Twilight of the Celtic Giants
Vercellae, Battle of
Twilight of the Celtic Giants
As savage as they were at times, historians and other scholars esteem the Celts as a culturally advanced people. Their art, particularly from the La Tene period, showed remarkable aesthetic qualities, although it was almost entirely decorative. They loved good music. They made a great contribution to literature, especially with their epic poetry, which they liked to recite to the accompaniment of a harp. Many peoples also borrowed from their language. Inventive, they introduced the use of iron to Europe, were the first to forge seamless iron-rim wagon wheels, made the first barrels and casks, pioneered the iron plow, created the first horseshoe, put on the first coat-of-mail armor, and became the first people in Europe to use soap. The Celts also startled the Romans with their first sight of the bracae, or breeches, which they wore because these knee-length trousers better suited horse riders.
But, for all their cultural accomplishments, the exceedingly tall Celts never evolved into a nation. Instead, they remained to their end separated into many tribes. They also retained to the last hurrah their social system, in which they divided into these three ranks: the king and his family, the warrior class led by the aristocracy, and the freemen farmers. They fought among themselves, it is true, but the people in each tribe, as a whole, bonded into a remarkable unity and had "a real sense of oneness." Also, between certain tribes, like the Cimbri, Teutones, and Ambrones, strong friendships existed. Moreover, the Celts, no matter where they lived, spoke one language. And they all adhered to one religious system, with the Druids acting as their priests and as educators of the young nobility.
So, having all these essentials in place, why did not the Gallic Celts ever become a nation? We can attribute this failure, in part, to their fiercely independent nature and their intense dislike of discipline. Old animosities existed between some tribes, too, and wars between them were not infrequent. But, more than anything else, the failure resulted from the giants' inborn wanderlust. Because of their frequent yearnings for new and greener pastures, they never spent enough time in one place to develop a real attachment for the landan obvious prerequisite for welding any people into a cohesive state. So when other peoples around them began organizing into strongly unified nations, the Celts' days of dominance and glory were numbered.
Historians say their decline began as far back as 102 B.C., following Marius' massacre of the Cimbri, Teutones, and Ambrones at Aquae Sextiae and on the plain of Vercellae. This overwhelming Roman victory stunned Celts everywhere. Like a mighty, scattering whirlwind, it suddenly turned the blond giants' world upside down. Of the Cimbri at Vercellae, only the sixty thousand that Marius took prisoner and an unknown number who fled the battlefield survived. The Teutones and Ambrones, having joined the expedition almost in their entirety, were also virtually wiped out.
Bewildered by these devastating losses and Rome's subsequent moves to close them off behind their southern borders, the Celts were driven back on themselves. They soon retreated to the Rhine. Also about this time the Helvetii picked up their belongings and first moved to Switzerland. The country they vacated remained empty so long afterward that people called it the "Desert of the Helvetii." Another major migration also took place after the Boii got involved in a border war with the Getae. After sustaining heavy losses, the Boii fled to the south bank of the Danube. Because of the terror the Getae had so recently instilled in them, they opted not to return to their Bohemian homeland. This abandoned country afterward became known as the "Desert of the Boii."
