Britons and the ‘Red Indians’

Following on from my previous article regarding Roman roads….

The-Shore-Was-Covered-With-Men-Ready-For-Battle-Early-Britons-Ready-For-Battle-As-Caesar-Sails-His-Galleys-To-Find-A-Suitable-Landing-Place

This image represents my childhood picture of the ‘savages’ who confronted Caesar when he landed in Britain. It is what we were taught as schoolchildren.

This image does massive discredit to this race of people who inhabited ‘Britain’. Thankfully modern historians paint a very different picture, however the  image of the Britons [NOT Celts as the Victorians chose to title them]  as woad painted savages still exists for the majority of people.

Why is that?

Well the answer to that simple question is a very extensive subject, one that will take much more than my humble little post to discuss in full detail. I believe there are parallels with the Native Americans, the offensively termed ‘Red Indians’ which may go some way to explaining how this came about.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, history is written by the victorious. The Romans having conquered Britain needed to leave their glory to history so they set about recording their victories in a series of written histories which were then passed down to later generations as accurate descriptions of the events of the time. They, quite naturally, gloried in the success of their leaders (who were the paymasters for the history writers, or, as in Caesar’s case, actually wrote them themselves):

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The defeated enemy were always described as savage, vicious, wild and without culture or civility.  The theme was very much ‘ the savages have had civilisation imposed upon them’. But in modern times, thanks to improved archaeological techniques and the uncovering of documentary evidence from much farther afield than the written Roman histories, the experts now offer a more balanced view of this period in history.

For me this theme brings to mind the treatment of The ‘Red Indians’ of North America.

As a child in the UK in the 1960’s, Native Americans were portrayed as murderous savages who ran around naked and slaughtered innocent white ‘settlers’ [invaders] and it required the heroic US cavalry, with gun-toting hot-shot cowboys as allies, to fight a valiant war until these creatures were massacred, their entire civilisation wiped out, with the few remaining individuals subdued and forced to wear western clothes and take to our ‘educated’ ways. The Native Americans were reported by the media of the day as a warlike, uncultured rabble who gloried in killing (usually women and children) who daubed their bodies and faces with ‘War Paint’ (as did the British tribes!). Both races of people fought very bitter battles with other tribes of their own race, but outside the theatre of war and local rivalries a very different picture emerges. One of culture and pride with a previously unknown sophistication, and of a people happy with their existence but fiercely opposed to any group who coveted their sacred lands.

The similarities to the treatment of the American tribal people with how the conquered Britons were portrayed by the Romans is astonishing for me. And, what is now know about the American native race was that there was an established and very complex and cultural race of people who existed before  being enlightened by their subsequent conquerors. Evidence is coming to light that the same could be said of the Britons.

There is currently a massive archaeological dig in Silchester UK, which until very recently has been known only as a ‘Roman Town’. It was indeed a very important town during the Roman occupation. But  this new dig has revealed that there was a British town on this site long before the Romans conquered this land.

This British town was laid down with a road system (it ran on a North west to South East pattern (possibly to align with the solstices) unlike the North /South lines of Roman towns.) It had a defensive wall and the usual array of buildings etc that one would expect to find in established town. Calleva Atrebatum was the main centre of the Atrebates. A tribe of the Britons who lived in Southern Britain. They had a coinage and a royal family, they had an extensive network for the import and export of goods, they had metalled roads and an organised waste disposal.

It also shows that there was evidence of trade, prior to the Roman town,  going back over one hundred years with the European mainland and even as far as Persia. There are finds of high status Roman pottery going back to 100bc showing that Britain was a wealthy land and had established trade links from distant countries (I presume that is why Rome looked at Britain with covetous eyes, it was well aware of the island ‘to the west’ which outpoured such wealth).

My point about this excavation is that is shows a level of sophistication and development that would be simply impossible for a group of painted savages.

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The current excavations at Calleva Atrabates – the modern day Silchester

I firmly believe that it is about time that a detailed historical account was complied about the Britons. They did, after all, give their name to this great country. There is so much more that we need to know about these people and their way of life, their achievements and so forth. I think it is time history re wrote the books and give this race of people their due and right some of the wrongs that have existed these last two thousand years.

