowered Switzerland's Lake Neuchatel enough to allow Friedrich Schwab to discover La Tene artifacts in the lake bed. Besides the introduction of iron, the Hallstatt era saw an increase in wealth and a change in funeral customs; the Celts abandoned the urnfields and went back to burying their elite in mounds. The largest of these mounds were 300 feet wide, 42 feet across, and contained a chamber lined with wooden walls; the occupant was richly bedecked with jewelry and weapons, had a huge cauldron nearby for the customary funerary banquet, and was often laid out on a wagon, the Iron Age equivalent of a limousine burial. Sometimes women received the same honors, suggesting that they enjoyed more rights than their counterparts in the Mediterranean world.

Contact with the more advanced nations seems to have sparked a new flowering of art among the Celts. Around 450 B.C., the La Tene culture began moving out from the neighborhood of the Alps, to every place where the Celts already lived.(25) The simple geometric designs that mark Hallstatt pottery disappear, and in their place came the elaborate whorls, spirals and curlicues that we now associate with Celtic art. Soon these motifs appeared on everything they made-swords, shields, pots, brooches and other jewelry. The La Tene period also saw a wave of Celtic expansion eastward. From Hungary they poured down the Danube, settling every part of the Balkans except Illyria, Macedonia and Greece. They even entered the Ukrainian steppe around 270 B.C., pushing up against the Scythians when they reached the Black Sea.(26) However, an economic slump seems to have occurred during the same period; early La Tene graves were simpler than Hallstatt ones, and cremations made a partial comeback. This may have been because the Greeks and the Carthaginians were now rivals, disrupting trade in Gaul and everywhere else in the western Mediterranean.

Not until around 150 B.C. would elaborate burials return. Another sign of returning prosperity was that the hilltop forts of previous eras became walled towns, called oppida by the Romans; they now served as centers for commerce and manufacturing as well as defense. The Celts grew rich from trading with the Romans, but they also became dependent of Roman markets for their livelihood; this probably hurt them when Rome began expanding into Celtic territories, starting with north Italy.

From a political standpoint, the best years for the Celts were the fourth and early third centuries B.C. At this point they dominated most of Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans. In 390 B.C. a tribal migration of Celts into Italy wasted the Etruscans and captured Rome. In 279 some Gauls sacked Delphi, the holiest spot in Greece. Right after that three Celtic tribes, the Tolostibogii, the Tectosages and the Trocmi, invaded Asia Minor, invited by Bithynia's King Nicomedes to assist him in his struggle against Antiochus I of the Seleucid kingdom. They brought their families with them and settled in Asia Minor's heartland, becoming the Galatians of the New Testament era. It took a while, but eventually Classical civilization struck back. Attalus I (241-197), the Greek king of Pergamun, stood against the Gauls and defeated them; afterwards he commissioned several works of art to commemorate his victory, the most famous being The Dying Gaul. In the west the Celto-Iberians came under the rule of first Carthage, and then Rome, by 200 B.C. Rome got its revenge when Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and divided it into three parts(27); we'll cover that campaign in detail when we get to Chapter 3.

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Pre-Roman Britain

In every classroom and most history books, British history begins with Julius Caesar's campaign on the island; Stonehenge is the only thing they are likely to mention from earlier eras. The ancient Britons, however, had a prehistoric chronicle that stretched back much farther; in fact, it claims to trace their lineage all the way to Noah. Geoffrey of Monmouth (12th century) and the Welsh chroniclers of the Dark Ages, especially Nennius, preserved this account for us, but subsequent historians dismissed it as unworthy of their consideration. However, over the past century archaeologists have found that ancient legends, like those of Greece, Scandinavia, Germany and China, are often grounded in true events, so likewise we may gain some insight by recounting the forgotten millennia of British history.

The original royal family of Britain claimed descent from Javan, the fourth son of Japheth, whereas the Celtic nation as a whole is most likely descended from Javan's brother Gomer. Nennius goes on to list twenty-two more patriarchs, the last one a Trojan named Anchises, who is known to us from Greco-Roman sources. Then the Trojan War took place, and when it ended Anchises fled the burning ruins of Troy with his son Aeneas. They took a ship full of refugees to Italy, and settled on the banks of the Tiber, near the place which would someday become Rome. The local king was a distant relative of the Trojans named Latinus, and in return for his kindness and hospitality, Aeneas defeated the enemy of Latinus, Turnus, king of the Rutuli. Then Aeneas married a daughter of Latinus, Lavinia, and had two sons: Aeneas-Silvius, who became the next king of the Latin tribes, and Ascanius. Ascanius in turn had a son named Silvius, and this Silvius seduced an unnamed niece of Lavinia; from this union came a son named Brutus (Bryttys in the Welsh chronicle). The mother of Brutus died while giving birth to him, and fifteen years later Brutus accidentally shot an arrow into his father's head while they were out hunting. Someone had prophesied previously that Brutus would kill both his parents, so they exiled him; the crown of the future Etruscans and Romans now passed to another descendant of Aeneas.

