Mar 8, 2014

Celts and Norse: A Cultural Brotherhood

Alesia Vercingetorix Surrenders to Julius Caesar
I learned much about my maternal ancestry from our family historian, Charles Peek, and was surprised how far back into time he had been able to recover. It seems that the McBean, later shortened Bean, ancestry began in Scotland and Norse marriage. He traced McBean (or McBen) as far back as the clan was recorded fighting the English (Anglo-Saxon) with William Wallace in the 14th century. Researching the geographical area and other related people, it led me to find out that Norsemen (Vikings) had settled and taken wives in Scotland and Ireland as far back as the 8th century. Apparently, according to DNA and genealogical research, this mingling was not uncommon and also occurred between Germanic Celts in Europe and Pict/Celts of Britannia.

Agnes Moorehead, 1969
Thus, my family history is Germanic, Pict (Scot), Welsh, and Norse. My sister married whose lineage was Anglo-Saxon and whose great aunt was the famous British actress, Agnes Moorehead (1900-1974) – some may know her as Endora in the TV show Bewitched. Moorehead was popular in the 1940s and 1950s in England and United States, and revived her popularity on American TV in the 1960s. She was married twice and had no children.
My paternal side of the family is Germanic on both sides (Lehman-Rosenbrook). Rosenbrook was my paternal grandmother's maiden name, of which her uncle served in the Civil War and the family arrived from Germany to the United States in the spring of 1808 from London, England where they learned English. A family heirloom from the Rosenbrook side of Lehman family is the sword of Captain John D. Rosenbrook. The Lehman family (great grandfather) came from Germany sometime before World War I, and I know less about my paternal side than maternal side – the Bean-Peek clan who settled in the southern portion of the United States. Of course as I aforementioned, it was because of the maternal side of the family who was interested in history as much as myself. In the final analysis, I am just an American.
Glastonbury - Isle of Avalon, legendary site of Arthur's tomb
Bryan Sykes wrote an excellent book on the subject entitled: Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland. This book and others will be listed at the end of this article in the Bibliography section. He traced Celtic people from the Pontnewydd cave in North Wales to the tomb of The Red Lady of Paviland and the tomb of King Arthur, who was a real historical figure that legend overshadowed his biography.
When people hear the name Celt or Celtic (actually the original spelling was Keltoi or Keltic established by the ancient Greeks), they think of the Celtic people who fought bravely against the Roman invasion of Britannia. The Romans could not defeat the tribes (clans) they called the Picts, who were Scottish people, so Emperor Hadrian had a wall built to keep them away from Roman-occupied Britannia. Hadrian was considered to be one of the five “good” Roman emperors.
Recently, historians and archaeologists have revealed how much the Norsemen (Vikings) had influenced much of what is Europe today, especially in Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man; which gives them a common ancestral and cultural bond with Scandinavians. While Viking raids that occurred in what is Wales today, earlier in their history they had landed on the shores to settle and even established a couple of settlements on the shores of Ireland. This is not far-fetched because of their documented exploration and settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Nova Scotia. Archaeologists are also investigating the possibility that the Norsemen had traveled as far as Minnesota via the Great Lakes. In the most northern territory of the United Kingdom there is Orkney Island and Shetland Islands that bear evidence of this phenomenon. It makes sense since the Vikings had explored, settled, and traded in North America, through Europe via the great rivers there, all the way to what is now Iraq. 
Ulfberht Replica
There travels eastward enabled them to come back to Scandinavia with goods from the East, but most importantly the fine art of sword-making from the eastern world. Previous to that, Viking swords were plain iron and brittle, but later they developed a technique for swords that were steel making them strong and flexible, as depicted in the video about the Viking sword
Excavated Ulfberht Sword
This famous and mystical sword was called the Ulfberht, that was recreated right here on the Peninsula in Wisconsin by our local blacksmith. It was as famous as the Saebø (Thurmuth) sword and Cawood sword.
The Isle of Man, known in history as Kingdom of Mann (Kingdom of Isles) consists of the Hebrides that are the islands in the Forth of Clyde region of the United Kingdom known as Suðreyjar that experienced great changes of power during the 9th through the 13 century (AD).
Interestingly, the Isle of Man's Parliament is called Tynwald, derived from the Norse word, Thingvalla, (see þingvellir) which means 'Assembly Place' that was when local chieftains and people gathered to conduct important business, decide on legal matters, and hold trials for those accused of crimes. It is the oldest continuous parliament in the world. The last king of Mann was Magnús Óláfsson, descendent of Norse-Gaelic kings who ruled the Isle of Man and other regions of the Hebrides. I imagine the actor of the same name might be a descendent, if his name is not a stage name.
