Note: This page is adapted from the wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celts. For all links, citations and bibliographies, please see that article.
The Real Prydain series consists of pages exploring the historical foundations of the Chronicles of Prydain.The Celts (//, occasionally //) were an ethnolinguistic group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Medieval Europe who spoke Celtic languages and had a similar culture, although the relationship between the ethnic, linguistic and cultural elements remains uncertain and controversial. The exact geographic spread of the ancient Celts is also disputed; in particular, whether the Iron Age inhabitants of Britain and Ireland should be regarded as Celts has become a subject of controversy.
According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, a language known as Proto-Celtic, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC. In addition, according to a theory proposed in the 19th century, the first Celtic people in central Europe were the people of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture (c. 800–450 BC) named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria. Thus this area is sometimes called the 'Celtic homeland'. By the later La Tène period (c. 450 BC up to the Roman conquest), this Celtic culture was supposed to have expanded by diffusion or migration to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France and The Low Countries (Gauls), Bohemia, Poland and much of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula (Celtiberians, Celtici, Lusitanians and Gallaeci) and northern Italy (Golaseccans and Cisalpine Gauls) and, following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BC, as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians).
The earliest undisputed direct examples of a Celtic language are the Lepontic inscriptions, beginning in the 6th century BC. Continental Celtic languages are attested almost exclusively through inscriptions and place-names. Insular Celtic is attested beginning around the 4th century AD through Ogham inscriptions, although it was clearly being spoken much earlier. Celtic literary tradition begins with Old Irish texts around the 8th century. Coherent texts of Early Irish literature, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), survive in 12th-century recensions.
By the mid 1st millennium AD, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and the Great Migrations (Migration Period) of Germanic peoples, Celtic culture and Insular Celtic had become restricted to Ireland, the western and northern parts of Great Britain (Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall), the Isle of Man, and Brittany. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the Celtic-speaking communities in these Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity. They had a common linguistic, religious, and artistic heritage that distinguished them from the culture of the surrounding polities. By the 6th century, however, the Continental Celtic languages were no longer in wide use.
Insular Celtic culture diversified into that of the Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx) and the Brythonic Celts (Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons) of the medieval and modern periods. A modern "Celtic identity" was constructed as part of the Romanticist Celtic Revival in Great Britain, Ireland, and other European territories, such as Portugal and Spanish Galicia. Today, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton are still spoken in parts of their historical territories, and Cornish and Manx are undergoing a revival.
All Celtic languages extant today belong to the Insular Celtic languages, derived from the Celtic languages spoken in Iron Age Britain and Ireland. They were separated into a Goidelic and a Brythonic branch from an early period.
Linguists have been arguing for many years whether a Celtic language came to Britain and Ireland and then split or whether there were two separate "invasions". The older view of prehistorians was that the Celtic influence in the British Isles was the result of successive invasions from the European continent by diverse Celtic-speaking peoples over the course of several centuries, accounting for the P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic isogloss. This view has fallen into some degree of disfavor; the model of a phylogenetic Insular Celtic dialect group is now preferred among mainstream academia.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars commonly dated the "arrival" of Celtic culture in Britain (via an invasion model) to the 6th century BC, corresponding to archaeological evidence of Hallstatt influence and the appearance of chariot burials in what is now England. Some Iron Age migration does seem to have occurred but the nature of the interactions with the indigenous populations of the isles is unknown. According to this model, by about the 6th century (Sub-Roman Britain), most of the inhabitants of the Isles were speaking Celtic languages of either the Goidelic or the Brythonic branch. Since the late 20th century, a new model has emerged (championed by archaeologists such as Barry Cunliffe and Celtic historians such as John T. Koch) which places the emergence of Celtic culture in Britain much earlier, in the Bronze Age, and credits its spread not to invasion, but due to a gradual emergence in situ out of Proto-Indo-European culture (perhaps introduced to the region by the Bell Beaker People, and enabled by an extensive network of contacts that existed between the peoples of Britain and Ireland and those of the Atlantic seaboard.
It should be noted, however, that Classical writers did not apply the terms Κελτοί or "Celtae" to the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland, leading a number of scholars to question the use of the term Celt to describe the Iron Age inhabitants of those islands. The first historical account of the islands of Britain and Ireland was by Pytheas, a Greek from the city of Massalia, who around 310-306 BC, sailed around what he called the "Pretannikai nesoi", which can be translated as the "Pretannic Isles". In general, classical writers referred to the inhabitants of Britain as Pretannoi or Britanni. Strabo, writing in the Roman era, clearly distinguished between the Celts and Britons.
