Thesis Review: Indigenous Women in Gaul, Britannia, Germania,and Celtic Hispania 400BC -AD 235, Hammerson

INDIGENOUS WOMEN IN GAUL, BRITANNIA, GERMANIA,
AND CELTIC HISPANIA, 400 BC – AD 235
By
LAUREN ALEXANDRA MICHELLE HAMMERSEN

Review: This is an absolutely stellar thesis.  My background is in anthropology (archaeology) and art history, so always felt that, image wide, Celtic women really needed a closer look.  Hell, women everywhere need a closer look.  We have this stereotype of what a Celtic woman is supposed to look like: wild hair, swirly bangles and simple plaid peplos.  She screams wildly at a battle field, spear in hand, ready to crack skulls with the men.  

It doesn’t take much looking at art in transitional period to see that there were preferences for other images of a Celtic woman, hair tied up, layers of fine linens, pride in their talents by way of the objects she held in symbolism.  The Romans touched on the spiritual and mediation contributions of the women in Gaul, for example, and there are records of women in commerce.  There was more, but why weren’t we really looking at it in great deal?  Is the “Wild Boudica” the only image we have to really lean on?  Heck naw.

I feel as if every decade or so there is a new term, a topic of research that gains speed.  For me, I was coming of age during the intense research into globalization both past and present and how we define and analyze it.  Feminist archaeology is gaining momentum and this wonderful thesis certain bangs the gong and brings attention to a sorely neglecting topic of research.

While I have multiple degrees in anthropology/archaeology and art history, I do not work in the field anymore (because you can only work for “experience” for so long) I still read.  A lot.  And this is something I read twice and will certainly read a few more times.  If something has a high re-readability then it’s A+ in my book.

Whether a researcher, casual and serious re-enactor, or just for personal enjoyment Hammerson’s thesis will touch on something you are looking for.  This touches on each of the major geographic regions under the “Celtic Umbrella” so whether you are looking at populations in the British Isles, Gaul, Germania, or Hispania, you are covered.

Hammersons looks at Celtic women in the home, within marriage, in commerce or in spiritual matters, even touching on visual identity this feels like a multi-disciplinary approach.  When it comes to persona research a source that has a holistic method of sharing information is a great jumping off point.  Ladies, we needed this.

I do not want to give too much away, but I highly recommend reading it for yourself.

Current link as of 11/14/18: Indigenous Women in Gaul, Britannia, Germania, and Celtic Hispania, 400BC – AD 235, by Lauren Alexandra Michelle Hammerson

 

Period and Persona: Figuring It Out Part 2

The jump from Pict to some undetermined identity in Gaul was a fairly quick one.  I am convinced that the business of my brain is purely meant to torment me, which means when I don’t know a comfortable amount of information about something: I am going to eat it for three meals a day until I do understand it.

The term “celtic” probably makes you think of ancient insular cultures and people such as the Irish.  However, “celtic” is used as an umbrella terms that casts it’s shadow over a very large area and number of populations. Academically the jury is still out for a decisive explanation of the term depending on specialization, but my education leads me down the linguistic definition of the term.  Which means, rather than limiting the definition to the Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Manx, Cornish and a few other smaller groups, it encompasses the linguistically related tribes in continental Europe as well.

While the Picts hold a dear place in my heart and I absolutely adore them, many books I had and began to acquire touched on other “celtic” populations.  As someone who is genetically broken down into Italian, German, Broadly Southern European and Broadly North Western European…I found myself identifying more with the people of the continent under the celtic scope.  I could see in my head little details of the persona forming and it simply wasn’t Pictish.

As I read, glanced over images of artifacts, and considered the finer details of a persona it became very evident that: There was limited information on the non-Roman inhabitant of Gaul that are female.  I feel as if there is a wealth of information for Hallstatt culture but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go that far back even if the beautiful spiral designs were an easily identifiable feature of the culture.  Romans paint a vivid picture but their sources are laced with the agenda of Rome and are only partially a good source. It seemed like these people, especially in Cisalpine Gaul (Roman provinces on the same side of the Alps as Italy) where they adapted rather quickly to Romanization.  Transalpine Gaul(other side of the Alps, think France, Switzerland, Belgium, and some areas of Germany) took longer and held onto pieces of their pre-Roman culture a bit longer.  Even then, crafting an identity for a female in that world would prove to be a bit of a struggle.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

The SCA certainly appreciates an authentic representation of your period and persona, but for those that are new, not a big fan of research, or feel daunted by the task: don’t be.  There is a little something called the 10 feet rule.  If you made a good attempt that passes at a glance, then you’ve done very well.  I would never take a crap on someone’s garb because their tunic uses a cut out of period for them, or because the edges of their clothing are lined in machine stitched banding, hells no, that’s of no issue to me.  I am sure I will mention this in it’s own post at some point but “Don’t be a dick.”

