Just got a chance to watch Terry Jones’ Barbarians, a 4-part TV show filmed in 2006. The first hour-long show is on the Celts. “The Primitive Celts” is the actual title, but the show builds the argument that they were anything but primitive.
Since you may not have the next hour free to watch the show from beginning to end, I’ll walk you through it so that you can go immediately to the parts that will interest you.
The first segment is about the Celtic attack on Rome in 389 BC. “Woe to the vanquished!” is a line that sent chills up everyone’s spine, once upon a time; I even used it in Death Speaker.
At 5:30 in, Jones takes us to the site of Alesia, in Burgundy. The siege of Alesia is what ended Caesar’s Gallic campaign and allowed him to return to Rome as a conqueror–with Vercingetorix, leader of the tribes who fought him, as his prisoner.
We see today’s landscape (it’s pretty much wide open country), with the rebuilt walls and engines of war, and with ghost images showing the action. Jones uses this to point out that history is written by the winners, and how for 2,000 years the Roman version of history has been accepted by the masses . . . but . . .
Twelve minutes in: the Coligny Calendar, the fabulous lunar and solar calendar designed by the Celts, is center stage. Professor Garrett Olmstead, who figured out how the calendar worked, talks about it right in front of the real calendar at the museum in Lyon.
At seventeen minutes in, we visit the excavation that is uncovering the Celtic city of Bibracte. Whoopee! This was all new stuff to me, although the big city is mentioned in my book. Bibracte was one of a dozen very large centers of commerce and governance scattered around Gaul, and the show uses lots of maps to show just how well-connected the tribes of Gaul were.
In Bibracte, archaeologist Vincent Guichard talks about the finds, showing the cellar of a two-story building (most of the buildings had cellars), the two-kilometer-long road through the center of town, and the reconstructed clothing that displayed each person’s wealth. And where was that wealth coming from?
Well, he gets to that, but first, at around twenty-six minutes, we examine a 2200-year-old road across a bog in Ireland–both the reconstruction, and the real road. It was designed to support wheeled vehicles, as was another, similar road in Germany dating from the same time.
In fact, all of Gaul and the Celtic world were linked by roads. At about thirty minutes in, Jones points out the big difference between Rome and the Celts. Rome was the center of Rome, but the Celts did not have an center–not an central authority, not a commercial center, not anything like that. They were networked, rather than centralized.
At 33:30, Jones presents Caesar’s reasons for going to war with the Helvetii–and he then points out how we know that Caesar lied and was looking for an excuse to start a war. At 35:30, we get to the heart of the matter: GOLD.
Gaul was full of mines before the Romans, which is just now coming to light. Jones interviews Beatrice Cauvet, who has been excavating these mines for over a decade. Caesar needed money and military glory, and there were over 400 gold mines in Gaul.
Forty minutes in, we go to Vix, and the famous grave of a wealthy and powerful woman who died around 500 BC. In this segment, Miranda Aldhous-Greene gets to talk about the Lady of Vix, her grave goods, and the status of women in Rome and among the Celts.
At forty-five minutes we go to Trinity College in Dublin and Professor Donnchadh O’Corrain to talk about the earliest Irish books and what they tell us about women’s rights in Celtic society–as well as the lawful protections of the elderly and the very young.
48:30–To Britain, and both Boudica’s rebellion and the destruction of the druids at Anglesey in Wales in the first century AD. Aldhouse-Green talks a bit about the bias of the Roman sources when it comes to druids, and what the true function of the druids were.
The last few minutes of the show go back to Alesia to discuss the final siege and the fate of Vercingetorix, as well as the vast numbers of those killed and enslaved by Rome.