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The Celts: The People Who Came Out of the Darkness Hardcover – April, 1977
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Herm provides nine pages of chronology, which link to his sixteen chapters, yet these are not written in strict chronological order. In each, maps illustrate the movement of peoples. He first entices us with lively chapters about references to Celts by writers in the ancient world― Herodotus, Diodorus, Polybius, Posidonius, Livy, Ptolemy―which might be more familiar to readers than names in his later research. Livy relates the capture of Rome by Brennus, in 387 BC, and the subsequent fear of Celts by Romans. Chapter 5, “It began on the Volga,” reverts to 3000 BC and helps clarify the label “Caucasian” in this review’s heading. Not being an archaeologist working one location, Herms could travel to major sites that had been identified as proto-Indo-European, and learned of then-Soviet archaeologist Vadim Masson. Masson agreed that, by 1500 BC, people living in the Caucasus area were ancestors of the Greeks, Romans, Germans and Celts. Migrating to the west, over a period of a thousand years, their settlements dotted present-day Europe. Chapter 6, “The Birth of Celtic Europe,” explains the remains of dwellings, burial sites, pottery and metal work excavated at a number of sites. This well-prepared occupation by the newcomers absorbed local peoples, so that, by 500BC, it is possible to speak of continental “Celts’ united by a common language and culture. Following a chapter on Deities and Druids, Herms describes the coming of Julius Caesar, in 58BC. Readers who studied Latin will recall his “Commentaries on the Gallic Wars,” in which Caesar details his eight-year campaign to subdue Celtic tribes and make Gaul a Roman province.
Further questions about my own ancestors were prompted by Alex Haley’s 1977 TV mini-series, “Roots.” Being Swiss (i.e. Helvetian, a Celtic tribe that Caesar blames for starting the war!), prompted research into the 1st century BC. This resulted in my two historical fiction novels about the period, “Alberix the Celt, Books 1 and 2.”
Herm’s four closing chapters continue the Romanization of Europe, show an overview of Ireland with its missionary saints, and ends at the “Celtic Court of King Arthur―all in all, enjoyable and highly informative reading. Incidentally, the term “Caucasian race” was coined by a German philosopher, in 1785!
Albert Noyer / The Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries.
The book begins with their attack on ancient Rome, one of the only adversaries that actually sacked the capitol. This occurred in the 4th C BC, when Rome was barely more than a strong city-state Republic. Indeed, the Romans developed much of their original military science in opposition and fear of the Celts. The description serves to evoke how they appeared to the Romans, as fierce, nearly inhuman barbarians who collected the severed heads of their adversaries - to wear around their waists and then to display in niches in their homes as they rotted. I could picture the way the screamed as they entered battle, painted in brilliant colors and hairy and naked. Genuine barbarians whose minds and culture will never be understood.
The author then backtracks to look at their origins in prehistory, when they emerged with the Indo-European peoples approximately three millenia ago. The treatment is scholarly and extremely detailed, distinguing between the various tribal peoples that became Germanic, Italic, and many others. While the author speculates that one of their earlier capitals may have been the mythic Atlantis - which he situates as a prosperous state occupying modern Denmark and southern Sweden - he is clear that this is essentially speculation. Nonetheless, he argues that at the time, it was one of the most advanced bronze age cultures in a far warmer age, which has been underestimated by comparison with the mediterranean cultures that flowered later. I found his thesis intriguing enough to want to read further.
After an environmental catastrophe around 500 BC, he reports, the Celtic peoples split into innumerable warrior tribes (from their origin as the Hallstatt people) and emigrated south, which brought them to Britain, Ireland, Gaul and then to Italy. They then dominated a vast geographical area, which if united would have been one of the greatest empires of antiquity. It is here that their culture evolved into what is recorded only sketchily in the classical sources, in particular the la Tene trading culture, which incorporated Greek and Germanic technologies into their crafts. Herm also extensively describes what is known of their religion, crafts, and political organization, acknowledging that very little is known for certain.
While fierce, Herm reports, the great flaw of the Celts is that they united against their adversaries only after it was too late. This happened time and again, and this lack of unity is what led to their eventual absorption into other cultures. Here we see them beaten by the great Roman generals, first Caius Marius and then Julius Caesar. Herm records their withdrawal into Britain and then Ireland, Wales, Bretagne, and Scotland, where their culture virtually disappeared once they accepted Christianity. (He acknowledges that their acceptance of it in Ireland is a complete mystery, without martyrs, which ten became a great cultural force as Irish monks emigrated to Western Europe.)
The book ends with a wonderfully quirky analysis of the Arthur legends, which he argues exemplify the entire history of the Celts. According to Herm, the honor and warrior code of Arthur's knights, along with the Druid wise man Merlin, reflect the ancient mores and culture of the barbarian Celts. They are then christianized, essentially becoming absorbed in a new mix of people. This is truly fascinating.
I found this book a wonderfully interesting intellectual journey, though of course I am outside of the mainstream and do not claim any academic expertise in judging it. What it did was inspire me to read more, which is one measure of success in my view. Warmly recommended.
I found this book to be quite enjoyable reading. Herm presents the views of hundreds of historians and phiologists alike without bias. The narrative style of some portions make the reader feel that he or she is really there.
A great deal of the book is concerned with the origin of the celtic people.