SocietyTo the extent that sources are available, they depict a pre-Christian Iron Age Celtic social structure based formally on class and kingship, although this may only have been a particular late phase of organization in Celtic societies. Patron-client relationships similar to those of Roman society are also described by Caesar and others in the Gaul of the 1st century BC.
In the main, the evidence is of tribes being led by kings, although some argue that there is also evidence of oligarchical republican forms of government eventually emerging in areas which had close contact with Rome. Most descriptions of Celtic societies portray them as being divided into three groups: a warrior aristocracy; an intellectual class including professions such as druid, poet, and jurist; and everyone else. In historical times, the offices of high and low kings in Ireland and Scotland were filled by election under the system of tanistry, which eventually came into conflict with the feudal principle of primogeniture in which succession goes to the first-born son.
Little is known of family structure among the Celts. Patterns of settlement varied from decentralised to urban. The popular stereotype of non-urbanised societies settled in hillforts and duns, drawn from Britain and Ireland (there are about 3,000 hill forts known in Britain) contrasts with the urban settlements present in the core Hallstatt and La Tène areas, with the many significant oppida of Gaul late in the first millennium BC, and with the towns of Gallia Cisalpina.
Slavery, as practised by the Celts, was very likely similar to the better documented practice in ancient Greece and Rome. Slaves were acquired from war, raids, and penal and debt servitude. Slavery was hereditary, though manumission was possible. The Old Irish word for slave, cacht, and the Welsh term caeth are likely derived from the Latin captus, captive, suggesting that slave trade was an early venue of contact between Latin and Celtic societies. In the Middle Ages, slavery was especially prevalent in the Celtic countries. Manumissions were discouraged by law and the word for "female slave", cumal, was used as a general unit of value in Ireland.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the pre-Roman Celtic societies were linked to the network of overland trade routes that spanned Eurasia. Archaeologists have discovered large prehistoric trackways crossing bogs in Ireland and Germany. Due to their substantial nature, these are believed to have been created for wheeled transport as part of an extensive roadway system that facilitated trade. The territory held by the Celts contained tin, lead, iron, silver and gold. Celtic smiths and metalworkers created weapons and jewellery for international trade, particularly with the Romans.The myth that the Celtic monetary system consisted of wholly barter is a common one, but is in part false. The monetary system was complex and is still not understood (much like the late Roman coinages), and due to the absence of large numbers of coin items, it is assumed that "proto-money" was used. This included bronze items made from the early La Tène period and onwards, which were often in the shape of axeheads, rings, or bells. Due to the large number of these present in some burials, it is thought they had a relatively high monetary value, and could be used for "day to day" purchases. Low-value coinages of potin, a bronze alloy with high tin content, were minted in most Celtic areas of the continent and in South-East Britain prior to the Roman conquest of these lands. Higher-value coinages, suitable for use in trade, were minted in gold, silver, and high-quality bronze. Gold coinage was much more common than silver coinage, despite being worth substantially more, as while there were around 100 mines in Southern Britain and Central France, silver was more rarely mined. This was due partly to the relative sparcity of mines and the amount of effort needed for extraction compared to the profit gained. As the Roman civilisation grew in importance and expanded its trade with the Celtic world, silver and bronze coinage became more common. This coincided with a major increase in gold production in Celtic areas to meet the Roman demand, due to the high value Romans put on the metal. The large number of gold mines in France is thought to be a major reason why Caesar invaded.
There are only very limited records from pre-Christian times written in Celtic languages. These are mostly inscriptions in the Roman and sometimes Greek alphabets. The Ogham script, an Early Medieval alphabet, was mostly used in early Christian times in Ireland and Scotland (but also in Wales and England), and was only used for ceremonial purposes such as inscriptions on gravestones. The available evidence is of a strong oral tradition, such as that preserved by bards in Ireland, and eventually recorded by monasteries. Celtic art also produced a great deal of intricate and beautiful metalwork, examples of which have been preserved by their distinctive burial rites.In some regards the Atlantic Celts were conservative: for example, they still used chariots in combat long after they had been reduced to ceremonial roles by the Greeks and Romans. However, despite being outdated, Celtic chariot tactics were able to repel the invasion of Britain attempted by Julius Caesar.
During the later Iron Age the Gauls generally wore long-sleeved shirts or tunics and long trousers (called braccae by the Romans). Clothes were made of wool or linen, with some silk being used by the rich. Cloaks were worn in the winter. Brooches and armlets were used, but the most famous item of jewellery was the torc, a neck collar of metal, sometimes gold. The horned Waterloo Helmet in the British Museum, which long set the standard for modern images of Celtic warriors, is in fact a unique survival, and may have been a piece for ceremonial rather than military wear.
