13 December 2009

Celtic women- according to the Romans


In 377 B.C. there was "Macha of the Red hair" who was known as the queen of the whole of Ireland.

The first Celtic ruler recognised by classical writers was Onomaris (“ Rowan tree”), who was warrior queen of the Scordisci in today’s Serbia.
Onomaris, one of the honoured Galatians, and her tribesmen were oppressed by famine and sought to flee from their land. They offered themselves as subjects to whoever wanted to lead them, and when none of the men wanted to, she placed all their property in common and lead the settlers, of whom there were many.
She crossed the Danube in their wanderings through south-eastern Europe and ultimately led them into battle against the Illyrians of the Balkans, eventually founding a capital at today’s Belgrade. she ruled over the land as queen.

A later ruler from the same area, although less documented than Boudicca, was Teuta (231 to 228bc), who fought the Greeks (and antagonised Rome at the same time) in Illyria around 200bc. She was subdued by Rome but allowed limited rule.
The name ‘Teuta’ is linked with the Gaelic Teutates, meaning ‘people’, and the Irish-Gaelic  tuath (‘the tribe’)- literally the people’s queen.
Similarly Boudicca means ‘victorious’ in Gaelic, in Welsh the word is buddugol and in Irish Buach.
It could be that Boudicca and Teuta are not their real names, but nicknames, rather as the semi-legendary Arthur means ‘the bear’, maybe referring to his battle standard?

A major female Celtic figure is Chiomara, wife of Ortagion of the Tolistoboii of Galatia (Turkey). When the Romans invaded Galatia under Gnaeus Manlius Volso in 189 BC,
During this war Vulso was victorious in a campaign against the Galatian Gauls. One of his troops was put in charge of a group of captives, including Chiomara, described as "a woman of exceptional beauty". He made sexual advances towards her, and when these were rejected, raped her.
He then offered, to assuage his shame, to ransom her back to her people, sending one of her slaves, also a captive, with the message. Her countrymen came to the appointed place with the ransom, The exchange took place on a riverbank in neutral territory. 
When the centurion was busy picking up his gold, Chiomara assented, with a nod, according to Plutarch, or by speaking to them in their own language, according to Livy - that her kinsmen were to cut off his head. She then took his head in Celtic fashion to her husband, in the folds of her dress.

The exchange of greeting related by Plutarch is fascinating:
'Woman, a fine thing [is] good faith.'
'[A] better thing, only one man is alive who has had intercourse with me.'
The Greek historian Polybius is said to have met her at Sardis, and been impressed with her "good sense and intelligence"

"A whole troop of foreigners would not withstand a single Celt if he called his wife to his assistance. The wife is even more formidable. She is usually very strong. She begins to strike blows mingled with kicks as if they were missiles from a catapult...The voices of these women are formidable and threatening, even when they're being friendly."
A Roman observer


In some early Celtic tribes the descendence of the mother seems to have been predominate and the women seem to have been free, proud and sexually rather promiscuous.  Caesar reports, that in Brittany some women shared several husbands among each other. When rebuked by the Empress Julia Augusta because of her loose morals, the wife of the Caledonic Prince Argentocoxus answered:

"We fulfill the necessity of nature much better than Roman women do, for we have intercourse openly with the best, whereas you are abused secretly by the least!"

Those brave, strong and tall women were to be found even at battlegrounds. Whether they wore weapons and took an active part in the fighting or else only encouraged their men by yelling and shouting and cared for the wounded couldn't be proofed, but the former seems likely.
Ammianus Marcellinus has to say:

 “…a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Gaul] in a fight, if he calls in his wife, stronger than he by far and with flashing eyes; least of all when she swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her huge white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks, like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult”.

The following account comes from a Roman historian named Marcus Borealis. It was written during an invasion of Rome by Celts:

"The women of the Celtic tribes are bigger and stronger than our Roman women. This is most likely due to their natures as well as their peculiar fondness for all things martial and robust.

The flaxen haired maidens of the north are trained in sports and war while our gentle ladies are content to do their womanly duties and thus are less powerful than most young girls from Gaul and the hinterlands."

An unidentified Roman soldier of the same historical period wrote the following:

"A Celtic woman is often the equal of any Roman man in hand-to-hand combat. She is as beautiful as she is strong. Her body is comely but fierce. The physiques of our Roman women pale in comparison."

In "The Annals of The Empire" Volume 17 Book 1, British historian  Alfred Edwards writes about the interesting attitudes of Celtic women towards Roman women:

"The ancient Celtic women realized that they were physically superior to the ancient Roman women. Anthropological evidence has shown that the average female Celt was a foot taller and from fifty to a hundred pounds heavier than the average female Roman.



Her bones and muscles were much bigger and stronger in much the same way that the average modern man's musculoskeletal system compares to the average modern woman's. The differences were dramatic to say the least.

These differences shaped the attitudes of the Celtic women. They saw Roman women as weaker vessels who should serve them in much the same fashion that they served Roman men. They derisively called Roman women "half women" and Cui Rainogh which roughly translates to those weaker than old women and young girls.

There are even some stories about Celtic women raiding Roman households and spiriting away female citizens and slaves, who became their maids or concubines. These events were rare, but they did occur."

In 377


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