Lighting Up The Dark Ages

The home of Author Annie Whitehead

Month: August 2016

Little Domesday – Norfolk

I’ve been spending a bit of time in my erstwhile home of Norfolk this summer and it only takes a glance to see how historic this county is. But what do we know of its origins?

The Little Domesday Book includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. It is much less of a summary and includes more detail than Domesday, although it is more untidy.

Why did it remain separate from the main Domesday Book?
One suggestion is that it was begun first, and that the rest of the survey was cut down when they saw how bulky the work was becoming. Historian Vivian Hunter Galbraith suggested it might have been a local compilation made by the commission and actually posterior to Volume I. It is, apparently, nearer to the original returns, which could mean it was never sent in and condensed and that it is therefore more accurate.

The Inquisito Eliensis
This is a subsidiary source of information, relating to lands held by the abbot of Ely in Cambs, Hertford, Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Huntingdon. There is some doubt as to how it came into existence. Galbraith: “It was the return demanded by Ranulf Flambard in 1093, when Abbot Symeon died, and the possessions of the abbey were taken into the king’s hands.” JH Round argued that it was the return of the Royal Writ of 1086 instructing Lanfranc to inquire further into Ely’s losses of lands and rights.

Ely – Photo by Dave Webster

A draft of the Little Domesday Book may have been revised to produce the I.E. Certainly the correspondence between the two is great and the differences are such that could have resulted from errors in copying.

Norfolk Settlements and their distribution
The total number of separate places – 731 – may not be accurate; today there are many villages bearing the same place name, and it is not always clear whether more than one existed in the eleventh-century. Great and Little Massingham were dealt with as Massingham (today, ½ mile separates them.)

Great Massingham – the pond is an old clay pit

 

There are places about which very little information is given. Perhaps the Domesday record is incomplete, or the relevant details are included with another village, eg: Rippon Hall is included in the measurement of the neighbouring village of Hevingham, but we are not told whether its men, ploughs, woods and meadow are included in the total for these items in Hevingham. The Little Domesday is silent on Bergh Apton. Were it not an Ely manor and therefore in the I.E., we would know nothing about it.

Not all the 731 names appear on the present day map. Some remain as houses or topographical features. Bawsey was recorded as a parish – all that remains today is a church and a farm.

Bawsey Church today – taken from Bawsey Farm

Some idea of the nature of the information in the Domesday folios from Norfolk and of the form in which it is presented may be obtained from the entry for Bircham Newton (Docking):

“Bircham Newton was held by Tove, a freeman, as two carucates. Then as now 4 villeins and 3 bordars.* Then 3 serfs afterwards and now 1. Then one plough on the demesne, afterwards 2 now 3. Then and afterwards 4 ploughs belonging to the men, now 2 ½. Then as now 2 rounceys** and 10 swine. Then 220 sheep, now 540. To this manor belong 11 freemen with 1 ½ carucates and 11 ½ acres. There is 1 church with 20 acres, worth 16 pence. These freemen Eudo his predecessors had; Stigand had the soke. It was then worth 60 shillings, afterwards and now 100. The whole is half a league in length and a half in breadth, and renders 15 pence out of 20 shillings in geld.”

Bircham Newton Church is now a private dwelling

Woodland
The extent of woodland on a holding is usually indicated by the number of swine it could support – the swine fed on the acorns and the beech mast – providing a convenient measure. Thus the normal entry is ‘wood for n swine’.

The number ranges from 1 or 2 up to 100, with a few entries at over 1000. The larger entries are usually given in round figures, but the small entries are detailed, suggesting exactness.

It may not follow that the swine were actually there – they were just used as a unit of measurement.

A Deer Park is mentioned at Costessey. (Pronounced, should you ever need to know, as Cossey!)

Norfolk Deer

Meadow
The entries are uniform:- “N acres of meadow”, varying from 1-100 and even 200. Figures above 50 though, are rare. Its distribution is concentrated around the Broadlands – winter floods meaning good crops of hay along the margins of the more permanent stretches of water. There was not as much in the Fenland as might be expected, but many of the streams that drained into the Fenland were bordered by fair quantities.

