Background – The Celts

The Celts


The Celts (Greek ‘Keltoi’) were an Indo-European people originating in the Alps. Their first known territory was in Central Europe around 1200 BC in the upper Danube, the Alps and parts of France and southern Germany. The Celtic culture spread from its heartland around the Rhine and Danube, reaching Spain and Portugal in the C6th BC and dominating central and Western Europe as well as Galatia in modern Turkey from the C5th BC onwards.

In the next three centuries, they also reached Britain, northern Italy, Greece, the Balkans and Asia Minor. From discoveries of Chinese silk and items of Greek and Italian workmanship in their burials, it is clear that the Celts had a wide network of commercial contacts. Their leaders lived in hill-forts and made many raids on the Mediterranean lands, attacking Rome in 390 BC. The Celtic Iron Age is generally divided into two periods, the Hallstadt (C9th to 5th BC) and La Tène (after 450 BC), named after archaeological sites in Austria and Switzerland. Their characteristic style of decoration, ‘Celtic Art’, spread throughout western and Central Europe, including the British Isles, where it was still being used by the time of the illuminated gospels in the early Middle Ages. They also produced iron, which gave them an advantage over those peoples who had only bronze weapons and tools.

Under the influences of both overcrowding (Milan was traditionally founded by the nephew of a Celtic king banished to alleviate this problem) and the rapid extension of the Roman Empire, migration continued. Control of Celtic lands, even the kingdom of Galatia, passed to the Romans as their Empire spread beyond Italy. The Celtic peoples became incorporated into it with the Mediterranean area of Gaul or Gallia (modern France), becoming a Roman province by the end of the C2nd BC. In Britain, the Belgae, a people of mixed Germanic and Celtic stock, became partially Romanized in the century between the first Roman invasion under Julius Caesar in 54 BC and the Roman conquest of AD 43.

They now mostly inhabit the Western seaboard of the British Isles, with traces of their languages remaining in Manx, Cornish, Breton and English as well as Scottish and Irish Gaelic and Welsh. They were recognised and described as possessing wealth, skills and culture by Ancient authors but never wrote down any of their laws, customs or beliefs. The oral tradition of storytelling was strong, however, and survived particularly well in Ireland, which was never part of the Roman Empire.

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    The Celts History The Celts (Greek ‘Keltoi’) were an Indo-European people originating in the Alps. Their first known territory was in Central Europe a
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