Gender and sexual normsAccording to Aristotle, most "belligerent nations" were strongly influenced by their women, but the Celts were unusual because their men openly preferred male lovers (Politics II 1269b). H. D. Rankin in Celts and the Classical World notes that "Athenaeus echoes this comment (603a) and so does Ammianus (30.9). It seems to be the general opinion of antiquity."] In book XIII of his Deipnosophists, the Roman Greek rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus, repeating assertions made by Diodorus Siculus in the 1st century BC (Bibliotheca historica 5:32), wrote that Celtic women were beautiful but that the men preferred to sleep together. Diodorus went further, stating that "the young men will offer themselves to strangers and are insulted if the offer is refused". Rankin argues that the ultimate source of these assertions is likely to be Poseidonius and speculates that these authors may be recording male "bonding rituals".
The sexual freedom of women in Britain was noted by Cassius Dio: ... a very witty remark is reported to have been made by the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian, to Julia Augusta. When the empress was jesting with her, after the treaty, about the free intercourse of her sex with men in Britain, she replied: "We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest." Such was the retort of the British woman. —Cassius Dio. There are instances recorded where women participated both in warfare and in kingship, although they were in the minority in these areas. Plutarch reports that Celtic women acted as ambassadors to avoid a war among Celts chiefdoms in the Po valley during the 4th century BC.
Very few reliable sources exist regarding Celtic views towards gender divisions and societal status, though some archaeological evidence does suggest that their views towards gender roles may differ from contemporary and less egalitarian classical counterparts of the Roman era.
There are some general indications from Iron Age burial sites in the Champagne and Bourgogne regions of Northeastern France suggesting that women may have had roles in combat during the earlier La Tène period. However, the evidence is far from conclusive. Examples of individuals buried with both female jewellery and weaponry have been identified, such as the Vix Grave, and there are questions about the gender of some skeletons that were buried with warrior assemblages. However, it has been suggested that "the weapons may indicate rank instead of masculinity".
Among the insular Celts, there is a greater amount of historic documentation to suggest warrior roles for women. In addition to commentary by Tacitus about Boudica, there are indications from later period histories that also suggest a more substantial role for "women as warriors", in symbolic if not actual roles. Posidonius and Strabo described an island of women where men could not venture for fear of death, and where the women ripped each other apart. Other writers, such as Ammianus Marcellinus and Tacitus, mentioned Celtic women inciting, participating in, and leading battles. Poseidonius' anthropological comments on the Celts had common themes, primarily primitivism, extreme ferocity, cruel sacrificial practices, and the strength and courage of their women.
Under Brehon Law, which was written down in early Medieval Ireland after conversion to Christianity, a woman had the right to divorce her husband and gain his property if he was unable to perform his marital duties due to impotence, obesity, homosexual inclination or preference for other women.
Celtic art is generally used by art historians to refer to art of the La Tène period across Europe, while the Early Medieval art of Britain and Ireland, that is what "Celtic art" evokes for much of the general public, is called Insular art in art history. Both styles absorbed considerable influences from non-Celtic sources, but retained a preference for geometrical decoration over figurative subjects, which are often extremely stylised when they do appear; narrative scenes only appear under outside influence. Energetic circular forms, triskeles and spirals are characteristic. Much of the surviving material is in precious metal, which no doubt gives a very unrepresentative picture, but apart from Pictish stones and the Insular high crosses, large monumental sculpture, even with decorative carving, is very rare; possibly it was originally common in wood.
The interlace patterns that are often regarded as typical of "Celtic art" were in fact introduced to Insular art from the animal Style II of Germanic Migration Period art, though taken up with great skill and enthusiasm by Celtic artists in metalwork and illuminated manuscripts. Equally, the forms used for the finest Insular art were all adopted from the Roman world: Gospel books like the Book of Kells and Book of Lindisfarne, chalices like the Ardagh Chalice and Derrynaflan Chalice, and penannular brooches like the Tara Brooch. These works are from the period of peak achievement of Insular art, which lasted from the 7th to the 9th centuries, before the Viking attacks sharply set back cultural life.
In contrast the less well known but often spectacular art of the richest earlier Continental Celts, before they were conquered by the Romans, often adopted elements of Roman, Greek and other "foreign" styles (and possibly used imported craftsmen) to decorate objects that were distinctively Celtic. After the Roman conquests, some Celtic elements remained in popular art, especially Ancient Roman pottery, of which Gaul was actually the largest producer, mostly in Italian styles, but also producing work in local taste, including figurines of deities and wares painted with animals and other subjects in highly formalised styles. Roman Britain also took more interest in enamel than most of the Empire, and its development of champlevé technique was probably important to the later Medieval art of the whole of Europe, of which the energy and freedom of Insular decoration was an important element.