Pasture
Unlike meadow, pasture is not regularly mentioned, in fact only in 11 places, and only 5 of these mention pasture for sheep. Of those it is sometimes unclear whether sheep were actually present, eg: “At Haddisloe in Clavering there was pasture capable (my italics) of supporting a total of 170 sheep.”

Marsh
It is only mentioned in connection with three places. Two lie near to the marshes of the lower Yare and Waveney rivers; the third extends into the Nar Valley which is an extension of the Fenlands. Obviously these cannot have represented all the marsh in a county which includes part of the Fenland and the Broadland.

The pasture for sheep recorded presumably refers to marshy flats on which the sheep fed. But even with these five localities the greater part of the Norfolk marshland remains unaccounted for in the Domesday text.

Fisheries
They are recorded for 1086 in connection with 61 places in Norfolk. Only the number is mentioned – no reference is made to their value, as is the case in other counties. There is usually one fishery in a vill, but 2,3 or even or 7 are recorded. There are ½ fisheries, usually when two adjacent villages shared a fishery and a half is recorded for each. There are some cases where the fractions are impossible to combine. Gayton Thorpe in Freebridge had ¼ but we hear nothing of the other ¾. For the most part the fisheries lay in the west – in and near the Fenland. Elsewhere the distribution is sporadic, and quite often they are not mentioned where one would expect – for example, none is mentioned in the Broadland.

There is no mention of sea-fisheries, although we can’t be certain that those in Hunstanton and Heacham (on the West coast) were not sea-fisheries.

The famous striped cliffs on the coast at Hunstanton

Salt Pans
Here again, salt pans (mentioned in connection with 62 villages) are only referred to in number – their values are not recorded. The number ranges from under 1 to over 40. Again, fractions are mentioned, some of which are impossible to combine. At Shernborne in Docking, ½ is mentioned, with no mention of the other ½. The distribution of the salt making industry is confined to the eastern and western marshlands. The big gap separating them is broken only by Burnham on the north coast.

Burnham Overy Staithe

Some villages away from these two regions are recorded as having salt pans but as it is geographically impossible that they were situated in these places it seems that the saltpans attributed to the villages were actually in the Fenland – leaving no doubt that the main salt making activity was centred on the Fenland and Broadland regions.

Domesday entry for Rudham, where my mother now lives – note the mention of the salt pan, and Alain of Brittany, our purported ancestor!

Mills
In 1086, 302 settlements had mills. In 13 other places mills had existed in 1066 but had apparently disappeared by 1086. Normally only the number was stated, varying from a fraction up to 9. Of two holdings in Bayfield (Holt) one had ¼, while the other had ¾. While it seems that neighbouring villages often shared a mill, often it impossible to piece the fractions together. (Snettisham is recorded as having 7 mills – Mill Lane exists today, running near a stream.)

Snettisham Mill – the stream runs behind the building

The mills were watermills, aligned along streams. But the distribution is not what might be expected. The areas with most arable land and the most dense population, are not the areas with the largest number or the largest cluster of mills.

Churches
Churches are mentioned in connection with 217 villages, apart from Norwich, Thetford and Yarmouth. These can’t have been the only ones in the county – Holt and Dunham were important enough to have markets, and yet no church is recorded for either place.

St Mary’s Old Hunstanton – ‘modern’ – from the 14thc!

There are some hundreds with only one church. The I.E. records 7 places with churches not recorded in the Domesday. Some had two churches and form double parishes today. Again there are untraceable fractions.

Priests are recorded where there is no church. At Hevingham a priest sang ‘three masses a week’ – likely then that there was a church. Normally the value was stated with the number of acres it held, thus at Appleton, Freebridge, “one church with 12 acres, and it is worth 12 pence.”

