Julius Caesar seems to have been the first to report meeting Giants in Britain; See De Bello Gallico - Liber VI, C XVI J. A. Thwaites translates his words thus: "They (the British) enclose their victims in wickers of osier and burn them at the tops of giant men." Who were the giant men in question? well, there is some doubt, they might have been great hill-figures like the Cerne Giant or the Long Man of Wilmington, they may alternatively have been some sort of sacrificial green man, or they might have been... Oh well, speculation is useless, but that Albion was indeed the land of Giants, is confirmed.
'Dancing', or 'Pageant' Giants were recorded in Europe by the 14th century. One of the first known in Britain; Christopher the Salisbury Giant; still survives. Once the Giant of the Tailors' Guild, he stands in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, his exact age is unknown, but there exists a repair bill dated 1570.
The City of London has a long history of Giants, notably 'Gog' and 'Magog' who stood in honour in the Guildhall and who were charged with the defence of the city.
Probably most towns had their civic cohort of Giants, at one time Chester boasted four. Their demise is scarcely recorded but it's likely that the Commonwealth finally extinguished any that survived the Reformation. A number of close relatives of giantkind did survive: Jack in the Green, hobby horses, morris dancing beasts, and darker figures, such as the Dorset Ooser, Skimmities and Mari Llwyd. Many of these, and Giants too, are associated with bands of 'rough musicians' disguisers, and even witchcraft.
Whilst British Giants went into decline, those in the larger world have thrived. There are Giants in virtually all European countries, the former USSR, Latin America, India, and similar forms exist in much of Asia.
Giants are bigger than any of us, they are not just moving statues, they are a focal point, some are warriors proclaiming defiance in the face of a hostile world, others dignitaries carrying a burden of civic pride, but most, including most of the foregoing, are never happier than when at a party, festival or fair. They are one and all exuberant symbols of the vital forces and mankind's joy in living.
Last modified: Sat, 12 Feb 2000