Of all the ancient Celtic civilisations that wandered the shores of Britain, none has attracted as much curiosity and speculation as the Druids.
From the infamous Roman invasion, to medieval folklore, and gruesome tales of human sacrifice, the Druids have imprinted themselves on the contemporary imagination. And we certainly know a thing or two about them at Silver Bay too.
With this in mind, here are a few fascinating tales from Anglesey’s ancient past. Hopefully it will inspire you to venture into the great outdoors and visit our beautiful historic sites.
1. Julius Caesar knew about Anglesey
The oldest written account about Anglesey comes from Julius Caesar in Gallic Wars. Known as Mona, he said the following about Anglesey:
“In the middle of this voyage, is an island, which is called Mona: many smaller islands besides are supposed to lie [there], of which islands some have written that at the time of the winter solstice it is night there for thirty consecutive days. We, in our inquiries about that matter, ascertained nothing, except that, by accurate measurements with water, we perceived the nights to be shorter there than on the continent.” (Book 5, Chapter 13)
Caesar also had one or two extra things to say about the Druids… but more on that soon.
2. Anglesey was also famous amongst Rome’s most elite historians
Nearly 100 years later, Pliny the Elder – a contemporary of Emperor Augustus – mentioned Anglesey in his study of the contemporary of Roman world, Natural Histories (Book IV, Chapter 30).
Unfortunately, Pliny didn’t know very much about Anglesey other than where it was (he was writing from Italy, after all). But that doesn’t mean it’s any less impressive.
On another note, by his calculations, he believed that Britain was 800 miles long and 300 miles wide – which is amazingly accurate for its time.
3. Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy wrote about Anglesey in 150 CE
But that wasn’t the last time stories about Anglesey spread throughout the empire. Egyptian astronomer and mathematician, Ptolemy, wrote a Guide to Geography during his time studying at the famous Library of Alexandria in 150 CE.
When discussing the geography of the British Isles, he mentioned Mona as one of the most prominent islands on Britain’s west coast (Book II, Chapter I).
One of the greatest account of the Druids, however, had a much more gruesome undertone.
4. There was a great battle between Anglesey’s Druids and the Romans in 60 CE
Ancient Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote a detailed account about a major battle between the inhabitants of Anglesey and the Roman army in 60 CE, led by General Suetonius Paulinus.
He tells the story that Anglesey already had a ‘considerable population’ – made up largely of war-torn refugees – and was easy to attack because of its shallow water. So the Romans devised a clever plan to reach the island. The army constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms that allowed cavalry and infantry to quickly step foot on Anglesey. Other soldiers then swam alongside their horses.
Once the Romans arrived, unfortunately, Tacitus says the army destroyed the Druids’ religious shrines. He describes the Druids as menacing looking, with ‘deathly black hair’ and having greeted the invaders by ‘lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations’ (Book XIV, Chapter 30).
5. Many scholars believe the Druids practiced human sacrifice
With all the excitement of being able to finally translate these Greek and Roman texts in the Renaissance period, rumours and stories started to spread about the Druids once again.
One of the most popular stories of the time was that Druids once practiced human sacrifice. Citing the ‘blood-stained’ Druid altars on Anglesey, an alternate history quickly emerged – with tales of ancient sites only ever being found in isolated woodlands near satanic altars.
To this day, there is very little concrete evidence to decide whether or not human sacrifice was a key component of everyday Druid life. But one of the most iconic stories comes from Julius Caesar, who stated that Druids would burn their victims in an oversized wooden effigy. This story is better known today as the Wickerman legend.
6. There is speculation that the name ‘Mon’ has magical meaning
Despite its Roman origins, some scholars believe that ‘Mon’ refers to the Druid goddess, Modron, who was associated as being the Mother of Wales.
As legends goes, Modron also personified the fertility of Anglesey and became increasingly important during the island’s Neolithic and Iron Age periods. This has led to suggestions that the Romans destroyed Anglesey’s sacred shines in fear of Modron’s divine feminine power.
7. 18th-century poets believed they were ancestors of the great ancient Druidic tradition
In Wales during the 18th-century, there was a tradition that the rights and privileges of bards wasn’t just elite entitlement. It was law. And it stretched back to a Druidic tradition that been established by King Hywel Dda some 800 years before.
As a result, 18th-century Welsh poets believed that Druids were their cultural ancestors in terms of music, literature, and sophisticated artworks.
It might not hold true today, but it is certainly a lovely story.
Anglesey’s Druid history
The Druids have helped shape Anglesey in thousands of different ways, from our world-class archaeological sites to the picturesque walks that define our island.
At Silver Bay, we have a passion for all things related to our historic and cultural past – so we would love to know your favourite Anglesey stories too.