Classical references to the Druids used by T. D. Kendrick

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The quotations on this page are those used by T. D. Kendrick, from his book:

“The Druids – a Study in Keltic Prehistory”

published by Methuen & Co, London, England, 1927:


Diogenes Laertius, “Vitæ”, intro., i:

“Some say that the study of philosophy was of barbarian origin. For the Persians had their Magi, the Babylonians or the Assyrians the Chaldeans, the Indians their Gymnosophists, while the Kelts and the Galatæ had seers called Druids and Semnotheoi, or so Aristotle says in the “Magic”, and Sotion in the twenty-third book of his “Succession of Philosophers”“.

Diogenes Laertius, “Vitæ”, intro., 5:

“Those who think that philosophy is an invention of the barbarians explain the systems prevailing among each people. They say that the Gymnosophists and Druids make their pronouncements by means of riddles and dark sayings, teaching that the gods must be worshipped, and no evil done, and manly behaviour maintained.”



C. J., “De Bello Gallico”, vi, 13,

[Transl., H. J. Edwards, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“Throughout Gaul there are two classes of persons of definite account

and dignity. As for the common folk, they are treated almost as slaves,

venturing naught of themselves, never taken into counsel. The more part

of them, oppressed as they are either by debt, or by the heavy weight

of tribute, or by the wrongdoing of the more powerful men, commit themselves

in slavery to the nobles, who have, in fact, the same rights over them

as masters over slaves. Of the two classes above-mentioned, one consists

of Druids, the other of knights.


former are concerned with divine worship, the due performance of sacrifices,

public and private, and the interpretation of ritual questions : a great

number of young men gather about them for the sake of instruction and

hold them in great honour. In fact, it is they who decide in almost all

disputes, public and private; and if any crime has been committed, or

murder done, or there is any dispute about succession or boundaries, they

also decide it, determining rewards and penalties : if any person or people

does not abide by their decision, they ban such from sacrifice, which

is their heaviest penalty. Those that are so banned are reckoned as impious

and criminal; all men move out of their path and shun their approach and

conversation, for fear they may get some harm from their contact, and

no justice is done if they seek it, no distinction falls to their share.


all these Druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them.

At his death, either any other that is pre-eminent in position succeeds,

or, if there be several of equal standing, they strive for the primacy

by the vote of the Druids, or sometimes even with armed force. These Druids,

at a certain time of the year, meet within the borders of Carnutes, whose

territory is reckoned as the centre of all Gaul,and sit in conclave in

a consecrated spot. Thither assemble from every side all that have disputes,

and they obey the decisions and judgments of the Druids. It is believed

that their rule of life was discovered in Britain and transferred thence

to Gaul; and to-day those who would study the subject more accurately

journey, as a rule, to Britain to learn it.”

Latin text of above

Cæsar, C. J., “De Bello Gallico”, vi, 14,

[Transl., H. J. Edwards, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“The Druids usually hold aloof from war, and do not pay wartaxes with

the rest; they are excused from military service and exempt from all liabilities.

Tempted by these great rewards, many young men assemble of their own motion

to receive their training; many are sent by parents and relatives. Report

says that in the school of the Druids they learn by heart a great number

of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training.

And they do not think it proper to commit these utterances to writing,

although in almost all other matters, and in their public and private

accounts, they make use of Greek letters.


believe they have adopted the practice for two reasons – that they do

not wish the rule to become common property, nor those who learn the rule

to rely on writing and so neglect the cultivation of the memory; and,

in fact, it does usually happen that the assistance of writing tends to

relax the diligence of the student and the action of the memory. The cardinal

doctrine which they seek to teach is that souls do not die, but after

death pass from one to another; and this belief, as the fear of death

is thereby cast aside, they hold to be the greatest incentive to valour.

Besides this, they have many discussions touching the stars and their

movement, the size of the universe and of the earth, the order of nature,

the strength and the powers of the immortal gods, and hand down their

lore to the young men.”

Latin text of above

Cæsar, C. J., “De Bello Gallico”, vi, 16,

[Transl., H. J. Edwards, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“The whole nation of the Gauls is greatly devoted to ritual observances,

and for that reason those who are smitten with the more grievous maladies

and who are engaged in the perils of battle either sacrifice human victims

or vow so to do, employing the Druids as ministers for such sacrifices.