It was the departure of Brutus that made him the founder of the nation that would one day be named after him: Britain. First he went to Greece, and there he met some slaves, who like him were the descendants of Trojan warriors. They had been enslaved by Priam, the son of Achilles, "in vengeance for his father's death," and were later passed on to Pandrasus, king of the Dorian Greeks. When they learned that his ancestors were kings of Troy, the Trojans accepted Brutus and elected him leader of their band. Under him they rose against the Greeks, defeated Pandrasus in battle, and went looking for a land of their own. Their fleet sailed all the way across the Mediterranean, passed between the Pillars of Hercules (the Greek name for Gibraltar) and met another group of Trojans led by Corineus, who had also escaped their captors. They joined forces, with Brutus becoming king of the whole group, and sailed from Spain to Gaul. In Gaul they fought and defeated the ancestors of the Picts, who were led by a king named Goffar (Koffarffichti in Welsh). Instead of staying in Gaul, however, the Trojans set sail again, and made landfall at Totnes, in the English county of Devon. Then they moved to the Thames valley, where they founded a settlement they called Trinovantum (New Troy), the future city of London.(28) Brutus finally settled down here, and ruled for 23 years. This probably happened thirty-five years after the Trojan War, which, according to the chronology this author uses, ran from 874 to 864 B.C., so the best dates for the reign of Brutus are 829-806 B.C.

When Brutus left Greece, he took Ignoge, the daughter of Pandrasus, with him. They married and had three sons, Locrinus, Kamber and Albanactus. Upon Brutus' death they divided Britain between the sons and the Trojan chief Corineus. The lands they took were named after their new owners: Corineus took Cornwall, Kamber got Cambria (Wales), and Albanactus received Albany (Scotland). Locrinus got the rest (England minus Cornwall), which became the kingdom of Loegria.(29) To keep the ruling families friendly, Locrinus married Gwendolen, the daughter of Corineus, but later Locrinus took a second wife, Estrildis, whom he hid because he feared Corineus' reaction. As soon as Corineus was dead, Locrinus made Estrildis his queen and divorced his lawful wife. Gwendolen had plenty of friends, though; she went to her father's kingdom and raised an army, which killed Locrinus in the subsequent battle. Estrildis and her daughter Habren were drowned on Gwendolen's orders, and she ruled as queen of Loegria for the next fifteen years. When her son Maddan came of age, she abdicated and retired to her native Cornwall. Altogether Maddan ruled for an uneventful forty years, fifteen of them with Gwendolen (786?-746?).

Maddan bequeathed the kingdom to both of his sons, but each of them wanted it all, so a conflict called the First War of the Two Brothers broke out. This went on until they got tired of fighting, and the older brother, Mempricius (Membyr in the Welsh chronicle), called for a peace conference involving both brothers and a team of delegates supporting each. At the conference, he settled the dispute by killing his younger brother, Malin. Mempricius then ruled as a tyrant; he discarded his wife for unnatural vices, and generally misruled the kingdom, until he got separated from his companions on a hunting trip and was eaten by wolves.

His successor was Ebraucus (Welsh Efrawc), who ruled for 39 years (ca. 726-687). His reign was a successful one; he raided Gaul and founded a city named after himself, Kaerbrauc; the Romans later gave this place the Latin name of Eboracum--modern York. Next came Brutus Greenshield (Bryttys darian las in Welsh), who reigned for twelve years (ca. 687-675). After him was Leil, who founded the city of Kaerleil (modern Carlisle), but otherwise was a weak king, whose twenty-five-year reign ended in civil war (the Civil War of the Feeble King).

