Friday, 29 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: pre-Roman Celtic Society, part three

Ambiani uniface gold staters (Gallo-Belgic E), Fring, Norfolk, hoard
(click photo to enlarge) 
© Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service


"contrived - When referring to a work of art, one that has been created in a labored way, not spontaneously, with dexterity but little inspiration. Brought into being as a trick or in an obvious way, especially in its content, intent, and / or process."

Artlex Art Dictionary


To say that there were no Celts, no Celts in Britain, or that the Iron Age Britons were not Celts requires some mental dexterity. Most of the arguments are semantical. The weakest one is that kελτοί was name applied by the Greeks. Its root, however is not Greek. The same word was quoted by Lucian as spoken by a bard in Massalia who was explaining Ogmios to Lucian at the time. The bard said, "We Celts..."  (Lucian, Herakles). If that is too obscure for you just refer to Caesar: "... and a people who call themselves Celts, though we call them Gauls." (I.1). I covered Caesar's division of Gaul, yesterday, and how it differed from that of Strabo.

The question of whether the Britons were also Celts is another matter. To claim that they were not requires applying modern concepts of nations instead of using anthropological cultural frames which says that cultures are built around subjects and that every person is a member of multiple cultures. It replaces the older ethnocentric model and its use has become commonplace in today's world with terms like "Internet culture"; "hip-hop culture" and so on. Yesterday, I applied it to ancient Celtic culture by showing that Celtic coinage styles revealed different regional patterns than did Celtic art styles. The weakest argument claiming that the ancient Britons did not call themselves Celts is that such does not show up in the literature and that Celtic was only applied to to anyone in Britain in relatively modern times. Had the Celts been a literary society, it might carry some weight, but as they were not, it is entirely irrelevant. Even the statement that the term is not applied to the British before the seventeenth century is meaningless. Not only is it using the absence of evidence fallacy, but it gives far too much praise to pre-seventeenth century scholarship.

One thing missing from the argument that the Celts did not inhabit Britain is why that would be so. Even if we drop the name Celts and say Gauls, instead, we know that the Gauls inhabited northern Italy for a while; had a brief stay at Tylis in Bulgaria and even set up residence in Asia Minor where they were called Galatians. All of these were people who originated in ancient Gaul. The Celtic culture occupied a very large part of Europe. Britain, according to Caesar, was the birthplace of Druidism. British Celtic coins are inscribed in Gaulish and there are not even British variations on the language. The continental Atrebates and the Parisii also existed in Britain. Perhaps we could avoid the whole Celtic problem and say that Britain was a part of Gaul even though Caesar uses Gaul and Britain, independently, as geographical terms:
"...Caesar made active preparations for an expedition to Britain, because he knew that in almost all the Gallic campaigns the Gauls had received reinforcements from the Britons" (IV. 20)

Here, we see yet another cultural frame uniting Britain and Gaul: shared military campaigns. An editor of the Penguin edition of Caesar is quick to dispel Caesar's statement in an endnote:
 "Although there was much intercourse between Gaul and Britain, the military aid which Caesar says the Gauls received from the Britons cannot have been the real reason for his invasion. Such assistance could hardly have been of much importance, and in any case the Romans were now in control of the Channel."

All of what is said, there, is unfounded. The idea of Roman warships controlling the Channel is just too funny: Their ships had a hard enough time even getting to Britain because of the strong currents, and that part of the Channel is fairly narrow. Caesar had Gaulish transports built to get his troops to Britain. Gaulish ships were far better suited to those waters, and they had more than one shipping route across the Channel. There is far stronger evidence, though, with which to dismiss the first part of the endnote comment.

Gallo-Belgic E VA 54-1.
photo: Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.
The currency the Celts used to finance the Gallic war was the Ambiani uniface gold stater (Gallo-Belgic E). This is common knowledge. It is Type 24 in Simone Scheers, Traité de numismatique celtique II : La Gaule Belgique, Paris, 1977, p. 334-358, pl. VI, 151-158. In this work, she gives a list of the known find spots on the continent and in Britain. The exact numbers of coins are impossible to determine because some reports were not very detailed. Once, I tried to estimate them but I had to use an arbitrary number for those examples that said something like "a few". I do not like to do that sort of thing. In my expert design system, I do not use fuzzy logic for the same reason, and when I was constructing flood maps, I used the exact elevations that the software gave, even though I knew that it was unreliable in practice and previous maps had used broad, hypothetical, lines to mark the levels. All of these methods add even more data corruption. In the case of the flood maps, some of the lines drawn were very accurate because the river passed through narrow gorges at some places where the high water levels could not have possibly overflowed. In one example, the flood maps I was replacing because they had been rejected by the Alberta government showed a main road to be flooded where it would have been dry. I believe in keeping to the measured data even when that data is known to be faulty. To do otherwise just adds extra "drift" to the picture.

Another value of Scheers' data is that the coin finds were all dating to before the use of metal detectors. Although the book was published in 1977, the last find date I saw recorded was 1964. Most of the finds, continental and British, were 1, 2, or 3 coins but there were a few hoards and some multiple deposits of more coins. The largest hoards were on the continent and I assumed these to be tribal payments. One might expect such, but this is still hypothetical. The only way to treat the data in a scientific way is to compare the numbers of find spots (dots on the map). Scheers recorded 197 find spots in total. There were 92 for France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, and 102 for Britain.

Even with my crude estimates for the numbers of actual coins, the British coins still gave a substantial percentage of the total finds and this is especially significant when you compare the area of the British finds with that of the continental finds. I forget what I came up with as a percentage, but it was more than 20%. There is no argument: even if one says that some Gallo-Belgic E came to Britain later "in trade" (which is a silly notion, anyway as trade is commodity for commodity except on a very local level) the same would apply for the other areas, too.

Most important of all, though, is that no evidence at all was offered in the note denying Caesar. The author might just as well have said "Caesar is wrong because he does not reflect my prejudices". Long ago, a classicist said that it is unwise to accuse Caesar of lying. He had a number of errors of judgement, and believed a few "tall tales" but no one has ever caught him in a lie.

Have a culturally diverse weekend.


John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: pre-Roman Celtic Society, part two

Julius Caesar




"All is phenomena. All is text. All is simulacra for which an original does not exist. There are no structures of class, race, gender or good and evil. These are, variously, texts written by people with a political agenda. People are supposed to take these structures as valid 'representations' of that which actually exists."

