Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Druids of Cisalpine Gaul

One of the challenges which confronted Roman imperialism in Western Europe was defeating the Druidic priesthood. It was a spiritual war rather than a war of weaponry. Over time, the Romans were so successful that they erased the deeply entrenched Druidic system from memory. There is almost no knowledge of their traditions left today.

On the Druid Wikipedia page, you will find a good deal of information of how important and widespread this culture was from the British Isles, France (Gaul), Spain, Cisalpine Gaul, and vicinities; and why the Romans wanted to eliminate it. Also, YouTube has some interesting videos on it, and attempts to revive it. There are Druids today, but they have little to go on. Although largely identified with males, there seem to have been Druidic priestesses. As far as how the Druidry overlapped with the culture of Witchcraft within the Celtic world, we don't know as yet. Unlike the rest of the Celtic world, the worship of Cernunnos, or Witchcraft, seemed to have been just as strong as Druidry in Cisalpine Gaul.


The Romans and the Druids (from

The Romans had met the Druids before in conquered Western Europe. While the Romans were happy to make a peaceful settlement with most tribes/groups in England, they had no intention of doing the same with the Druids.

The Druids were priests. The Britons both respected and feared them. It was believed that a Druid could see into the future – they also acted as teachers and judges. They were considered to be very learned people. It could take up to twenty years of learning to become a Druid. However, we do not know a great deal about what they learned as Druids were not allowed to write any of their knowledge down.

In their own way, the Druids were very religious. It was this particular issue that angered the Romans as the Druids sacrificed people to their gods. Caesar, in particular, was horrified by the practice and his writings give us a good idea of what went on in Druid ceremonies -- though from his perspective only. The Romans had once sacrificed people but they now saw it as a barbaric practice that they could not tolerate in one of their colonies. The Romans determined that they would stamp out the Druids.

However, they had to be careful. The Druids traveled freely throughout England as the Britons were too scared to stop them. Therefore, they were not simply in one place where the Romans could attack in force. In AD 54, the Emperor Claudius banned the Druids. In AD 60, the governor of England, Suetonius, decided that the only way to proceed was to attack the known heartland of the Druids--the island of Anglesey in the hope that if the center of the Druids was destroyed, those Druids in outlying areas would die out.

Boats were built for the Roman foot soldiers while the Roman cavalry swam across with their horses. The Druids shouted abuse at the Romans and cursed them but they could not stop the Roman army from landing. Any ceremonial sites on Anglesey used by the Druids were also destroyed but many of them were in secret places and some survived.


Two other articles were interesting, but one was a little too long for this entry and the other was written a bit silly and humorous, but still worth reading:

Anglesey: Druid’s island

By Philip Coppens

Anglesey, the island on the far west of Wales, was one of the last vestiges of Celtic religion in Roman times. But whereas it is assumed that the Romans wiped out the druid religion… did it somehow survive? And is nearby Bardsey Island linked with it?

Romans vs. Druids: Best War Ever?


Two recent books which apparently have information on the Druids in Cisalpine Gaul:

The Cults of Cisalpine Gaul as Seen in the Inscriptions (2009)
Specifically about Cisalpine Gaul!

The Philosopher and the Druids: A Journey Among the Ancient Celts (2006)
This book also has much about Cisalpine Gaul, according to the reviews, and you can get a used copy for only 95 cents.

No comments: