To truly understand the origins of first-world problems, we need to go back to the very beginnings of Western civilization itself. When I say “the beginnings of Western civilization”, I’m not referring to the Greeks or the Romans or even the Mesopotamians, generally regarded as the very first civilization. I am referring to the Celts, an Indo-European people who inhabited much of what is now Western Europe:
Map of Celtic territories. Yellow areas indicate Celtic territories in the 6th century BCE, pale blue indicates Celtic territories by the early 3rd century BCE, and dark green indicates areas where Celtic languages are spoken today.
The ancient Celts are generally credited with the invention of pants– as a primarily horse-riding people, they needed clothing that would allow them to straddle their horses with minimal discomfort. But the reason why they stood out among other ancient peoples was not their clothing styles: it was their unique social structure. Ancient Roman authors who observed Celtic society were surprised to learn that nothing in their society’s norms required wives to remain faithful to their husbands:
… a very witty remark is reported to have been made by the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta. When the empress was jesting with her, after the treaty, about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: “We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.” Such was the retort of the British woman.
To put these terms in plain English, ancient Celtic women were allowed by their socieities to openly cheat on their husbands, while their Greco-Roman counterparts were expected to be faithful. Practices such as these would have certainly raised eyebrows throughout the ancient world, where patriarchy was the norm, as it is in many human societies today. Whether these statements are an accurate reflection of ancient European socieities will probably never be known.
However, this has not stopped modern neopagan movements from drawing conclusions about ancient European society. According to these groups, pre-Roman Europeans practiced a form of radical feminism, a system where there were little or no restrictions on women’s social behaviors. This (mis-)understanding of ancient European society only incorporates part of the picture, and is shaped by an incomplete understanding of human behavior, which will be explained in future posts.
Other Obsolete Theories of Ancient History
Like most other fields of study, our understanding of history needs to be updated as new evidence comes in. Previously, it was believed that the population of prehistoric Homo sapiens was reduced to a few thousand individuals due to a massive eruption of the Toba supervolcano in what is now Indonesia. According to this theory, climate change resulting from the eruption approximately 75,000 years ago caused a near-extinction event that is observable in our genetic code in the form of a population bottleneck. Recent excavations in East Africa, on the other hand, reveal no signs of sudden climate change at the time of the eruption.
Map of Celtic Europe By Rob984 – Derived from File:Celts in Europe.png, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50243888
Roman History Volume IX Books 71–80, Dio Cassiuss and Earnest Carry translator (1927), Loeb Classical Library ISBN 0-674-99196-6.
News, B. B. C. (n.d.). Toba super-volcano catastrophe idea “dismissed.” Retrieved July 30, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-22355515