Postmodern Phenomenology, by T. R. Young


I used this quote once before in one of my favourite posts. Although Young labels the ideas as belonging to the most extreme form of postmodernism, I see it not just as core to the philosophy, but a theme that we can track back at least as far as Kant. Whenever we read anything, we are looking through the world view of its author, but we are also filtering that through our own world view.

In Caesar's Perception of Gallic Social Structures, Sean B. Dunham clearly establishes the fact of Caesar's world view in its title. The paper focuses on Caesar's ethnographic Book VI and compares it with the rest of his text and the views of his contemporaries. There is really nothing I can add to what he says about the subject matter and I hope you will follow the link and read it for yourself. I can say, however, that we also add out own world view to Caesar's words and the English translations are the vehicle of that transmission. For example, the Latin equites gets translated as knights and when we see Rex, we think of the succession of kings through heredity.

Sometimes, further misunderstandings add to the problem and propagate as memes. Recently I have come across several references to the Belgae as a tribe, and while Caesar refers to them as a confederation of tribes with distinctions that separates them from the rest of the Gauls, Strabo finds far fewer differences. No ancient author, though, ever refers to them as a singular tribe. The meme, so far, seems restricted only to the U.K.

These identity problems stem from the fact of indigenous peoples whose roots in their communities go back at least as far as the Neolithic and whose practices grew out of their respective environments. Such connections bind them together in various sets of cultural frames so that later, when their collective areas have become Celtic they still maintain many of these traditions. To argue against a unified Celtic culture based on any of these differences is like saying Louisiana is not American because of its French cultural frames. One could then find other, regional, cultural frames in other parts of the U.S and then make the claim that Americans do not exist. This is exactly what had been done with the ancient Celts. British round houses go back to the Neolithic; Gaulish rectangular houses go back to the Neolithic. Becoming Celtic did not require that one had to build houses differently. When the Gauls gathered together to fight the Romans, it was, at first, because Roman legions appeared in their geographical area, so neighbouring tribes gathered together to protect that area. Before that time, we could have had situations whereby some tribes of the region were fighting other tribes in the region and where the differences were not based on geographical factors at all. Unities in Celtic coinage styles are different from unities in Celtic artistic styles and each form different regions, their connections lie only in their subject matter and we cannot identify them as indications of different peoples. There is a distinctive artistic style that is focused in Champagne and includes works from both Celtic and Belgic regions (as defined by Caesar), and there is another distinctive style focused in the Rhineland which also includes these Belgic and Celtic tribes and it gets transmitted to Armorican Gaul (Brittany and to the east of there) in coinage but not in other sorts of objects. The survival of earlier Megalithic symbology in Armorican coinage has its closest parallels in Irish Megalithic art because of strong ties between the two regions in that time. Yet, the meanings behind the artistic motifs can be demonstrated to be identical wherever they exist, and can often be traced to common roots.  Of course, that takes a little study to reveal, Something that people with political agendas realize that most other people are not going to bother doing. Even such politicization cannot be restricted to national interests and can include many of its own cultural frames.


John's Coydog Community page

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: pre-Roman Celtic Society, part one

Maiden Castle, Dorset, 1935. (enhanced and enlarged to 1072x920 -click to enlarge)
Maiden Castle is the largest hill fort in western Europe (47 acres). Approaching it from the road, it first appears as a natural hill but with a couple of notches at one end. Walking through the enclosure, you feel like an ant. The aerial view is the only way to grasp its immensity. Starting as an unremarkable Neolithic enclosure in about 4,000 BC, it reached its current size in about 450 BC.

Although looking formidable, it was just too vast to defend properly and there was probably no good reason to even attempt any attack. Like many large structures the world over, it was more a symbol of societal cooperation and unity. Even something relatively smaller, such as an African kraal was too big for the chief's family to build and maintain and its construction cemented relationships of obligation between the  chief and his people. You see the same sort of relationships being formed in the Potlach events of the American Pacific Northwest and the Canadian west coast native peoples such as the Haida.

But a large central place, or even an exceptionally large chief's house is no criterion to establish a tribal identity with the Celts and I will have more to say on this later in the series. We have very strong clues about the structure of the society with the early Irish laws which, although penned in the early Medieval period contain enough evidence to be certain of their Iron Age origins. A person's status was determined with their "honour price", and instead of there being a single king ruling over all, there were levels of kingship even down to a village level. We also know of multiple tribal kings in Britain from Caesar:  "...Cassivellaunus sent envoys to Kent ordering the four kings of that region, Cingetorix, Carvilius, Taximagulus, and Segovax, to collect all their troops and make a surprise attack on the naval camp." (IV, 22). These names are not really names but titles Cingetorix is "infantry-king"; Carvilius is "hereditary chief";  Taximagulus is "Commander-in chief"; and I translate Segovax as something like "trade-speaker". "King" (rix) is not the inherited title it is today, the closest to that position would be Carvillios (Celtic spelling) who would have been the ruler or chief of the Cantii. The title "Rix" (or Latinized Rex need not mean that the associated name was the ruler of any tribe at all. He would more likely have been in charge of its military and as troops were paid for with coins, it is his name that appears on them. I am convinced that the Dobunnic "kings"  Comux... Eisu... Catti... Inam... as seen in coin legends are all contemporary and not sequential kings at all. These were all issuers of coins to purchase troops and were possibly vying with each other to get troops to fight each other or an external foe.

Caesar's perception of kings might have been limited only to those kings with the power to communicate with  him, or with his foes, but he does understand that the Druid class had influence right down to even a family level:
"In Gaul, not only every tribe, canton, and subdivision of a canton, but almost every family, is divided into rival factions. At the head of these factions are men who are regarded by their followers as having particularly great prestige, and these have the final say on all questions that come up for judgement and in all discussions of policy. The object of this ancient custom seems to have been to ensure that all the common people should have protection against the strong; for each leader sees that no one gets the better of his supporters by force or by cunning - or, if he fails to do so, is utterly discredited". (VI, 11)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Druid were not priests, but primarily judges. The only known name of a druid that has survived is Diviciacus (Latin name ending, should be -os). It means "the avenger".

Tomorrow, were the Druids "kings"? A tantalizing theory of Sean B. Dunham.