Order returned under Leil's son Hudibras (Run baladr bras in Welsh), who ruled Loegria for the next 39 years (ca. 650-611). A great city-builder, he founded Kaerreint (Canterbury), Kaerguenit (Winchester), and Paladur (Shaftesbury). The next king, Blalud, ruled for twenty years and founded Kaerbadum (Bath), which had hot springs reputed to cure leprosy. Blalud's other ideas, however, were not so practical; he promoted necromancy, the occultic art of speaking to dead spirits, and killed himself in a misguided attempt to fly. His son was Leir, the King Lear of Shakespearean fame. Leir enjoyed a long reign of sixty years (ca. 589-535 and 532-529), and founded the city of Kaerleir (Leicester), but lost his kingdom when he tried to divide it among his three daughters.

Leir's crown went to his youngest daughter, Cordelia, but five years later her sisters Goneril and Regan deposed her, and she committed suicide in prison. Then the kingdom was divided between two cousins: Marganus I (Morgan in Welsh), the son of Goneril, ruled the lands north of the Humber, while Regan's son Cunedagius (Kynedda) ruled the south. Two years after that relations between the kings cooled; Cunedagius pursued Marganus into Wales and killed him in battle at a place named after him, Margam near today's Port Talbot. Cunedagius ruled all of Loegria for the next thirty-three years (524-491), and was succeeded by a wise and frugal king named Rivallo (Rriallon, 491-473). His reign was remembered because in it occurred a rain of blood, a great swarm of flies, and a decimating plague. After Rivallo came four kings, of which only their names survived. Then came Gorboduc (Gwryvw, 465?-445?), the last descendant of Brutus to rule in Britain. When he grew old and senile, his sons, Ferrex and Porrex, quarreled over the succession. According to one legend, Porrex killed Ferrex, and since their mother, Judon, preferred Ferrex, she went insane, killing Porrex in his sleep by hacking him to pieces. Judon did not get away with murder; for this she was tied up in a sack and thrown into the Thames. The extinction of the royal family plunged the whole land into chaos.

Order returned around 440 B.C., when five kings fought each other and Pinner emerged the winner. However, ten years later Cloten (Klydno), king of Cornwall, overthrew him; his son Dunvallo Molmutius (Dyfnal moel myd) slew Pinner in battle. Cloten ruled both Cornwall and Loegria for the next ten years and bequeathed the enlarged realm to Dunvallo. Dunvallo's reign (420-380) produced the Molmutine law code, which Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us was still famous and honored in his day; remarkably, it still survives.(30) Dunvallo meted out such severe punishments to criminals that violent crime was virtually nonexistent in his day. Dunvallo's eldest son, Belinus the Great, ruled southern Loegria, Cambria and Cornwall from 380 to 374 B.C., while his brother Brennius (also spelled Bran) became king of Northumbria and Albany in 395 B.C.. Brennius crossed the Channel and became the Brennus who sacked Rome in 390 B.C.. Upon his return, however, he was not so fortunate; Belinus and Brennus fought the Second War of the Two Brothers. Belinus won, Brennus was forced to flee to Gaul, and Belinus became king of all Britain. Geoffrey tells us that Belinus built many roads, and that London's Billingsgate was built by and named after him. Finally Belinus won a victory to match that of Brennius; he defeated the king of Denmark, and forced him to pay a great tribute.

The son and successor of Belinus was Gurguit (Gwrgant Varf Drwch, 374-369), who was renowned for peace and justice at home. Across the North Sea, however, the king of Denmark withdrew his tribute, and Gurguit promptly invaded Denmark to reassert British authority there. Then he died peacefully and was buried in Caerleon-on-Usk. Incidentally, one account claims that on his return from Denmark, Gurguit intercepted the ships of Partholan's exiles, and sent them to the uninhabited island of Ireland, but this is probably a chronological error, since Irish legends have Partholan arrive more than a millennium earlier. Gurguit's son, Guithelin (369-363), was a benevolent ruler, but he is known mainly as the husband of Marcia, a learned woman who wrote the Marcian Laws. Later Alfred the Great would find the Marcian Laws and translate them into Latin, but he incorrectly thought they came from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, so today they are called the Mercian Laws.

Queen Marcia ruled for five years after Guithelin's death because their son was a minor. Then she died and the son, Sisillius II (Saessyllt), ruled for the next six years. After him came his two sons, Kinarius and Danius, and then the crown went to Morvidus (Morydd, 341-336). Morvidus was the illegitimate son of Danius and Tanguesteaia, and was known for both his heroism and cruelty. After he defeated an invasion of his kingdom, Morvidus broke the ancient Celtic laws concerning warfare, and personally executed many prisoners of war. "When he became so exhausted that he had to give up for a time, he ordered the remainder to be skinned alive, and in this state he had them burnt." His reign ended when reports reached the king of a monster terrorizing the western part of the kingdom.(31) In his typical manner, he ran off to fight the monster singlehandedly, but it killed him and devoured his corpse "as if he had been a tiny fish."