Livestock
Horses are frequently recorded, and groups of wild or unbroken mares were found in many parishes. The most common variety of horse was the rouncey. Donkeys are only occasionally mentioned. Goats are recorded for a number of holdings, but the flocks were much smaller than those of sheep, usually under 50, sometimes less than 10.

Cows must have been kept in considerable numbers for breeding oxen for the land, but strangely they are seldom mentioned.

Sheep are associated with the salt marshes. The largest number, 1300, was at West Walton in the Fenland. It’s possible that some sheep of the northwest hundreds pastured on the salt marshes of the coast. Numbers of sheep increased and decreased between 1066 and 1086 ith no real explanation.

Markets
There are only 3. ½ at Dunham, ¼ at Litcham, one at Holt. There is nothing to indicate why there should be one at the first two, and no trace of the missing fractions. It must be a shortlist which does not cover all the markets of Norfolk.

The old market place at Holt. Only the street sign – on the building on the left- offers a clue to its origins

Beehives
Occasionally recorded along with livestock, the number is usually under 10, although 27 are recorded at Methwold. The value is never stated. Beekeeping was important for mead, wax and sugar. The entries cannot represent all the hives in Norfolk. Occasionally a render of honey is stated where no hives are mentioned.

Little at all remains to be seen of Domesday Norfolk. But the traces of this historic county are still there to be found, and Little Domesday survives as a remarkably detailed record of what was there in the eleventh-century, and gave me plenty of clues for modern locations.
Further reading:
Domesday Studies – the Eastern Counties R Welldon-Finn
The Norman Conquest and its effects on the Economy 1066-1086 R Welldon-Finn
History from the Sources – The Domesday Book ed. J Morris
The Domesday Geography of Eastern England HC Darby
English Society in the early middle Ages – DM Stenton

*bordar – A person ranking below villeins and above serfs in the social hierarchy of a manor, holding just enough land to feed a family (about 5 acres) and required to provide labour on the demesne on specified days of the week.
**The term rouncey (also spelled rouncy or rounsey) was used during the Middle Ages to refer to an ordinary, all-purpose horse. They were used for riding, but could also be trained for war. It was not unknown for them to be used as pack horses.

[All photographs apart from Ely taken by, and copyright of, the author]

This article originally appeared on the EHFA blog on 15th August 2016

The Calm Before the Danes

It was 1984. I was in a seminar room in Kentish Town in North London and my tutor, Ann Williams, was talking to us about the 10thc anti-monastic rebellion. Ealdorman Aelfhere, one of the three most powerful noblemen in the country, was the leader of this rebellion, and he was described as the ‘Mad blast’ from Mercia. I wanted to know more about this guy. And I wanted to write his story.

My first novel, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. She effectively became ruler of what was by then little more than a satellite kingdom of Wessex, but had originally been a powerful kingdom in its own right. Mercia gave us such great and notorious kings as Penda, and Offa. Now it was allied to Wessex, pledged to fighting off the Viking army.BRAG KDP

The allies were successful, for a while. Anybody who knows a bit about the 11thc will recall that it wasn’t long before the Vikings were not only here to stay, but were running the show. Swein, his son Canute, his sons (briefly), and then William of Normandy who was, to all intents and purposes, ethnically a Viking.

But what happened in between? And why was England so ripe for a takeover bid in the 11thc?

The 10thc is not much talked about. It was a bit, well, peaceful. No Vikings, no wars between the kingdoms, no kings with the epithet ‘the great’.

England in AD956 was, for the first time in living memory, free of the Viking threat. Just as well, because there was a bit of a problem. Kings kept dying, young, without offspring. Athelstan (Alfred’s grandson) had done an excellent job of uniting all the English kingdoms and sorting out the Scots and Irish but he’d not done such a great job of finding a wife and having children. When he died in 939 the crown passed to his half-brother, Edmund. He managed to produce two sons, Edwy and Edgar, but he died prematurely and the kingship went to his brother, Eadred. His most notable act was probably seeing off Erik Bloodaxe and restoring the Viking Kingdom of York to English control. Then he died, too.

