Table of contents:
- 1. The Celts were the largest ethnic group in ancient Europe
- 2. The Celts have often been described as barbarian warriors
- 3. Ancient Celtic burial mounds reveal the incredibly complex structure of their society
- 4. The Celts may have been one of the first Europeans to wear trousers
- 5. Druids transmitted stories and laws through oral tradition
- 6. Celtic queen Boudicca raised a bloody rebellion against the Romans
- 7. The Celts were eventually defeated by the Romans, Slavs and Huns
- 8. The adoption of a Celtic identity is relatively recent and is associated with opposition to British rule
For the modern ear, the word "Celtic" is strongly associated with traditional art, literature and music in Ireland and Scotland. But the ancient Celts were a widespread group of tribes originating from Central Europe. Their incredibly rich and developed culture has become the property of world history thanks to the research of their burials, artifacts found by archaeologists and the study of their language. Some facts about the rich and complex Celtic civilization are generally known, others have become known to scientists quite recently.
1. The Celts were the largest ethnic group in ancient Europe
Ancient Celtic civilization once stretched far beyond the British Isles. They occupied territories stretching from Spain to the Black Sea. Geographically, the Celts were the largest ethnic group of people in ancient Europe.
The difficulty in studying Celtic history is that none of these ancient peoples living in Western or Central Europe called themselves Celts. This name actually came from the Greeks. In 540 BC, they first met with a certain "barbarian" people, which they called the Celta. It happened on the southern coast of France. The ancient Celts were never a single kingdom or empire, but were a collection of hundreds of tribes with a common culture and language.
2. The Celts have often been described as barbarian warriors
Unfortunately, the Celts themselves did not leave any written evidence. Scientists are left to rely on the preconceived stories of their enemies about them. The peoples who faced the Celts in battles were first the Greeks, then the Romans. Historians do not know why the Greeks called them Kelt, but this name stuck. In Greece, these people had a reputation for ever-drunk and unbridled savages. Celtic warriors often fought naked and were prized as mercenaries throughout the Mediterranean.
The Romans called the Celts Gaul or Gaul and often clashed with them. Celtic tribes made frequent raids on Roman outposts in northern Italy. In 387 BC, a fearless Celtic warlord named Brenn cemented the barbaric reputation of the Celts. He destroyed and plundered Rome with bestial cruelty, betraying most of the Roman Senate to the sword.
Only centuries later, the Roman Empire conquered several Celtic tribes in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain). The Romans named them Gallezi. Then Julius Caesar began to wage the Gallic Wars in order to finally defeat the Celts and other small kingdoms in Gaul (modern France). Caesar wrote of the conquest of Gaul with a mixture of disgust and respect for his Celtic enemies.
Caesar considered Rome as a highly civilized state, and the Celts as dirty barbarians. The unwashed savages must be conquered. The fierce confrontation ended with the victory of the Roman Empire.
3. Ancient Celtic burial mounds reveal the incredibly complex structure of their society
Despite the hard-hitting opinion about them, the Celts in their development were very far from savages.This is evidenced by their incredibly intricate metalwork and jewelry excavated in ancient Celtic fortresses and barrows throughout Europe. One such mound near Hochdorf, Germany, contained the remains of a Celtic chieftain and many artifacts indicating a complex and multi-layered Celtic society.
The mound of the leader of Hochdorf dates back to 530 BC, which archaeologists call the late Hallstatt period, when Celtic culture was concentrated in Central Europe. The chief was lying on a long bronze wheeled cart and was dressed in gold jewelry, including the traditional Celtic band around his neck called a torq. It was surrounded by ornate drinking horns and a large bronze cauldron that still contained the remains of traditional mead.
Scientists say that at the site of the later Celtic mounds, the wheeled cart was replaced by two-wheeled chariots. Now they delivered the highly esteemed dead to the afterlife. Drinking mugs and drinking horns point to the crucial role of the feast as a socio-political tool for the Celts. What the Greeks and Romans called "excessive drinking" was actually a way for the Celtic elite to strengthen ties with their allies.
