child story

THE CHIEF PHASES OF CELTIC CIVILISATION

In the chief countries of Celtic civilisation, Gaul, Cisalpine and Transalpine, Britain and Ireland, abundant materials have been found for elucidating the stages of culture through which man passed in prehistoric times.  In Britain, for example, palæolithic man has left numerous specimens of his implements, but the forms even of these rude implements suggest that they, too, have been evolved from still more primitive types.  Some antiquarians have thought to detect such earlier types in the stones that have been named ‘eoliths’ found in Kent, but, though these ‘eoliths’ may possibly show human use, the question of their history is far from being settled.  It is certain, however, that man succeeded in maintaining himself for ages in the company of the mammoth, the cave-bear, and other animals now extinct.  Whether palæolithic man survived the Ice Age in Britain has not so far been satisfactorily decided. 

In Gaul, however, there is fair evidence of continuity between the Palæolithic and Neolithic periods, and this continuity must obviously have existed somewhere.  Still in spite of the indications of continuity, the civilisation of primitive man in Gaul presents one aspect that is without any analogues in the life of the palæolithic men of the River Drift period, or in that of man of the New Stone Age.  The feature in question is the remarkable artistic skill shown by the cave men of the Dordogne district.  Some of the drawings and carvings of these men reveal a sense of form which would have done credit to men of a far later age.  A feature such as this, whatever may have been its object, whether it arose from an effort by means of ‘sympathetic magic’ to catch animals, as M. Salomon Reinach suggests, or to the mere artistic impulse, is a standing reminder to us of the scantiness of our data for estimating the lines of man’s religious and other development in the vast epochs of prehistoric time.

We know that from the life of hunting man passed into the pastoral stage, having learned to tame animals.  How he came to do so, and by what motives he was actuated, is still a mystery.  It may be, as M. Salomon Reinach has also suggested, that it was some curious and indefinable sense of kinship with them that led him to do so, or more probably, as the present writer thinks, some sense of a need of the alliance of animals against hostile spirits.  In all probability it was no motive which we can now fathom.  The mind of early man was like the unfathomable mind of a boy. 
From the pastoral life again man passed after long ages into the life of agriculture, and the remains of neolithic man in Gaul and in Britain give us glimpses of his life as a farmer.  The ox, the sheep, the pig, the goat, and the dog were his domestic animals; he could grow wheat and flax, and could supplement the produce of his farm by means of hunting and fishing.  Neolithic man could spin and weave; he could obtain the necessary flint for his implements, which he made by chipping and polishing, and he could also make pottery of a rude variety.  In its essentials we have here the beginnings of the agricultural civilisation of man all the world over.  In life, neolithic man dwelt sometimes in pit-dwellings and sometimes in hut-circles, covered with a roof of branches supported by a central pole.  In death, he was buried with his kin in long mounds of earth called barrows, in chambered cairns and cromlechs or dolmens.  The latter usually consist of three standing stones covered by a cap-stone; forming the stony skeleton of a grave that has been exposed to view after the mound of earth that covered it has been washed away.  In their graves the dead were buried in a crouching attitude, and fresh burials were made as occasion required. 
Sometimes the cromlech is double, and occasionally there is a hole in one of the stones, the significance of which is unknown, unless it may have been for the ingress and egress of souls.  Graves of the dolmen or cromlech type are found in all the countries of Western Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere, wherever stone suitable for the purpose abounds, and in this we have a striking illustration of the way in which lines of development in man’s material civilisation are sooner or later correlated to his geographical, geological, and other surroundings.  The religious ideas of man in neolithic times also came into correlation with the conditions of his development, and the uninterpreted stone circles and pillars of the world are a standing witness to the religious zeal of a mind that was haunted by stone.  Before proceeding to exemplify this thesis the subsequent trend of Celtic civilisation may be briefly sketched.

Through the pacific intercourse of commerce, bronze weapons and implements began to find their way, about 2000 b.c. or earlier, from Central and Southern Europe into Gaul, and thence into Britain.  In Britain the Bronze Age begins at about 1500 or 1400 b.c., and it is thought by some archæologists that bronze was worked at this period by the aid of native tin in Britain itself.  There are indications, however, that the introduction of bronze into Britain was not by way of commerce alone.  About the beginning of the Bronze period are found evidences in this island of a race of different type from that of neolithic man, being characterised by a round skull and a powerful build, and by general indications of a martial bearing.  The remains of this race are usually found in round barrows.