In AD955 King Edwy, the eldest of the boys born to Edmund, became king. Unfortunately, not a very good, wise, or chaste king. His brother, Edgar, was sent away to be fostered in Mercia and decided, when he was about 14, that he’d quite like a shot at being king. Trouble was, he was only 14, and he needed a bit of help. Like, maybe, from a newly ennobled earl by the name of Aelfhere (or Alvar, as I call him in my novel, Alvar the Kingmaker.) Alvar had received his earldom from King Edwy, and thus had sworn to serve him, but he knew him to be a fornicator and a fool. He was faced with a difficult choice. And so began his career…alvar-the-kingmaker

I won’t reveal any plot spoilers, but it’s a matter of fact that Edgar died relatively young, although not childless. And this presented a bit of a problem. Because once again, the heirs to the throne were two young boys. This time, however, they were born of different mothers. The eldest boy, Edward, was already famous for having a short temper, and the other was very young.

I have my own theories about how and why the younger son’s temperament developed, but suffice to say he was the youngest of his mother’s four sons. The eldest two were deliberately kept away from her, the third died of a childhood fever. Could she be blamed for being overprotective of her last-born?

This lady, Aelfthryth, whom I’ve called Alfreda, was Edgar’s widow. She was also a consecrated queen and her supporters, Alvar included, felt that her son, having been born ‘in the purple’, was the rightful heir.

Others, including Alvar’s enemies in the Church, thought differently, and crowned Edward.

Edward Murdered at Corfe by James William Edmund Doyle

Edward Murdered at Corfe by James William Edmund Doyle

One night, Edward, he of the famous short temper, went to see Alfreda and her son. There was an argument, then a scuffle. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the result was that Edward was fatally stabbed. Accusatory fingers pointed right at Alfreda but Alvar managed to quell the disquiet, put an end to the infighting and help to establish the surviving heir as king. It’s just a bit of a shame that the new boy-king’s name was Aethelred. And he did get an epithet, although not ‘the Great’ but ‘the Unready’ (meaning badly-counselled.)

He was not a good king. He was not a wise one. I think he was still a bit of a ‘mummy’s boy’. And somewhere, across the sea, a Danish king knew he could take advantage of this…

[a version of this article originally appeared Here]

Why Not the Anglo-Saxons?

I was privileged to attend a lunch a couple of years ago with, amongst others, Sarah Waters and Fay Weldon. They were kind enough to ask me about my writing and when I told them that my first three novels were set in Anglo-Saxon England, Sarah Waters said she knew little about the period and Fay Weldon commented that their costumes “Weren’t very sexy.”

A dear friend of mine concurred, adding that the Anglo-Saxons all wore brown sacks instead of dresses. She said that when she reads a novel set in Tudor England, she can envisage the scenery and the costumes.

King_Henry_and_Anne_Boleyn_Deer_shooting_in_Windsor_Forest

In 2013, the author Sebastian Faulks was publicising the Chalke Valley/Penguin History prize for secondary school children. Youngsters were encouraged to write stories set in the following ‘Periods of importance’ : Norman Conquest to Wars of Roses (1066-1485) The English Civil War and the Restoration (1642-1685) The Napoleonic Wars (1798-1815) The British Empire (1759-1947) and the Cold War (1945-1991)

Now, I’m not going to argue that these periods were not important, but why narrow the field? Taken in isolation, these periods of history mean little. Can one really understand the significance of the Napoleonic period without first studying the preceding years, including the circumstances which led to the French Revolution? Periods of history are only important if you set them in context, if you know what’s gone before.

1066? How can you realise its significance and the changes it wrought unless you know what England was like pre-conquest?

Is it true; does it simply boil down to the fact that it wasn’t ‘sexy’ enough, that it can’t easily be envisaged?

There are stories from the ‘Dark Ages’ that equal anything of later periods: the mighty Godwin family, the frankly feckless Aethelred the Unready and his struggles against the vastly superior Cnut. What about Alfred the Great, and his children, Edward the Elder and my favourite, his daughter, Aethelflaed, subject of my novel To Be A Queen? She ruled a kingdom and fought against the Vikings.

