When Julius Caesar first arrived in Britain in 55 BCE, he was shocked that Celtic women had more power, legal rights, and independence than women in Rome, or in tribes in Europe. Caesar noted that Celtic women could choose their husbands and lovers, and children fathered by different men were cared for equally. Women were educated, could own and inherit property, and could divorce12.
Celtic people believed a mother river goddess, Danu, was the source of all creation, and had a warrior goddess among their large pantheon of gods. But unlike the Greco-Roman world, reverence for women was not limited to their roles as goddesses. In the physical world, Celtic women waged war, were no one’s possession, ruled over tribes, and served as Druids, an elite class of priests. There are many examples of notable female Celtic tribal leaders, including Queen Boudicca, of the Iceni, who led a coalition of local tribes against the Roman army in Britain. Under her leadership, united Celtic tribes annihilated an elite force of Roman soldiers, and burnt many Roman towns to the ground before finally being defeated13. According to a Roman historian of the time, “A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Celt if he called his wife to his assistance”14.
Although Romans ruled for some 400 years, the culture of the Celtic people, and importantly, Celtic women, was woven into the fabric of the emerging nation. The Celtic language was not widely written, and there is no single source for religious worship, but Celtic women influenced a “whole range of powerful historical female leaders, priestesses and Christian saints. Their role did not stop with the coming of Christianity, but continued into medieval times”15.
After introducing historical background, students will research a female archetype to share with the class. It is important for AP students to have a grasp on female archetypes from the bible, and from Greco-Roman and Norse mythology, since these figures often emerge as allusions in literature. There are many students who are not familiar with the bible or mythological figures, and it is culturally still important to know these characters as they appear in law, history, art, and music. Students can also research real female warriors in Celtic history, as this culture, which formed the backdrop our own, had powerful human females who, along with goddesses, echo through the years.