Warfare and weapons
Tribal warfare appears to have been a regular feature of Celtic societies. While epic literature depicts this as more of a sport focused on raids and hunting rather than organised territorial conquest, the historical record is more of tribes using warfare to exert political control and harass rivals, for economic advantage, and in some instances to conquer territory.The Celts were described by classical writers such as Strabo, Livy, Pausanias, and Florus as fighting like "wild beasts", and as hordes. Dionysius said that their "manner of fighting, being in large measure that of wild beasts and frenzied, was an erratic procedure, quite lacking in military science. Thus, at one moment they would raise their swords aloft and smite after the manner of wild boars, throwing the whole weight of their bodies into the blow like hewers of wood or men digging with mattocks, and again they would deliver crosswise blows aimed at no target, as if they intended to cut to pieces the entire bodies of their adversaries, protective armour and all". Such descriptions have been challenged by contemporary historians.
Polybius (2.33) indicates that the principal Celtic weapon was a long bladed sword which was used for hacking edgewise rather than stabbing. Celtic warriors are described by Polybius and Plutarch as frequently having to cease fighting in order to straighten their sword blades. This claim has been questioned by some archaeologists, who note that Noric steel, steel produced in Celtic Noricum, was famous in the Roman Empire period and was used to equip the Roman military. However, Radomir Pleiner, in The Celtic Sword (1993) argues that "the metallographic evidence shows that Polybius was right up to a point", as around one third of surviving swords from the period might well have behaved as he describes.
Polybius also asserts that certain of the Celts fought naked, "The appearance of these naked warriors was a terrifying spectacle, for they were all men of splendid physique and in the prime of life." According to Livy this was also true of the Celts of Asia Minor.
Like other European Iron Age tribal societies, the Celts practised a polytheistic religion. Many Celtic gods are known from texts and inscriptions from the Roman period. Rites and sacrifices were carried out by priests known as druids. The Celts did not see their gods as having human shapes until late in the Iron Age. Celtic shrines were situated in remote areas such as hilltops, groves, and lakes.
Celtic religious patterns were regionally variable; however, some patterns of deity forms, and ways of worshipping these deities, appeared over a wide geographical and temporal range. The Celts worshipped both gods and goddesses. In general, Celtic gods were deities of particular skills, such as the many-skilled Lugh and Dagda, while goddesses were associated with natural features, particularly rivers (such as Boann, goddess of the River Boyne). This was not universal, however, as goddesses such as Brighid and The Morrígan were associated with both natural features (holy wells and the River Unius) and skills such as blacksmithing and healing.
Triplicity is a common theme in Celtic cosmology, and a number of deities were seen as threefold. This trait is exhibited by The Three Mothers, a group of goddesses worshipped by many Celtic tribes (with regional variations).
The Celts had literally hundreds of deities, some of which were unknown outside a single family or tribe, while others were popular enough to have a following that crossed lingual and cultural barriers. For instance, the Irish god Lugh, associated with storms, lightning, and culture, is seen in similar forms as Lugos in Gaul and Lleu in Wales. Similar patterns are also seen with the continental Celtic horse goddess Epona and what may well be her Irish and Welsh counterparts, Macha and Rhiannon, respectively.
Roman reports of the druids mention ceremonies being held in sacred groves. La Tène Celts built temples of varying size and shape, though they also maintained shrines at sacred trees and votive pools.
Druids fulfilled a variety of roles in Celtic religion, serving as priests and religious officiants, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers, and lore-keepers. Druids organised and ran religious ceremonies, and they memorised and taught the calendar. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community.
The Roman invasion of Gaul brought a great deal of Celtic peoples into the Roman Empire. Roman culture had a profound effect on the Celtic tribes which came under the empire's control. Roman influence led to many changes in Celtic religion, the most noticeable of which was the weakening of the druid class, especially religiously; the druids were to eventually disappear altogether. Romano-Celtic deities also began to appear: these deities often had both Roman and Celtic attributes and combined the names of Roman and Celtic deities. Other changes included the adaptation of the Jupiter Pole, a sacred pole which was used throughout Celtic regions of the empire, primarily in the north. Another major change in religious practice was the use of stone monuments to represent gods and goddesses. The Celts had only created wooden idols (including monuments carved into trees, which were known as sacred poles) previously to Roman conquest