Did she not have a pretty enough dress?

Æthelflæd_as_depicted_in_the_cartulary_of_Abingdon_Abbey

Is it just a case of bad press? Ultimately, the English lost out to the Normans. Does history favour the victor? In which case, why does the story of Arthur still resonate, with fiction and non-fiction books published year upon year; is that down to the seemingly unsolvable riddle of whether or not he existed?

800px-Holy-grail-round-table-bnf-ms_fr-116F-f610v-15th-detail

And why, if we don’t care too much about losers, has such a cult grown up around William Wallace? Wasn’t he just a defeated nationalist, like Harold Godwinson? Maybe being hung drawn and quartered is a more interesting way to be the ultimate loser than just attempting to get too close a look at the quality of workmanship that went into the making of a Norman arrow?

800px-Bayeux_Tapestry_scene57_Harold_death

The Chalke Valley competition is a good thing – anything which promotes history must be welcomed. Faulks said that “History needs to regain its central place in schools.”

I remember when my own children were choosing their GCSE options, that the school produced a list of subjects, and gave the teachers the chance to ‘sell’ their subject. Each was entitled “What can this subject give me?” Other subjects talked specifics, but history “Gives you everything you need for future study: analysis, argument, memory, understanding.” I can’t argue with that, but within the discipline itself, why are some periods deemed more important, or interesting, than others?

So, why do the poor old Anglo-Saxons not come through history to us as sexy and interesting? As it says in 1066 And All That (W.C Sellar and R.J. Yeatman) the period suffered from a “Wave of Egg-Kings – Eggberd, Eggbreth, Eggfroth etc. None of them, however succeeded in becoming memorable, except in so far as it is difficult to forget such names as Eggbirth, Eggbred, Eggbeard, Eggfish etc.”

Diploma of King Eadred showing some fairly tricky names!

Diploma of King Eadred showing some fairly tricky names!

As I found when writing To Be a Queen, the names are tricky – to spell, pronounce, and identify. Those that survived became old-fashioned, for example, Ethel, Edith, Alfred, Edmund, Mildred, Audrey. They were not associated with the upper echelons of society, and that’s also true of a lot of Old English words. Many of the words for everyday objects came to signify lowly things: a stool became something less than a chair. This idea of being the down-trodden vanquished persists so that today the period remains somewhat drear, uninteresting.

But it is precisely because of that we need to look back and find out what was lost.

The Norman language, despite the lordly overtones, did not take hold; we do not speak a version of French. Nor, according to recent BBC research, did the Norman bloodline. Is is important to know about the Government of the Anglo-Saxons, their administrative systems, their laws and justice? I think so. When university undergraduates debate whether or not the Normans introduced the Feudal system at all, then there is an argument for saying that we should understand what it was that they were trying to replace, subdue, change. It’s worth noting that whilst many people accept the ‘truth’ that in the middle ages, wives were legally beaten by their husbands and treated as his property, the Anglo-Saxon women were not.

So why don’t we know more? Why aren’t we taught more about it? Is it all just too far in the past?

But if that’s true, why is the Roman period so popular?

320px-Antoninus_Pius_Hermitage

Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s popular in the sense that there are many books, fiction and non-fiction, and telly programmes (Thanks, Professor Mary Beard!) But it’s still not routinely taught in schools. The Tudors and the Egyptians are. So is the second World War. Diverse topics, spanning great distances in terms of years.

So maybe it really does, as Fay Weldon said, come down to the costumes. In my Ladybird book, The Story of Clothes and Costume, the illustrations lump the Saxons and Normans together. There are no illustrations between  500BC and the Anglo-Norman period, apart from the Romans.  And on the cover? Yes, you guessed it – those wonderfully ‘gussied up’ Tudors …

800px-Catherine_Parr_from_NPG

Maybe those Anglo-Saxons should have designed the bodice – then they could have them ripped!!

