Druids: C. Julius Caesars perspective



During Caesars’ fight for the control of Gaul he finally came to the understanding, that the one unifying force of the Celts was their religion. The Druid held a promenade place in Celtic society, they administered as judges and advisors amongst other duties. The following are exerts from his communiqués to Rome concerning the progress and his perspective on the war. Caesar acknowledged their power and authority and decided to discredit and destroy the Druids, in an effort to complete his conquest of Gaul.

Book VI (53BCE) Customs of the Gauls:

Chapter 13

“The two privileged classes are the Druids and the knights. The Druids are in charge of Religion. They have control over public and private sacrifices, and give rulings on all religious questions. Large numbers of young men go to them for instruction, and they are greatly honoured by the people.

In almost all disputes, between communities or between individuals, the Druids act as judges. If a crime is committed, if there is a murder, or if there is dispute about an inheritance or a boundary, they are the ones who give a verdict and decide on the punishment or compensation appropriate in each case. Any individual or community not abiding by their verdict is banned from the sacrifices, and this is regarded among the Gaul’s as the most severe punishment. Those who are banned in this way are reckoned as sacrilegious criminals. Every one shuns them: no one will go near or speak to them for fear of being contaminated in some way by contact with them. If they make any petitions there is no justice for them, and they are excluded from any position of importance.

There is one Druid who is above all the rest, with supreme authority over them. When he dies, he is succeeded by whichever of the others is most distinguished. If there are several of equal distinction, the Druids decide by vote, though sometimes they even fight to decide who will be their leader.

On a fixed date each year they assemble in a consecrated place in the territory of the Carnutes: that area is supposed to be the center of the whole country of the Gaul. People who have disputes to settle assemble there from all over the country and accept the judgements of the Druids.

It is thought that the doctrine of the Druids was invented in Britain and was brought from there into Gaul; even today those who want to study the doctrine in greater detail usually go to Britain to learn there. (Note: Referring to the Isle of Mona)

The Druids are exempt from military service (NOTE: a misconception on this part, there were Druid warriors) and do not pay taxes like the rest. Such significant privileges attract many students, some of whom come of their own accord to be taught, while others are sent by parents and relatives.

It is said that during their training they learn by heart a great many verses, so many that some people spend 20 years studying the doctrine. They do not think it right to commit their teachings to writing, although for almost all other purposes, for example, for public and private accounts, they use the Greek alphabet. I suppose this practice began originally  for two reasons: they did not want their doctrines to be accessible to the ordinary people, and they did not want their pupils to to rely on the written word and so neglect to train their memories. (NOTE: The Greeks mention a northern peoples called the ‘Keltori’, the Macedonians even signed a treaty with them) For it does usually happen that if people have the help of written documents, they do not pay as much attention to learning by heart, and so let their memories become less efficient.

The Druids attach particular importance to the belief that the soul does not perish but passes after death from one body to another; they think that belief is the most effective way to encourage bravery because it removes the fear of death. They hold long discussions about the heavenly bodies and their movements, about the size of the universe and the earth, about the nature of the physical world, and about the power and properties of the immortal gods, subjects in which they also give instruction to their pupils. ….”


TILE: The Battle for Gaul (De Bello Gallico) 1980

BY: Ann & Peter Wiseman

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan


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