In today’s guest post I have the great pleasure of welcoming author Linnea Tanner to Marcia’s Book Talk. Linnea, author of the upcoming historical fantasy series APOLLO’S RAVEN, provides an examination of the history and mythology of the Celts which she undertook in preparation for writing her books, which makes for fascinating reading. And for more on the topic, over to Linnea…
Linnea Tanner, author photograph
Linnea Tanner’s historical fantasy, APOLLO’S RAVEN, is the first book in a multi-series that is planned to be published later this year. This is an epic odyssey of romance, adventure, and political intrigue of a Celtic warrior princess who must draw on her mystical powers to save her kingdom and her love, the great-grandson of Mark Antony, from the Roman Legions at his father’s command.
In preparation for the series, Linnea conducted research on the history and mythology of the Celts relevant to 1st Century Britain before the Roman invasion in 43 AD. An overview of her research is provided below.
The Celtic mystique conjures images of magic, warriors, castles, and animal guides. It is based on the rich mythology of a people who at one time spread from the British Isles across continental Europe to Russia and Turkey. The Celts dominated Europe for over 500 years and their presence had a profound impact.
A major challenge of the research is the Celts passed down their history and mythology through oral traditions. Although Celts had a common language, there were regional differences and outside forces influenced how their societies evolved.
Most of Linnea’s research had to be gleaned from biased accounts by Greek and Roman historians, medieval writers who spun Celtic mythology to fit their Christian beliefs, and archaeological interpretation. Linnea also visited many areas in the United Kingdom and France to fill in the gaps.
Collapsed White Cliffs Britain
Noble Warrior Society
Archaeological artifacts suggest the Celts had a warrior aristocracy with a high standard of living. The Greek historian Poseidonius writes, “The Celts engage in single combat at dinner. Assembling in arms, they engage in mock battle drill and mutual thrust and parry, Sometimes wounds were inflicted, and the irritation caused by this may even lead to the killing of the opponent, unless they were held back by their friends.”
Julius Caesar emphasized the ritualistic nature of the Celtic warrior’s sacrifice. It was not intended as butchery but rather served a specific purpose for the warrior. The sacrifice represented a gift to the gods. The higher the value of the gift the more powerful was the gods’ favor. If a warrior fulfilled his vow of offering his captive as a sacrifice in the presence of Druids, his status was enhanced in this world and the Otherworld.
Statue of Dying Gaul
Political Systems in Britain
The political systems for southeast Celtic tribes evolved differently than those in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Following Julius Caesar’s military expeditions to southeast Britain in 55-54 BC, the Roman Empire greatly influenced the politics and trading in this area. Many rulers were obligated to pay Rome a yearly tribute—a stated sum as the price of peace, security, and protection. Part of this tribute was for British rulers to send hostages to Rome where many of them were acculturated in Roman traditions. Hence, many of the Celtic aristocrats spoke Latin and were educated in Roman households.
Below is a map of Ancient Britain that shows the major Celtic tribal territories in southern Britain.
Rise of Kings
Between the time of Caesar’s expeditions (55-54 BC) and Claudius’ invasion (43 AD), powerful Celtic kings expanded their territories and minted coins. Many of them adopted the Empire’s taste for luxury goods. To support their extravagant lifestyles, pro-Roman kings warred with other tribal territories to capture and to sell their people as slaves to the Roman Empire.
Although there are no written accounts of any Roman expeditionary forces being sent to Britain between Caesar’s expeditions and Claudius’ invasion, there are accounts of British client kings pleading for Rome’s intervention to restore them to power after they were disposed.
Of interest, Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, is based on the British King Cunobelin, referred as the King of Britain by Romans. One of the plot points in the play is Roman forces invade to restore tribute that Britain ceased to pay. It is possible that this scenario was adapted from a medieval tale that may have had some truth.
Role of Women
Although the southeast tribal societies in Britain were becoming more paternalistic, women were held in high esteem. They could hold various positions, own their own property, and rule. Classical writers described Celtic females as not only strong and courageous warriors, but they were beautiful with comely bodies.
Roman Historian Marcellinus wrote a lively description of Celtic woman in battle as follows: “…a whole band of foreigners will be unable to cope with one [Celt] in a fight if he calls on his wife, stronger than he by far and with flashing eyes; she swells her neck and gnashes her teeth, and poising her huge white arms, begins to rain blows mingled with kicks like shots discharged by the twisted cords of a catapult.”