The son of Morvidus, Gorbonianus (Gwrviniaw, 336-330), was renowned as a good ruler, but the younger brother who succeeded him, Archgallo (Arthal, 330-326), was so tyrannical that his behavior compelled the nobility of the realm to depose him. Another brother was elected in his place, Elidurus the Dutiful, so called because he showed compassion toward the deposed Archgallo. After ruling for five years, Elidurus abdicated so that a reformed Archgallo could return to the throne, and Archgallo's second reign was a complete opposite of his first. Archgallo died in 311 B.C., and Elidurus resumed the crown, only to see his reign interrupted a second time. There were two remaining brothers in the family, Ingenius and Peredurus; in 306 they rebelled and imprisoned Elidurus in a tower. Then they divided the kingdom along the Humber River; Ingenius got the south while Peredurus got the north. Ingenius died seven years later, and Peredurus, known as a wise and kind king, ruled the whole realm for the next three years. Upon his death in 296 B.C., Elidurus returned to rule for a third time.

After Elidurus, the picture became more complicated. Cousin succeeded cousin for a while, and though a father-son succession eventually returned, there must have been unrecorded political turmoil, for during the next 170 years, there were thirty-one reigns, each lasting an average of 5-6 years. The next long-lived king was Heli (Beli Mawr), who ruled for forty years, 113-73 B.C. Heli's son, Lud (73-58), rebuilt the city Brutus called New Troy, and named it after himself, Kaerlud. Kaerlud's name was later corrupted to Kaerlundein, which the Romans called Londinium, hence London. Lud also gave his name to an entrance of London, Ludgate; he was buried there. He was succeeded by two brothers, Cassivellaunus (Kasswallawn) and Nennius (Nynnyaw, no relation to the writer Nennius), who were ruling together when Julius Caesar brought Britain into the Roman world.

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The Legends of the Emerald Isle

Like Britain, Ireland has a long pre-Roman history, shrouded in legends. If we can believe the legends and myths, many different tribes tried to possess the land in prehistoric times, and before they knew it, the island possessed them.(32) The early arrivals were written down in a fourth-century chronicle called the Cin of Drom Snechta, The Book of Invasions, of which only bits and pieces survive. That and the epics of Celtic bards have combined myth and fact so that it is now impossible to separate the magical from the mundane in Irish history. Therefore, I will tell Ireland's oldest history in a similar form, and let you draw your own conclusions.

The first group to make Ireland their home were fifty women and three men; a woman named Cessair commanded them. The men were Cessair's father Bith, her consort Fintan son of Bochra, and the ship's pilot, Ladra. Why they came, and why there were so many more women than men, we do not know, though a possible answer is that they were the survivors of a tribe that lost a war and had to get away from everyone else. The legend states that Fintan had sixteen other girlfriends in the boat, and that Bith claimed another seventeen for himself; that left only sixteen women for Ladra, so he felt deprived. This must be the most ridiculous case of unreasonable greed and desire ever recorded.

Anyway, Ladra died not long after they landed. Bith traveled north with his harem and died next, so the women who had followed him rejoined Fintan's group. Fintan now had what may be every adolescent male's dream, but when the reality of the situation struck, he left, "afleeing before all the women." He hid at a place called Tul Tuinde, the Hill of the Wave, until a great flood hit the land. Fintan was the only survivor, living for a year in a cave below the waters. After that, he came back through several incarnations, living at different times as a salmon, a stag, a black boar or an eagle, a witness of the invasions that took place later.

How this legend connects to subsequent ones is not clear. Apparently the next arrivals were a tribe of great warriors called the Fomors, because everybody else reported having trouble with them. The Fomors were described as giants or misshapen demons (wartime propaganda, no doubt), though one, Bress, was noted for his good looks. According to the Annuals of Clonmacnoise, the Fomorians "were a sept descended from Cham (Ham?), the son of Noeh, . . . (who) lived by pyracie and spoile of other nations, and were in those days very troublesome to the whole world."(33)

A group led by a man named Partholan came after that. According to the Irish chronology, they arrived in the 2,520th year after the Creation.(34) Partholan was an outlaw who had to flee his homeland after killing his father; Geoffrey of Monmouth asserts that he came from the Spanish mainland, and that the colonists were Basclenses, or Basques. Whether or not this is true, Partholan ruled the colony for the last thirty years of his life. There is also a record of a battle they fought with the Fomors; then three hundred years after Partholan a plague wiped everybody out. Appropriately, the name of the area where they settled, Tallaght, came to mean a place to bury plague victims, and ancient burial mounds still litter the site today.