They believe, in effect, that, unless for a man’s life a man’s life be

paid, the majesty of the immortal gods may not be appeased; and in public,

as in private, life they observe an ordinance of sacrifices of the same

kind. Others use figures of immense size, whose limbs, woven out of twigs,

they fill with living men and set on fire, and the men perish in a sheet

of flame. They believe that the execution of those who have been caught

in the act of theft or robbery or some crime is more pleasing to the immortal

gods; but when the supply of such fails they resort to the execution even

of the innocent.”

Latin text of above

Cæsar, C. J., “De Bello Gallico”, vi, 18, 1, [Transl., H. J. Edwards, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“The Gauls affirm that they are all descended from a common father, Dis, and say that this is the tradition of the Druids.”

Latin text of above

Cæsar, C. J., “De Bello Gallico”, vi, 21, 1,

[Transl., H. J. Edwards, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“The Germans differ much from this manner of living. They have no Druids to regulate divine worship, no zeal for sacrifices.”

Latin text of above


Cicero, “De Divinatione”, I xli, 90,

[Transl. Judge Falconer, 1922, Loeb Library]:

“Nor is the practice of divination disregarded even among uncivilised tribes, if indeed there are Druids in Gaul – and there are, for I knew one of them myself, Divitiacus, the Æduan, your guest and eulogist. He claimed to have that knowledge of nature which the Greeks call “physiologia”, and he used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometimes by means of conjecture.”,

Latin text of above


Diodorus Siculus, “Histories”, v, 28, 6:

“The Pythagorean doctrine prevails among them [the Gauls], teaching that the souls of men are immortal and live again for a fixed number of years inhabited in another body.”

Diodorus Siculus, “Histories”, v, 31, 2-5:

“And there are among them [the Gauls] composers of verses whom they call Bards; these singing to instruments similar to a lyre, applaud some, while they vituperate others.

“They have philosophers and theologians who are held in much honour and

are called Druids; they have sooth-sayers too of great renown who tell

the future by watching the flights of birds and by the observation of

the entrails of victims; and everyone waits upon their word. When they

attempt divination upon important matters they practice a strange and

incredible custom, for they kill a man by a knife-stab in the region above

the midriff, and after his fall they foretell the future by the convulsions

of his limbs and the pouring of his blood, a form of divination in which

they have full confidence, as it is of old tradition.


is a custom of the Gauls that no one performs a sacrifice without the

assistance of a philosopher, for they say that offerings to the gods ought

only to made through the mediation of these men, who are learned in the

divine nature and, so to speak, familiar with it, and it is through their

agency that the blessings of the gods should properly be sought. It is

not only in times of peace, but in war also, that these seers have authority,

and the incantations of the bards have effect on friends and foes alike.

Often when the combatants are ranged face to face, and swords are drawn

and spears bristling, these men come between the armies and stay the battle,

just as wild beasts are sometimes held spellbound. Thus even among the

most savage barbarians anger yields to wisdom, and Mars is shamed before

the Muses.”


Strabo, “Geographica”, iv, 4, c. 197, 4

[Transl. H. L. Jones, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“Among all the Gallic peoples, generally speaking, there are three sets

of men who are held in exceptional honour : the Bards, the Vates, and

the Druids. The Bards are singers and poets; the Vates, diviners and natural

philosophers; while the Druids, in addition to natural philosophy, study

also moral philosophy. The Druids are considered the most just of men,

and on this account they are entrusted with the decision, not only of

the private disputes, but of the public disputes as well; so that, in

former times, they even arbitrated cases of war and made the opponents

stop when they were about to line up for battle, and the murder cases

in particular, had been turned over to them for decision. Further, when

there is a big yield [of criminals for sacrifice]

from these cases, there is forthcoming a big yield from the land too,

as they think. However, not only the Druids, but others as well, say that

men’s souls, and also the universe are indestructible, although both fire

and water at some time or other prevail over them.”

