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Asterix, Applied to Real Roman History
Asterix and Obelix - What a crazy bunch of Gauls or not?
Most of us have read the popular Asterix story books, without really thinking that these fictional characters, are speaking to us from a period back in history that really happened. The characters does live out their adventures around real events, which makes Asterix a great read for history buffs. I’ve decided to take you on a quick journey through the real world that a real Asterix and Obelix would have experienced.
Long Live Asterix and the memory of his creators Goscinny and Uderzo!
Armorica, Gaul. The year is 50 B.C.
The Scene – Gaul
So first let us look at where Gaul was. Gaul was an area in Western Europe which included land areas which today form part of France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and a small part of Italy. The biggest part was however located in modern day France. The heroes of our story stayed in an area called Armorica which was located between the Seine and Loire rivers in North West France. Armorica in the Gaulish language meant “Place by the Sea”. There were various Gaulish tribes living in the area and our heroes must have been members of one such a tribe living in Northern Armorica village.
The year is 50 B.C.
So what makes 50 B.C. such a significant date that the authors selected it? To be able to answer this question, we need to look at this period in time in broader terms. Western Europe was going through turbulent times as the Roman Empire started to expand across their borders in Italy. The natural expansion areas for them were the areas that makes up Spain, France and Germany today. They however had to content with the local population and in the case of France and Germany, it was a rough tribal pagan population, where chieftains and druids played a big role. Rome however persevered in these expansion plans subduing the local populations in ruthless violent wars and attacks. So if we focus particularly on Gaul, we can note that the conquest of Gaul started in +- 220 B.C. with various areas being conquered over the years, concluding in 51 B.C. with the huge Battle of Alesia where the Romans under Julius Caesar defeated the Gaulish Chieftain Vercingetorix. So from 50 B.C. all of Gaul was under Roman control, except of course the village of our two heroes.
Who was Vercingetorix?
This Chieftain is mentioned in quite a lot of detail in “Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield”. Vercingetorix was Caesar’s last challenge in Gaul, only managing to defeat him in the Battle of Alesia in 51 B.C., this after Vercingetorix defeated Caesar in the Battle of Gergovia in 52 B.C.
Battle of Alesia
How accurate are the Asterix books, when it comes to character roles and lifestyle?
So now that we understand the background from a historical perspective, let’s look at the society and lifestyle of Gaul in 50 B.C. How accurate are the Asterix books when it comes to these matters? I will first just focus on the Gaulish druid and in subsequent updates to this hub start to focus in more detail the rest of the characters as well as how difficult it must have been to live in Gaul during the Roman conquests.
The Gaulish Druid
The druid character, Getafix (Panoramix) plays a central role in all the Asterix books. So you may ask, what is a druid and were there really druids in ancient Gaul? So let us have a look. Druids were fairly well educated individuals, playing quite an important role in the Celtic tribes of Gaul and Britain. They acted as doctors, educators, religious practitioners, as well as, many other roles. They played quite an important role in Gaulish culture. Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman historian does make mention of druids in one of his writings, other than that information about their daily tasks, magic and other info is fairly scarce. We however can confirm that the Asterix books a quite accurate in portraying, Getafix as playing a big role in community village life.