John's Coydog Community page

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part fourteen

Carl Jung
"The introvert’s attitude is an abstracting one; at bottom, he is always intent on withdrawing libido from the object, as though he had to prevent the object from gaining power over him. The extravert, on the contrary, has a positive relation to the object. He affirms its importance to such an extent that his subjective attitude is constantly related to and oriented by the object. The object can never have enough value for him, and its importance must always be increased."

Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 6: Psychological Types (p. 330). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.


Anyone whose familiarity with psychological terms is limited to the popular or the Freudian might get the wrong (and a bizarre) impression from the first sentence in Jung's quote. In Jungian psychology, libido means all types of mental energy and sexual energy is not even dominant. As a classic introvert, I thought that I should stress this definition at the outset! We face another problem with the popular conceptions of introverts and extraverts: people who know me well often see me as an extravert because although my dominant function is introverted intuition, my auxiliary function is extraverted feeling. I certainly do not come across to people, in person, as the shy type one mostly associates with the introvert. Another set of Jungian terms that can cause confusion are rational and irrational. Most people might think the first to be well-adjusted and the second to be crazy. In Jungian terms, rational has more to do with thinking and irrational more to do with feeling. Thus love and art are irrational and science and mathematics are rational. Music is the most extraverted and rational of the arts because of its mathematical structures.
Inspiration is irrational; building something is rational. Of course, nothing will ever get built unless someone is inspired to make that so. By and large, most well-adjusted people have aspects of both the irrational and the rational and the greatest people of all have an almost perfect balance, although there is almost always a preference toward one or the other. Perfect balance and harmony is the essence of the Tao, or the Buddhist state of being free from both fear and desire. All worth striving toward, but you will not achieve such on a weekend retreat; by reading a book; or by paying $100,000 to some cult! In depth psychology greater balance is achieved through individuation (Jung) or self-actualization  (Maslow).

Thirty-plus years years of reading Jung has made me fairly comfortable with his terminology, but I could hardly expect anyone to feel the same after reading the above paragraph. Ironically, Jungian terminology is not intuitive. It was Emilio Valli, in a discussion group he ran about mythology, who gave me a far better frame of reference to express some of my ideas. Some questions can have a Zen-like effect and one he posed about Mythos and Logos did just that.I will always be grateful for it because I started to run with it and formulated a theory whereby individuals and societies can be found somewhere on a scale which runs from Mythos to Logos (or vice versa, the order is immaterial). Sadly, the site that hosts such discussion succumbed into adopting the practice of "likes" so pretty well anything that got posted became a monologue that people responded to only by clicking the "like" button. Discussion groups are almost dead; everyone has become a "consumer". Welcome to the 21st century Dark Age. In the context of this topic, Mythos refers to art, theory, concepts, mythology etc. and Logos refers to the material, recording of data, strict practices and guidelines.

As a subject, archaeology has a bit of a split-personality: excavational archaeology is very much on the logos (extravert) side and the subject, itself, leans to that side because it is concerned with material remains. It is easy to see that someone who expresses an interest in the "mysteries of the past" (Mythos) might also be drawn to it, but they would be most likely to favour its theoretical side. Someone who believes that the only possible historical truth lies in physical evidence (Logos) would be attracted to its excavational or material-analytical side. A strong interest in art and mythology (Mythos) is rather rare among archaeologists and most archaeological writing is in the form of excavation reports (Logos). Thus the subject, itself, is overwhelmingly Logos (extraverted and materialistic).The object is of primary importance and that object is an archaeological site. The site, itself, generates thoughts of protection because of its importance to the extravert. Whenever religious content is detected at the site, the subject is blanketed with the word "ritual" because a rite is an action carried out with material objects (action= energy, objects= matter). You never see ritual described in philosophical terms within excavation reports. In fact, any description at all is most often lacking. It becomes a "black-box" with the label "ritual" and the box is never opened.  Art is viewed with suspicion and a functional purpose for it is often assumed (as with "display" or "status").

Prehistoric archaeology, especially, depicts the physical "creature" aspect of Man: food, tools, burial practices etc. Prehistoric art is always viewed from the viewpoint of its reception and never from its creation. This is why I wrote my series The Palaeolithic artist which completely breaks new ground by getting inside the mind of the artist. This was also experienced by Picasso, and it changed his direction in art, but he refused to discuss it with anyone past his initial statement: "After Altamira, all is decadence".

Early Celtic art is very much neglected in archaeology and there is much nonsense written about it by those who have little experience in the subject. But those who wish to follow it by reading its few central archaeological writers will be standing on the shoulders of giants.

Tomorrow: pre-Roman Celtic society.


John's Coydog Community page

Monday, 25 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part thirteen

Horse brooch fragment showing mask.
Lowestoft, Suffolk, but of Dobunnic
manufacture. Early 1st cent AD
45 x 22 mm. (my collection).
click photo to enlarge
Archaeology is art-history's poor relative. Being dependent upon the happenstance of loss and abandonment, it frequently fails to detect human agency and thought. This is especially noticeable in early Celtic art where unnoticed motifs can link ideas over great distances without signs of intermediary connections which might suggest diffusion. Speaking of the Broighter torc, the Megaws (Celtic Art from its Beginnings to the Book of Kells, 2001, p. 216) say: "As so frequently noted in these pages one must not underestimate the ability for forms and motifs to be freely exchanged across disparate parts of the Celtic world". When such a phenomenon is noticed by archaeology, "trade" is often given as the reason but usually without confirming evidence. Such trade in early Celtic art apart from domestic "cottage industry" goods such as brooches is very rare and is seen through distribution maps. Even then, a large number of examples is needed to eliminate the possibility of casual losses of people moving across great distances such as on military campaigns. In the later periods, such distribution was effected by Roman soldiers with small domestic objects such as brooches, dress fasteners and decorative mounts. I have in my collection a pseudo La Tène 2 brooch from Pannonia and dating to about 50 BC. Their homeland distribution is very narrow and along the Danube, but my example was found in the Thames and was likely lost by one of Caesar's troops (who had previously served in Pannonia) when they crossed the river. Such brooches were fashionable for only a very short time. Martyn Jope, in Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, 2000, p. 1. dismisses the idea of trade as being the agency that brought Celtic art to Britain citing the lack of imported examplars and says "The new ideas and skills must have come largely in the minds and hands of men with a considerable experience in distant ateliers". Raimund Karl suggests that apprenticeships might have been included in the common Celtic practice of fosterage, and I think that this is very likely. We must also include the practise of ancient artists to move their workshops great distances to take advantage of emerging markets. Such products, however, cannot be too foreign and the practice relates to natural religious syncretism where there has to be some similarity between what is transmitted and what already exists in the new region.