For myself?  I’m going to drive myself absolutely batty in my desire to address a Gaulish persona.  I am going to search for carvings, images, corpses, grave steles, and curse tablets so see if our impression of a woman in Gaul is accurate and if it needs to be addressed and honestly: so far I am finding things that really challenge the image many of us may have for a Gaulish woman.  Like a veiled mitre/peck hat.  What. preference for pulled back hair rather then free flowing and “wild” barbarian hair in certain provinces.  Something the resembles a modern Japanese vest apron…

For the moment I am going for 100 BCE to 100 CE.  This is a highly transitional time period in Europe and in moments of not having enough sources for a specific item I can look to Roman items as a stand in.  As for location I am dabbling with the idea of the province of Rhaetia/Raetia, south western edges of Gallia and southern Germanica Superior.

The only clear thing I see for my persona is that I would be a woman of mixed heritage (Roman and Celtic) which fits with my own Italian and German heritage.  This would put me into a world and culture in transition and would leave me with many questions.

Will I be more Roman or Celtic?

How would a woman identify with the non-Roman heritage of her family and still navigate life in a Roman province successfully?

How can I skirt the edge of Romanization without taking it on fully?

 

 

 

Period and Persona: Figuring It Out Part 1

“All history is biography. – Ralph Waldo Emerson”

While I have been aware of the SCA for about a decade, I didn’t really get involved until February of this past year.  I’ve spend a lot of time mulling over period and persona, which I have found a bit difficult.  Let’s face it, we spend our whole lives learning who we are so having another version of yourself to figure out can be quite daunting.  Joining the SCA is like a second puberty…only less Pro-Active and more blunders in sewing.

Period: In some places on the internet the SCA lists itself as a pre-1600 to 500 CE focus.  However, from interactions with others the only really limit is pre-1600.  Early period and even ancient period personas seems to be welcome and have their groups, but the focus lays within a medieval scope.  However, I can say that visually at events I would put the focus on not only the medieval periods but also the viking age as being immensely popular.

Geography: Europe.  Europe is the focus, however, I find the non-European personas/gear are present at events and welcome.  Generally speaking, whatever I have read for guidelines doesn’t really encompass the mentality within the group which for the most part is: “If it’s your passion: do it.”  Good to know.

Laying down the groundwork for picking out a persona I spend a lot of time thinking about period and culture.  There truly is no period or culture I cannot find myself in love with.  I am a total whore for history so picking just one was like eating just one chip: can’t eat just one.

However, there are some that have that little bit of a special draw for me for a variety of reasons.  My original short list in a notebook I keep in my desk was:

  • Late Iron Age Pictish
  • Merovingian Gaul/Francia
  • 14th Century Italy

However, at present my kit is decidedly continental 100 BCE – 100 CE (pushing towards Gaul, specific region is up in the air presently) but there was a path I took to land here, and even now I am still waffling with my persona as I am approaching picking out a name and heraldry for myself.

As I made a hard list of the periods and locations that enticed me more there were pros and cons to each, and also a varying level of comfort with each.  While I think I have a much better and detailed understanding of the high medieval periods thanks to a better number of extant items: my archaeological experience focuses mostly on Iron Age and Early Medieval North Atlantic Europe.

Late Iron Age Picts:  This focus appealed to me because I spent some of the happiest moments of my life digging Pictish sites in the Orkney and Shetland Islands for a few summers in my early and mid 20’s.  I am also very aware of the limit to the information we have for them and the women who were part of their demographic.  If you laid out “Celtic” artifacts from Ireland to the Alpines I could pick out Pictish items without a problem.  I can see in my head the surviving extant garments (not many but enough, praise be the anaerobic soils of the North Atlantic) and feel comfortable with putting together…a male persona.  There was my hiccup.  While I could draw from some Danish textiles for women, that would beg a question for another post: borrowing from other cultures to fill in an archaeological gap.

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Pictish Stone at Hilton of Cadboll, woman seated top and center.

Pictish Pros

  • Familiarity with objects and textiles.
  • Easy clothing to make and spruce up.  This fits within my sewing capabilities.
  • Stupid amount of reasonably current books in my personal library.
  • Connections to leading Pictish researchers and re-enactors in Scotland and Britain if I need any help.
  • Tons of archery depicted in surviving art with a focus on hunting over war.
  • Cold and hot weather clothing will be easy and comfortable.
  • FLESH PAINTING
  • Tro-lol-lol-lol Romans can’t touch this.

