Tuesday, 13 September 2016

When Women Ruled

It's a town straggling eastwards down a hill with a castle on top. Edinburgh? Stirling? No - Clackmannan. The town gets its name (Clach Mannan = Mannan Stone in Gaelic) from the stone raised on a plinth outside the old tollbooth.

The Mannan Stone:


I was keen to see the Mannan Stone and visited this hilltop village after the Stirling 10k. There's a Co-op... a post office... a pub... some sheltered housing... otherwise, there is not much going on in Clackmannan. But oh, there's a story in the old stone!

Central Clackmannan:


This ancient fetish object was a ceremonial centrepiece for the people of Manau, the Maetae, the tribe who lived in this area during Roman times. The name of one chief is even recorded for posterity - Argentocoxus. It was he and his wife (whose name is sadly unknown) who submitted to Emperor Severus and his wife Julia in 209, when Severus brought the largest army Britain had ever seen to Caledonia to subdue his troublesome northernmost frontier.

Clackmannan vista:


As the men parleyed, the women had their own conversation. It was a memorable exchange. Julia questioned Argentocoxus' wife's virtue by referencing the fact she slept with the warriors of the tribe. The reply was stinging.
"I proudly sleep with the best of men in full public knowledge, while you skulk in secret with the worst." (Julia was rumoured to be having an affair with a senator.)
Because there is something worth knowing about the women of ancient Britain and Ireland. True, they lived in a man's world - but it was a very different world to that of the Continent, where women were treated as property of their fathers or husbands. Women in Britain and Ireland could own property in their own right - they could divorce on fourteen grounds from physical cruelty to male impotence - and they could occasionally lead tribes and armies, as Boudicca, Cartimandua, Maeve and Sgàthach attest. And - what really excited writers from the Mediterranean - they openly slept around. This practice died out in Roman dominated Britannia, but was clearly still in full swing in the Pictish lands outside Roman influence.

Clackmannan Castle:


And this leads to an interesting speculation, one that I've never seen in any history book. Beyond any moral implications, there is a very good practical reason to promote monogamy. Where this reason doesn't exist - the island of Tahiti before the arrival of Europeans for example - society can be structured quite differently. Could it be that as well as rabbits and aqueducts, there is something else the Romans introduced to Britain - sexually transmitted diseases?

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