Strabo, “Geographica”, iv, 4, c. 198, 5

[Transl. H. L. Jones, 1917, Loeb Library]:

“But the Romans put a stop to these customs, as well as to all those connected

with the sacrifices and divinations that are opposed to our usages. They

used to strike a human being, whom they had devoted to death, in the back

with a sabre, and then divine from his death-struggle. But they would

not sacrifice without the Druids. We are told of still other kinds of

human sacrifices; for example, they would shoot victims to death with

arrows, or impale them in the temples, or having devised a colossus of

straw and wood, throw into the colossus cattle and wild animals of all

sorts and human beings, and then make a burnt offering of the whole thing.”


Ammianus Marcellinus, xv, 9, 4:

“According to the Druids, a part of the population [of

Gaul] was indigenous, but some of the people came from outlying

islands and lands beyond the Rhine, driven from their homes by repeated

wars and by the inroads of the sea.”

Latin text of above

Ammianus Marcellinus, xv, 9, 8:

“In these regions, as the people gradually became civilised, attention to the gentler arts became commoner, a study introduced by the Bards, and the Euhages, and the Druids. It was the custom of the Bards to celebrate the brave deeds of their famous men in epic verse accompanied by the sweet strain of the lyre, while Euhages strove to explain the high mysteries of nature. Between them came the Druids, men of greater talent, members of the intimate fellowship of the Pythagorean faith; they were uplifted by searchings into secret and sublime things, and with grand contempt for mortal lot they professed the immortality of the soul.”

Latin text of above


Suetonius, “Claudius”, 25:

“He [the Emperor Claudius] very thoroughly suppressed the barbarous and inhuman religion of the Druids in Gaul, which at the time of Augustus had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens.”

Latin text of above


Pomponius Mela, “De Situ Orbis”, iii, 2, 18 and 19:

“There still remain traces of atrocious customs no longer practised, and

although they now refrain from outright slaughter, yet they still draw

blood from the victims led to the altar. They have, however, their own

kind of eloquence, and teachers of wisdom called Druids. They profess

to know the size and shape of the world, the movements of the heavens

and of the stars, and the will of the gods. They teach many things to

the nobles of Gaul in a course of instruction lasting as long as twenty

years, meeting in secret either in a cave or secluded dales. One of their

dogmas has come to common knowledge, namely, that souls are eternal and

that there is another life in the infernal regions, and this has been

permitted manifestly because it makes the multitude readier for war. And

it is for this reason too that they burn or bury with their dead, things

appropriate to them in life, and that in times past they even used to

defer the completion of business and the payment of debts until their

arrival in another world. Indeed, there were some of them who flung themselves

willingly on the funeral pyres of their relatives in order to share the

new life with them.”

Latin text of above


Lucan , “Pharsalia”, i, 450-8:

“And you, O Druids, now that the clash of battle is stilled, once more

have you returned to your barbarous ceremonies and to the savage usage

of your holy rites. To you alone it is given to know the truth about the

gods and deities of the sky, or else you alone are ignorant of this truth.

The innermost groves of far-off forests are your abodes. And it is you

who say that the shades of the dead seek not the silent land of Erebus

and the pale halls of Pluto; rather, you tell us that the same spirit

has a body again elsewhere, and that death, if what you sing is true,

is but the midpoint of long life.”

Latin text of above


Pliny , “Nat. Hist.”, xvi, 249:

“Here we must mention the awe felt for this plant by the Gauls. The Druids

– for so their magicians are called – held nothing more sacred than the

mistletoes and the tree that bears it, always supposing that tree to be

the oak. But they choose groves formed of oaks for the sake of the tree

alone, and they never perform any of their rites except in the presence

of a branch of it; so that it seems probable that the priests themselves

may derive their name from the Greek word for that tree. In fact, they

think that everything that grows on it has been sent from heaven and is

proof that the tree was chosen by the god himself. The mistletoe is found

but rarely upon the oak; and when found, is gathered with due religious

ceremony, if possible on the sixth day of the moon, (for

it is by the moon that they measure their months and years, and also their

ages of thirty years). They choose this day because the moon,

though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable influence.

They call the mistletoe by a name meaning, in their language, the all-healing.