[all the images used here are in the Public Domain]

How The Celts Lived

Last time, I introduced the Celts and who they were.*

I explained that there were three phases of Celtic settlement in Britain, beginning in around 500-450 BC (perhaps earlier in Scotland), with settlers from France and the Low countries, continuing around 250 BC, and then a third phase, in around 100 BC, of Belgic peoples settling in southern Britain.

This time I’m taking a look at how they lived, although, given the paucity of the sources, it’s sometimes necessary to look at those still living in Europe, in order to build up an adequate picture.

Firstly, what kind of housing did they have?

According to Polybus [1] the people who settled in Cisalpine (the Roman side of the Alps) Gaul lived in scattered villages without walls. Their houses were probably wooden, which could easily be burned down and destroyed.

Gaulish houses were usually thatched and dome-like, and built of planks and willow supports. Some had an outer facing of mud, while others were covered with oak shingles, or straw mixed with earth. The Bretons built similar houses of reeds and wood. The Caledonii still had neither fortified walls, nor towns, as late as the second century of the Christian era.

A Pre-Roman Gaulish House

In wartime, the Gauls used to take refuge in the fortified camps known to Caesar as ‘Oppida’. The oppida of the Bretons were nothing more than retrenched camps defended by a ditch and a mound of earth with a stockade, within which they erected temporary huts. The Belgian people who inhabited the Ardennes Forest used to take special precautions in times of war by weaving the branches of thorny bushes into a mesh of thorns, so that invaders would find all paths blocked. In certain places, they would retreat with their families to small islands in swamps deep in the forest, having first driven stakes into the ground along potential paths. The oppida of Gaul were towns which could also offer shelter to the inhabitants of neighbouring areas but which also had a permanent population themselves.

Caesar described the walls of Gaulish fortifications: solid beams were laid out on the ground about two feet apart; they were joined by transverse struts, and the cavity thus formed was filled with earth. Large stones were used to face the front. A second layer was then added, and so on until the desired height was reached. These interwoven layers of stone and wood had major military advantages as the stone was a protection against fire, and the wood against the danger of the battering ram.

The Gauls described by Polybus were not familiar with the idea of furniture and their beds were apparently nothing more than grass.

Posidonius, [2] quoted by Athenus, [3] noted that at mealtimes the Celts used to sit on bales of hay around low circular tables of wood. They used neither spoons nor forks; they simply grabbed chunks of meat and tore them apart. Their dishes were made of silver, copper, or earthenware. Their goblets were of earthenware or silver.

A Belgic bronze tankard was found in Trawsfynydd in Wales, and has been dated to the mid-first century AD. Its base was made of turned wood. Two more tankards were found at Shapwick Heath in Somerset, and one was recovered from the River Thames, at Kew. Belgic wrought iron ‘fire dogs’, would have been used to spit-roast meat at feasts, and examples have been found at Great Chesterford, Essex and Capel Garmon, North Wales.

Fire dogs - BBC.CO.UK

Fire dogs – BBC.CO.UK

Dairy products were much used among the Gauls. (The remains of vast cheese-making installations have been found at Mont Beuvray- also known as Bibracte.) [4]

The Calednoii and the Maeatae apparently made no use at all in their diet of the abundant stocks of fish in the waters of their region.

For their daily sustenance, the Bretons used to shell the oldest ears of cereal in their barns. Some of their tribes were so lacking in industry that although they had plenty of milk, they never made cheese from it. Others lived off bark and roots, and devised a type of food which was so filling that a very small amount was enough to serve as a meal. The fore-runner of the breakfast bar, perhaps? (More about farming in a later episode.)

The standard drink of the Gauls was at one time a beer made from grain. This drink was called ‘corma’. The guests all drank out of the same goblet, which was passed round by a servant.

In the first century BC, wine brought from Italy was the drink of the rich. Some Gauls would lie down on their shields, and, in exchange for wine or money, would allow their throats to be cut, as long as the wine or the money should go to their descendants after their death.

