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We’re appealing for votes in order to bring acclaimed photographer and ‘nude interventionist’ Spencer Tunick to Brighton Museum for Museums at Night 2014. To get you in the mood for voting, here’s a story about how ancient Britain was protected by proudly naked warriors…

During the Gallic wars, the invading Roman army was shocked to discover not just well-organised and warlike Celtic peoples, but warriors who went into battle partially or completely nude. In the case of the Picts these warriors may also have been painted or tattooed blue.

Wall tile, an almost naked Briton is about to hurl his spear at Roman soldiers.

Wall tile: an almost naked Briton is about to hurl his spear at Roman soldiers.

We learn of the Britons that ‘even in the coldest parts they wear no clothing whatever except skins, by reason of the scantiness of which, a great portion of their body is bare, and besides they bathe in open rivers’. The northern British attract a particular scorn because ‘they dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring’. However, they gain a certain respect as ‘fierce and dangerous fighters, protected only by a narrow shield and a spear, with a sword slung from their naked bodies.’

Small Bronze Figure of a Boar from the Iron Age Collection

Small Bronze Figure of a Boar from the Iron Age Collection

It’s convenient for the civilised Roman world to contrast their cultured advanced society with the naked barbarian savages that they encountered as they expanded their empire. However the British and Celts at that time lived in organised, complex communities. We can see the traces of beginnings of these communities on the top of the downs in Hollingbury, north Brighton, where there are outlines of the ditches and banks that were once part of an Iron Age Hill Fort built about 2,600 years ago.

Hollingbury Hill Fort, Brighton

Hollingbury Hill Fort, Brighton

The appearance of these ‘forts’, built on hilltops often with substantial wooden ramparts and palisades inside large ditches seems to herald a time in Britain when society was becoming more centralised and perhaps tribal.

However, when the Romans do arrive on our shores, even though the Britons were living as part of cultured, tribal communities, in the face of a disciplined, well armoured Roman army, what better way to show your contempt for the enemy than to face them completely naked!

Andy Maxted, Curator (Collections Projects)

Vote for Royal Pavilion & Brighton Museums and help bring acclaimed Photographer Spencer Tunick to Brighton Museum for Museums at Night 2014. The voting page is now live http://bit.ly/JKppKp Vote now!