Tuesday 19 August 2014

Graham Robb's Ancient Paths

I've been reading The Ancient Paths by Graham Robb, whose recent history The Discovery of France was such an eye-opener. The Ancient Paths - subtitled Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe - is, in its very different way, quite an eye-opener too. It's a book Robb really didn't want to write. 'The idea that became this book,' he writes, 'arrived one evening like an unwanted visitor. It clearly expected to stay a long time, and I knew that its presence in my house would be extremely compromising. Treasure maps and secret paths belong to childhood. An adult scholar who sees an undiscovered ancient world reveal itself, complete with charts, instruction manual and guidebook, is bound to question the functioning of his mental equipment.' That idea was so startling that Robb spent several years trying to disprove it, convinced that it couldn't possibly be right and that this kind of thing was the proper preserve of cranks and obsessives. But the more he looked, the more he saw to confirm and fill out his original idea...
 What's it about? In a nutshell, Robb argues - in depth and detail and with a wealth of corrroborative evidence - that Druids (yes, Druids) used their knowledge of Pythagorean geometry and the movements of the Sun to survey and map their world with extraordinary precision, enabling rapid and effective communication and transport across it. These Druids were not white-robed mystics but a highly educated and civilised elite, the products of a 20-year education, Greek speakers who mingled on more or less equal terms with the highest in Roman society. They - along with virtually all the more attractive and civilised features of the Celtic world - were erased from the record by the conquering Romans, who were at pains to portray their enemies as mere painted savages, and to destroy the more impressive evidence to the contrary.
 As I say, Robb lays out his case in great detail, with maps and diagrams galore, and long lists of place names (skipping is an option). I'm no expert, but it all seems pretty persuasive to me, and makes quite fascinating reading - if true, it really is quite revolutionary... If nothing else, Robb's findings support the very sound thesis that Everything is much older than we think, and much more complex. Thanks to the myth of Progress, combined with the fact that history is written by the victors and that so little material evidence survives from most eras, we tend to look back into the past as into an ever thickening darkness, in which the botched prototypes of the Enlightened Man to come grope and stumble about in benighted ignorance. It was never so.


  1. I don't know, Nige. There seems to be something in we Celts that impels us to proclaim our ancestors were about much more than bogs and porridge. Could it be we are touchy that they seem to have left little behind but bogs and porridge? A twenty-year classical education that left behind no books or architecture? The Hellenophile Romans erased it all it a pique of jealousy? Why am I imagining a kilted Scottish nationalist in his cups growling about Sassenach cultural genocide?

    This smells of the modern anthropological imperative to prove remote and savage peoples were actually astoundingly sophisticated and early proponents of human rights. A bit like an isolated Central American tribe that has nineteen words for banana and (cue the music) none for war. I am reminded of the state visit here of one of the Nordic kings about fifteen years ago during which His Majesty went to great pains to assure us that, contrary to historical prejudice, the Vikings were traders, not raiders.

    Perhaps Mr. Robb will soon give us a sequel---How The Huns Saved Civilization.

  2. Well yes, I generally have no truck with Celtic nonsense, esp from North of the Border, but there are some pretty impressive Celtic remains - mostly metalwork of various kinds - and, apart from anything else, Gaul must have had good transport and communicationsand handily-placed towns for the Romans to have conquered it so quickly! It was an oral culture of course, and foolishly they tended to build in wood. Robb makes no claims about the Celts and human rights - human sacrifice, yes, but not rights...

  3. A brilliant book, well written and researched, but from my point of view as a researcher of the ley line system, (which he doesn't believe in), he has missed an important point. All of the old straight roads in my town of Crieff, Perthshire are aligned with ancient sites, like standing stones, circles and volcanic plugs. This system dates back at least 4,600 years. Projecting the solstice line of the Herakleon Way to the South West on Google Earth you will find the massive shield volcano of Madeira which gives this line its energy - a powerful ley line - there are many more examples to verify this on my webpage leylines.webplus.net