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Book Review - The Philosopher and the Druids

A Journey Among the Ancient Celts By Philip Freeman

Simon and Schuster, NY, 2006

ISBN 978 0 7432 6280 4

Building on his earlier work “War, Women and Druids”, Freeman incorporates and expands on much that he had previously written. In “The Philosopher and the Druids”, he uses the writings of the Syrian born (135 BCE) Greek historian Poisidonius as well as other primary sources such as Julius Caesar, Silius Italicus, Livy, Polybius, Callimachus, Strabo, Tacitus and others, to outline what is known of the life of  the Gaulish Celts.

 

Freeman follows Poisidonius' accounts of his travels to the wilds of the Gaulish territories. There the philosopher is treated to suppers with the nobility where the featured decorations are severed heads. He witnesses battles first hand, describing weapons and martial techniques. He writes about house construction and food preparation, clothing, the status of women, marital relationships and child raising customs.

 

There are sections devoted to the Druids and what they studied and knew, and the praise poems and satires of the Bards. There is a section devoted to the Gods, religious beliefs and practices, and human sacrifice.

 

The book provides a concise history of the movement of the Celtic tribes in and around Rome, and examines the Roman dread of the Celts, which in some ways helped to jump-start the empire. It also gives us smaller but useful glimpses at related groups such as the Celtiberians, Galatians, and British Celts.

 

A well-written work that should provide enjoyable reading for students of the Druids, especially those who want to know more about ancient Gaul.

 

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