The psychological factors behind Rome's racial prejudice against the Celts and shows at the same time the important Celtic contribution to the development of Roman culture.
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On July 18, 390 B.C., a huge Roman army went out to face an equally huge Celtic force arrayed on a field just 11 miles north of Rome. The Roman commanders, writes Peter Berresford Ellis, had distinguished themselves in war; their troops, likewise, were tested veterans. Yet, wrote the Roman historian Livy, the generals had failed to make proper prayers and sacrifices or to seek portents of the gods, and the Celts destroyed them with quick ferocity in what became known as the Battle of Allia. The day would ever after be marked on the Roman calendar as the dies Alliensis, a day of bad auspices and bad luck, when "future generations of Romans would refuse to undertake any public enterprise."
Ellis examines the tangled relations that obtained between Rome and Italy's many Celtic peoples, who periodically rose in arms against the empire but who also contributed much to its power through complex and often-broken alliances. (The Carthaginian general Hannibal, Ellis writes, would discover just how complex, when he enlisted the support of Italian Celts in his war against Rome; much of his time was spent warding off Celtic attempts to assassinate him.) As Rome's power grew, its legions eventually subdued the Celtic tribes. Even at peace, however, Ellis writes, the Celts gave Rome much cause for worry, although Celts like Catullus, Cornelius Nepos, Lucretius, and Cato enriched Roman culture. --Gregory McNameeAbout the Author:
Peter Berresford Ellis is an authority on the Celts and the author of many books, including Celt and Greek and A Dictionary of Irish Mythology. He lives in England.
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