Sunday, April 18, 2010

AtF: Living with Livy

[EDIT:  I just discovered this thing never auto-published.  Oops.]

I will admit, this week’s installment of After the Flood nearly gave me a heart attack.

See, something happened this week that I don’t think has actually yet happened while I’ve been doing this project.  I read Cooper and thought, “Huh.  He actually has a point there.”  I even went so far as to think he might have actually been right.

I know.  It’s terrifying.  I’ll give you a minute to collect your thoughts.[1]

Now, then, let’s see where Bill Cooper nearly manages to possibly get something breathtakingly correct.

One such item (on which again Flinders Petrie is surprisingly silent) is the account of two men named Belinus and Brennius in Geoffrey's Latin version, and Beli and Bran in the Welsh.  One part of the story records how Bran led an invasion of Italy and sacked Rome. Certain modernist scholars have been quick to point out that Rome has never been sacked by the Britons, and that the story is a nonsensical fiction. However, a reading of Rome's historians might have led them to a different conclusion, for the sack of Rome by the Celts is told in considerable detail by an early historian of Rome, and the early British account of the event is confirmed, and indeed expanded upon, in every point.

We have the makings of a disaster here, folks.  Cooper found an extremely unlikely story in Tysilio, but then found that it was corroborated by a Roman historian.  True, the historian in question is Livy, who is, shall we say, suspect[2], but the fact of the matter is that Cooper did his homework and found out that Tysilio said something true.

Or did it?

Let’s take a look at Tysilio.[3]

In broad strokes, the story is one of brothers who fight against each other.  Brennus and Belinus had some serious issues due to succession or lands or some other such thing that I didn’t really feel like reading too closely (I know, I know.  I’m a terrible person).  So they went to war with each other.  But at the last minute their mother showed up and said, “Hey, don’t be fighting each other.”

So instead they went and laid waste to Gaul and Italy as far south as Rome.

As it turns out, Rome was assaulted by tribes out of Gaul in the early Fourth Century BCE.  And those tribes were lead by a dude named Brennus.  And Livy did, indeed, record it.

So I guess that means we’re going to go look at what Livy had to say, since Cooper sure as shit isn’t going to tell us.  So let’s take a look at The History of Rome, Book V.[4]

Concerning the passage of the Gauls into Italy we have heard as follows. In the reign of Tarquinius Priscus at Rome, the supreme government of the Celts, who compose the third part of Gaul, was in the hands of the Biturigians: they gave a king to the Celtic nation. This was Ambigatus, one very much distinguished by his merit, and both his great prosperity in his own concerns and in those of the public; for under his administration Gaul was so fruitful and so well peopled, that so very great a population appeared scarcely capable of being restrained by any government. He being now advanced in years, and anxious to relieve his kingdom of so oppressive a crowd, declares his intention to send his sister's sons, Bellovesus and Sigovesus, two enterprising youths, into whatever settlements the gods should grant them by augury: that they should take out with them as great a number of men as they pleased, so that no nation might be able to obstruct them in their progress.

Cooper excitedly points out the parallels.

The first name is that of the king of the Bituriges, a Gallic (Celtic) people who were to give their name to the modern city of Bourges. The king was Ambitgatus, and Livy tells us that he had two nephews, one named Bellovesus, and the other Segovesus. These two names also appear in the British account where they are given as Beli in the Welsh chronicle and Belinus and Segnius (the king of the Allobroges or Burgundians) in Geoffrey of Monmouth. The Welsh chronicle mentions Segnius as the prince of the Burdundians (i.e. Byrgwin, another term for the Allobroges) but does not name him. Each name, however, must have been given in the original British source-material for them to appear in either Geoffrey or the Welsh chronicle.

The only problem with this, shockingly, is that none of this looks anything like Tysilio’s account.  Tysilio indicates that Brennius and Belinus had a father named Dunvallo who was a great warrior.  He died, the brothers went to war, they eventually made peace and sacked Rome.  You know, the usual.

In Livy the guys who sacked Rome were the nephews of the king of the Celts, a guy named Ambigatus.  And, of course, they were named Bellovesus and Sigovesus.  Brennus doesn’t appear until later, as a Gallic chieftain without a brother hanging about.

Now, Brennus did, indeed, defeat the Romans and sack Rome.  So in that Tysilio and Livy agree.

But beyond that, well, Livy doesn’t give any indication that Ambigatus was a Brit.  Nor does he give any indication that there was a civil war.  His account may well be inaccurate, as he wouldn’t have been privy to the inner dealings of the Celtic court.  But I’d be willing to bet good money that he was more or less correct about the physical origin of the Celtic tribesmen who assaulted and conquered Rome.  That would be a continental location north of the Alps.  Chances are we’re talking about western France, since France is traditionally the location of ancient Gaul, and with good cause.

The question then becomes, “How did this account make it in to both Livy and Tysilio?”

My guess is that the answer is extremely simple.  Tysilio probably cribbed from Livy and made the claim that it was Britons, not Gauls, who sacked Rome.  But Cooper doesn’t let this possibility get in his way.

It is here, however, that Livy sheds some interesting light upon the Celtic royal families of the early 4th century BC. According to both Geoffrey and the Welsh chronicle, the father and mother of Belinus and Brennius were Dunvall Molmutius (Welsh Dyftial Moel Myd) and Tonuuenna (Welsh Tonwen). We know from the genealogy around which both Geoffrey's and the Welsh account are built (see Appendix 7), that Dunvallo was of British descent. Which means that Tonuuenna, whose genealogy is not given, could easily have been the sister of the Gaulish king, Ambitgatus, as is implied in Livy when he calls Bellovesus (the British Belinus and son of Tonuuenna) the nephew of Ambitgatus. There is nothing at all unlikely or improbable in such a relationship. Indeed, marriage between the British and continental Celtic royal families would have been an entirely natural and expected event.

The interesting thing here is that, yes, it’s plausible that there could have been intermarriage between the Celts and the Britons.  But Livy doesn’t indicate this and, significantly, neither does Tysilio.  In Livy the Gauls are purely continental.  In Tysilio Dunvallo and his ilk are purely Briton.  Tysilio’s Dunvallo united Britain, while his Brennus had the northern half and, eventually, allied himself with Burgundy in Gaul.

Livy, meanwhile, doesn’t mention Ambigatus’s wife or family at all.

Basically, the two accounts in question are superficially similar, but aren’t nearly as unified as Cooper would have us believe.  And the easiest explanation for why they’re superficially similar is a mistake or outright lie on the part of the writer of the Tysilio account.  Nothing more really needs to be said.


[1]I actually technically did give you a minute there.  My glasses were annoyingly smudgy, so I went and cleaned them.  I just thought you might want to know.

[2]Book one of Livy’s masterwork of Roman history was all about Aeneas and Romulus and Remus and other such myth-based puffery.

[3]Pages 23 through 26 of the .pdf.

[4]Starting with paragraph 34, for those playing the Home Edition.

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