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LAST WORDS (part one)

Thirty spokes
Share one hub

Lao Tzu.

The arrangement of the preceding chapters was a difficult task. Throughout most of the book, I have had to defer certain explanations to a later chapter. I have tried to keep this to a minimum, so as not to confuse the reader.

A book is a linear vehicle of understanding. With a singular subject it can lay its groundwork and plod methodically to its conclusion. A subject that is obscure, and depends for its comprehension on the knowledge of many other obscure subjects, presents a dilemma. The writer can either keep to the core of the subject and interject with footnotes, or attempt to cover all of the subsidiary subjects only as much as they immediately relate to the main topic. I decided that the latter method would be most effective. To relegate to footnotes all information other than the catalogue would have been excessive. Some footnotes would have gone on for paragraphs, and there would be endless footnotes referring the reader to previous footnotes. Reading such a book would be an arduous task I would not willingly impose on anyone.

There are three aspects to the study: first, there are the Coriosolite people - who they were, where they came from, and what events lead to the production of their coins. Second, there are the coins as physical objects, what they are made of, where they are found, and the ways they were utilized, first as money, and finally as bullion. Third and last, there are the images stamped on the coins, why these particular images were used, how they evolved, and what they represent. It is this last aspect that is the most neglected in the English-language studies of Celtic coins. The study of their images leads back to the people, not as physical organisms reacting to event, but as thinking human beings with individual expressions of a shared philosophy.

In dealing with the mythology, I have given only enough examples to make each point, because the subject is so vast that a thorough treatment would have changed the emphasis of the work.

In the middle of the second century B.C., German tribes were expanding their territory southwestward into Celtic lands. Celtic tribes on the west side of the Rhine had two choices: they could stay and fight, or they could leave to find a new home. The Belgic tribes were the best fighters. They had not been softened by close contact with the luxuries of the Mediterranean, and their proximity to the Germans made a history of skirmishes likely.

Tribes near the Saar were wealthy and fond of luxury; from northern Italy same wine and the finely crafted vessels for its consumption. The Germans had no respect for such things, and offered no mercy to conquered peoples. Celtic society was not egalitarian: if one were neither a warrior nor a member of the Druid class, then life held little pleasure. A Celtic peasant might not experience much of a drop in his living standard if he were ruled by Germans.

The Celts who decided to flee from the Germans were from the elite class; they took much gold with them, impoverishing those who remained. The various tribes leaving the Rhineland had few places to go. They could not have taken Belgic land, and many other Celtic tribes were too powerful for them to fight. They finally settled in Armorica, a place slow to change, where customs and beliefs of the megalithic age lingered on.

Information is sparse. Perhaps the new arrivals had connections with Celtic people already there, or perhaps the indigenous people felt that these Celts might form a buffer between them and the Belgae. All we can be sure of is that, by the time of Caesar, several Celtic tribes occupied Armorica. Although each tribe was independent, they were united by a similarity in their artistic styles that hearkened back to the styles of the Rhineland.

The Roman invaders forced cooperation on the Armoricans. When Crassus came with a single legion, each stronghold tried to defend itself individually, with little regard for the country as a whole. Each chieftain probably believed that if one of his neighbours was vanquished, and he himself was victorious, then there would be all the more for him when he had driven out the Romans.

It soon became apparent that no one was going to drive out the Romans. Each fort fell in its turn, hostages were taken, and the country was subjugated. When the Romans were in their winter quarters, the Celts had time to reflect on their circumstances. An opportunity presented itself by the arrival of Roman envoys seeking supplies for the troops. Without hesitation, the Celts captured them, hoping that this would force the Romans to return the hostages. Although they realized that such a ploy was likely to fail, the Celts knew it would succeed in forcing the Romans to respond.

Attributing all of the failures to their independent actions, they felt that by uniting, they would outnumber the Romans and bring the hostilities to a successful conclusion. I am sure that the decision was not unanimous; rivalry between chieftains would have lead to some dissent, and some may have decided to flee. The wide dispersion of the Group A coins is indicative of this: a surprisingly large proportion of the Coriosolite coins found in England are of this type.

With coalition came economic strain. Crassus had probably taken what riches he could find; more had been removed by those Celts who fled.