The Celts believed in an afterlife. They took with them alcoholic beverages and drinking containers so that, upon arrival in another world, they could arrange a real feast. Generosity among the Celts has always been a sign of a good leader.
4. The Celts may have been one of the first Europeans to wear trousers
The ancient Celts were famous for their colorful woolen fabrics, the forerunners of the famous Scottish tartan. Although only a few tantalizing scraps of these fabrics have survived for centuries, historians believe that the Celts were among the first Europeans to wear trousers. However, they did not have buttons, so they fastened their clothes with fasteners called fibulae.
5. Druids transmitted stories and laws through oral tradition
The ancient Celts were not illiterate. But they preferred not to write down their sacred stories and laws, but to pass them on from mouth to mouth. It is known that the Celtic religion, for example, required animal and human sacrifices to the pantheon of gods. This esoteric knowledge was under the jurisdiction of the Celtic priests, the Druids. It was passed down orally from generation to generation.
Druids were highly respected and respected in Celtic society and were among the few who could travel safely among the warring tribes. Other "educated" classes in Celtic society included: lineage scholars, legalists, and bards. The former were responsible for the genealogy of the tribe, the latter memorized the laws, and the third were both storytellers and folk historians at the same time.
Despite the fact that the Celtic tribes never united politically under one kingdom, their oral traditions helped to create and maintain cultural unity over vast territories. This explains why the Celts are most easily identified by their common language. Celtic languages are still spoken in parts of Britain and France, including Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Breton.
Since all Celtic doctrines were transmitted orally, it helped maintain linguistic uniformity, the researchers say. Druids and bards spoke the purest version of the language. They carried it across tribal boundaries, so it did not split into many different dialects.
6. Celtic queen Boudicca raised a bloody rebellion against the Romans
The Romans conquered Britain in 43 BC. During the time of Emperor Claudius, the Celts were gradually completely subdued and romanized. Of course, it wasn't that easy at all. Such fierce and brave warriors do not surrender without a fight. It was hot and bloody.According to Roman sources, the legendary Celtic Queen Boudicca led a powerful rebellion against the Romans in 61 AD. Her troops captured and destroyed the Roman citadel of Londinium, massacred all of its inhabitants.
In Celtic culture, women could occupy the highest position in the social hierarchy. They could be both military leaders and druids. Some Druides specialized in political prophecy and played an important role in the Celtic military campaigns. This made Celtic society very different from the rest of the world. For the same Greeks and Romans, it was very strange.
7. The Celts were eventually defeated by the Romans, Slavs and Huns
After most of the Celtic lands were conquered by the Romans, their culture was suppressed. The Celts gradually ceded territory to the Germanic tribes, Slavs and Huns. As a result, very few people could declare themselves as purebred Celts. They became interested in this issue only in the 18th century. Then the Welsh linguist and scholar Edward Lhade identified similarities between languages such as Welsh, Irish, Cornish and the now extinct Gaulish. The researcher called them all "Celtic".
8. The adoption of a Celtic identity is relatively recent and is associated with opposition to British rule
The 19th and 20th centuries saw a full-blown Celtic revival in the British Isles. It was prompted by political discontent over British rule in countries such as Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Musicians, artists, and writers such as William Butler Yeats have embraced the pre-Christian Celtic identity with pride. But since the Celts were more than an Irish or Scottish phenomenon, historians still disagree about the accuracy of modern claims to Celtic heritage.
Celtic is more of a descriptive term or heuristic. This is an abbreviated description for describing the origin of many place names, archaeological finds, and linguistic evidence. It may not have an important factual value in terms of identity, but it is still useful as a descriptor.
Read more about the heroic uprising of the Celts in our article the recently discovered treasure of Queen Boudicca shed light on the most romantic page of the Clt history.