Viking Ship unearthed
The aforementioned Northern Isles called Norðreyjar, were invaded by the Vikings (Norse) beginning in the 8th century and became their stronghold, until conquered by Britain. Norwegian law was not abolished in Shetland until 1611 and it took the Norse language to all but disappear two hundred years; however Norse influence remains today in their festivals. It was on Orkney Island that in 1991 a Viking ship burial was excavated.
In Ireland, Vikings began their raids there around 795 AD, but no colonization was attempted until after 837 AD. Dublin, capital of Ireland, was founded by Norsemen after establishing a base camp at the mouth of the Liffey River. This extended later into Waterford where a base was established in 914 AD.
The Vikings could not truly conquer the Irish or the Scots, so ended up assimilating themselves into Celtic culture; but the legacy can be found all over the Gaelic world.
Numerous Celtic tribes in ancient UK, Britannia
It was the ancient Greeks who referred to people of that culture as Keltoi, the original world, but Julius Caesar around 58 BC when he wrote about the people in Brittany (Britannia), as Celts in the Latin. Historical, they were a diverse culture of tribes in Iron Age Europe, rather than just in what is now the United Kingdom. Their cultural legacy has been left behind in Britain, Wales, Ireland, Spain, France, southern Germany, Bohemia, Italy, Balkans, and even in central Turkey.
Julius Caesar was the one who initiated the legacy description of Gallic and Gaelic people he called Celts as barbarians, but other cultures not Roman were pretty much barbarians to Romans.
Thistle & Broom map
The Celtic legacy began around 500 BC from the Alpine region into areas of France and parts of Spain. Evidence from tombs shows that they traded with peoples of the Mediterranean.
About 400 BC, the Celtic culture spread from eastern France into Bohemia, and after the discovery of a site at La Tene – as far as Switzerland. The Roman called them Galli, Gauls, a term used later for Celts in France. These were the people that attacked Rome and sacked it in 390 BC. Other of the Baltic Celts attacked Greece and sacked Delphi in 279 BC. Some of the tribes continued across the Hellespont and founded a kingdom in central Turkey they called Galatia.
By the 3rd century BC, the Celts had spread north to France and the British Isles. Roman rule and the spread of Christianity – as well as the Anglo-Saxons - wiped out the Celtic culture. When Rome fell in the 5th century AD, the old Celtic lands came under Germanic rule and Gaul was renamed France, derived from the Germanic tribe of the Franks. Today, some of the Celtic culture remains in some of the British Isles and Ireland.
Another similarity between the Celts and the Vikings is that women could be fierce warriors, like the Shield Maiden of Viking history, until they converted to Christianity.
The original Celtic society were like Vikings in that they were warriors and craftsmen, but in Celtic society the farmer was in the lower class. They were also skilled in metal working and made beautiful jewelry from gold, silver, copper, and bronze. Their cloaks were generally brightly colored and wore golden torcs (neck) and bronze arm bracelets. Warriors wore golden torcs into battle and when fighting against Romans were considered naked in comparison to Roman soldiers. Celtic women wore makeup, but were not protected female house maidens like in Rome. Diodorus Siculus wrote:
The women of the Gauls are not only like men in their great stature, but they are a match for them in courage as well.
A tale was also written by Romans that stated that a Roman patrol came upon a caravan of women and children, thinking they were easy prey, they attacked or tried to stop the caravan … the women drew swords out of the carts and commenced to protect themselves and their children. The Roman patrol ended up retreating. Celtic women often had scars on their arms from sword practicing with their young sons while their husbands and older sons were out hunting or some other business away from home.
It was more common in Norse/Viking culture that a woman would be among raiders in Viking ships out for plunder. These women, as aforementioned, were called Shield Maidens.
Probably the most famous of Celtic women who were warriors is Queen Boudicea, of which recently a film depicting her was made – with mixed reviews on historical accuracy and believability.
Before a battle in which they were far less protected than the Romans, the Celtic warriors would beat their swords and spears against their leather shields, meant to intimidate the enemy. Like the Vikings they liked stories of battle and like telling such stories. Celtic men wore their hair long and the nobility customarily wore mustaches. Before battle they painted themselves with blue paint they called woad. The name comes from the plant used to dye their skin. The Picts in Scotland liked tattoos, even the women. Their cloaks were held onto their shoulders with a brooch pin, made of bronze, gold or silver – depending upon what could be afforded. Men wore as much jewelry to impress everyone as the women did.

