Menhir, wild boar, magic potion, Unhygenix, Dogmatix. Sound familiar? Probably because you speak the language of the Gauls and of those mustachioed Roman fighters, Asterix and Obelix.
These colorful French-themed comics by Goscinny and Uderzo have been doling out fun for kids and kidults alike since the 1960s, with the catalogue of stories depicting life for a village of Gauls led by the diminutive Asterix and corpulent Obelix. People all over the world (the stories have been translated in to over 100 languages) have readily followed their antics as they lived, worked and generally resisted occupation by the Roman forces by whatever means possible. The strength of the Gauls was supplemented by a magic potion, brewed by the village druid, Getafix, and you probably learned more from these pages about the beastly Romans and their underhanded tactics (and about European history in general) than you were ever going to in school.
Set in around 50 BC, the village of the Gauls was located in the fictional town of Armorica, a place that most agree equates to modern Brittany. There was actually a whole heap of real life history embedded in those pages though, so why not pull up a menhir and let’s explore Europe in the best possible way: with an Asterix and Obelix filter.
Book: Asterix in Britain
Plot: The Romans have invaded Britain, but a small village resists their advances. Asterix and Obelix cross the Channel and give them a hand to repel the Romans.
History: Caesar did invade Britain in 55 and 54 BC as part of his Gallic war but was unable to get through most of the British Isles, and had absolutely zero luck in Wales, thanks in no small part to Boudica’s rebellion and resistance. The fiercely independent tribes and groups in Caledonia (what is now known as Scotland) and Hibernia (Ireland) were never directly controlled by the Romans either. Freedooom!
Book: Asterix in Spain
Plot: Cesar captures the son of a Spanish kingdom, sends him to Gaul, Asterix and Obelix intervene, rescue and reunite him with his kin.
History: The title isn’t totally accurate because back in Asterix’s time Spain was a whole bunch of independent kingdoms, and the Spain of today was but a twinkle in the eye of the bunch of catholic kings who united the whole shemozzle in the 15th century. The Iberian Peninsula (home to modern day Spain, Portugal, Andorra, France and Gibraltar) was known as Espania under Roman rule.
Book: Asterix the Gladiator
Plot: The Romans have captured Cacofonix and Asterix and Obelix train as gladiators and travel to Rome to get him back.
History: The Roman Empire – at the height of its power in around AD 150 – controlled some 5 million square kilometers of land – which included a swathe of Europe and parts of Africa – as well as over 70 million people. Not something to be sniffed at. The Romans were among the first centralized state in Europe and used their army and also their tolerant capture style to unite the local tribes. The eventual decline of the Roman Empire, reducing it to the paltry 1,285 square kilometres it has today, was brought about by a mixture of decay owing to a mixture of general malaise, catastrophic collapse and repeated attacks by Asterix and Obelix.
Book: Asterix and the Goths
Plot: After the annual conference of the druids in the Forest of the Carnutes, Getafix is captured by the Goths, so our heroes travel east and return him home.
History: The Goths were cheeky East Germanic tribes who refused to bow to the Romans and who invaded and sacked Rome in AD 410 – the first time in almost 800 years that Rome had fallen to a foreign enemy. It was also due in no small part to the efforts of two Goth groups – the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths – that the Roman Empire fell, allowing the emergence of medieval Europe. According to legend the Goths were blonde, fair to look at and vicious fighters, so it would have been no small feat for Asterix and Obelix to fend them off – but then, magic potion helps a great deal with these sorts of things.
Got a hankering for some wild boar and Roman exploration? Explore Corsica, Gaul, Helvetia and Germania with Intrepid’s European breaks.