This race, which certainly used bronze weapons, is generally believed to have been the first wave that reached Britain of Aryan conquerors of Celtic speech from the nearest part of the continent, where it must have arrived some time previously, probably along the Rhine valley.  As the type of Celtic speech that has penetrated farthest to the west is that known as the Goidelic or Irish, it has not unreasonably been thought that this must have been the type that arrived in Britain first.  There are indications, too, that it was this type that penetrated furthest into the west of Gaul. 
Its most marked characteristic is its preservation of the pronunciation of U as ‘oo’ and of QU, while the ‘Brythonic’ or Welsh variety changed U to a sound pronounced like the French ‘u’ or the German ‘ü’ and also QU to P.  There is a similar line of cleavage in the Italic languages, where Latin corresponds to Goidelic, and Oscan and Umbrian to Brythonic.  Transalpine Gaul was probably invaded by Aryan-speaking Celts from more than one direction, and the infiltration and invasion of new-comers, when it had once begun, was doubtless continuous through these various channels.  There are cogent reasons for thinking that ultimately the dominant type of Celtic speech over the greater part of Gaul came to be that of the P rather than the QU type, owing to the influx from the East and Northeast of an overflow from the Rhine valley of tribes speaking that dialect; a dialect which, by force of conquest and culture, tended to spread farther and farther West.  Into Britain, too, as time went on, the P type of Celtic was carried, and has survived in Welsh and Cornish, the remnants of the tongue of ancient Britain.  We know, too, from the name Eporēdia (Yvrea), that this dialect of Celtic must have spread into Cisalpine Gaul. 
The latter district may have received its first Celtic invaders direct from the Danube valley, as M. Alexandre Bertrand held, but it would be rash to assume that all its invaders came from that direction.  In connection, however, with the history of Celtic religion it is not the spread of the varying types of Celtic dialect that is important, but the changes in the civilisation of Gaul and Britain, which reacted on religious ideas or which introduced new factors into the religious development of these lands.

The predatory expeditions and wars of conquest of military Celtic tribes in search for new homes for their superfluous populations brought into prominence the deities of war, as was the case also with the ancient Romans, themselves an agricultural and at the same time a predatory race.  The prominence of war in Celtic tribal life at one stage has left us the names of a large number of deities that were identified with Mars and Bellona, though all the war-gods were not originally such.  In the Roman calendar there is abundant evidence that Mars was at one time an agricultural god as well as a god of war. 
The same, as will be shown later, was the probable history of some of the Celtic deities, who were identified in Roman times with Mars and Bellona.  Cæsar tells us that Mars had at one time been the chief god of the Gauls, and that in Germany that was still the case.  In Britain, also, we find that there were several deities identified with Mars, notably Belatucadrus and Cocidius, and this, too, points in the direction of a development of religion under military influence.  The Gauls appear to have made great strides in military matters and in material civilisation during the Iron Age.  The culture of the Early Iron Age of Hallstatt had been developed in Gaul on characteristic lines of its own, resulting in the form now known as the La Tène or Marnian type.  This type derives it name from the striking specimens of it that were discovered at La Tène on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel, and in the extensive cemeteries of the Marne valley, the burials of which cover a period of from 350-200 b.c.  It was during the third century b.c. that this characteristic culture of Gaul reached its zenith, and gave definite shape to the beautiful curved designs known as those of Late-Celtic Art.  Iron appears to have been introduced into Britain about 300 b.c., and the designs of Late-Celtic Art are here represented best of all.
  Excellent specimens of Late-Celtic culture have been found in Yorkshire and elsewhere, and important links with continental developments have been discovered at Aylesford, Aesica, Limavady, and other places.  Into the development of this typical Gaulish culture elements are believed to have entered by way of the important commercial avenue of the Rhone valley from Massilia (Marseilles), from Greece (viâ Venetia), and possibly from Etruria.  Prehistoric archæology affords abundant proofs that, in countries of Celtic speech, metal-working in bronze, iron, and gold reached a remarkably high pitch of perfection, and this is a clear indication that Celtic countries and districts which were on the line of trade routes, like the Rhone valley, had attained to a material civilisation of no mean character before the Roman conquest.  In Britain, too, the districts that were in touch with continental commerce had, as Cæsar tells us, also developed in the same direction.  The religious counterpart of this development in civilisation is the growth in many parts of Gaul, as attested by Cæsar and by many inscriptions and place-names, of the worship of gods identified with Mercury and Minerva, the deities of civilisation and commerce. 
It is no accident that one of the districts most conspicuous for this worship was the territory of the Allobrogic confederation, where the commerce of the Rhone valley found its most remarkable development.  From this sketch of Celtic civilisation it will readily be seen how here as elsewhere the religious development of the Celts stood closely related to the development of their civilisation generally.  It must be borne in mind, however, that all parts of the Celtic world were not equally affected by the material development in question.  Part of the complexity of the history of Celtic religion arises from the fact that we cannot be always certain of the degree of progress in civilisation which any given district had made, of the ideas which pervaded it, or of the absorbing interests of its life.  Another difficulty, too, is that the accounts of Celtic religion given by ancient authorities do not always harmonise with the indisputable evidence of inscriptions.

  The probability is that the religious practices of the Celtic world were no more homogeneous than its general civilisation, and that the ancient authorities are substantially true in their statements about certain districts, certain periods, or certain sections of society, while the inscriptions, springing as they do from the influence of the Gallo-Roman civilisation, especially of Eastern Gaul and military Britain, give us most valuable supplementary evidence for districts and environments of a different kind.  The inscriptions, especially by the names of deities which they reveal, have afforded most valuable clues to the history of Celtic religion, even in stages of civilisation earlier than those to which they themselves belong.  In the next chapter the correlation of Celtic religious ideas to the stages of Celtic civilisation will be further developed.