The Druid class of Celts also could fight as warriors, but were an highly inter-tribal brotherhood that met annually in Carnutes in Gaul to elect a Chief Druid, so Julius Caesar wrote. Druids believed in reincarnation and that the universe must be kept into balance. Animal sacrifice was made, and sometimes human criminals or enemy warriors; sometimes burned in wicker baskets hung from a sacred oak tree. This is only what we know of what Julius Caesar wrote describing the Celtic people. The Picts in northern Scotland drowned their victims and Druids would chant praising the victims for their courage. In order to ensure that the sacrifice victims were courageous, they were often drugged.
Druids were historians, guardians of the tribal traditions and administered tribal law, which made them judges when necessary. They were a privileged member of the Celtic class and exempt from serving in the military (although some were trained in the art of warfare), as well as exempt from taxation. While the chieftain or king ruled the tribe, Druids involved themselves in politics. Once the Romans figured that out, Druid centers, specifically the central administrative part in Carnutes, were the center of attack. 
Druids had different tasks to perform, like healing and maybe that may be why they accompanied warriors into battle, as noticed by the Romans. The Druids were also musically skilled and thus the Bard of Old England had its roots. It could take as long as twenty years to be move from novice to full
Gawton Stone
Druid because they had not official written language, so everything had to be memorize – laws, histories, magic formulae in the form of herbal medicine, and other traditions. They were the keepers of the culture, thus when the Romans used the tactics to attack and kill the Druids, they began the decline of the Celts as a cultural people with Christianity making the final death blow. The only Latin that was spoken was retained by the
Roman Catholic Church.
Druids used shrines were located in places that were deemed as being powers of nature, like hilltops and grottoes, and the oak tree was the most sacred of plants in the world of the Celt. There were sacred groves, lakes, pools, and springs and their temples were in the open air and amidst nature, for which they relished and held sacred. This was because their main deity was the Mother Goddess, mother of all things living. Pliny wrote in his Natural History:
Having made preparation for sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring hither two white bulls … Clad in a white robe, the priest [druid] ascends the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is received by another in a white cloak. They then kill the victims, praying that the god will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has granted it. They believe that the mistletoe, taken in drink, imparts fertility to barren animals, and it is an antidote for all poisons …
NOTE: I would like to note that some parts of the mistletoe is poisonous, for those who would consider partaking of that plant. This is true of several species, but like mushrooms, one needs to be an expert to know the difference. Particularly the leaves and berries (white), it can cause sickness and possibly death. If someone eats mistletoe the best thing to do is call a Poison Control center and get immediate medical attention. 
There were, however, some distinct differences between Norse and Celts. Generally the Norse were taller and more stout. While the swords of Celts and Norse appear to be similar in design and ornamentation, the Norse preferred larger, heavier weapons and their shields were made of wood with metal - heavier, but handled by the stout Norse. Celts preferred going into combat light and especially the spearmen used shields made of hard-cured leather with wooden frames, almost as tall as they were for tactical reasons. Religion set them apart drastically, where as mentioned above, Celts major deity was the mother goddess, while Norse deities were primarily men, except for Valkyrie, who was a female cavalry warrior. Norse were a warrior class more deeply embedded into their culture with great warriors as their leaders. Celts had warrior leaders, of course, but the wisdom and knowledge of the Druids played heavily upon decision in the community, especially in deciding the fate of criminals. Vikings (Norsemen) did not just raid other people, but also established trade, which they had become good at. Contrary to belief, Vikings farmed as well, usually left to the women of the farm and children when the husband was off hunting, attending business, or warfare duty. Norse women were more involved in community affairs than Celtic women, although both were fierce and apt fighters, especially when it came to protecting their children and homestead.
For further history of the melding of Norse among the Celts, here is a link listing:

No comments:

Post a Comment

No SPAM, please. If you wish to advertise or promote website, contact me.