Were ancient celts ostracized for being fat?
November 25, 2007 4:09 PM   Subscribe

Did the ancient Celts used to banish overweight members of society?

I remember once reading or being told that the ancient Celts prized fitness and would banish overweight members. I think there was some system involving a belt. All members of a village were expected to be able to fit into the belt. A member who was too large for the belt was forced out of the village until they were small enough to fit the belt.

I related this to a friend but was unable to find any sources that back me up. Can anyone confirm the veracity of this? I could have my populations mixed up, perhaps it was the Gauls or Goths. I haven't had any luck finding this on my own.

Bonus points for telling me what the circumference of that belt was.
posted by Telf to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
could it be the spartans? doesn't say anything about fat, but it wouldn't seem out of line.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:16 PM on November 25, 2007

Caesar's Gallic Wars is the most commonly sighted source on the ancient Celts. But I couldn't find mention of this in it.

So, I am guessing that if it does have a speck of truth it would be in folklore and not history.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:36 PM on November 25, 2007

I am guessing that this might be legend for the simple reason that unless you were a member of the elite, and probably the ultra elite at that, you generally didn't have enough food lying around nor were you idle enough to be fat. Maybe in good times a bit "healthy" looking, but fat? No way.

Perhaps if not Sparta then the origin of this is some sort of manhood initiation where a young warrior had to go out in the bog or bush and starve and purge himself to prove how tough he was? A warrior who was not sufficiently starved would not be considered a tough enough man? Total speculation there, but to answer the question - and I am utterly ignorant of ancient Celts, Romans or anyone else - is that it sounds too god to be true.
posted by xetere at 5:45 PM on November 25, 2007

Best answer: Don't know about the MacFatbelt but Celtic tribes certainly took physical appearance and prowess very seriously. Despite a love, and surplus, of fine food and drink they did not tolerate obesity. Rather than banish the overweight members however they would levy fines upon the fatties till they slimmed down again. It was a sign that the person was taking too much food and not working hard enough in return. It could also prohibit a man from getting married or be grounds for separation from his woman, Celtic woman being as fierce and fit as the men and doubtless disinclined to share a bed with a beer-bellied husband she can beat up herself. The upside is that overweight men weren't considered suitable for sacrifice to Crom Cruach or whichever deity was needing a bit of appeasment that season...
posted by brautigan at 7:41 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Best answer: An article here states "Obesity was particularly offensive to the Celts who issued fines for any young man who allowed himself to become fat (Norton-Taylor 67)."

You may have some luck if you find a copy of that book (I believe he means "Norton-Taylor, D. (1974). The Celts. New York: Time-Life Books.") or look up "Brehon" laws.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:05 PM on November 25, 2007

Best answer: I haven't heard of banishment. I think you mean reasons for divorce?
The FĂ©nechas (known as THE BREHON LAW), codified during the reign of the High King Laoghaire (428-36 A.D.), and the Welsh Law of Hywel Dda, codified in the tenth century, both have similar reasons why a woman may divorce her man.
of the sexual reasons listed for divorce "impotence, gross obesity that prevents sexual intercourse, the husband spurning the marriage bed to exclusively practice homosexuality ... sterility .... A woman could divorce a man if he was indiscreet enough to tell tales about their love life.
(clannada.zimnet.net:8080/clannada/docs/marriag.html) Marriage, Separation and Divorce In Ancient Gaelic Culture.

I have seen some references like Norton Taylor to obesity being generally unacceptable in men, but by far the greatest number of references are to how it practically impacts on intercourse in marriage. (Please note there is no equivalent problem vis-a-vis an obese female as it is likely that this did not prevent conception.)

A practical folk us Celts. YMMV!
posted by Wilder at 7:40 AM on November 26, 2007

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