After over a year of waiting time I finally fulfill my promise of
presenting a short summary of Celtic Social Structures to you. As such,
this is the third paper in my Celtic short summary Series, the two
already finished papers, Celtic Religion - what information do we really
have, and Celtic Law - a short summary, are, as most of you will already
know, available on the Celtic-L Resources page.
Once again, this will be a multi-part message, and, as I still remember
what I’ve learned from my errors in Celtic Religion, I’ll give the
subject once again at the beginning of the actual text together with the
number of the part of the message it is.
The same rules that I gave for the treatment of Celtic Religion and Law
are also in place here: You may distribute this message freely as long
as it is not used for commercial purposes and you include my email
adress <[log in to unmask]>.
This message is part of a series that has been and will be published on
the Celtic Culture mailing list <[log in to unmask]>. The
titles of the series which already exist are:
Celtic Religion - what information do we really have (7 part message,
also available as a single .txt file)
Celtic Law - a short summary (12 part message, also available as a
single .txt file)
Celtic Social Structures - a short summary (this message)
The messages are also available on the WorldWideWeb at the Celtic-L
Resources page at <http://unet.univie.ac.at/~a8700035/celtrese.html>.
Before I start with it, I have to note that this is an overview of my
doctoral dissertation (which is still not finished, but almost, at least
enough that I can give a short summary), and as such, the view presented
is heavily influenced by my private opinions on the matter. As such, I
do neither present those theories, plenty of which do exist, which do
not fit with my opinion, nor those with which I basically agree, but
still deviate from what I think.
Celtic Social Structures - a short summary part 1
When looking at Celtic Social Structures one of the first things that
comes to ones mind probably is what one has heard Irish Celtic social
organisation. On the other hand, when thinking about it, one might
remember the famous words of Caesar in his Exkursus on the Gauls in his
de bello gallico: „In all Gaul there are only two kinds of people that
are of any importance. This is because the ordinary people are treated
almost akin to slaves. ... However, to return to the two important kinds
of people: The one of them are the Druids, the others the knights"
(Caesar, De bello gallico VI, 13). If those two things are considered
and compared, one may wonder if the systems coming to ones mind have any
similarity at all. Or, so to say, can we talk about Celtic Social
Structures without having to describe various systems that were
completely different at different times and in different places?
Well, in my opinion, to a certain extent we can. I will try to show the
specifics of Celtic Social Structures that are the basis of both
systems, which stayed almost the same for all the periods in which
„free" Celts existed.
But first we will, as you already will be used to, take a look at the
sources available to us for reconstructing Celtic Social Structures.
1. The Sources for reconstructing Celtic Social Structures
At first, let us take a look at the various kinds of sources that are
available to us for the purpose of reconstructing Celtic Social
Structures. Basically we have two different kinds of sources -
archaeological and written sources. The written sources can again be
classified to various groups.
1.1. Archaeological Sources
The first category of sources available to us are the archaeological
sources. They exist in abundance, and new evidence is turning up even as
I am writing these pages. Basically, every archaeological find can be of
limited use for reconstructing the Social System, but some of the
evidence is usually preferred over other.
1.1.1. Graveyard sociologies
Most often, archaeological evidence from excavations of graveyards is
used to reconstruct social systems. This is usually rather easy to do,
as usually graves can be classed in different groups via the material
found in them. However, graveyard sociologies underly a serious
methodological problem - we have no idea if these in any relevant way
represent the actual social system, and if this, at all can be
reconstructed from graves. Usually, graveyard sociology gives us only
the hint that there were rich and poor people (depending on how much
gravegoods we find in a grave), and this we could have said without
complex analyses as well.
Generally said, I dislike graveyard sociologies, as they are usually of
absolutely no use for reconstructing the actual processes involved in a
social system, and thus, in my personal opinion, are almost worthless.
However, some hints can be gleaned from graveyard sociologies, so we
cannot completely ignore them.