If anyone knowns of any research ongoing or group that is studying this subject particularly, I would be pleased to receive more information.

Please feel free to add your comments to my article. I am not a serious historian (obviously) and am more than open to corrections etc.

Good Luck and Good Health

Mike Leggett

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Roman Roads in Britain – Not Roman At All?

It was Caesar himself who first mentioned them…

Paved Roman Road

..he stated that the Britons ‘preferred to fight from their chariots ‘off road”

that must surely be taken to mean that there were ‘roads’ there in the first place.

Geoffrey of Monmouth states that the four great highways of Britain in the early part of the Roman conquest were built by the Romans themselves,  [i.e Watling  Street, Ickenfield Way, Fosse Way and Ermine Street] but is that entirely true?

Evidence is coming to light that these roads may well have already existed and were built by the people of the established kingdom of the Britons.

As with most things pre-Roman, written evidence is scarce. But what concerns me most is the fact that most scholars and historians simply write off the Britons as ‘savages’ and leave it at that. They pay scant lip service to the fact that this country was a wealthy place, pre-Roman invasion. It had towns and ports. It produced copper, gold, iron and many other minerals, there was a currency in minted coins and iron bars, we produced food on an ‘industrial scale’. The Britons traded with the continent and had done for hundreds of years. The people had established and acknowledged high kings, (although the hierarchy was very tribal!)

One has to just look at the opposition put up by the Britons against the Roman invasion, notably Boudicca’s fight back, (I don’t call it a rebellion, it was our land we were fighting for against a hostile invader, that is not a rebellion!) Her army consisted of 100,000 people including fighting men, women and children. That is a staggering number to put together, control and manoeuvre and pit against the war machine that was Rome. This cannot have been a country of a few widely dispersed tribes walking round in blue war paint and wolf skins.

But history, as they say, is written by the victors. The Romans were very quick to point out their successes but did little to report about the conquered people. Yet others  did. Greeks had written about the land of the Britons and about its wealth many years earlier. The Greek merchant and geographer, Pytheas, circumnavigated the islands of Britain around 330-320BC so this island was known throughout the Mediterranean from that time forwards, trade would have followed soon after, as is always the case, which meant that 300 years or so passed before the Romans cast their covetous glances in our direction.

And that, of course, is why Rome came. Rome was not about exploration and finding new lands. it was about owning wealth. Through conquest not trade. Wherever there were lands and people that were producing wealth, the Romans wanted it. They knew all about Britain and the goods it produced and once Gaul had been subdued it was the next logical step. Their invasion and eventual conquest was inevitable given what this island had to offer. But it wasn’t the fact that we had potential, we must have already been producing. Were were rich in our natural resources and the Britons had been very active in exploiting them. The Romans did what they did best. They turned a the local facilities we operated into an industrial process and thereby maximised the production, and wealth of those natural resources.

And so I believe it was with the roads. The Britons had established towns and ports which traded goods for many, many years before the Romans came. We must have had roads to trade on as well as sea-going vessels. Whether they were the four magnificent arteries that is being suggested is up for debate, but lets debate it! The Romans did to the roads what they did to the industrial process, They improved the existing facilities and expanded them into areas where they had not previously existed.

And being the writers of the history, gave themselves all the credit!

If anyone has any thoughts on this matter please feel free to comment or pop me an email across.

Good Luck and Good Health

Mike Leggett

The Mysterious Britons Discover America

I was watching the fascinating ‘Maps: Power Plunder and Possession’ on BBC 4.

I heard something that made me fall off my settee!!

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I have always loved studying maps. I can pore over them for hours on end. So when I saw the trailer for this BBC four series of three programmes I was determined to watch. I loved it and learned quite a lot from the interesting narrative. (I did however, disagree with a few points made by the presenter Prof. Joey Brotton, but that is for another day!)

During the second episode he was telling about a famous map maker from the low countries, I didn’t get his name, but I will track this down properly (I wasn’t watching the programme in any great detail, just casually listening / watching as I read a book). Anyway, Brotton was reading from this cartographers diary, he lived in the 1500’s, a time when the Americas had not long been discovered and the eastern seaboard was beginning to be mapped. The west coast of America was a distant dream at the time.