Mask on Loughcrew bone
fragment
The masks I show here have their identity confirmed by a chariot rein-guide at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Jacobsthal 175. PP 475, 476. In the link I give you can only make out the side-view of the cusp and the two "eyes" at the very top of the photograph (this is PP 475). Not visible at all in the photograph is PP 476 which is a more "representational" version of the abstract PP 475 showing, clearly, two eyes, one larger than the other, hair, and a nose in profile. Although the museum accession says "Champagne", Jacobsthal doubts that the purchased group was found in France at all.

I can think of no better way to demonstrate the difference between the archaeological and the art-historical viewpoints than by using two published works by the same person. Barry Raftery takes a far more art-historical perspective in his La Tène in Ireland: Problems of Origin and Chronology, Marburg, 1984, p. 36, where he illustrates the pertinent detail of another drawing of the bone flake from Loughcrew, Co. Meath, illustrated on the left, comparing it with the same motifs on two unlocalised Irish horsebits and one terminal of a harness-loop from Seven Sisters, Glamorganshire, Wales (Jope, 2000, Pl 294 l). An archaeologist working in Ireland and finding an object with such a motif would not try wading through the latter book to find a parallel or a clue to the object's identity, but instead would look at Raftery's previous work: A Catalogue of Irish Iron Age Antiquities, Marburg, 1983, where the same bone flake is drawn in the full view (No. 664). Unfortunately, the bone flakes from Loughcrew are only described, generally, from the archaeological perspective with details of the site, their numbers, type of bone material, methods of manufacture and polishing etc., but with no discussion of their designs and affiliations. Even where single objects are described in the catalogue, the treatment is fairly similar: a physical description, and wherever a motif is mentioned, it is only by way of description and not its affiliation with other objects bearing the same motif. As the joke goes, "You can't get there from here", so any human context is impossible to determine. No small wonder that the archaeological fashion of there being no unified Celtic culture came about. This is even more extreme with those archaeologists who refer to to La Tène decoration only as "swirly".

Broighter gold torc
adapted by JH from original source (enhanced, enlarged and colourized)
click graphic to enlarge
But it gets even more complex: Jacobsthal, page 81, notes 1 and 4 finds design analogies between one of the Loughcrew bone flake designs and a detail on the Broighter torc; refers to compasses being found at Loughcrew and at a site in France and, if that is not already enough, finds further analogies between the decoration of the Broighter gold torc and Meare and Glastonbury pottery from England (Dobunnic territory). My part in this collection of design links is my article on the Lambay Island settlers (near Dublin) and the design motifs there being connected with Dobunni sites when previous archaeological thought believed the Irish site to have been Brigantian because the details of the small finds were ignored in favour of a dubious "distribution pattern" for the beaded torc, an example of which was found at Lambay Island.

Tomorrow, the psychology behind the two (archaeological and art-historical) viewpoints of the material.


John's Coydog Community page

Friday, 22 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part twelve

Stone heads from Roquepertuse  (Bouches-du-Rhône), north of Marseille,
3rd cent BC, Jacobsthal 3.
photo: Robert Valette
"Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art, first published half-a-century ago this year, is a work which, irrespective of any shortcomings which may now be perceived, remains of such quality that he 'made his successors all his commentators' (Hawkes 1963: 12)."

Ruth and Vincent Megaw, Through a Window on the European Iron Age Darkly: Fifty Years of Reading Early Celtic Art, World Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 3, Reading Art (Feb., 1994), pp. 287-303

The Megaws, in a nutshell, sum up the impact of Jacobsthal's work on the study of early Celtic art. The book's shortcomings lie in its organization. If you look at the table of contents I posted yesterday, you will see that Chapter One is "The Image of Man", yet in his Epilogue on p. 161 he says "Early Celtic art is an art of ornament, masks, and beasts, without the image of Man".  However, in that first chapter, he wastes no time in telling the reader how the image of Man is restricted to areas with foreign influence. I think we have a clue here to Jacobsthal's psychology in this matter: coming from a background of Greek art where the image of Man dominates, he draws his previous followers toward a new paradigm.

A modern reader, new to early Celtic art might expect, after a brief introduction, a key to the various periods of the art, but in Jacobsthal, that key (one of the best and most informative I have seen) is to be found at the start of his "Addenda and Corrigenda" in pp. 206-8. He rightly gives precedent to D. Viollier's dates for the range of La Tène 2 as 250 - 50 BC based on Viollier's Les sépultures du second âge de fer sur le plateau suisse, Genève, 1916 (a book I have found most useful for its brooch and bracelet types) over Joseph Déchelette's  300 - 100 BC. (Manuel d'archéologie préhistorique, celtique et gallo-romaine, Paris, 1908-1914). Of course, Jacobsthal is dealing with the continental and La Tène 2 in Britain cannot be put further back than about 210 BC although its closing date remains about 50 BC (Jope, 2000).

The age of using patterns to clarify early Celtic art is drawing to a close, although I could come up with a better system using my "elements" and "motifs" but another organizational problem in Jacobsthal is that while his catalogue (pp 165-205) refers to the pattern numbers in the second volume, there is no index to the patterns themselves. All he gives are references to patterns elsewhere in the text. Martyn Jope, in Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, the successor that Jacobsthal had planned and that was published posthumously in 2000, does include such an index. I might provide the like for Jacobsthal as a stand alone blog post or series here, but I am not making any promises!

Jacobsthal arranges the main text of the first volume along themes with some attention to chronology while his catalogue follows the second volume plates mainly in types of objects. Jope follows suit but gives more attention to the chronology. The Megaws, Celtic art from its beginnings to the Book of Kells, 2001 is far better organized giving priority (as the title implies) to chronological factors. How their supplement to Jacobsthal will be arranged remains to be seen, but it will not include patterns (pers. corr.).

That some objects which were above ground in Jacobsthal's time but are not included in the work cannot be blamed on Jacobsthal. As a Jewish refugee from Germany, losing his seat at Marburg University the production of his book was a remarkable feat in itself and any help given him from Germany carried with it the risk of death and those brave souls in Germany who assisted him were obviously not named in the text. You can read the whole story for yourself, online,  in: S. Crawford:
Paul Jacobsthal's Early Celtic Art, his anonymous co-author, and National Socialism: new evidence from the archives, 2011, Antiquity, Vol. 85, Issue 327, January 2011, pp 129-141.