Partholan's settlement left no lasting impression, but the next invaders, led by Nemed, were somewhat more successful. Nemed and his followers came to Ireland in Anno Mundi 2859, either 1145 or 901 B.C. by our figuring. After their arrival they introduced new techniques for cultivation and fort-building. Nemed won three battles and slew two Fomor kings, but after he died, the Fomor leaders Morc and Conand got the upper hand. They forced the Nemedians to pay a crushing tribute, which included two thirds of their children; naturally they rebelled. The revolt went well at first--they took the fortress of Conand--but when Morc arrived with sixty ships the Nemedians were either slaughtered or forced to leave the island. They departed in three groups; two went to the Continent, and they reportedly came back later as the Tuatha de Danaan and the Fir Bolg. The third group, led by Soderic, went to the northernmost part of England and became the Picts. When we next hear of the Picts, in the Roman era, they were the Celtic tribe occupying Scotland, but some historians like J. D. Mackie believe the Picts also had ancestors of non-Indo-European origin, because they used a second language whose origin is no longer traceable.

So far Ireland had not been a lucky place for anybody but the Fomors. As for the Fir Bolg, legends disagree on whether they spent their exile in Greece or in Spain before coming back; wherever they were they existed as serfs, carrying dirt up hillsides in leather sacks to make terraced fields. Fir Bolg is supposed to mean "the people of the leather bags," but it could really mean "the people of the leather boats," since the Celts used hide-covered, tub-shaped boats called curraghs when they went to sea. Anyway, when the Fir Bolg returned to Ireland, they fought the Fomors to a draw, and settled down to build a prosperous community. However, they were subdued in Anno Mundi 3303 (701 or 457 B.C.), by the other returning colony, the Tuatha De Danaan.

Apparently several invasions from the Continent were necessary to create Ireland's Celtic population, of which the Tuatha De Danaan were the most important. In Irish literature they became superhuman, magical beings; the name means "People of the Goddess Danu," referring to the Earth Mother the Celts believed in. Legends reported that they came either from the sky, the land of the dead, the north, an island or group of islands, or an unknown location; take your pick. They brought with them four magical treasures from their original home: the invincible sword carried by their first leader, Nuada; an irresistible spear; a cauldron named Undry that could feed any number of people; and a stone named Lia Fal, that shouted in a human voice when the rightful king stood on it. All were wizards and musicians, and they were later remembered as the chief gods of Celtic mythology. A princess of the Tuatha De Danann, Eriu, named the island after herself; from Eriu we get Erin and Eire, two of Ireland's other names.

Nuada lost his right hand to the Fir Bolg champion, Sreng, at the first battle of Moytura. This forced him to abdicate, because a king was required to be physically perfect, and Bress the Fomor took his place. Bress was handsome, but also miserly and inhospitable; during his reign, both the weather and the crops went bad. He lost his throne because he insulted Cairbre, the bard of the Tuatha De Danaan. When Cairbre visited him, Bress gave him shelter in a miserable dark room with no fire or lamp, and a miserable pallet instead of a bed; the food was equally bad. Cairbre responded with a scathing satire against the king that caused Bress's face to break out in unsightly blotches. That made him unqualified to be king, so he was deposed.

Meanwhile Diancecht, the Danaan physician, made an artificial hand of silver for Nuada. It worked just like a real hand, so Nuada became king again; he was known as Nuada of the Silver Hand from now on. Bress went back to his people, the Fomors, and raised an army to get his throne back. They fought at a second battle of Moytura, in which Nuada was killed, though his side won.

Dagda, the most important figure in Celtic mythology, succeeded Nuada. He was later remembered as a god of the earth and fertility, much like the matriarch Danu; one of his titles was "Lord of Life and Death." Heavy, powerful and grey-haired, he dressed in leather like a peasant, and had a club so heavy that no one else could use it. He dragged his club behind him on two wheels when not using it, could kill nine men with one blow from it, and restore them to life with a touch from the other end. Dagda also owned an oak harp that played by itself, and its music controlled the order of the seasons. Finally he was a fair builder and engineer, for he made fortresses while Bress was king.