Additional troops would be required and more money would have to be minted. There was an immediate 25% devaluation in the currency, and a new mint was set up west of the Rance. Viridovix of the Unelli recruited a large force consisting of Armoricans and mercenaries from all over Gaul, and he minted the Class II coins to finance this.

Caesar had received intelligence on the Celts' preparations, and accordingly amassed a much larger force to deal with the situation. The Coriosolites were serving under Viridovix, although it is safe to assume that some of their numbers were left to guard local settlements. Viridovix's main force was assembled in his home territory, and it was there that Caesar sent Sabinus with three legions.

Sabinus set up his camp on high ground. If it was of standard Roman construction, it was surrounded by a ditch of about nine feet deep and twelve feet wide. The excavated material was used to construct the ramparts, which were staked along the top.

Viridovix was camped two miles away, and every day led his troops to Sabinus' camp and tried to draw the Romans out to fight. Sabinus was unwilling to relinquish his superior position and do battle without the express orders of his commander. His job was to keep Viridovix's forces isolated from other Armorican forces while Caesar was confronting the Veneti.

It was a Celtic custom to taunt the enemy with insults, so the Celts accused Sabinus of cowardice. The Romans believed that the Celts despised Sabinus personally; in reality, the Celts used this technique to weaken Roman morale, with the hope that the Romans would thus be coerced into making a move. To a degree it worked. Some Roman soldiers were beginning to believe the Celtic accusations of cowardice against their commander.

Sabinus realized that he would have to make a move before morale dwindled further. He was still unwilling to abandon his position and launch a first strike on the enemy, since such a plan was what the Celts had been hoping for. He surmised that Viridovix would attack his camp if he believed that Roman morale was low enough that the Romans were in fear of their lives. Accordingly, Sabinus sent out a Celtic member of his auxiliary forces posing as a deserter, to tell the Celts that the Romans were terrified, and had received news that Caesar was in danger of being defeated by the Veneti, and that Sabinus had planned to sneak out of his camp the following night to go to Caesar's aid.

The plan worked: the Celts believed they had the advantage. Viridovix and the other Celtic commanders were not so easily fooled, and they probably thought that it would to greater advantage to attack the Romans once they were on the move, encumbered by baggage, and preferably at some point of constricted access where the army would be forced to form a narrow column. It seems that the Celts were too eager for a swift victory, and were ready to mutiny if prevented or delayed. Viridovix acquiesced, and the Celts charged up the slope to the Roman camp. Their swift movement was intended to surprise the Romans. The Celts carried armfuls of fuel to fill the ditch; by setting fire to it, the palisade could be breached. This was a common technique: some Celtic forts had ramparts consisting of a framework of heavy timbers, held in place by rocks, over which was placed the earth from the ditch. This would present a problem even for modern demolition methods. By setting fires in the ditch, the timbers would ignite and burn easily because of air trapped among the rocks. Vortices would form, creating an effect like a blast furnace, with temperatures high enough in some cases to vitrify the surfaces of rock. The wall would buckle or collapse, allowing access.

When the Celts arrived at the Roman camp, they were exhausted from carrying their loads uphill. Sabinus ordered a sortie from two gates. The Celts, taken by surprise, turned and ran. A large number were killed, and the Roman cavalry rounded up the rest, save a few who escaped.

The rebels, learning that Caesar was victorious over the Veneti's navy, and that order Armorican tribes had surrendered, laid down their arms and submitted to Sabinus. No more battles were fought in Armorica, but the Armorican resistance continued; some of the population, unwilling to live under Roman rule, banded together and hid in remote areas. Twenty thousand Armoricans were among the forces that attempted to relieve Vercingetorix at the siege of Alesia in 52 B.C. A year later, the Armoricans surrendered again, this time to Gaius Fabius, who merely had to arrive in their country with a large force. As Caesar had to leave Gaul, he insured peace by adding no extra burdens on the Celts, handling out compliments, and lavishing expensive gifts on the leaders.

What happened in the years immediately following this, we do not know. It is likely there were struggles between pro- and anti-Roman factions, but the incentive of Roman trade would have insured the outcome, and the process of Romanization eventually changed the society of Gaul. In Armorica, however, the old customs lingered on, and in about 400 AD it became a place of refuge for Celts fleeing the Saxon invasions of Britain. The Breton customs and language survive to this day, and so does the resistance to assimilation, though it is now aimed at the French government.

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