1.1.2. Settlement archaeology as used for Social System reconstructions
The second group of evidence used in reconstructing Social Systems from
archaeological finds is the evindence collected in settlement
archaeology. This is much harder than from graveyards, as the evidence
cannot be as easily classified. However, such evidence is more likely to
be useful in reconstructing more complex social interactions and actual
workings of social processes. Anyways, not unlike graveyard sociologies,
it is much easier to reconstruct such differences as rich and poor than
any others. As such, the results from settlement archaeology are of
rather limited use as well.
1.1.3. Other archeological evidence
The remaining rest of archaeological evidence is even harder to analyse.
>From stray finds to religious sites such evidence is almost completely
unusable for sociological analyses. However, often special analyes of
archaeological material, like archaeozoological research, can provide
hints at sociological processes or social stratifications. Also,
material from (most probably) cultic depositions can give hints that can
be used for sociological classifications. As such, this group cannot be
ignored as well.
1.2. Written Sources
The second category of evidence available to us are the written sources.
In contrast to the archaeological sources only relativly few of those
exist and only very seldom new ones are discovered that can be used to
analyse Celtic Social Structures. However, what is available is often of
much more direct usability and telling us more than all the
archaeological evidence per se. Again, the written sources can be
classified in different groups.
1.2.1. Irish Sources
The Irish written sources are probably those of the greatest importance
and detailedness. Primary in reconstructing Celtic Social Structures are
the surviving Irish Lawtexts, which give a detailed and precise
description of what the Irish lawyers saw as the important sociological
elements of Society. Then we have the evidence as presented in the
heroic tales, which also at least partially describe the society which
we see depicted in the lawtexts. Additionally we also have historical
documents, like the diverse Irish annals, which also are of at least
limited use in reconstructing Celtic Social Structures.
However, those sources have to be analysed carefully, as these sources
all were written down by christian monks or in christian communities,
and most probably not much before the 8th century AD. Even more, Ireland
lies on the far periphery of the Celtic World, and as such the question
to their general relevance has to be seriously considered.
1.2.2. Welsh Sources
The Welsh sources are very similar in composition to the Irish sources.
There also exist lawtexts, which are of primary importance in
reconstructing a Celtic Social System. There also exist some heroic
tales, and some historical sources.
On the other hand, these sources have to be viewed even more critical
than the Irish one. Not only have most of them been put into writing
even later than the Irish ones, and thus underly not only the Christian,
but also a strong English influence. Even more, in difference to
Ireland, Wales had been conquered by the Romans for more than 400 years,
which also had a profound influence on the Welsh Society. As such, as
Wales is also not especially in a central position in the Celtic world,
the Welsh sources have to be analysed with even greater care.
1.2.3. Ancient Sources
Then we have various historical sources from the classical antique,
texts from Caesar, Livy, Diodorus of Sicily and others, which have, more
or less detailed, described ancient Celtic Society, or at least their
writings can be interpreted to get some hints at how their Social System
looked and worked.
However, these sources are even more problematic as the ones mentioned
before. After all, we should not forget that none of the authors of
these documents had any greater influence in the working of Celtic
Social Structures, and most of them even had no personal knowledge of
Celtic culture and only retold what was brought to them via rather
dubious channels. Additionally, all of them were members of a quite
different culture than the Celtic one, and we severely have to doubt
that they were at all able to describe Celtic Social Structures in a
valid and useable way.
1.2.4. Modern Reconstructions
Finally, we have modern sources, various analyses, descriptions and
reconstructions of Celtic Social Structures as well as results from
comparative Sociology, comparative IE Studies and comparative
Linguistics, which provide explanation models and give various hints at
diverse elements in the social system.
The next step will now be to look at the area which I talk about, as
well as the time, and to make a few definitions about what I am talking
about, and explain a few terms.
To be continued ...
RAY - Mag.phil. Raimund KARL
Universität Wien, Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
A-1190 Wien, Franz Klein Gasse 1
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