Pictish Cons

  • More material on male objects and textiles.
  • I am the least ethnically Scottish person and don’t feel like I would visually represent the women of that period or culture. The knowledge base is there but I don’t really identify personally with “being” a Pict.

Merovingian Gaul/Francia:  This focus appealed to me on two fronts: History and Short Tunic Dresses(which may not be an accurate portray unfortunately).  The Merovingian  ruling period was a fascinating.  Cultures in transition are complex and really get my brain buzzing.  The Long Haired Kings and their people were a society in flux between the Roman way of life and the newly Christian way of life.  You have Salien Franks, which were neither quite Germanic, not quite Roman, and not quite a native Gaul, but the culmination of what I would consider the three major cultures in Europe for that locations.  It touched on so many beliefs.  The option of be pagan, christian, beholden to the Roman way of life or embracing the new, more medieval way of life approaching…the options were tantalizing.  The surviving material culture was also very strong for women.

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Fancy, pancy Merovingian women’s kicks.

Merovingian Pros

  • A great deal of surviving information and material culture but limited extant images of women that aren’t angels or the Virgin.
  • Vast and varied options for culture flavor (Gallo-Roman and Germanic).
  • Potentially short tunic dresses/pants.
  • Shoes for this period are bomb.

Merovingian Cons

  • I am not the best versed in this period.  I have an extremely general understanding of the Merovingian world.
  • Short tunic dresses, though used a great deal by many re-enactors, are likely a construct of modern wishful thinking.
  • Role of women greatly diminished culturally.  I would love a period where women had more freedom of movement within their society.

14th Century Italy: My family claims mostly Italian origin and genetically this holds true for me.  My family name can be traced back to the mid 14th century as a briefly noble family in Florence and then we disappear from records until the early 19th century where my ancestors re-emerge in commerce and politics (and we have member of our family still in office in Italy today, though I do not know him personally).  Heritage wise, this period holds interest to me.  I could straight up persona one of my own ancestors.  In the mid 1300’s, the plague hits Europe and something incredible happens: women come into their own in both wealth and business as a results of the plague.  A cultural BOOM occurs driving changes in fashions and the lives of women for about 50 years, during which butt-hurt menfolk start laying down guild and sumptuary laws to control our wild uteri from controlling the Christian world.  Also plague, did I mention plague?  FASCINATING.

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Tacuinum Sanitatis School 1370

14th Century Italy Pros

  • Direct heritage to the time period and opportunity to persona one of my ancestors.
  • Plague period, love me some of that plague history.
  • Unique circumstances for women.
  • Plenty of resources for research, most information available.

14th Century Italy Cons

  • I am garbage at sewing, portraying accurate clothing would be difficult as I have no interest in sewing 30-40 gussets/gores into the shoulder of my dresses for optimal fit and movement.
  • Archery could not comfortably fit with this persona.  While there is no rule against it, I have a desire to be able to reasonably fit my activities to my persona, this one would be a stretch.
  • I have no interest in a Christian persona.  The pagan persona appeals to me more.
  • Complex hairstyles.  I can barely handle having a bob.
  • Heavy clothing in summer, long dresses forever, falling over for days.  I sense discomfort and a lot of torn hems in my future.

Verdit: Iron Age Picts have the best math.  I could quickly get some passable and accurate garb together and get active.  This is something I could build upon over time and fit within the most active of my activities within the SCA (archery).

Boom, first event was the Royal Archery Tournament in Bright Hills in April of 2018.

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Driving to my first event, Royal Archery Tournament hosted by Bright Hills, April 2018.  I have since reconsidered face painting.

My specific area of focus has shifted since and is no longer Pictish, but that evolution will be a topic for another time.  Gaul is coming.

What the Hell am I Doing Here?

 

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Once upon a time I was an archaeologist, digging up garbage and more interesting garbage, and maybe a dead body for several years.  Then, the unthinkable happened: I didn’t want to be broke anymore.  Le gasp.  So I switched careers and am now a tech marmot.

In order to continue feeding my love of history and material culture I eventually committed to joining the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA) as a way to continue learning and geek out with others.

Since I have to be as difficult as possible I am drawn towards to a period and culture with large gaps in the archaeological record.  Joy.

“Some people have no idea what they’re doing, and a lot of them are really good at it.” ― George Carlin