” Below the king and the royal family, society in Gaul was tripartite, with two classes of landowning freemen, the knights or barons (equites) from whom the council of elders was chosen, and the priesthood or clerisy (learned or literary class), including druides. This learned class comprised not only Druids, but bards ( (bardoi), and seers or diviners (vates or manteis ), and probable other unnamed functionaries. Below these representatives of church and state came the unfree and landless men, the plebes. There was an internal grading in power and position among the ‘knights’, and it seems that they did not constitute a closed cast, and some social mobility seems to have been possible. The Druid and allied religious elite was equally not a caste, but open to entry from outside, from the class of equites”
Stuart Piggott’s description of Gaulish social structure from his wonderful book that traces the subject of the Druids from ancient sources and archaeology alongside how the concept of the druid developed over time and into the modern world.
Piggott was an outstanding mid 20th century archaeologists and also a fine teacher, his advice to students was to use Edinburgh University library as a site for what he termed ‘grazing.’ The library located on three floors is about the size of three football pitches, his advice was to wander, read widely, however off-topic if it caught you’re eye.
His comparative, wide ranging approach is apparent in his words, he deals with the subject as an archaeologists would a site. Mapping its many layers of stratigraphy both ancient and modern.
Here he deals with its ancient layer and given the limitations of archeological finds reverts to text aided archeology deploying classical sources (Roman culture artifact) to fill the gaps and ruptures created by the limiting factors of archeological survival (Gaulish cultural artifact).
It’s a standard mid 20th century problem developed to work through the issues surrounding the fragmentary survival of sources.
What has changed significantly since Stuart Piggott wrote his work is the manner in which the written sources are viewed.
Whilst we may be blind to the contemporary situational factors that shape our own understanding of the past, as the mid 20th century slips from the present and into history placing individuals in that wider context becomes easier to see.
Can start to chart the layers of the stratigraphy of the site, A roman literary and cultural one, a mute Gaulish one consisting of material artifacts and finally a modern culture, its perspective shaped by the arguments and specific issues and developments of a more recent cultural history.
Stuart Piggot, The Druids