13 Aug Ancient Gaelic Women – A Legacy Filled With Independence and Strength – "Knives on Their Thighs"
Get A New View of Ancient Women And How Modern Women Reflect and Project Old Strengths and Virtues
Because most people learn their history from the back end of a sociology class, or from a venomous comment in a political seminar, many people get the world like this:
“The Greeks were hostile males, who loved each other’s company more than their wives. The Roman Catholics were “puftas” who despised women. And before that women were subservient all the time. Aren’t you glad we came along to reframe the entirety of human history so that us girls right now could feel valiant, angry and free?”
The Gaelic Woman
First of all, the history of women is far more fascinating than the above characterization. But the point of this article is that Ancient European Gaelic Culture has been found to be much more interesting. First of all, it has been habit to “barbarianize” the Gaelic culture. This is the habit of the Victor in History – The victor being Romanism and Hellenistic superiority. A study of art, weaponry and tradition and archaeology is revealing a very sophisticated, interconnected advanced culture that simply had an emphasis on ORAL tradition instead of WRITTEN.
Gaelic Woman could:
Sue for divorce,
Buy and sell real estate portions.
Gaelic Woman could be:
Priestesses, Seers, Medicine Women and Prophetesses.
AND if they wished to, and had the skill and the leadership — could qualify to be WARRIORS.
Boudicca was the wife of Prasutagus, who was head of the Iceni tribe in East England, in what is now Norfolk and Suffolk.
In 43 CE, the Romans invaded Britain, and most of the Celtic (Gaelic) tribes were forced to submit. However, the Romans allowed two Celtic kings to retain some of their traditional power; one was Prasutagus.
The Roman occupation brought increased Roman settlement, military presence, and attempts to suppress Celtic religious culture. There were major economic changes, including heavy taxes and money lending.
In 47 CE the Romans forced the Ireni to disarm, creating resentment. Prasutagus had been given a grant by the Romans, but the Romans then redefined this as a loan. When Prasutagus died in 60 CE, he left half his kingdom to the Emperor Nero to settle this debt.
The Romans arrived to collect, but instead of settling for half the kingdom, seized control of it. To humiliate the former rulers, the Romans beat Boudicca publicly, raped their two daughters, seized the wealth of many Iceni and sold much of the royal family into slavery. The collected Celtic tribes in that region, planned to revolt and drive out the Romans.
Led by Boudicca, about 100,000 British attacked Camulodunum (now Colchester), where the Romans had their main center of rule. Boudicca’s army burned Camulodunum to the ground; only the Roman temple was left. Immediately Boudicca’s army turned to the largest city in the British Isles, Londinium (London). Suetonius strategically abandoned the city, and Boudicca’s army burned Londinium and massacred the 25,000 inhabitants who had not fled. Archaeological evidence of a layer of burned ash shows the extent of the destruction.
Next, Boudicca and her army marched on Verulamium (St. Albans), a city largely populated by Britons who had cooperated with the Romans, and they were killed as the city was destroyed. Boudicca fought one more battle, though its precise location is not sure. Boudicca’s army attacked uphill, and, exhausted, hungry, was easy for the Romans to rout. Roman troops of 1,200 defeated Boudicca’s army of 100,000, killing 80,000 to their own loss of 400.
What happened to Boudicca is uncertain. It is said she returned to her home territory and took poison to avoid Roman capture.
Boudicca’s story was nearly forgotten until Tacitus’ work, Annals, was rediscovered in 1360. Her story became popular during the reign of another English queen who headed an army against foreign invasion, Queen Elizabeth I.
A Sharp Dagger Strapped to her Inner Thigh
The Grandma with a classical education talked one fresh spring morning with her 3 grand daughters. “Now dears, I want you to see how the Ancient Irish girls protected themselves.” She put her leg on a chair and pulled up her dress above her knee. She grabbed a sharp knife from the kitchen drawer. “In order to protect their virtue, Ancient Irish maidens would strap a knife like this to their inner thigh.”
One of the “correct” Mamas corrected the old crusty Grandma. Her daughter stood up to proect her Grandma. “Mother, we know we can’t do that today, but you know what, this makes me feel different about my ancient Irish cousins. They were well prepared to meet all of the challenges that life offered them.”
Equal Station Enjoyed by their Women
When the Ancient Romans encountered the Celtic tribes inhabiting Northern Europe, in an area north of the Alps, and extending from Turkey in the east, to Ireland in the west, they were impressed with equal station enjoyed by their women.
Celtic women enjoyed an unusual degree of freedom by standards known in the Ancient and Medieval worlds.
They were renowned for their individuality and courage, and were particularly praised for their qualities of self-respect and independence.
Celtic women could inherit land and title, no less than their male siblings.
A woman could serve as chief of the clan, and enter into battle, just as men did, in time of war.
The ferocity of the Celtic warrior women is the subject of legend.
The Romans were shocked by the sexual liberty enjoyed by Celtic women, who extended what the Celts euphemistically referred to as, “the friendship of the thighs.”
Proper Roman matrons, with the false standards of “respectability” imposed upon them by their men folk, found lovers among those prepared to indulge in secret liaisons.
Due, perhaps, to the sexual liberty of the Celts, succession within their tribes and clans was matrilineal because, amid such general promiscuity, it could be difficult to ascertain who the father of a particular child had been.
A Celtic woman could divorce her husband if he failed to support her, or treat her with respect, if he was impotent, homosexual, sterile, or gossiped about their sex lives.
She could leave him if he was fat, a snorer, or just plain repulsive.” from A Toast to the Lassie, by Carson C. Smith.
When you ponder the challenges that modern woman face, there is a similarity to the broad challenging world of the Gaelic or Celtic (labels vary with cultural and historical nomenclature and historians viewpoint) woman in her world at her time. Their villages were seasonal oftentimes, and they had to be very flexible, in addition to having the ability to function in society, in love, in leadership, in hunting and in war.
The limiting way in which women have been studied for exemplars of Roman and Greco worlds tells women that those societies might be fairly representing roles of women, or not, but it is definitely advisable to work to understand those old worlds with a new breadth and a fresh desire to look at previous exemplars anew. There are cases to be made about the road that women have followed, and how large cultural and religious influences have deterred development for women. However, if we let this more recent “politically infused” commentary to cause us to miss thousands of years of history in the wilds of Europe, we are all missing something. When women do the heroic things they have done, perhaps we should look farther back toward the hills of Europe, where bold women carved out lives for hundreds of generations.