Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
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CHAPTER IV. GAUL. THE BELGæ. 4.4.1

AFTER the nations mentioned come those of the Belgæ, who dwell next the ocean. Of their number are the Veneti, [Note] who fought a naval battle with Cæsar. They had prepared to resist his passage into Britain, being possessed of the commerce [of that island] themselves. But Cæsar easily gained the victory, not however by means of his beaks, (for their

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ships were constructed of solid wood,) [Note] but whenever their ships were borne near to his by the wind, the Romans rent the sails by means of scythes fixed on long handles: [Note] for the sails [of their ships] are made of leather to resist the violence of the winds, and managed by chains instead of cables. They construct their vessels with broad bottoms and high poops and prows, on account of the tides. They are built of the wood of the oak, of which there is abundance. On this account, instead of fitting the planks close together, they leave interstices between them; these they fill with sea-weed to prevent tile wood from drying up in dock for want of moisture; for the sea-weed is damp by nature, but the oak dry and arid. In my opinion these Veneti were the founders of the Veneti in the Adriatic, for almost all the other Keltic nations in Italy have passed over from the country beyond the Alps, as for instance, the Boii [Note] and Senones. [Note] They are said to be Paphlagonians merely on account of a similarity of name. However, I do not maintain my opinion positively; for in these matters probability is quite sufficient. The Osismii are the people whom Pytheas calls Ostimii; they dwell on a promontory which projects considerably into the ocean, but not so far as Pytheas and those who follow him assert. [Note] As for the nations between the Seine and the Loire, some are contiguous to the Sequani, others to the Arverni. 4.4.2

The entire race which now goes by the name of Gallic, or Galatic, [Note] is warlike, passionate, and always ready for fighting, but otherwise simple and not malicious. If irritated, they rush in crowds to the conflict, openly and without any circumspection; and thus are easily vanquished by those who employ stratagem. For any one may exasperate them when, where, and under whatever pretext he pleases; he will al-

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ways find them ready for danger, with nothing to support them except their violence and daring. Nevertheless they may be easily persuaded to devote themselves to any thing useful, and have thus engaged both in science and letters. Their power consists both in the size of their bodies and also in their numbers. Their frankness and simplicity lead then easily to assemble in masses, each one feeling indignant at what appears injustice to his neighbour. At the present time indeed they are all at peace, being in subjection and living under the command of the Romans, who have subdued them; but we have described their customs as we understand they existed in former times, and as they still exist amongst the Germans. These two nations, both by nature and in their form of government, are similar and related to each other. Their countries border on each other, being separated by the river Rhine, and are for the most part similar. Germany, however, is more to the north, if we compare together the southern and northern parts of the two countries respectively. Thus it is that they can so easily change their abode. They march in crowds in one collected army, or rather remove with all their families, whenever they are ejected by a more powerful force. They were subdued by the Romans much more easily than the Iberians; for they began to wage war with these latter first, and ceased last, having in the mean time conquered the whole of the nations situated between the Rhine and the mountains of the Pyrenees. For these fighting in crowds and vast numbers, were overthrown in crowds, whereas the Iberians kept themselves in reserve, and broke up the war into a series of petty engagements, showing themselves in different bands, sometimes here, sometimes there, like banditti. All the Gauls are warriors by nature, but they fight better on horseback than on foot, and the flower of the Roman cavalry is drawn from their number. The most valiant of them dwell towards the north and next the ocean. 4.4.3

Of these they say that the Belgæ are the bravest. They are divided into fifteen nations, and dwell near the ocean between the Rhine and the Loire, and have therefore sustained themselves single-handed against the incursions of the Germans, the Cimbri, [Note] and the Teutons. The bravest of the

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Belgæ are the Bellovaci, [Note] and after them the Suessiones. The amount of their population may be estimated by the fact that formerly there were said to be 300,000 Belgæ capable of bearing arms. [Note] The numbers of the Helvetii, the Arverni, and their allies, have already been mentioned. All this is a proof both of the amount of the population [of Gaul], and, as before remarked, of the fecundity of their women, and the ease with which they rear their children. The Gauls wear the sagum, let their hair grow, and wear short breeches. Instead of tunics they wear a slashed garment with sleeves descending a little below the hips. [Note] The wool [of their sheep is coarse, but long; from it they weave the thick saga called laines. However, in the northern parts the Romans rear flocks of sheep which they cover with skins, and which produce very fine wool. The equipment [of the Gauls] is in keeping with the size of their bodies; they have a long sword hanging at their right side, a long shield, and lances in proportion, together with a madaris somewhat resembling a javelin; some of them also use bows and slings; they have also a piece of wood resembling a pilum, which they hurl not out of a thong, but from their hand, and to a farther distance than an arrow. They principally make use of it in shooting birds. To the present day most of them lie on the ground, and take their meals seated on straw. They subsist principally on milk and all kinds of flesh, especially that of swine, which they eat both fresh and salted. Their swine live in the fields, and surpass in height, strength, and swiftness. To persons unaccustomed to approach them they are almost as dangerous as wolves. The people dwell in great houses arched, constructed of planks and wicker, and covered with a heavy thatched roof. They have sheep and swine in such abundance, that they supply saga and salted pork in plenty, not only to Rome but to most parts of Italy. Their governments were for the most part aristocratic; formerly they chose a governor every year, and a military leader was likewise elected by the multitude. [Note] At the present day they are mostly under sub-