So – during the reading of this man’s diary notes regarding this new land, Brotton read out a section where the medieval cartographer casually states ‘but it was The Britons who first discovered this land five hundred years before Leif Erikson’ [Erikson is widely recognised as the first white man to set foot on the American continent].

This almost throwaway line had me stumbling (not jumping with my knees!!) to my feet. So a well read and well educated cartographer in Europe in the 1500’s was quoting what must have been a widely known ‘fact’ that the race that inhabited the British Isles: The Britons had in fact been across the North Atlantic and discovered America sometime around 450 -500AD

For me this is ground breaking stuff, and of course changes history. And yet, not a word is mentioned in our history books of this earth shattering event. In fact this major discovery is given to a Viking of  much later age. I have to ask; Why?

Where would we be able to find the source material to research this claim? Where did this obscure map maker get his information from? I need to find out a lot more about this.

As ever, if anyone can enlighten me then please do so.

Watch this space!

Good Luck and Good Health.

Mike Leggett

Leggy has landed!!!

Hello all!

I have been away for some time due to ill health but I am now looking to get back into the game so I will be posting new articles each week from now on.

I do hope you continue to support this blog and look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Good luck and good health

Mike Leggett

Were the Angles all blond giants?

Were the Angles all blond giants?

blondie

Or is this a distortion of contemporary storytelling?

I am at that stage writing my second book where I have to describe my ‘hero’ in physical terms. I have built his character and all the usual describing attributes, but now I have to tell the reader what he looks like. And this has thrown up a conundrum which has blown me right off course.

Scur is a third generation Angle living in East Anglia around the time of the invasion by the Great Heathen Army. Simple enough one might think. But do I want him to look like the archetypal Scandinavian warrior. Tall, muscular, blond haired (of course) bearded heavy drinking, rabble rousing womaniser?

I am not entirely sure. I certainly want him to have his own identity. But the big question I am asking is this; were ALL Scandinavians made up from the same attributes I have described above? Were the ll GIANTS. dID THE Y all HAVE BLOND HAIR? Or are these the type of tales told to keep children in check and as stories are embellished along the way.

Is there  any contemporary history describing the physical attributes of a full tribe of Angles? Or is there any modern DNA profiling anywhere which sheds light on the make up of modern-day Danish people who have similar DNA profiles to people living still, in East Anglia?

Even if there was a predominant physical type there must have been the odd one or two who, for whatever reason, had a different stature / hair colour.

Also their legendary fighting status in times of war must surely be true, but it was these same people who gave us the first hint of democracy and law, songs, storytelling and poetry and stunning art forms made by the people of the land. So it couldn’t have all been rape and pillage and bring me more mead. They had to be a more advanced civilisation than that, I think the modern archaeological evidence proves that of course, but I would like to know more about the individual as opposed to the race.

Any thoughts or pointers would, as ever, be most welcome.

Good Health and Good Reading.

Mike

 

Where did they land?

The Great Heathen Army…

The Danes Invade England

…landed somewhere in East Anglia in 865AD.

But I have not been able to find a location.

Apparently there have been a few scholars who have put forward their choice of a landing point. But because there appears to be no corroborative evidence I thought I might as well choose a location myself.

My second novel (working Title ‘Alftruda’) is a work af fiction anyway.  It is based loosely around this momentous and history changing event, so it is  not over important to be exact about the location of the invasion fleets point of arrival. (Although i do confess to being intrigued as to why there is no history of this invasion, the biggest to hit England between the Saxon incursions four hundred years prior and the Norman Conquest!)

What I would ask any reader is this. Where would you suggest a likely landing place to be? If you have local knowledge about that coastline (I still haven’t been able to get across there yet!) you may be better positioned to suggest a suitable beach head.

I do not think it would have been a random landing. It was an invasion fleet after all, so they would have wanted to land as one group not a scattering of individual longships anywhere on a hostile coast. The weather might well have played  a part, but again, local knowledge would have been used without a doubt to ascertain the most favourable time to depart / arrive.

So I throw it out for suggestions. If anyone would like to offer their opinion on this matter it would be most welcome.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Good Reading and Good Health

Michael