There is a difference in the way that Jacobsthal worked with his research and the way it was presented. His methods show within his descriptions how comparison of exact design elements and motifs are essential for coming to even a basic understanding of this art. It is a necessary book to this day.

On Monday, why the archaeological perspective on early Celtic art is so flawed. Have an organized weekend.


John's Coydog Community page

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part eleven

Jacobsthal' s ECA Vol. 1 of 2, 1969 (last) edition
Less than pristine, ex library, I bought the set for $300 about
twenty years ago.
The psychology of early Celtic art perhaps would be better stated as the psychologies of early Celtic art: apart, even, from the personal psychologies of each of the artists, there is the psychology of the tenets of Celtic art. In modern terms, we might equate this to the psychology of the Academy, but instead of the board of artists who had reached a certain status in more recent academies, the Celtic artistic academies would have been under the ultimate control of the Druids as was every aspect of the society at the time. If we take a regional view of early Celtic art, the collective consciousness of each region must be taken into consideration: societies were more cosmopolitan than we might imagine and the Celtic areas in northern Italy were undoubtedly the most cosmopolitan of all. There, a Celtic man might have an Etruscan wife and their "native" (if such a word is even appropriate) lifestyles would be mingled with the Greek. Even back in Gaul, each region would have had its influences going back at least as far as the Neolithic. The idea of a "pure" culture is something symptomatic of the totalitarian mind, whether it wants to prop up what it puts forward as its own culture, or destroy that of another's. I doubt that we could find a pure culture even in the remotest and least explored part of the Amazon jungle.

Apart from the endemic aspects of the psychology of early Celtic art, we have the psychologies of the studies of early Celtic art starting with the very phrase: "Early Celtic art". These, too, can be broken down  personally, regionally, professionally and by status. Most curious of all is that you will not find, through Google, the contents of the book which created the path that all studies of early Celtic art would take. As the book was out of print before the Internet and even the invention of the first personal computer you will not find the "Look inside this book" previews we like to see on Amazon.com or the offers of the first pages free on an ebook site. The only way you can order the book is through a used-book seller who will, at best, show you the cover. The two book set is still fairly expensive, even in the same condition as mine, but you might find odd volumes bought separately might be cheaper. The first edition of 1944 is going to be much more, though. Right now, there are only six listings for the title on Abebooks, but those include Mayer Schapiro's and Sheppard Frere's copies. The World Catalogue of Libraries listings are far from complete and list only a few copies, but you should find the title in most university and art college libraries, though public library copies will be fairly rare.

I find it very interesting that I have never seen an example of early Celtic art offered for sale which referenced Jacobsthal in its listing. Perhaps this is why I have been able to obtain a number of are and important pieces for very little money. Some of them were not even correctly identified as to their culture!

It would be impossible to review Jacobsthal without presenting its contents so I will end for today with a couple of fairly low res, photos of my copy. An Internet first! (who would want to buy a book for about $300 without knowing what it contained?). Tomorrow, we start to look at the way Jacobsthal looked at the subject, how his organization of the material reflected that (or failed to do so), and how it formed the base for what followed.

Jacobsthal contents 1 (fair use)
(click to enlarge)
Jacobsthal contents 2 (fair use)
(click to enlarge)



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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part ten


It is the practice, in classification, to group like with like. In biological classification this does not always reflect an evolutionary path: the marine sea snails of the family Cypraeidae (cowries) are classified by their shell shapes and colour patterns but the latter feature's evolution is decided by which variations make for the best camouflage in any type of environment. Variations in the creatures inside of the shell is another matter and the classification would have been different if the soft tissue had been the determining factor.

Evolution in design is made more complex because the creator of the product has free will and the survival of design features in any planning stage such as preliminary drawings for a painting is not dependent on the external factors of predators or types of environment. When the product consists of multiples such as a series of coins there can be an opportunity to evolve the designs as the work progresses. Almost always, however, die engravers work in the same manner as painters by planning the design before the first die is cut and then repeating the design for all subsequent dies in the series. Variations on a coin can exist when the main features remain the same, for example, the long series of Athenian tetradrachms of the "New Style" bears sets of magistrates names and these names change over time with overlapping names providing a chronology of die manufacture. Without such clues, the order of die manufacture cannot be determined and the numismatist then uses features of die use to determine an exact chronology. This practice can involve gradual die wear and die replacements (obverse, anvil, dies wear slower than reverse, hammer, dies and are less subject to breakage because the coin blank acts as a buffer to the force of the hammer). Without such clues, such as in the case of coins where most of an issue has not survived, declines in weight or the purity of the metal might be used to estimate the chronology.

I decided to create a more detailed classification of the billon staters of the Celtic Coriosolite tribe not just because the exist in great numbers, but because their designs showed a phenomenal number of design variations and I thought that this would reveal an evolution. It did, but determining that evolution was far more complex than I had imagined at the outset. I soon came to realize why such a detailed chronology had not been accomplished: previous scholars had restricted the number of deciding factors because like could be grouped with like with only a very limited number of features. Working with the conventional methods, I was unable to refine their chronology and I almost gave up. Some months later, I decided to take another approach (inspired by a Scottish naturalist, see part seven).

By just looking at the designs over a period of time without thinking about them and by ignoring all numismatic theories and methods I knew that here would be a chance that the solutions would emerge from my unconscious mind. I consciously knew that there had to be a solution, but as no one had been able to accomplish this through the use of theory and methods, then conscious thought was obviously not workable. When the answers finally came, I realized that their complexity was so extreme that the chances of anyone discovering them through academic methods would have been virtually nil. They could, however be easily verified, after the fact. What I did not know at the time was that the physicist Wolfgag Pauli, in a discussion with Jung had already determined that objectivity must reside in the unconscious:
"As a matter of fact the physicist would expect a psychological correspondence at this point, because the epistemological situation with regard to the concepts 'conscious' and 'unconscious' seems to offer a pretty close analogy to the undermentioned 'complimentarity' situation on physics. ... It is undeniable that the development of 'microphysics' has brought the way in which nature is described in this science very much closer to that of the newer psychology: but whereas the former, on account of the basic 'complementarity' situation. is faced with the impossibility of eliminating the effects of the observer by determinable correctives, and has therefore to abandon in principle any objective understanding of physical phenomena, the latter can supplement the purely subjective psychology of consciousness by postulating the existence of an unconscious that possesses a large measure of objective reality." C. G. Jung, On the Nature of the Psyche, p. 139n
Three of the four reverse dies of my sub-group H1 had been previously placed together in Rybot's attempted chronology, but the other he placed out of sequence:

