From Caesar to Doctor Who & places between
The Eleventh Doctor, The Pandorica Opens (2010):
Hello Stonehenge! Who takes the Pandorica takes the Universe. But bad news everyone. ‘Cause guess who! Hah! Listen, you lot, you’re all whizzing about. It’s really very distracting. Could you all just stay still a minute because I. AM. TALKING! Now, the question of the hour is, who’s got the Pandorica? Answer: I do. Next question: Who’s coming to take it from me? Come on! Look at me! No plan, no back-up, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else. I don’t have anything to lose. So if you’re sitting up there in your silly little spaceship with all your silly little guns and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way! Remember! Every black day I ever stopped you! And then! And then! Do the smart thing! Let somebody else try first.
From Doctor Who to the Transformers, movies feature Stonehenge because of its recognizable, iconic imagery and mysterious origins.
Julius Caesar was less impressed. Despite the fact Caesar is as recognizable a name as Stonehenge, Caesar was underwhelmed by theses stone giants. In 55 BC he led an expedition through Britain, documenting his progress. Stonehenge is never mentioned. He may have assumed the structures were inferior to things Roman, viewing Britain through a biased lens. His commentary on druids was skewed although what he said was held as a leading definition on druids until modern time when, only recently, a more comprehensive understanding has emerged. He said:
"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."
Julius Caesar never witnessed a sacrifice nor spoke to anyone who did. Had he, he never recorded it. Any information related to human sacrifice is being discovered through excavation of sites like Stonehenge.
Later authors, shortly following Caesar, spoke of Stonehenge. A classical Greek writer named Diodorus Siculus in the first century BC may have referred to Stonehenge in a passage of Bibliotheca historica in “a land beyond the Celts. There is “both a magnificent sacred precinct of Apollo and a notable temple which is adorned with many votive offerings and is spherical in shape." Other authors aren’t convinced that Stonehenge was the intended site. The passage is too short and unclear to be certain.
However, it is true the Romans and Greeks were keen on renaming Celtic deity, using familiar Greek or Roman names for gods and goddesses so that their readers would understand—and assuming that the Celtic name must refer to their gods as the true gods. Caesar also did this when he travelled throughout Britain.
While Stonehenge is introduced to the world abroad, it’s not off to a good start. It’s misrepresented. The druids who inhabit the area at the time are mistakenly identified, and further it is suggested they may have built Stonehenge. Someone didn’t do their research fully.
Next up: Geoffrey of Monmouth who, in AD 1130, proposed Merlin as the builder of Stonehenge.
Stonehenge is much older than the druids. Like many henges and earthworks and other places, a site may be built by one people and used later by the next indigenous people. The druids wouldn’t necessarily have even known the original purpose of Stonehenge.
Fast forward to 1891. Thomas Hardy introduces an audience to Stonehenge from a fictional perspective. Tess of the d’Urbervilles challenged sexual morals of late Victorian England. Introducing Stonehenge was icing on what some considered a novel that needed to be censored. Near the end of the book Tess and Angel come to Stonehenge, which was commonly believed in Hardy's time to be a pagan temple, she willingly lies down on a stone supposedly associated with human sacrifice.
The concept of it being a pagan temple resulted from authors all the way back to Caesar and his off the cuff comments on druids followed by others with mistaken ideas.
It is likely sacrifices were made at Stonehenge, but these were not necessarily in the context suggested by early authors. However, the damage was done, and it’s taken another century to begin putting Stonehenge in proper context.
In Hardy’s defense, Tess of the d’Urbervilles was fiction and it made a good story that’s still widely read by students today.
Fiction doesn’t always stick to truth. Enter the Transformers and Doctor Who and a plethora of fiction authors. There’s nothing wrong with writing fiction of any flavor as long as it’s understood. I don’t think anyone expects an alien attack at Stonehenge any time soon. However, while such an attack will make good cinema, it will be more exciting to see what archaeologists uncover as they find the truth hidden in Stonehenge’s landscape. It’s a pity Caesar didn’t take the time to do some interviews with the locals. That would be something to read!