Dagda's wife was Boann, the goddess of the Boyne River. Originally she was the custodian and priestess of a sacred spring; nine hazel trees grew around it, and salmon of infinite knowledge ate the nuts which dropped from the trees into the spring. One day Boann neglected her duties and the water of the spring burst forth, and came after her. It flooded all the way to the sea, taking the salmon with it, and that is how the Boyne was created.

The best known of Dagda and Boann's children were Brigit, Angus Og, Mider, Ogma, and Bodh (pronounced Bove) the Red. Both Brigit and her brother Ogma were excellent poets, which the Irish have always considered important; Brigit was also the goddess of fire and the hearth, while Ogma was both the greatest fighter in the family and the inventor of the Ogham alphabet. Mider, who was almost as old as his father, became a god of the underworld; he may have owned a magic cauldron of rebirth, but we're not sure, because of the confusing number of harps and cauldrons in Celtic legends. Angus Og, the youngest, represented love and beauty; no one could hear the music from his gold harp without following the sound, and his kisses supposedly became invisible birds, which flew over the island to inspire others. However, he was cunning, not a lovesick romantic. On one occasion he told Dagda how to get the niggardly Bress to pay him a fair wage for his services. Another time he conned Dagda out of one of his two supernatural homes, since Angus didn't have one at the time. Finally he fell in love with a beautiful woman he had only seen in a dream, but managed to find her and win her hand, even though she had turned herself into a swan and joined a flock of 150 swans; that couldn't have been easy.

Several other members of the Tuatha De Danaan are worth mentioning. There was Dianecht the physician, who we met already; he could cure any wound except an amputation or an injury to the brain or spinal cord. His son and daughter, Miach and Airmid, had even greater medical skills. There was also Goibnu the tribal blacksmith, whose work was very important to everybody, Cairbre the bard, Credne the bronze-worker, Luchtaine the carpenter, Mathgan the wizard, and three terrible war queens named Morrigu, Macha and Nemain. Irish legend boldly declared that the Tuatha De Danaan were the most gifted and attractive people who ever lived; they inspired fear in everyone else and excelled in every art.

Despite all their power and talent, the Tuatha De Danaan fell to the last invaders of prehistoric Ireland. The newcomers called themselves the Milesians; they arrived in Anno Mundi 3500 (504 or 260 B.C.), marched to Tara, the capital of the Tuatha De Danaan, and defeated them just three days after their landing. Their previous home was Spain, though like the Fir Bolg, they may also have been in Greece at some point; the name Milesian suggests that they could have come from Miletus, the main Greek city-state on the eastern shore of the Aegean(35). They won because they had enchanted "swords of light" for weapons. This could be a folk memory of the arrival of the main Celtic community, or at least the Hallstatt culture. We saw previously that the Hallstatt Celts had iron and used chariots; Ireland was in the bronze age until now. It appears that after the Milesians took over, they added the stories of the Tuatha De Danaan to their own, making gods of their former opponents.

However, if this is the case, Goibnu the smith and Lugh the sun-god were Milesian to start with, and they never were really members of the Tuatha De Danaan community. Indeed, the story of Lugh makes him the last to join their ranks. According to it, he came to Tara while Nuada of the Silver Hand was celebrating his return to the throne. At the gate Lugh was told that only masters in some art or craft were allowed to enter, so he started listing his skills, only to hear that somebody among the Tuatha De Danaan could do each one already. A carpenter? They had Luchtaine. A smith? Of course they had one. A warrior? No shortage of them. A bard? There was Cairbre, and the rest had some talent for music. An expert cupbearer? They already had nine. A physician? Dianecht did that work. A wizard? They were hip deep in those. Finally Lugh said, "Then ask the king if he has with him a man who is master of all these crafts at once, and if he has, I will agree that there is no need of me in your company." They didn't have a "Renaissance man" like that, so Lugh of the Long Hand came in to join the pantheon.

