Now you may be wondering why I came to the conclusion that the ancient Celts did not practice radical feminism, and your doubts are not completely unfounded. Therefore, I’m going to revise my previous statement: it his highly unlikely that the ancient Celts practiced radical feminism. It is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that pre-Roman Europeans, or any human society for that matter, had a culture that placed few restrictions on human reproductive behavior. However, this blog is about contemporary issues, so let’s assume that Celtic society did practice radical feminism for the sake of argument.
There are a few contemporary societies that have been accused of practicing radical feminism. Examples include sub-Saharan Africans and their descendents living in the New World, speakers of Dravidian languages living in southern India, and people living in industrialized nations following social changes of the mid-20th century. These accusations are typically levied by people with conservative views, at least when it comes to social issues.
More specifically, they originate from the
, a very specific subset of the broader conservative movement that was the predominant form of conservatism in the United States prior to the 1960s. Perhaps the most well-known palaeoconservative is Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during the Second World War and 34th president of the United States:
Palaeoconservatism is similar to most forms of conservatism in that it teaches that all human beings are responsible for their own personal well-being. However, unlike other conservatives, palaeoconservatives seek to emphasize tradition and the role it plays in shaping national identity. According to this philosophy, the United States (and many other Western nations) is a primarily Judaeo-Christian society with a European material culture. Politically, palaeoconservatives tend to appeal to groups that form the historical voting base of the US Republican Party: heterosexual White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males.
The Celts Revisited
Subsequent to the rise of neopagan and revivalist movements in contemporary times, there has been significant controversy surrounding the culture of pre-Christian Europe. In his account of the Gallic War, Julius Caesar portrayed the Celts as a primitive people whose priestly class, the Druids, presided over the sacrifice of humans in large wicker structures for the purpose of pleasing Celtic deities. On the other hand, other Roman authors who were not motivated by a desire for conquest sought to paint a more balanced picture of these peoples. The Roman geographer Strabo writes the following about the Celts in his Geography:
The entire race which now goes by the name of Gallic, or Galatic, is warlike, passionate, and always ready for fighting, but otherwise simple and not malicious… 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… 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.
Strabo confirmed the use of riding pants by these peoples. He also attests to their unique social structure, which reversed the roles found in Roman society:
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…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… 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.
Strabo further elaborated on the role that Bards and Druids played in Celtic society:
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.
Lastly, he describes simiarities between Celtic society and the ancient Greeks:
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.
Contrary to modern stereotypes that are fueled by politically-motivated Roman accounts, the Celts were not a savage people who were engaged in constant warfare and lacked standards of decency and ethical behavior. To the contrary, they had a rich tradition of scientific inquiry and were sincerely concerned about injustices that took place within their society. They had a deep appreciation of the culture of other civilizations during their time, and were even valued by the Romans for their skills in horsemanship.
*For those who are not familiar with ancient Greek society, “pederasty” refers to a practice among adult Greek males where they would take a younger Greek male called an eromenos as their sexual partner. The older male would act as a mentor to his eromenos, who would then continue the process when he came of age by finding a young boy to be his partner.
- “Dwight David Eisenhower.” Photo, print, drawing. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Accessed August 13, 2016. https://www.loc.gov/item/cph28820/.
- “Strabo, Geography, BOOK IV., CHAPTER IV., Section 2.” Accessed August 13, 2016. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D4%3Achapter%3D4%3Asection%3D2.
- “Strabo, Geography, BOOK IV., CHAPTER IV., Section 3.” Accessed August 13, 2016. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D4%3Achapter%3D4%3Asection%3D3.
- “Strabo, Geography, BOOK IV., CHAPTER IV., Section 4.” Accessed August 13, 2016. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D4%3Achapter%3D4%3Asection%3D4.
- “Strabo, Geography, BOOK IV., CHAPTER IV., Section 6.” Accessed August 13, 2016. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0239%3Abook%3D4%3Achapter%3D4%3Asection%3D6.