« PreviousContinue »
must have been strongly marked in order to have drawn the attention of a writer who seldom takes notice of physical characters. It appears then that the Britons were a darker race than the Celts of the Continent, and that even if the information given to M. Niebuhr by his anonymous corresponden were perfectly correct, it did not lead to the conclusion that the descriptions given by so many writers of the ancient Celta were erroneous. The Britons and Gauls, though kindred nations, may have differed in physical character, just as the Vogouls and Ostiaks, living on the opposite sides of the Uralian chain, and tribes of one race, are one a black-haired and the other a remarkably red-haired people.
M. Niebuhr, however, adopts a different explanation of this difficulty, and his observations contain a very important fact. In holding the opinion of the permanency of physical characters in general, he thinks that the colour of their hair-he would probably have extended the remark to the complexion and colour of the eyes-is an exception. The ancient Germans are said to have had universally yellow or red hair and blue eyes, in short a strongly-marked xanthous constitution. This, says Niebuhr, has now, in most parts of Germany, become uncommon. I can assert from my own observation that the Germans are now in many parts of their country far from a light-haired race. I have seen a considerable number of persons assembled in a large room at Frankfort-on-the-Mayne, and observed that, except one or two Englishmen, there was not an individual among them who had not dark hair. The Chevalier Bunsen has assured me that he has often looked in vain for the auburn or golden locks and the light cœrulean eyes of the old Germans, and never verified the picture given by the ancients of his countrymen till he visited Scandinavia; there he found himself surrounded with the Germans of Tacitus. What can be more evident than that Niebuhr is correct in his opinion that the physical characters of the people have changed? Some alterations in the external conditions under which the race has existed have given rise to a modification in their physical character. The climate of Germany has in fact changed since the country was cleared of forests.
I shall now go on to collect what information I can obtain
from the ancient writers respecting the physical characters of the Celtic nations, and shall advert in the first place to Ammianus Marcellinus, whose testimony appeared to Niebuhr so important. Ammianus was a soldier of Constantius, whose armies were chiefly stationed in Gaul, and in that country though not a Gaul by birth, he probably spent the early part of his life. In his coarse but somewhat graphic description of a boisterous Celt the reader will not fail to recognise an exact portrait of some of their posterity in the present day.
"The Gauls," says Ammianus," are almost all tall of stature, very fair and red-haired, and horrible from the fierceness of their eyes, fond of strife, and haughtily insolent. A whole band of strangers would not endure one of them, aided in his brawl by his powerful and blue-eyed wife, especially when with swollen neck and gnashing teeth, poising her huge white arms, she begins, joining kicks to blows, to put forth her fists, like stones from the twisted strings of a catapult. Most of their voices are terrific and threatening, as well when they are quiet as when they are angry.-All ages are thought fit for war, and an old man is led out to be armed with the same vigour of heart as the man in his prime, with limbs hardened by cold and continual labour, and a contempt of many even real dangers. None of them are known, like those who in Italy are called in joke Marci, to cut off their thumbs through fear of serving in war. They are, as a nation, very fond of wine, and invent many drinks resembling it;* and some of the poorer sort wander about with their senses quite blunted by continued intoxication."
It is impossible to doubt that Ammianus drew this description from scenes of which he had been an eye-witness. The Celts of his days resembled, as it appears, some of their supposed descendants in their irascible tempers, vehement expression, and conjugal sympathy. There is no reason to hesitate in affirming that the Gauls were in the time of Ammianus a people of fair complexion, of yellow hair, and blue eyes.
But it must be admitted that these characters, or rather that of red hair, are ascribed still more particularly to the Germans. Tacitus conjectured that the Caledonians were Germans from * Probably cider, ale, metheglin.
their huge stature and red hair. The people of South Britain were, he says, more like the Gauls. Here he clearly discriminates between them. There is a story also in Suetonius, to which Niebuhr has referred, of the same tendency. It is said that Caligula had the hair of some Gauls dyed, in order to pass them off for Germans. The Gauls were then not so red-haired as the Germans; but this was all the difference.* The Germans were what the Greeks term πυῤῥοὶ,† the Gauls only ξάνθοι.
Strabo expressly declares that the Germans differed very little from the Celtic race-τοῦ Κελτικοῦ φύλου-in the degree of their barbarism, or in their stature, or the yellow colour of their hair; and that they resembled the Celti in their figures and customs and habits of life.‡
We have seen that the Gallic armies which attacked Rome were from Celtic Gaul, that the Senones especially were Celts. But all the Roman writers describe these Gauls as men of tall stature and fair complexion, in terms similar to those afterwards applied to the Germans. Thus in Virgil's eighth Æneid:
Galli per domos aderant, arcemque tenebant.
