The Discovery of Middle Earth - Graham Robb
Summary: Robb contends that, contrary to the barbarians the Romans thought them to be, the Celts were an advanced civilization. Drawing evidence from archaeology, ancient writers, and surviving place-names, Robb outlines how the Gaulish Celts had a sophisticated long-distance communication system and road network (much of which the Romans went on to re-use) and an advanced understanding of geometry and surveying.
Thoughts: This is a weird book. The author devotes an early chapter to "I know this sounds like leylines..." hand-wringing. Those knowledgeable about ancient history may find the re-interpretations of historic sources interesting. While I'm not sure what to make of the map of place-names along solstice lines that Robb constructs throughout the book, I find his more general thesis - that the Celts were an organized, advanced civilization - sound.
(The notes below are not a summary of the book, but rather raw notes - whatever I thought, at the time, might be worth remembering.)
Robb, Graham. 2013. The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts. W. W. Norton.
- solstice - from sol “sun” and stito “to stand still”, since at the solstices, the sun rises and sets from the same points on the horizon for a few days
- equinox - from equi “equal” and nox “night”, since at the equnoxes, length of day = length of night
- 27: fancy chariots have been found in graves throughout Celtic lands. Indicates that the Celts had the technology to build such chariots, which suggests that they had smooth roads to ride chariots on
- 29: indication of the sophistication of Gaulish road network/surveying: When the romans took over, they adopted the Gaulish league instead of the Roman mile
- 31: Caesar recounts how messages travelled with astonishing speed, shouted across the fields. Suggests that the Gauls had people stationed in strategic locations, ready to pass messages
- 32: Sound travels more efficiently through valleys than hilltop-to-hilltop. Robb suggests that over decades/centuries, the Gauls developed a vocal telegraph system based on local knowledge
- 33: Whistling language of Pyrinean shepherds - became extinct in the 1950s. Could be used to pass messages across distances of more than 3 kilometers
- 37: acoustic surveying technique: in a forest, two people stand a distance apart, calling out. A third person positions themself halfway between them. Listening to the calls of those three, a fourth person marks out points along the acoustic straight line.
- technique was used by Persian road builders - cf. Isaiah, “a voice cries out in the wilderness… make straight in the desert a highway”
- j: much of this (whistle language, acoustic surveying) could be related to Murray Schafer’s ideas of how people in the past were more attuned to sound than people are today
- 47: cartographic analysis technique developed by archaeologist Éric Vion: “once a route has been created, it almost never disappears completely” - preserved as roads, field boundaries, edges of woods…
- cf. path dependence
- 52: meridian: from medius (middle) + dies (day) - a line following a shadow cast at midday
- 88: The Antikythera Mechanism (recovered from a shipwreck, likely made before 150 BCE) - shows the technology that early cultures were capable of working with. Could calculate phases of moons, many other calendrical events…
- 93: Greek adventurer Pytheas circumnavigated Europe. Wrote up a journal of his travels, Peri tou okeanou (‘On the ocean’) - was a very famous book in the ancient world.
- 110: Druids had the lengthiest education system in the ancient world, lasting 20 years (cf. kindergarten to a doctorate, today). For comparison, a Greek education usually lasted no longer than 11 years.
- 195: Caesar is estimated to have killed 1 000 000 and taken 1 000 000 slaves during his Gallic campaigns. “The number of Gauls and Germans sold into slavery probably exceeds the number of slaves shipped to the American colonies in the eighteenth century.”
- 208: Once Gaul was incorporated into the Roman empire, its native people renamed their principal towns after the local celtic tribes, so Celtic place names are well-represented in France. e.g.:
- Remi -> Reims
- Bellovaci -> Beauvais
- Turones -> Tours
- Averni -> Auvergne
- Bituriges -> Bourges
- Parisii -> Paris
Posted: Nov 21, 2020. Last updated: Dec 19, 2020.