Thursday, 30 June 2011

Beer, ploughs, and other matters of Celto-Iberian male interest...

And so, back to Spain.

What would life have been like for the Celt-Iberians?

One major advantage that the Celts brought with them was that they brought their plough. Although it was of little use on the highlands, it was immeasurably welcomed in the pastoral areas. It was women who planted seed and hoed the cereals for bread and beer (Cerveza - Cervexa in Gallego - is a Celtic word, by the way; Beer is Saxon). There seems to be little dissention in the association of males and ploughs and so to some degree men began to be involved in planting, which re-affirms the also universal fascination of men for tools and gadgets! Up to this point, men had considered farming unmanly and women's work. Now, they couldn't wait to get out into the fields to try out their new toys and no doubt congregated in Celt-Iberian taverns to down a brew or two afterwards and discuss the relative size and efficiency of their ploughs...

And their women folk likely breathed a sigh of relief and went back to raising children and small animals.

In the central area around the present cities of Zamora, Valladolid and Palencia, large quantities of wheat were harvested especially by the Vacceos, a group living close to the Douro valley; these people came late into the peninsula and may have brought more sophisticated farming methods with them. As their name suggests, they were also raisers of cattle. These people were likely also Celts from Europe, perhaps originating in the Alsace-Lorraine region. They organised into a collective society, and this made them unusual. The grain harvest was officially controlled - division was made equally and the death penalty was enacted for holding out any of the grain from the collective pool.

In the northern mountains, there was more a combination of herding, farming, and hunting and gathering, without any particular accent upon one or the other. This remains very much the system even today in Galicia. Strabo, writing about them was surprised that they lacked olive oil (which the Etruscans and Greeks introduced to the south and east much later). In its place he said they used butter, although it was much more likely lard. The words manteca for pig fat and mantequilla for butter predate Latin and as you see are very similar in sound and derivation. In either case, there was notable dependence upon animal fat and in fact still is. Olive oil is more a part of the Mediterranean diet.

To this day, the north west of the Meseta, the area known as Extramadura abounds in oak trees, as does much of central Portugal and north into the area around Leon. Gathering appears to have had much importance and Strabo also mentioned that the northern people gathered great quantities of acorns, both as food for themselves and for their livestock. He neglected to mention the chestnut. There are still woods of sweet chestnut trees in this area, and the vast forests which preceded them have disappeared only in the last few generations. In the 19th century they still flourished.

Although the Iberians knew iron, and in fact the northwest abounds in this mineral, they did not seem to have known how to use it. It was the Celts who taught them how to make tools and utensils from iron. Open-cast mining would have been in evidence, and by the time the Romans came in the 2nd century BCE, the abundance of iron in the northwest would have made this a desireable area to settle and work. And they did.

Despite, Asterix the Gaul, the Celts had met their match.

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