The Celts held ceremonial dinners; the guests sat in a circle, and the man who was the most distinguished in terms of military prowess, birth, or wealth, sat in the middle of the assembled company. The master of the household sat next to him, and the others sat on either side, their position depending on their rank.

So, as they sat there, what would they have been wearing?

It would seem that many of the Celtic tribes were comparatively sophisticated in their dress. Diodorus [5] described the Gauls as having worn tunics and trousers, with striped sashes over their shoulders. Pliny [6] suggested that the Gauls were the inventors of checked cloth; they extracted a purple dye from the bilberry, scarlet from the hyacinth, and colours from various other plants.

The Aedui chief Dumnorix, Museum of Celtic Civilization, Bibracte

The Celts of the La Tène culture had highly developed weaving and dyeing techniques. The men wore close-fitting trousers and pullovers, while the women wore freely-flowing cloaks of the same material.

In Ireland, the men liked to wear woollen cloaks, pinned together at the neck by a brooch. Trousers were worn only by the poor, noblemen preferring ‘Léine’, knee-length linen tunics.

The Celts wore sandals, which left much of the upper foot exposed. These sandals were tied up with leather.

Some Celtic tribes, however, seem to have been quite unaware of the use of clothes. In the second century AD, the inhabitants of Northern Brittany went completely naked. Some Gaulish tribes also were in the habit of undressing completely before battle.

When they were clothed, though, did they wear any other adornments?

Strabo [7] said of the Celts: “to the frankness and high spiritedness of their temperament must be added the traits of childish boastfulness and love of decoration. They wear ornaments of gold, torcs on their necks, and bracelets on their arms and wrists.”

These torcs were heavy rings of solid gold, richly decorated, and with a finger-sized opening at the front. Gerhard Herm points out in The Celts, that they must have been put on with great difficulty, being too small to push over the head, and yet too thick to bend open. Perhaps the most famous of the Celtic torcs were discovered at Snettisham in Norfolk between 1948 and 1968. The largest was 20cm in diameter and made of electrum. It was dated to the mid-first century BC

A more delicate (Bronze) torc

Besides jewellery, the Celts also used the tattoo as a form of personal adornment. Caesar wrote that all the Bretons used to dye their bodies with pastel, thus turning their bodies a bright blue colour, which made them look particularly horrible in battle. It is possibly from the addiction to his habit that the dark-age Picts acquired their name, ‘painted men’.

A brief note on hygiene: Personal hygiene among the Celts cannot have been overly sophisticated. They did, however, make soap from tallow or ash. This was, according to Pliny, a Gaulish invention. In order to preserve the freshness of their complexions, the Celtic women used beer foam. The cleaning of teeth, among the Celtiberians (the Celts who invaded Greece) was done with urine, stored for a long time in special tanks.

Next time: The role of Members of the Community
* Read the first in this series, Who Were the Celts?

[1] Polybus, or Polybius, was a Greek historian who was born between 210 and 205 BC, in Arcadia. He wrote a general history of his time, and died around 125 BC
[2] Posidonius, or Poseidonius, was a Syrian born historian. He was a Stoic philosopher, and emphasised the interrelation of all things in the universe.
[3] Athenus, or Athenaeus, was a Greek writer born in Egypt. He wrote in the end of the second century and the third century AD
[4] The world of the Celts – G.Dottin
[5] Diodorus (Sicilus) of Sicily was a Greek historian who used literary sources with little judgement of his own, but for certain periods he provides the best evidence available.
[6] Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) was born in Northern Italy and wrote 37 books of natural history. The eruption of Pompeii claimed his life.
[7] Strabo was a Greek geographer, who lived from about 58 BC – AD 25. Lloyd Laing (1979) attributes this translation to S. Piggot (1970)

Further reading:
The Celts – Gerhard Herm
Pagan Celtic Britain – Anne Ross
Celtic Britain – Lloyd Laing
The World of the Celts – G Dottin

(all images are in the public domain unless otherwise attributed)

This article first appeared on the EHFA Blog 29th July 2016

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