Besides these major movements, some minor migrations no doubt took place. Also during this same period many Gallic tribes saw their population decline. "However prolific these nations of the original Celtic country may have been," declares Hubert, "they were clearly much reduced in numbers. In that quarter, especially north of the Main and in Thuringia, there were now only the phantoms of peoples which had vanished, scattered, retired before the effective force of nations hitherto kept back by their prestige."166
Nearly half a century later, these continuing migrations and the turmoil caused by them gave Caesar an excuse to march his legions into Gaul. Following a scorched-earth policy, the Romans destroyed a great number of Celtic towns and villages. During this nearly eight-year campaign, they also slaughtered or took prisoner over three million Gauls. "Except for the last move of the Boii, the migration of the Atrebates from Gaul to Britain, the inroads and conquests of the Goidels in these islands, and the settlement of the people of Cornwall in Brittany, most of the Celtic peoples," says Hubert, "were now in the last stage of their wanderings. The Celtic world now assumed the face under which it was last known to antiquity, and it was a face of death. What was to revive later would be quite different, and much smaller."167
Charges that Caesar brought the Celtic nation to such ruin for his own political aspirations and personal gain no doubt were true. But he also had his country's welfare at heart. For after several centuries of disastrous wars with the roaming giants, he recognized that Rome's future peace and security depended upon their downsizing and subjugation. For peace to happen, he also saw the need to establish a broad buffer-zone between Italy and Germany's marauding Aryan tribes, but his assassination interrupted this project. Augustus, however, also recognized the importance of this zone. Determined to complete it, he later sent his best generals into Gaul. In campaigns lasting from 35 to 9 B.C., Agrippa, Drusus, and Tiberius pushed the empire's frontiers back to the banks of the Danube and organized Gaul into four provinces. This greatly reduced Rome's worries about a surprise attack from the surviving German giants, while also guaranteeing them a sure, unbroken line of communication.168
The peace and security that these initiatives brought about convinced most Celts that they could now turn from the ways of war and enjoy a better life. The "reminting" of these giant descendants of Gomer was also helped when Rome quickly granted full citizenship to their leaders, thereby removing from them some of the stigma of being a conquered people. Some while later, by enacting the Edict of Caracalla, the Romans extended the same coveted civitates to the lower classes. Moreover, Rome began developing the country, and an economic boom began. Roads were built, cities constructed, Latin merchants set up shop, others moved in. Over the course of the next century minor revolts by some Celts flared up, but, notes Will Durant, "the people gave scant support to these movements, and the love of liberty yielded to the enjoyment of prosperity, security, and peace."169 As the Gauls became thoroughly Romanized, by adopting the Roman style in their buildings, furniture, manners, dress, and even jewelry, the old Celtic way of life all but disappeared.
Within the same time frame, Rome Romanized Britain. But there the Celts strove to keep alive their traditionsand for a while they succeeded. However, what Celtic culture survived Roman rule in that island was practically wiped out by the Anglo-Saxon conquest and the introduction of Christianity. What fragments still remained after these three assaults vanished almost entirely following the Normans' invasion of 1066.
"Such was the history of the Celts, those groups of Aryan tribes which had become aware of their native character and covered half Europe in their migrations," writes Hubert. "There they were conquered and merged in new nations. In the islands, they resisted. Then they retired. They were turned back on themselves."170 Britain's subjugation by the Anglo-Saxons, followed by that of the Normans, he concludes, rang down the curtain. Only in some fringe areas of England and Europethat is, only in Ireland, in the Scottish Highlands, in Wales, in the Isle of Man, and in Brittany on the continentwere the ancient Celts, the descendants of Gomer, the grandson of Noah, able afterward to retain their distinctive traits, customs, and language. (For giants who ruled Rome, see Jovian; Maximilian; Maximinus; also see Caesar's Triumph over the Giants; Celtic Giants; German Giants' Annihilation; Rome vs Senone Giants)
The giant Bucart, the famed "tyrant of the Vivarais," whose bones were recovered in 1705 from his grave at the foot of the Crussol mountain in France, measured twenty-two-and-a-half-feet tall. (See Graveyards of the Giants)
In his book, Giants, Roy Norvill reports that the bones of a man twenty-two feet tall were recovered from his grave near Valencia, Spain.
Vercellae, Battle of
Following Marius' bloody massacre of the Teutones and Ambrones at Aquae Sextiae in 102 B.C., Boiorix, king of the Cimbri, rode boldly into the Roman camp and challenged Marius to a fight to the finish. For their battlefield the two commanders settled on the nearby plain of Vercellae. Here, three days later, Marius' men methodically butchered well over one hundred thousand Cimbri, many of whom were giants. (See German Giants' Annihilation)
Dr. Browne reports in his Travels through Germany that one Martin Wierski, a Polander who stood a full eight feet tall, was on account of his great height invited to appear at the Court of Maximilian II, emperor of Germany, during the second half of the sixteenth century.
An Austrian named Josef Winkelmaier exhibited in London on January 10,1887. He claimed a height of eight feet nine inchesor one foot shorter than was Goliath.171
Wonderful Giant (See Cajanus, Daniel)
Schreber, in his History of Quadrupeds, 1775, reports that the Duke of Wiirttemberg in Germany employed a porter with a stature of seven and a half feet.