Monday, November 14, 2011

Gauls the victims of bad press

Gauls the victims of bad press
http://www.smh.com.au/world/gauls-the-victims-of-bad-press-20111112-1ncvj.html

Henry Samuel
November 13, 2011

The Asterix spin on the ancient Gauls.

FRANCE'S ancestral Gauls were a bunch of heathen forest dwellers, with a penchant for wine, wild boar and roughing up Romans - or so the Asterix comic books would have us believe.

In fact, they were a highly civilised group given a bad press by successive conquerors, notably Julius Caesar, according to Les Gaulois, a major exhibition at the Cite des Sciences in Paris that debunks popular myths about the Celtic tribes who populated France before the Roman invasion.

Far from the cliches of warmongering hunter-gatherers with winged helmets, the show reveals them to be sophisticated farmers, craftsmen and traders. "The Gauls didn't wait for the Romans or Greeks to civilise them," said archaeologist Francois Malrain, one of the show's curators. "They lived in a refined society … with a metalworking know-how and dexterity that was unequalled across the whole of antiquity."

Very little of the Gauls' version of their history has survived as they wrote it on tablets of wood or wax, so it was up to the Greeks and Romans to tell their story. "Physically, the Celts have a terrifying aspect, a rough and cavernous voice," the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote.

Aerial archaeology, though, shows that by the third century BC they lived in villages with social hierarchies and multi-storey houses for the rich, and cleared forests to raise cattle, sheep and pigs.

But Asterix's creators got one thing right: the huge amounts of amphorae vessels found on digs suggest the Gauls did drink large amounts of wine.

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