Caesar & the Celts: Nationalistic Propaganda and Fear of Foreigners

Julius Caesar, for many a hero, for others a master of war, a tyrant. Whatever your take on Caesar is, the fact is that he was a rather intelligent man who used all the tools he had at hand to complete his objectives. Part of this involved building a narrative for Rome; tales of the greatness of their people and their military victories. Caesar in this regards was fantastic at crafting political propaganda; a common Roman sport that we have already explore in this blog with stories of Cicero and Augustus. And there was a particular enemy that Caesar needed to deprive of any glory: The Celts.  Accounts of the Galic War mystified and bastardised the history of these people and who they really were, to the point that the comics of Asterix do, in many ways, represent that image that the Romans held of their neighbours. This did not stop just with Gaul; the same story is repeated with the Britons and the people of Iberia – And let’s not even get into the nitty-gritty details of the defilement of the Germani, you know, just the same people but on the other side of the Rhine river…Of course, it all makes sense if we consider that Caesar was only delivering the information that his audience wanted of him. Meanwhile, if we have a look at what Greek authors such as Timagenes had to say about the Celts, the picture varies drastically. The Celts of the Greeks weren’t described as dirty or in rags, even if the Greeks believed them to have lower economic power than themselves in some cases. They were described as a people with a culture and a cultural exchange that happened often between the two.

There are plenty of evidence, however that confirm that Caesar was writing with propagandistic accents and that the Celts were people of culture, and not uncivilised societies. Here in Britain and archaeological excavation directed in 2011 of Roman Callevva (Silchester) shows the existence of an earlier Celtic town. This was what is commonly known as an oppidum built following a grid pattern that reflected the sun solstice. It is believed to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the last decade. There are also archaeological evidence that the Celts used their own roads that were funded by toll systems, and this is confirmed by evidence of chariots found in Yorkshire as well as in the Rhineland. According to Graham Robb, author of The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe, he advises that the druids – another terribly mystified group of people, not just by the Roman but by many more since them, particularly the Victorians and the waves of Hippies from the 60s- we key in these networks. Robb states that the druids devised network of continental wide solstice lines used in the locations for temples and towns. This seems to correlate with the discoveries found at Silchester too. Another thing he points out is that the Celts and these networks may have led into the earliest types of accurate maps that would have use the Greeks systems for longitude and latitude, again a sign of communication and borrowing between the two cultures.

So where does this fear and defamation of the Celts? Well, believe it or not ladies and gentlemen, this is something that will resonate incredibly without modern society. It was in fact fear of foreign people. Yes, you know, Trump, Brexit, all these movements and people are just representations of ideas that are rather ancient and demodee. Some cool guys with swords and original republics had already gone that far (and much classier and cooler I must say, if I am allowed to be flippant). Before the Rome succeeded in the supremacy for the West, there were in fact Celtic settlements all over their beloved patria. Notorious in this list are those in Turin, Milan and Bologna: all of which are, by the way, names of Celtic origin. There was conflict between these people, not just Rome and the Celts but also the Etruscans – or you know just a different type of Celts who happened to be really successful at what they did and were worthy of specific remarks. The conflict between all of these got to the point that arms were taken. As a result we have an important moment in the early history of Italy and one that will be forever ingrained in the memory of Rome: such was the Battle of Allia. During this confrontation (date c.390 BC, though Polybius suggests it may have been more like 387 BC) the Celts were the victorious side, and the trifle by the river Allia was not going to stop them. Their retaliation took them to the very gate of Rome, and as a consequence the city was sacked by you know them dirty Celts – and it was quite  a frightful moment for the inhabitants of the city, many of which actually fled the settlement in despair. Collective memory is a power thing, it shapes us all and our perception of history, and no one likes to be on the losing side. Therefore, years later with the great Caesar in charge, things started being turned around for the glory of Rome, would not die at the hands of them Celts but subdue them, for sure…

 

…For sure? Well, let’s see…It would take a long while but it would be in fact the Germani – or you know, our friends the Celts but with a  different name cause they happened to be on the other side of the river – that eventually lead to the fall of Rome, fall that was promoted by the very corrupted and broken system that our glorious Caesar had himself invented (and died for). And just some more food for thought: what of identity? A bit like the Vikings, whose past lives are misshapen by collective memory and political propaganda, the Celts are very much alive not just in our memory, but in our identity as people. There are certain parts of the world that if you walk around and ask their people who they are, or what they are, they will tell you they descend from the Celts. And to them those Celts are not the dirty barbs that the Romans painted. They are a proud and defined people, whose values, cultures and tales are still valued. Why, of course, you can accused me of being biased here for my Celtic heritage, but you just need to look around places in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, and many more. The Celts are embraced as part of them alive, whilst often the Romans are referred to as those people who came here and left all these things behind for us. Identity and ‘foreignity’ (here I have invented my own word, yeah) are often related. We identify us by what others who aren’t us are. Just keep that in mind when you deal with people around you and more importantly, with people in the past.


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