Virgatis lucent sagulis; tum lactea colla
Auro innectuntur: duo quisque alpina coruscant
It may be said that this is a poetical description, and that its real applicability to the Gauls who burnt Rome may be doubted. Virgil probably described the Gauls from their generally recognised traits, and the character commonly assigned to them at Rome. We must recollect, however, that the Gauls known to the Romans during many ages before Virgil's time were Celtic Gauls, and chiefly the nations of the Cisalpine; and that when the Belge became known, after Cæsar's wars in Gaul,
*Eustathius seems to make some difference between the Germans and Gauls in this respect. Dionysius Periegetes thus speaks of the Germans: Avкá te øvλa νέμονται ἀρειμανέων Γερμανῶν. On which Eustathius remarks that the Gauls and the Germans resembled in manners, customs, form, &c.; and in all respects, except that the Germans exceeded in stature, barbarism, and in the yellowness of their hair-α1 órŋti. (Eustath. Comment, ad Dionys. Periegesin, v. 285.)
This is asserted positively to be the character of the Germans by Galen, in his commentary on Hippocrates. (See the observations that follow on the characters of the Germans.)
Lib. vii. p. 290.
they were still so little seen or heard of in Italy in comparison of the Celts, that this description must belong to the latter people.
We find the same characters ascribed to the Gauls as general traits, in the following passages. By Lucan:*
Diodorus Siculus described the Celts. Niebuhr is of opinion that he drew his account from "the excellent ethnographer Posidonius.” He says, Οἱ Γαλάται τοῖς μὲν σώμασίν εἰσιν εὐμηκεῖς, ταῖς δὲ σαρξὶ κάθυδροι καὶ λευκοί.ξ
In another passage the same writer says that the Gauls are not only by original constitution-Ex quoews-xanthous, but endeavour by art to increase their national peculiarity.||
The large stature which is often the accompaniment of a sanguine constitution and xanthous complexion, is ascribed to the Gauls by several other writers.T
The same characters are ascribed to the Galatians of Asia Minor, who, as we have seen, were Volcæ and Celtic nations from the Roman province, and from the part of it most remote from Germany and Belgica. Livy thus speaks of them, "Inter mitissimum genus hominum ferox natio, pervagata bello prope
• Lib. x.
+ B. iv. 200; B. xvi. 471. See also Petronius and Adam Reidenbrog. ad Ammian. § See Polyb. b. ii. c. 2. The great stature of the lib. iii. c. 30. For the same fact see Pausanias, x. 10.
Diodor. lib. v. c. 2. et c. 28.
Gauls is attested by Cæsar,
Florus, i. 13.
¶ Cæsar says: "Plerumque hominibus Gallis præ magnitudine corporum suorum brevitas nostra contemptui est." (Bell. Gall. ii. 30.) Pausanias declares that the Celti-Keλroi-exceed all other nations by far in the tallness of their stature. (Pausan. Phoc. 20.) Arrian calls them "peɣáλoi rà σóμata." (Arrian, b. iv.)
orbem terrarum, sedem cepit. Procera corpora, promissæ et rutilatæ comæ, vasta scuta, prælongi gladii; ad hoc cantus inchoantium prælium, et ululatus, et tripudia, et quatientium scuta in patrium quendam morem, horrendus armorum crepitus; omnia de industria composita ad terrorem.”* From the description itself, even without the certainty of historical proof otherwise obtained, we might conclude without the least hesitation that Gauls are here described, and that the characteristics of the xanthous complexion are attributed to a Celtic people.
On the whole it must be concluded that the Gauls are universally described by the ancients as a remarkably tall, large-bodied, fair, blue-eyed, yellow-haired people. As however Niebuhr observed that the Germans are no longer redhaired, so the Gauls or their descendants have lost the yellow hair of their forefathers. Although there is a great intermixture of Northern German races in the present population of France, the Visigoths and Burgundians having settled in the South, and the Allemanni, Franks, and Northmen in the northern parts, all of whom had a complexion at least equally fair with that of the ancient Gauls, yet the modern French are far from a very fair people. Black hair is in the middle provinces of France more frequent than very light. In Paris it has been observed that a chestnut colour is the most frequent hue of the hair. This appears from the average numbers of admissions in some hospitals. Neither are the French so huge and almost gigantic in their stature as were the ancient Gauls. We must infer that the physical character of the race has varied materially within fifteen centuries.
Paragraph 2.-Of the physical characters of the Britons.
The ancients have left us very little information as to the physical characters of the Britons. The passage already cited in Strabo is the most particular. It is as follows: "The men, viz. the Britons, are taller-evμnKÉGTEρo-than the Gauls and less yellow-haired—ñoσov kavoórρixes-and more infirm and relaxed in heir bodily fabric—χαυνότεροι τοῖς σώμασιν. As a speci
Tit. Liv. lib. xxxviii. c. 17. Livy also describes them nearly in the same terms as Diodorus. "Sunt fusa et candida corpora, ut quæ nunquam nisi in pugnâ nudentur.” (Lib. xxxviii.)