Having made preparation for sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring

thither two white bulls, whose horns are bound then for the first time.

Clad in a white robe, the priest ascends the tree and cuts the mistletoe

with a golden sickle, and it is received by others in a white cloak. Then

they kill the victims, praying that god will render this gift of his propitious

to those to whom he has granted it. They believe that the mistletoe, taken

in drink, imparts fecundity to barren animals, and that it is an antidote

for all poisons. Such are the religious feelings that are entertained

toward trifling things by many peoples.”

Latin text of above


“Nat. Hist.”, xxiv, 103 – 104:

“Similar to savin is the plant called selago. It is gathered without using

iron and by passing the right hand through the left sleeve of the tunic,

as though in the act of committing a theft. The clothing must be white,

the feet washed and bare, and an offering of wine and bread made before

the gathering. The Druids of Gaul say that the plant should be carried

as a charm against every kind of evil, and that the smoke of it is good

for diseases of the eyes. The Druids, also, use a certain marsh-plant

that they call samolus, this must be gathered with the left hand, when

fasting, and is a charm against the diseases of cattle. But the gatherer

must not look behind him, nor lay the plant anywhere except in the drinking-troughs.”

Latin text of above

Pliny, “Nat. Hist.”, xxix, 52:

“There is also another kind of egg, of much renown in the Gallic provinces,

but ignored by the Greeks. In the summer, numberless snakes entwine themselves

into a ball, held together by a secretion from their bodies and by their

spittle. This is called anguinum. The Druids say that hissing serpents

throw this up into the air, and that it must be caught in a cloak, and

not allowed to touch the ground; and that one must instantly take to flight

on horseback, as the serpents will pursue until some stream cuts them

off. It may be tested, they say, by seeing if it floats against the current

of a river, even though it be set in gold. But as it is the way of magicians

to cast a veil about their frauds, they pretend that these eggs can only

be taken on a certain day of the moon, as though it rested with mankind

to make the moon and the serpents accord as to the moment of the operation.

I myself, however, have seen one of these eggs, it was round, and about

as large as a smallish apple; the shell was cartilaginous, and pocked

like the arms of a polypus. The druids esteem it highly. It is said to

ensure success in law-suits and a favourable reception with princes; but

this is false, because a man of the Vocontii, who was also a Roman knight,

kept one of these eggs in his bosom during a trial, and was put to death

by the Emperor Claudius, as far as I can see, for that reason alone.”

Latin text of above

Pliny, “Nat. Hist.”, xxx, 13:

“It [magic] flourished in the Gallic provinces,

too, even down to a period within our memory; for it was in the time of

the Emperor Tiberius that a decree was issued against their Druids and

the whole tribe of diviners and physicians. But why mention all this about

a practice that has even crossed the ocean and penetrated to the utmost

parts of the earth? At the present day, Britannia is still fascinated

by magic, and performs its rites with so much ceremony that it almost

seems as though it was she who had imparted the cult to the Persians.

To such a degree do peoples throughout the whole world, although unlike

and quite unknown to one another, agree upon this one point. Therefore

we cannot too highly appreciate our debt to the Romans for having put

an end to this monstrous cult, whereby to murder a man was an act of the

greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh most beneficial.”

Latin text of above


Tacitus, “Annals”, xiv, 30

[Transl. Church and Brodribb, 1876, London]:

“On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors,

while between the ranks dashed women in black attire like the Furies,

with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting

up their hands to heaven and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared

our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were

paralysed, they stood motionless and exposed to wounds. Then urged by

general’s appeal and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop

of frenzied women, they bore the standard onwards, smote down all resistance,

and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next

set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions,

were destroyed. They deemed it, indeed, a duty to cover their altars with

the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.”

Latin text of above

Tacitus, “Histories”, iv, 54

[Transl. Church and Brodribb, 1873, London]:

“The Gauls, they remembered, had captured the city in former days, but,

as the abode of Jupiter was uninjured, the Empire had survived; whereas

now the Druids declared, with the prophetic utterances of an idle superstition,

and this fatal conflagration [of the Capitol]

was a sign of the anger of heaven, and portended universal empire for

the Transalpine nations.”

Latin text of above





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