The numbers contained within parenthesis are in subjective order,
while the parentheses, themselves, are in objective order.
Group H has the least variations of all of the series with the
maximum number (5) of any dies within an objective set.
 Rybot's order for the H1 coins in the order above was: 27, 22, 21, 20. Number 27 is completely out of order but the sequence of 21, 20. could be correct. The reason he placed them in such an order is because he gave priority to obverse features. Group H1 is arranged through reverse features, while Group H2 is arranged through obverse features. The same grouping patterns in H1 and H2 reveals that the moneyers had shifted the obverse and reverse die correlations in the striking process. My order for the obverses was based on overlapping changes in the design of the eye and the neck truncation but Rybot's prime consideration was a gradual loss of perceived realism in the faces. This was due to advice he had obtained from the British Museum about the pattern of artistic and was based on theories about Greek art popular at the time. That the Celts had any concerns, at all, about realism in faces is grossly unfounded. We can see that Rybot succumbed to the psychology of status. Had he been left to his own devices, I have no doubt that he would have been able to create a far more accurate chronology because he was an artist, as well as a soldier and had no grounding in the academic theories which had been applied to these coins. He did, however, have personal, experiential, knowledge of the minds of artists apart from their styles and methods.

A friend of mine once got an extremely low mark for a paper he wrote at university. It was about Roman coin portraiture and was based on his observations and many years of experience as a collector of these coins. the low mark came about because he had not cited references and was suspected of plagiarism. Observation and experience was not even considered a factor. This is the fatal academic flaw: that new discovery can only be derived from previous studies. Yet, in the real scientific world new discoveries can emerge from the unconscious, although such things would (and have been) dismissed by people  with extraverted, philosophically materialistic, personalities who can experience such things from only within a neurosis. We have barely scratched the surface on the topic of subjectivity.

Tomorrow, how the better scholars of early Celtic art work around the structures that have been imposed upon the subject.


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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part nine

Of Self-Complacency
A fool's broth he does stir and feed
Who thinks he is of witty breed
And so admires his lovely face
That e'ère into the glass he'd gaze,
Yet grossly ignorant that he
A fool in yonder glass doth see...
Woodcut and quote from Sebastian Brant,
Ship of Fools, 1499.
"By academic complacency I mean the attitude that one's undoubted distinction in one's own subject entitles one to pontificate about any other; and conversely, that their ignorance of one's own subject disqualifies everyone else from having a worthwhile opinion on anything at all. Such complacency shades into arrogance, of course, but I think of arrogance as the child of vanity, whereas complacency is the child of laziness. The virtue opposed to arrogance is modesty; that opposed to complacency is curiosity."

Simon Blackburn, professor of philosophy, University of Cambridge, in Mathew Reisz et al: The seven deadly sins of the academy, Times Higher Education, 2009

Even if we are not lazy and we are dedicated to getting to the truth of the early Celts and their art, the Zeitgeist acts like blinkers to shut out some of what has come before while completely blinding us to present influences. A number of artists of the Italian Renaissance produced the so-called Paduans (named after Giovanni da Cavino "the Paduan"): medallions which attempted to emulate the classical Roman style. Many of them were actual copies of Roman coins but some were fantasies. No modern numismatist would mistake any of them for Roman originals and the only problems of authenticity lie with later casts. We see them as examples of Renaissance art but their makers would have believed them to accurately reflect the classical Roman. In part one of this part of the series I illustrated a plate and caption about Celtic coins from C. G. Jung et al,  Man and his Symbols which was started in 1961 but not published until 1964. Not one part of it was right and its conclusion was nothing more than an expression of its time. In that case, the problem was not so much the psychology of the Zeitgeist, but its manifestation as academic fashion.

I used the video Why is "Celtic" Art "Celtic"?, by John Collis, FSA as a springboard for this theme in December. Collis was one of the central figures of the academic fashion of Celtoskepticism which was at its peak in the mid nineties and is currently being deodorized and justified to some degree to reflect the current Zeitgeist.I think that what it mainly does is to give an impression of how past efforts have failed, and how the present is now the repository of all that is true about the subject. I also think that much of its content will be seen as an expression of our time in a another fifty years or so. There is nothing so dated as futurist writing, but academic fashions come a very close second in that horse race. Herein lies the danger of academia examining itself. It is better, by far, to look at the past with fresh eyes but how can we avoid the influence of the Zeitgeist? We are not trying to write history, we are trying to write the past. History is always of the present and is thus constantly being rewritten whether we intend to do this or not. "Keeping up with Jones's" in the sense of jumping onto academic bandwagons guarantees that anyone doing so will be forgotten if they come to it too late and will be laughed at if they are in its vanguard. In times past, this was just fine for academic power building and a long career could be expected, but today's world is moving too fast to make that a safe option.

Someone once said that the value of the researcher could be measured by the number of daggers in their back. One has to be an outsider to make a real and lasting mark on a subject.Colin Wilson attempted to classify such people in his book The Outsider, but it failed to bring him into their fold because it, also, was too similar to the navel-gazing of academia examining itself.

Writing the past is best accomplished by allowing that past to write itself as much as is possible. It requires a fierce independence; passion; and the ability to not think too much. It also requires considerable luck to find the right inspiration. As soon as you wrap your work within the confines of a theory you have lost. Only the originator of that theory had any value. It is only after the fact that you will see how what you have done resembles what has been cited as belonging to various theories and you will also notice that what you have is not restricted to just one of them, either. I developed my interests in Jung, postmodernism and transdisciplinarity only after I had come to some of their conclusions independently. When I built my first expert-system, I had never heard of that term at all.

Oscar Wilde competes with the Bible, Shakespeare and Mark Twain for being quotable, and one of my favourite quotes of his is from 1895: "The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!" (said by Algernon Moncrieff in The Importance of Being Earnest). Tomorrow, how the truth of early Celtic art is far from simple and how to avoid simplicity to move toward to the truth.


