A modern re-enactment of a Roman v Brythonic battle - no chariots?
This month's speaker was Mr Glyn Rees of Bridgend, who originally hails from Glynneath. he explained that he had served as a JP on the Neath bench and had also worked on basic skills with the students at the old reformatory in the town known colloquially as the "Farm School". He took as his subject the vast field of the "Celts and Romans", and he explained that the study of ancient history lacked fundamental facts and figureswith much given over to conjecture.
He started his talk by discussing the origins of the Celts, who were known as Keltoi by the Greeks and Galli by the Romans. The multitude of tribes which were known as Celts started in modern day upper Austria and Switzerland between Hallstadt and La-Tene. Indeed the prefix "Hal" as in the city of Hallein refers to the salt mined in the area ( Halen is modern Welsh for salt). They spread across Europe including Iberia, the Balkans,Gaul and even Asia Minor - Galatia. Eventually the tall, blonde Celtic tribes arrived in Britain ( beaker people) where they integrated with the indigenous population and became the Ancient Britons or Brythoniaid. Trading links with Gaul were maintained and it was this meddling in a Gaulish revolt against the Romans which first brought them to Britain in 55BC. Today, the Welsh, Breton and Cornish languages are echoes of the existence of these ancient Britons as are names such as Cumbria ( similar to Cymru),Cornwall/Cernyw/Cornouaille and Bro Breizh/ Bretagne/Brittany in modern day NW France. The Celts of western and northern Britain spoke a Goildelic version of Celtic today represented by Scots Gaelic, Erse and Manx. The Irish were known as Fenni by the Romans, a name reprised by the Fennians of more recent Irish history. The Celts had a great artistic legacy, a druidic religion based on the worship of nature particularly rivers and oak trees.They were not the uncouth barbarians of uncertain morals and alliegences as described by the Roman historian, Tacitus ( history is always the version of the victorious), but were conversely highly skilled in metalwork and even devised the chariot before the Romans. Mr Rees also pointed out that the Celts had actually sacked Rome in 300 BC when the city state was in its infancy.
Mr Rees then turned his attention to the Romans. He stated that they had first arrived in Britain under Julius Caesar ( then Governor of Gaul) in 55BC and had to return in 54 BC owing to the fact that the Britons had reneged on a deal to stop supplying the rebellious Gauls. The Romans later returned under the Emperor Claudius in 43 AD and occupied the islands for nearly four hundred years. Tacitus, rather condescendingly concludes that the easy success of the Romans over the disparate and mesmerised Brythonic tribes was caused by the improvements introduced by newcomers in terms of roads, housing, civil society and villa farming methods. This was evidently rather propagandist since, since the uprising of Boudicca/Buddug in AD60/61( buddigoliaeth means victory in Welsh) and the sacking of Romanised Londinium shows that it was hardly that easy. Much of what is now Wales was a militarized zone througout the Roman occupation and Hibernia ( the land of winter) was never conquered by the legions. Indeed, the Antonine and later Hadrian's Wall were literally a fortified edge of empire, despised by their mainly Hispanic defenders. In the year 410 AD a cash strapped Roman Empire withdrew the defensive legions and the Roman-British inhabitants were exposed to the ravages of marauders from Norse, Jute, Angle and Saxon raiders. However, the legacy of the Romans remains not only in the archaeology of modern Britain, but also in the form of settlements such as Chester,Colchester, Bath ( Aquae Sulis), Winchester and even Nidum ( Neath - town of the Celtic god Nudd). There are over 700 Latinate words in modern day Welsh and Roman Law also forms some of the bedrock of our legal systems.
Mr Gwyn Thomas thanked Mr Rees for his talk and remarked that it was a mammoth and highly complicated topic.
Next month's speaker is Mr Neville Anthony of Glanaman who will speak on the Battle of the Somme.