Sunday, 22 September 2013
Did the Arverni have a distinct appearance?
We've covered the stylistic appearances of the Celtic Gauls before, so this answer is going to be more about the physical face the Arvernian people presented to the ancient world - and to attempt to describe the average inhabitant of central Gaul. For starters, we know the Romans and Arverni shared the same common ancestors, so many of the faces we see in Republican-era Roman busts will reflect in some way what an Arvernian looked like. Of course, by the 3rd-century BC the 'Celtic' Romans were mixing with Etrurians (who originated from Turkey) and pre-Celtic Italian populations, so tendencies towards darker hair and skin would have been changing the 'look' of the Republican Roman from that of Romulus and Remus. However this was most likely not happening in Celtic Gaul, where the population probably remained largely homogeneous - with some exceptions on the Mediterranean peripheries where Punic, Greek, Etrurian and later Roman colonies existed or in the borderlands of the Belgic Gauls whose general appearance may actually survive in the modern Flemish and Dutch populations.
So having said all that, here's my best guess of an Arvernian. With a higher protein diet than Romans, Arvernian men and women were generally taller - many would have stood at least 6'0", with average heights of men and women being somewhere around or above 5'6" whereas the Roman average was closer to 5'4" and Roman men rarely reached 6'0". The Arverni were not heavily built like the Belgics and Germans, instead they tended towards a lanky Scandinavian-like body shape - perhaps with a more rounded face, high cheekbones and eyes closer set as a result.
Their skin has been described as milky white so their complexion would be generally described as fair, although blonde hair and blue eyes may not have been as common as you might think. Even today the population of central France tends towards brown to black hair, so I think it's a reasonable assumption the Arverni did too, with brown eyes much more common, with red hair and freckled skin appearing occasionally (the latter appears far more common in post-Viking cultures than the pre-Viking populations of western Europe). What may have made an Arvernian distinctive (or at least some of them) was their nose. The coins of Vercingetorix exhibit a long straight nose diving downwards from the forehead, a family trait perhaps, but a shape that can still be seen in modern post-Celtic cultures in Britain and Ireland.
Okay, so is it possible to still see the 'Arvernian' look in popular culture? Off the top of my head I can think of two actors who offer a modern day resemblance to the people of Celtic Gaul. Liam Neeson and Tamsin Greig both share many of the traits that would have been common to the Arverni - in fact Tamsin was born in a part of England where Arverni refugees from the 'Great Rebellion' most likely settled - this is of course most likely coincidence, but an interesting one nonetheless. Lets hope next time a movie is made about Vercingetorix they both get starring roles.
For more Arvernian history check out 'The Hitherto Unknown' - available from Amazon, just follow the links