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Monday, 18 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part eight

"Celtic Unconscious"
John Hooker, digitally adapted from a photo by Gun Powder Ma
That Carl Jung deliberately kept away from studying the Celts in dereference to his wife Emma Jung, and that she studied the Celts from within the framework of the Arthurian Romances has isolated the protohistoric Celtic La Tène art from psychological studies. George Santayana, in The Life of Reason (1905) said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". I believe that those who study early Celtic art without being attentive to the Celtic unconscious are in danger of projecting contents of their own unconscious mind onto the subject.

No one who studies Celtic art denies its "magical" component. This aspect is especially observable within the Plastic Style with its hidden images and anamorphosis; the reference to the Celtic use of metaphor in their speech by Diodorus and my observation of their use of "variations on a theme" in Coriosolite coin design all add up the inescapable fact that it was the collective, rather than the personal unconscious that was being targeted by the artists. Jung used both the dream imagery of his patients and his techniques of active imagination to access the unconscious content.
"As most people know, one of the basic principles of analytical psychology is that dream-images are to be understood symbolically; that is to say, one must not take them literally, but must surmise a hidden meaning in them. This ancient idea of dream symbolism has aroused not only criticism, but the strongest opposition. That dreams should have a meaning, and should therefore be capable of interpretation, is certainly neither a strange nor an extraordinary idea. It has been known to mankind for thousands of years; indeed it has become something of a truism. ... It is an especial inconvenience that one cannot recount a dream without having to add the history of half a lifetime in order to represent the individual foundations of the dream."
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 5: Symbols of Transformation: Chapter 2, Two Kinds of Thinking, (Kindle Locations 651-655; 669-670). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
The last sentence in the quote shows the method by which the consciousness must deal with the revealed unconscious content and we might then surmise that the unconscious is also using the past in the original formation of the imagery that is later interpreted. In sessions with his  patients, Jung noticed that the earliest memories evoked contained more archetypal imagery of the collective unconscious rather than things forgotten or repressed from their personal unconscious. This is certainly to be expected if only because early experiences have little of a personal past behind them.
"The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes."
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious, (Kindle Locations 991-996). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
The biggest problem with the above quote is the reference to heredity as this implies a Lamarckian belief held by Jung which has been recently emphasized by Ritske Rensma in: Analytical psychology and the ghost of Lamarck: did Jung believe in the inheritance of acquired characteristics?. As far as I can see, there are only two avenues which could be pursued to resolve this problem: the first being epigenetics (its relevance to Lamarckism is still a matter of some controversy). The second avenue is religious, but I am not speaking about Intelligent Design's efforts to use epigentics as justification, but the belief in any sort of transmission through rebirth. Particular to the ancient Celtic belief is Metempsychosis. Jung says:
"Metempsychosis. The first of the five aspects of rebirth to which I should like to draw attention is that of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls. According to this view, one’s life is prolonged in time by passing through different bodily existences; or, from another point of view, it is a life-sequence interrupted by different reincarnations. Even in Buddhism, where this doctrine is of particular importance— the Buddha himself experienced a very long sequence of such rebirths— it is by no means certain whether continuity of personality is guaranteed or not: there may be only a continuity of karma. The Buddha’s disciples put this question to him during his lifetime, but he never made any definite statement as to whether there is or is not a continuity of personality."
Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Forms of Rebirth (Kindle Locations 2200-2206). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
The question of the continuity of personality has been answered by the Dalai Lama with the subject of "the clear light" and it is both common sense and is demonstrable that much of our personality is formed through the experiences of our current life, as would the personality of any future life be formed through its experiences.

So this is the background information. Tomorrow, we will apply it to the study and studies of the Celts and their art.


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Friday, 15 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part seven

Numbers within parentheses indicate a subjective chronology that has no evolutionary markers. (click to enlarge)

Inspiration can come from anywhere. My "Uereka!" moment, the very instant that I began to understand the psychology of the Celtic artist owes everything to the psychology behind Loch Ness monster sightings: many years ago, I listened to an interview with a Scottish naturalist who lived near Loch Ness and was determined to discover the truth behind the monster sightings. He pinned copies of every photograph of the monster he could find on the wall of his bedroom. They were the last thing he saw every night and the first thing he saw every morning. One morning he woke to see a photograph of an otter's tail just as the animal went under the water in a barrel-roll. He had seen otters do that many times, and how they bent the tip of their tail  as an unconscious result of the twisting of their back. As he became more fully awake, he realized that what he was actually looking at was a famous photograph of the neck and head of the Loch Ness monster. But monsters are a lot bigger than otters. Thinking about this, and having a very scientific mind, he realized that on open water with nothing by which to judge scale, no one can determine the size of anything unless the shape gives them such information. In short, if you think you are seeing a monster, what you are actually seeing seems rather large. After he came to this realization it was easy to see the "humps" of the Loch Ness monster as the backs of otters porpoising in a line across the water. But there had also been reports, but no photographs, of very young "monsters" on the shore. They had all been seen at dusk and were reported to be about five feet long, give or take. They all did the same thing when spotted: they took a few steps to the water and then slid in. He knew that this is exactly how otters enter the water and he understood that at dusk, the size of anything is difficult to ascertain. The mind can easily believe something to be much bigger if it it thinks it is a monster. Of course, his reports were suppressed because more tourist money comes from monster seekers than otter fanciers, and many people love mysteries more than solutions. Personally, I thought his discovery was far more important than if he had discovered a real monster. It spoke volumes about how our perception can override reality, and that is far more important than any example of cryptozoology. I thought that his discovery was scientifically elegant.

After being stumped for many months in my quest to expand Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Beaulieu's six classes of Corioslite staters, I stopped trying. I decided to just look at their die reconstructions drawn by Major N. V. L. Rybot in the manner of that Scottish naturalist (I wish I could remember his name). I looked at enlargements of them every morning and every night without making any attempt to order them in my mind. One morning I noticed some very small differences in the way that the pony's ears were drawn in a small group of closely related coins. Then I noticed that there were variations in the way that the lash from the chariot driver's head was attached to the pony. That was my "Eureka" moment. The next few hours were frenzied and I roughed out the chronology of the entire series in one sitting. After I had spent some months fine-tuning it, I had expanded the six classes into fifteen groups and understood much of the psychology of all of the die engravers.

