Plant commentary & sustainability analysis
As so often in these articles the connections between the world of present-day Australia and Celtic Europe seem remote in both time and relevance. However, it is from them that we have some content of the English language which is now, in effect, the global common language or lingua franca.
Like the early Christians the Druids represented a threat to Roman values and were actively pursued. Druids were spiritual in outlook, Romans materialistic; Druids operated with collective ownership, Roman law was based on private ownership of land vested in the head of the family; Druid women were engaged in political and religious life, Roman women were regarded as the child-bearers and home managers, and a source of pleasure.
It seems likely that wheeled vehicles used by the Celts used specially constructed roads and that the famous Roman roads were established along existing Celtic tracks. It is well established that long before the Roman occupation of Britain there was trade with the Mediterranean world that included wheat, cattle, gold, silver, iron, leather goods and hides, even hunting dogs.
Shipping was relatively sophisticated, the Brehon Laws listing ships constructed for various circumstances: sea-going, coastal, and river. Phoenician and Greek traders were visiting Ireland several centuries BC and early wine amphorae have been found in SW Ireland and archaeological evidence indicates links with overland trade routes across Eurasia.
The La Téne culture used gold, silver, tin, and lead as well as iron, using metals for weaponry and trading jewellery internationally, the Romans a major customer, some of the silver and bronze used in Roman coinage possibly being sources here. Coins were cast in gold, silver and bronze at the end of the fourth century BCE following the manner of Greece but ahead of the Romans.
Water mills were used as a source of power and were in general use in Ireland by about 260 CE.
Archaeological evidence belies the popular idea of Celts as nomadic warmongering barbarians, suggesting instead a people whose economy was based on rural pastoral and agricultural farming that harked back to the Bronze Age.
Celtic farm technology was in several important ways superior to that of the early Romans as they produced the first harvesting machine and the Celtic plough (first pictured in rock carvings in the Val Camonica north of Milan) which had a mobile coulter (an iron knife cutting vertically into the soil), making them far more effective than the Roman swing plough at this time. Early European societies would generally plough the same earth twice, at right angles, as the ploughs did not completely turn the soil. However, the Celts added a coulter which facilitated the full turning of the soil by the following share, which was also made of iron rather than wood. Before the second century BC the iron coulter and share combined with crop rotation, manuring, fertilisation with lime and marl (limey clay), marked a major agricultural transition assisted by more advanced wheeled vehicles like the all-purpose wagon. With land drainage in marshy areas and two oxen yoked to this plough large tracts of land were opened up to crops. Beresford Ellis suggests that by the time of the arrival of the Romans the British landscape would have shown many similarities o what is seen today. Celtic farmers also created the messor (called a vallus by the Romans), a simple harvesting machine lake a large box on wheels with a toothed lower edge that would gather the corn when pushed by an ox. Iron tools like scythes, sickles, forks, spades, axes and billhooks were now becoming more efficiently designed especially through the use of shaft holes rather than socketing. By the first century BC most of today’s basic hand-tools had been created, at least in general form, by Celtic craftsman.
Over Europe the Celts grew various forms of wheat, notably emmer, spelt, and bread. Hand-turned millstones were used and the flour stored in granaries, grain and vegetables often being stored in sealed pits. Oats, barley and rye were widely grown along with fibre plants hemp, and flax for both linen and oil. Millet was grown mainly in Gaul (western Europe where an early Celtic dialect was spoken) and Cisalpine Gaul (land of the Gauls lying to the south and east of the alps) and panicum in the Po valley. Legumes like peas, beans and lentils were also grown along with a wide variety of fruits and berries. From the sixth century BC wines were imported to northern Europe from Etruscan and Greek sources in the south.
Pastoral farming was based around sheep, cattle and pigs: small goat-like sheep, for wool and milk rather than meat, producing dark, coarse wool which by Roman times was exported from Britain to Rome; cattle (the most abundant domestic animal) were small Celtic Shorthorn bred to produce oxen as draught animals for wagons and ploughs and as a source of milk and meat while bulls, admired for their enormous strength and ferocity, played a key role in Celtic society featuring in sacrificial rituals and Celtic art and mythology; pigs and boars, second to cattle in abundance, also featured in Celtic epics, myths and art; horses and dogs were used mostly for hunting and warfare and later for pulling the plough, but donkeys and mules only appear in the archaeological record after contact with Roman culture; chickens and cats were part of farm life but Caesar remarks that ‘Hares, fowl, and geese they think it unlawful to eat, but rear them for pleasure and amusement’[cited in BE p. 104] Salt was used in the preservation of meats, and salted pork was exported from Gaul to the Italian peninsula.