Following on from my previous article regarding Roman roads….
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):
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.
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