The mind of the numismatist is no different than anyone's mind: it sees, or attempts to see, things in accordance with the way it views the world. If the mind expects to see a monster, then it does not see an otter; If the mind expects to see order in predominant designs, then it does not see order in the small details. There is also a very functionalist attitude among numismatists and archaeologists. It is so strong that many of them think that it is a good quality rather than a fault. What it actually does is to unconsciously transfer the world-view of the present and the culture of the observer to past events and objects. This sort of thing happens with most people (Zen-masters and the like exempt). Conscious thought can occlude reality and the collective consciousness does this better than any individual expression. If you can achieve a state of observing without thought you might be very surprised at what you can achieve. The dream-state can also accomplish this because dreams are at the border of the unconscious.

It turned out that the Celtic die engravers exhibited a number of aspects of their philosophy within their work. One of these was what I called "variations on a theme": a way that the same reality could be expressed in different images through the use of a a hidden "key". Another discovery I made was that repetition carried with it a very strong measure of taboo. It was not absolute, but it was considered necessary to a degree for any claims of wisdom to be made. This originality was even faked in one series of Coriosolite coins (Series Z, actually Unelli and not Coriosolite at all. Colbert de Beauliieu had called them Class II Coriosolite). These coins were paid out by Viridovix of the Unelli to very low status troops who would not be expected to understand much. Caesar referred them thusly: "a great host of desperadoes and brigands had gathered, whom the hope of plunder and the passion for war seduced from the daily toil of agriculture.

My chart showing the chronology of the dies of Series Y including Group M
shown in the top diagram. It also includes examples of reused motifs but
"variations on a theme" were, of course, not part of chronological factors
although some enabled me to determine the sub-groups H1 and H2.
(click to enlarge).
The Celtic philosophers understood the collective unconscious as the Underworld, and the Underworld (as expressed by many cultures) is understood in Jungian psychology to be another aspect of that very part of the human mind. It is thus no small wonder that the the collective consciousness with, as Jung put it, "its wretched ism's" fails so badly to detect examples of it. Another example of its aspect of eschewing repetition is found in a series of gold staters of the Corieltauvi in England where the wide variety of combinations of small symbols is often though as ways to differentiate dies by engravers or by metal content of the coins. Such explanations are now invalidated by metallurgical and other sorts of studies of these coins. There was no functional reason for having any of these symbols, they just expressed variety.

To finish, I will say only that the stranger that appeared to Cu Chullain's shieldmaker in yesterday's post came from the underworld. After reading all of the above, you will be able to work out the actual psychology of the story for yourselves. I will be back with more in this series on Monday. Have an inspirational weekend!


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Thursday, 14 January 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: the psychology of early Celtic art, part six

Cú Chulainn
"There was a law made by the Ultonian knights that they should have Silver Shields made for them, and that the carved device of each should be different from those of all the others.

"Cuchulainn was at this time pursuing his military education at the school of Buanann and Scathach; and on his return home he found the shields in process of being made. Cuchulainn repaired to the manufacturer, whose name was Mac Engé. 'Make a shield for me', said he, 'and let me not find upon any other shield of the shields of the Ultonians the same carved devices that shall be on it'. 'I cannot undertake that', said Mac Engé, 'because I have exhausted my art on the shields of the Ultonians'.

" 'I swear by my arms (of valour)', said Cuchulainn, 'that I shall kill you if you do not make my shield according to my order. 'I am under (king) Concobar's protection before you', said Mac Engé. 'I shall violate Concobar's, protection, then', said he, 'and shall kill you besides' ; and Cuchulainn then repaired to his home.

"Mac Engé was greatly distressed at what happened; and as he was musing over it he saw a man advancing towards him. 'You are distressed', said he to Mac Engé. 'I have cause to be so', said the shieldmaker ; 'namely, that I am to be killed unless I make Cuchulainn's shield'.

"The man said to him: 'Clear out the floor of your work shop, and spread ashes upon its floor, until the ashes are a man's foot in depth'. It was done according to his directions.

"As Mac Engé was standing, after this, he saw the same man coming over the outer wall to him, with a fork in his hand, and two prongs projecting from it; and he planted one of the prongs in the ashes, and with the other described the devices that were to be engraven on Cuchulainn's shield. Luaithrindi, [or 'ashes- engraver',] was the name of this prong; as Dubdiiha said: 'Were I Mac Engé, it is so I would engrave'. And Dubhan [the Black] was the name of the Shield".

Ulster Cycle, Manuscript H. 3.17, from Trinity College Library, Dublin.
translation: Eugene O'Curry, 1873 (On the Manners and Customs of the Ancient Irish).

Witham Shield
Orlando Jewitt, 1863
We have to read between the lines in Medieval tellings of Celtic stories. The original Irish story of the 1st century AD would not have referred to a silver shield and we see the the same sort of finery described in the Welsh Mabinogion. The story, itself, would have been adapted from an earlier British poem. The clue to the latter is that the ash had to be laid to the depth of a man's foot. If an engraving (actually chasing) formed the design, then the ash would not have needed to be so deep and such a depth would have made the chased design difficult to duplicate. It would, however, have been the ideal depth for sculpting a repousé design with the compass-like tool described. In Ireland, chased line decoration had been planned with compass work on bone flakes (Lough Crewe, Co. Meath). There are only two pieces of evidence for shields in Iron Age Ireland: a native shield was found in Littleton bog in Clonoura, Co. Tipperary. It was a convex rectangle, slightly rounded at the corners which had been made from leather covered alder wood (Barry Raftery, Pagan Celtic Ireland, p. 146, fig. 89); the bronze boss of a British shield was found at Lambay Island near Dublin. The site was Dobunnic (formerly believed to be Brigantian). The British Witham shield, illustrated on the left was an earlier type: the longer shield was used with a spear rather than a sword. It has traces of an even earlier boar design and some of the later bronze decoration was made by someone trained in a southern Italian workshop. Repousé work in high relief was typical in third century BC Britain down to the second century BC. Later the relief was much lower and eventually it was mostly replaced by chasing work designs often accented with enamel inlays. The Plastic Style had been the impetus of high relief repousé.

Original designs on shields, to a Medieval reader would have meant heraldic, but this was not a feature of the Iron Age, but was necessary in the Medieval period. The originality of Celtic warrior finery is always noted but never explained. I will do that in tomorrow's post and the meaning behind the story of Cú Chulainn's shield and Mac Engé's underworld advisor will be revealed and further demonstrated with examples from Celtic coinage.


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