Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe

 I was on vacation last week, and read the next book in my long reading queue. The Ancient Paths, by Graham Robb, is about the rediscovery of the ancient Celtic culture that was once spread across Europe.

by Graham Robb

Because there was no written history, much of the details about the Celtic way of life has been lost. Many people now associate the word "Celtic" with Ireland, but, in fact, it is a term that describes a far reaching tribal culture that was spread throughout western Europe- including France and Spain. The isolated island of Ireland ("Éire" in Gaelic / "Hiberina" in Latin) was the last area not overtaken by the Roman Empire, so the last vestiges of Celtic art and identity were preserved there.

The educated elites of Celtic culture were the Druids. This is another term that has been confused over the centuries. The Druids were not magical wizards, they were actually the ancient equivalent of the "Renaissance Man," like Leonardo da Vinci. The Druids were professionals trained in many different forms of knowledge & skills, such as astronomy, natural law, the understanding of plants, politics, and medicine.

Unfortunately, Celtic culture and knowledge was pretty much wiped out by the Roman Empire. They were not just looking to tame the Celtic & Germanic "savages" of the rest of Europe and create a buffer zone between them and Rome. The Romans were mostly interested in expanding their business interests and extracting wealth & resources from these areas. All war and invasion is usually about money and power, regardless of the pretext given to the citizens of the invading nation.

Like so many cultures who have succumbed to a more powerful enemy, the vast knowledge and history of the Celts was almost completely wiped out. Graham Robb has used archaeological clues to reconstruct some aspects of Celtic civilization, which was extensive & advanced in certain ways. There was already a network of roads & locations based on cosmological alignments in place when the Romans overran Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula. This is why the Roman legions were able to spread swiftly throughout the continent on their various campaigns.

One aspect of the book that personally interesting to me was the use of sacred geometry in Celtic art, especially the Flower of Life pattern that I used in the creation of the game "Da Vinci's Challenge". Robb shows how these geometric constructions guided the designs of the ancient Celts.

Overall, the book was very interesting, and gave me a new perspective on two parts of my ancient heritage, since my ancestors included the Irish & Italians. The narrative gets bogged down a bit by the endless place names and speculations on various specific locations, but I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in history. It made for good vacation reading & I finished the book by the end of the week.

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