Although the female heroine Catrin in APOLLO’S RAVEN is fictional, there are written accounts of famous Celtic warrior queens. The most famous is the Iceni Queen Boudica. She united the Britons in 61 BC and almost expelled the Romans. Roman historians described her as a powerful druidess who sacrificed to the war goddess Andaste.
The fantastical elements of APOLLO’S RAVEN are based on the mystical powers of heroes and heroines described in Welsh and Irish legends. Magical abilities include shapeshifting, calling upon forces of nature, and druidic sleep to force someone to tell the truth.
The Celts were ritualistic and offered votives and sacrifices to the gods for good fortune. One of the Celtic rituals at the start of APOLLO’S RAVEN is the Celtic king walks over a bed of burning coals without burning his feet, a good omen for the justice he is about to administer.
There are over 300 documented names of Celtics gods and goddess. Many of these overlap with Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. Near Edinburgh, there was a stone dug up with the inscription to Apollo Grannus.
Belief in Reincarnation
According to Julius Caesar, the bravery of the Celts sprang from their lack of fear of death because they believed their souls never died. Diodorus Siculus emphasized the Celtic belief in metempsychosis was similar to the beliefs of the Greek philosopher Pythagorus. He believed the soul was immortal and went through a series of reincarnation in either animal or plant forms. Some scholars have suggested that the doctrine of transmigration taught by Pythagoras may actually be Druidic philosophy that he learned from Abaris—a Celtic healer, seer, and priest of Apollo.
One of Linnea’s greatest pleasures in creating the historical fantasy APOLLO’S RAVEN was discovering the similarities of mythology and religious beliefs between the various cultures. The research spurred additional plot lines in the series.
For those interested in her research, visit APOLLO’S RAVEN: http://www.linneatanner.com/blog/
Below are representative resources which Linnea has used in her research on the Celts:
- Stephen Allen, Celtic Warrior—300 BC – AD 100; Osprey Publishing, New York
- Peter Berresford Ellis, The Druids; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1995.
- Steve Blamires, Magic of the Celtic Otherworld; Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN, 2009.
- Julius Caesar, translated by F. P. Long, The Conquest of Gaul; United States: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2005.
- John Davies, The Celts: Prehistory to Present Day; Sterling Publishing Co., New York, 2005.
- Cassius Dio: The Neronian Revolt of the Iceni under Suetonius Paullinus; Book LXII, Chapters 1-12 (AD 61)
- Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, translated with an introduction by Lewis Thorpe; Penguin Books, New York; first published 1966.
- Ammianus Marcellinus: The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus, published in Vol. I, the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1935; Book XV, 12 The Manners and Customs of the Gauls.
- David Miles, The Tribes of Britain, Phoenix, Imprint of Orion Books, Ltd., London, UK, 2006.
- Tacitus: The Rebellion of Boudica (AD 60-61); [from the Annual by Tacitus (AD 110-120), Book XIV]; Athena Review Vol. 1, No. 1.
- John Toland, A Critical History of the Celtic Religion and Learning; Alba Craft Publishing, Scotland, 2001.
- Graham Webster, Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60; Reprinted by Routledge, London, 2004.
Linnea Tanner is a native of Colorado where she attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Chemistry. She also attended the University of Northern Colorado for a teaching certificate in science. After working in the pharmaceutical industry, she decided to pursue her passion for writing historical fantasy based on her lifelong passion of Ancient Roman and British history and mythology.
Linnea’s epic historical fantasy, Apollo’s Raven, is a 5-part series spanning 24-40 AD in Celtic Britain and the Roman Empire. The epic is inspired by a heroine created by Linnea as a child and her love of the rich mythology of ancient civilizations. The series is based on historical accounts and legends of Celtic women warriors. She has done extensive research and traveled to the United Kingdom and France. The manuscript of the first novel in the series (Apollo’s Raven) is completed. Books 2 (Empire’s Anvil) and Book 3 (Black Fire) are drafted.
Linnea is a member of Lighthouse Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, Historical Novel Society, Crested Butte Writers, Northern Colorado Writers, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Currently, she and her husband live in Windsor, CO and have two children and six grandchildren. Her interests include ancient and medieval history, action movies, flamenco dancing, music, athletics, gardening, and floral arranging.
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