The Celts

Hunting-gathering-fishing communities in northern and western Europe during the Bronze Age and into the Roman Period are often referred to as the Gauls (especially within France) or generally as Celts (Dietler 1994, 585-86). Celtic peoples are well known through the archaeological record as well as through the recordings of the Roman Empire, which fought against various groups along its northern border for centuries. The term today is sometimes used to describe peoples who carry on a Gaelic linguistic tradition, although the link between archaeological Celts and linguistic Gaelic speakers is tenuous. Modern neo-paganists, especially within the British Isles, have also taken up the term in resistance to dominant sociopolitical regimes and to claim heritage over Celtic archaeological sites (Dietler 1994).

Some archaeological Celtic groups were acculturated into Roman society through the colonization of southern Gaul and the British Isles, while other groups, especially Germanic peoples, actively resisted Roman intrusion. Celtic societies utilized feasting regimes to regulate power and trade (Dietler and Hayden 2010). In the Bronze Age, prior to the growth of the Roman Empire, the first public works are associated with feasting events. The well- known site of Stonehenge has a lesser-known midden surrounding the stones, which were dragged several hundred miles from their quarry (Thorpe et al. 1991). The Celtic peoples who built Stonehenge were semi-sedentary hunter- gatherers that occasionally husbanded pigs, yet the extensive midden indicates that large consumption activities occurred at the site on a regular basis. The site, which has several earthworks, also has a large cemetery—one of the first in the region—which shows stratification in the distribution of grave goods (Pearson et al. 2009). The grave goods also indicate that trade extended perhaps onto the mainland of Europe. At the site of Llanmaes in South Wales, hundreds of pig right forelimbs in an early Iron Age midden indicate that feasting activities were highly organized events that could motivate the labor of presumably as many households (Madgwick and Mulville 2015).

Roman interactions with Celtic peoples allow for an ethno-historical perspective on competitive feasting regimes (Dietler 1990; Dietler and Hayden 2010). The Romans characterized the Celts in much the same way as European colonists stereotyped the indigenous peoples of the Americas: barbarians. While Romans certainly enjoyed feasting in their own way, Roman colonists were able to create inroads with Celtic peoples by understanding Celtic competitive feasting regimes (Woolf 2000; Dietler 1990). Participation in elite Celtic feasting practices gave Roman officials peaceful access to the full suite of Celtic trade goods, even in a political economy without a formalized marketplace culture (Woolf 2000).

 
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