Two separate projects lately set me on the trail of preliterate Europe. While this isn’t the best time to celebrate white cultures (timing has never been an especial strength of mine), I have been researching the Celts as part of a longterm project. Not only are these people part of my ancestral mix, they are also mysterious. Having arisen in central Europe, they were pushed to the margins of the continent by invading Huns from the east. It’s from those fringes that I came to identify my heritage. Not only do I have Irish ancestors, but Wiggins, it seems, is a Breton name. The Bretons were a Celtic people on the northwest coast of France. Since the ancient Celts didn’t leave a huge written archive, we rely on what others (such as the Romans) wrote, or what archaeology reveals. Mysterious. At the same time another project had me reading about the Goths.
The Goths are tricky to define, and again, didn’t leave literary archives. Also politically incorrect, they were a Germanic people—another significant piece of my ancestry—and they must’ve lived quite close by the early Celts. Although my parents wouldn’t be born for many centuries yet, their ancestral “tribes” may have known one another. It’s fun to think about. There’s quite a lot of interest in the movements of peoples in ancient times. One thing that influenced both the Celts and the Goths were large, organized forces. The Roman Empire, with what would come to be understood as Classical style, was one source of pressure. Another was the aforementioned Huns. The Romans considered all of them barbarians. One of the results of these large pressures was the eventual establishment of nations in Europe, often with contested borders.
All of this splitting eventually led to nationalism, a dangerous force. We’ve seen some of the end results in recent years. A single nation thinking it is the best. I’ve always felt that travel—difficult during a pandemic—is a great form of education. Encountering the “other” on their own territory makes it hard to stereotype and boast. Nationalism tends to lead to excessive pride, especially when a country is as isolated as the United States is. And then it even tries to build a wall between one of only two neighboring nations because they speak a different language. How different this is from the situation when Celts and Goths were moving somewhat freely across the European continent where, at the time, borders were fluid. I realize I’m idealizing what was certainly not a perfect situation, but I also think Rome may not have been the best model to emulate either.