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jection to the Romans. They have a peculiar custom in their assemblies. If any one makes an uproar or interrupts the person speaking, an attendant advances with a drawn sword, and commands him with menace to be silent; if he persists, the attendant does the same thing a second and third time; and finally, [if he will not obey,] cuts off from his sagum so large a piece as to render the remainder useless. The labours of the two sexes are distributed in a manner the reverse of what they are with us, but this is a common thing with numerous other barbarians. 4.4.4

Amongst [the Gauls] there are generally three divisions of' men especially reverenced, the Bards, the Vates, and the Druids. The Bards composed and chanted hymns; the Vates occupied themselves with the sacrifices and the study of nature; while the Druids joined to the study of nature that of moral philosophy. The belief in the justice [of the Druids] is so great that the decision both of public and private disputes is referred to them; and they have before now, by their decision, prevented armies from engaging when drawn up in battle-array against each other. All cases of murder are particularly referred to them. When there is plenty of these they imagine there will likewise be a plentiful harvest. Both these and the others [Note] assert that the soul is indestructi- ble, and likewise the world, but that sometimes fire and sometimes water have prevailed in making great changes. [Note] 4.4.5

To their simplicity and vehemence, the Gauls join much folly, arrogance, and love of ornament. They wear golden collars round their necks, and bracelets on their arms and wrists, and those who are of any dignity have garments dyed and worked with gold. This lightness of character makes them intolerable when they conquer, and throws them into consternation when worsted. In addition to their folly, they have a barbarous and absurd custom, common however with many nations of the north, of suspending the heads of their enemies from their horses' necks on their return from tattle, and when they have arrived nailing them as a spectacle to their gates. Posidonius says he witnessed this in many different places, and was at first shocked, but became familiar with it in time on account of its frequency. The

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beads of any illustrious persons they embalm with cedar, exhibit them to strangers, and would not sell them for their weight in gold. [Note] However, the Romans put a stop to these customs, as well as to their modes of sacrifice and divination, which were quite opposite to those sanctioned by our laws. They would strike a man devoted as an offering in his back with a sword, and divine from his convulsive throes. Without the Druids they never sacrifice. It is said they have other modes of sacrificing their human victims; that they pierce some of them with arrows, and crucify others in their temples; and that they prepare a colossus of hay and wood, into which they put cattle, beasts of all kinds, and men, and then set fire to it. 4.4.6

They say that in the ocean, not far from the coast, there is a small island lying opposite to the outlet of the river Loire, inhabited by Samnite women who are Bacchantes, and conciliate and appease that god by mysteries and sacrifices. No man is permitted to land on the island; and when the women desire to have intercourse with the other sex, they cross the sea, and afterwards return again. They have a custom of once a year unroofing the whole of the temple, and roofing it again the same day before sun-set, each one bringing some of the materials. If any one lets her burden fall, she is torn in pieces by the others, and her limbs carried round the temple with wild shouts, which they never cease until their rage is exhausted. [They say] it always happens that some one drops her burden, and is thus sacrificed.

But what Artenmidorus tells us concerning the crows, partakes still more of fiction. He narrates that on the coast, washed by the ocean, there is a harbour named the Port of Two Crows, and that here two crows may be seen with their right wings white. Those who have any dispute come here, and each one having placed a plank for himself on a lofty eminence, sprinkles crumbs thereupon; the birds fly to these, eat up the one and scatter the other, and he whose crumbs are scattered gains the cause. This narration has decidedly too much the air of fiction. What he narrates concerning Ceres and Proserpine is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain in which they perform sacrifices to

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these goddesses after the same fashion that they do in Samo- thrace. The following is also credible, that a tree grows in Keltica similar to a fig, which produces a fruit resembling a Corinthian capital, and which, being cut, exudes a poisonous juice which they use for poisoning their arrows. It is well known that all the Kelts are fond of disputes; and that amongst them pederasty is not considered shameful. Ephorus extends the size of Keltica too far, including within it most of what we now designate as Iberia, as far as Gades, He states that the people are great admirers of the Greeks, and relates many particulars concerning them not applicable to their present state. This is one:—That they take great care not to become fat or big-bellied, and that if any young man exceeds the measure of a certain girdle, he is punished. [Note]

Such is our account of Keltica beyond the Alps. [Note]



Strabo, Geography (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Str.].
<<Str. 4.3 Str. 4.4 (Greek English(2)) >>Str. 4.5

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