The most important families of present-day Ireland trace their ancestry to the Milesians. As Cusack explained:

"As the Milesians were the last of the ancient colonists . . . only their genealogies, with a few exceptions, have been preserved. The genealogical tree begins, therefore, with the brothers Eber and Eremon, the two surviving leaders of the expedition, whose ancestors are traced back to Magog, the son of Japhet. The great southern chieftains, such as the MacCarthys and O'Briens, claim descent from Eber; the northern families of O'Connor, O'Donnell, and O'Neill, claim Eremon as their head. There are also other families claiming descent from Emer, the son of Ir, brother to Eber and Eremon; and also from their cousin Lugaidh, the son of Ith. From these four sources the principal Celtic families of Ireland have sprung . . ."(36)

The Milesian conquest, and the later acceptance of Christianity, drove the old gods and heroes from the world of the living, but they have always remained in the Irish imagination. Recent years have seen a new interest in Celtic art and music, while neopagans have revived the two most important holidays of the pre-Christian era: Beltaine (April 30) and Samhain (October 31, the forerunner of today's Halloween). Gaelic, the ancient language of Ireland, is still used there and in Scotland; the second half of the twentieth century saw a revival of the old languages in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. In England the Celtic talent for storytelling produced the King Arthur legends; Arthur, if he existed, was a Celt, not an Anglo-Saxon. Today's French take more pride in their Gallic roots than in their Roman and Frankish ones; they have Gauloise cigarettes and Asterix comics to remind them of this heritage. In America one of the most popular basketball teams is the Boston Celtics. Thus, in a roundabout way the old culture of the Celts has found new admirers, assuring that it will not be forgotten any time soon.

This is the End of Chapter 1.


23. On the Greek island of Lemnos, a controversial inscription was found in 1885. The language is unknown, but bears a strong resemblance to Etruscan. Some believe it is a Pelasgian inscription; if this is true, the Etruscans and the Pelasgians were related. Another possibility is that Etruscan pirates had a base on Lemnos.

24. This makes sense to the author, since the Romans believed the Latins were descended from Aeneas, a survivor of the Trojan War who moved to Italy after Troy was burned.

25. Both the Hallstatt and La Tene styles spread across the Continent within a generation or two, but they took much longer to cross the English Channel. Hallstatt-era artifacts first appear in England around 500 B.C., La Tene items about 220 B.C. In Wales and Ireland they arrived even later, and in Scotland they scarcely arrived at all, probably for the same logistical reasons that would keep the Picts free from the Romans. In fact, the Picts themselves didn't reach Scotland until 100 B.C.

26. Some Celts migrated to the Far East as well. The language of the Tocharians, the founders of the Central Asian kingdom of Kushan, has been identified as Celtic. When we first hear of them, around 200 B.C., they were living near the western end of the Great Wall, in China's Gansu province. Now it looks like they left the cemeteries of Caucasian mummies that were discovered in the Tarim Basin. For the author, the clincher was the report that some of the mummies had simple plaid designs on their clothing, resembling the style of early Celtic fashions in Europe. Contrary to what comedian Steve Martin once said, in northwest China dead men do wear plaid!

27. Lugdunensis, Belgica and Aquitania; we don't count the Mediterranean shore because it had already been under Roman rule for several decades.

28. In 1999 archaeologists found that London Bridge is much older than we thought; they discovered the remains of a 3,500-year-old wooden bridge that once spanned the Thames. Considering the technology of the day, this must have been an awesome achievement.

29. The word for England in the modern Welsh language is still Lloegr.

30. Ancient Laws of Cambria, London, 1823.

31. Whatever it was, Geoffrey of Monmouth called it a belua.

32. In Tudor England, Spenser wrote about Ireland's special nature: "Lord, how quickly doth that country alter one's nature!"

33. Cusack, M. F. (translated by Conell MacGeoghegan), The Illustrated History of Ireland, 1868, pg. 20. Reprinted by Bracken Books, London, 1987.

34. This means Partholan came to Ireland in 1484 B.C. if Archbishop Ussher's date for the Creation is correct; if you follow the Jewish calendar, the date becomes 1240 B.C. Personally I think they may have been counting from the Flood, rather than the Creation, which would make the late date closer to the mark; see The Genesis Chronicles for more details.
There is also a report of Brutus displacing an indigenous race of "giants" when he settled Britain. This could be the same race as the Fomors, or a closely related one. The Fomors could also have been the last Neanderthals in Europe; in The Genesis Chronicles I list other possible interactions between cave men and the civilized world.

35. The Roman name for Ireland was Hibernia. It seems to have come from Iberia, the ancient name for Spain, and was transferred to Ireland as a result of the Milesian migration.

36. Cusack, op. cit., pg. 82.

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