Celts – British and London Museums

I love Celtic art and history. The British Museum had an exhibit on the Celts in December 2015. I also saw some lovely Celtic pieces at the Museum of London. The word “Celts” is a cultural label and not an ethnic identity.

The Celts of Iron Age and Medieval Europe who had similar languages and cultures but not ethnicities. Much of the ethnic, geographic, linguistic and cultural origins of the Celts is uncertain. Details of the Celts of Great Britain and Ireland are still being debated.

With the expansion of the Roman Empire and the Great Migrations of Germanic peoples in the mid-1st century Celtic culture had become restricted to Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany. Between the 5th and 8th centuries. They had a distinctive linguistic, religious, and artistic heritage. The Continental Celtic languages were no longer in wide use by the 6th century.

Insular Celtic culture diversified into the Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx) and the Brythonic Celts (Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons) of the medieval and modern periods. A modern “Celtic identity” is a part of a Celtic Revival in Great Britain, Ireland, and in 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.

Hecataeus of Miletus, the Greek geographer, in 517 BC first recorded the Celts – as Κελτοί – refering to a people living near Massilia (modern Marseille). In the 5th century BC Herodotus referred to Keltoi as living around the head of the Danube and in the far west of Europe. The etymology of the term Keltoi is unclear. Possible roots include Indo-European kel ‘to hide’ (also in Old Irish celid), IE *kel ‘to heat’ or kel ‘to impel’. Some say it is Celtic in origin, while others view it as a name coined by Greeks. Linguist Patrizia De Bernardo Stempel suggests it means “the tall ones”.

In the 1st century BC Julius Caesar reported that the people known as Gauls (Galli) called themselves Celts. This suggests the name Keltoi, if bestowed by the Greeks, had been adopted by the tribes of Gaul. The geographer Strabo in the late 1st century BC refers to the “…Gallic and Galatic,” and also uses Celtica as a synonym for Gaul, which is separated from Iberia by the Pyrenees. He reports “Celtiberi and Celtici” peoples in Iberia. Pliny the Elder cited Celtici in Lusitania as a tribal surname, which is confirmed by epigraphic findings.

Latin Gallus (pl. Galli) might stem from a Celtic ethnic or tribal name originally, perhaps one borrowed into Latin during the Celtic expansions into Italy during the early 5th century BC. Its root may be the Common Celtic galno, meaning “power, strength”, hence Old Irish gal “boldness, ferocity” and Welsh gallu “to be able, power”. The tribal names of Gallaeci and the Greek Γαλάται (Galatai, Latinized Galatae; see the region Galatia in Anatolia) most probably go with the same origin. The suffix -atai might be an Ancient Greek inflection. Classical writers did not apply the terms Κελτοί or “Celtae” to the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland, which has led to some scholars preferring not to use the term for the Iron Age inhabitants of those islands.

Celt is a modern English word, first attested in 1707, in the writing of Edward Lhuyd, whose work, along with that of other late 17th century scholars, brought academic attention to the languages and history of the early Celtic inhabitants of Great Britain. The 17th century English form Gaul and Gaulish come from the French Gaule and Gaulois, a borrowing from Frankish Walholant, “Land of foreigners or Romans”, the root of which is Proto-Germanic walha-, “foreigner”’, or “Celt”, whence the English word Welsh (Anglo-Saxon wælisċ walhiska-), South German welsch, meaning “Celtic speaker”, “French speaker” or “Italian speaker” in different contexts, and Old Norse valskr, pl. valir, “Gaulish, French”). Proto-Germanic walha is derived ultimately from the name of the Volcae, a Celtic tribe who lived first in the South of Germany and emigrated then to Gaul. This means that English Gaul, despite its superficial similarity, is not actually derived from Latin Gallia (which should have produced Jaille in French), though it does refer to the same ancient region.

Celtic refers to a family of languages and, more generally, means “of the Celts” or “in the style of the Celts”. Several ancient cultures are considered Celtic in nature, based on unique sets of artefacts. The link between language and artefact is aided by the presence of inscriptions. The modern idea of an identifiable Celtic cultural identity or “Celticity” generally focuses on similarities among languages, works of art, and classical texts, and, social organization, homeland and mythology. Recent theories hold that they reflect a common cultural and language heritage more than a genetic one.

Today, the term Celtic generally refers to the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany, also known as the Celtic nations. These are the regions where four Celtic languages are still spoken to some extent as mother tongues. The four are Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton; also two recent revivals, Cornish (one of the Brythonic languages) and Manx (one of the Goidelic languages). There are also attempts to reconstruct the Cumbric language (a Brythonic language from North West England and South West Scotland). Celtic regions of Continental Europe are those whose residents claim a Celtic heritage, but where no Celtic language has survived; these areas include the western Iberian Peninsula, i.e. Portugal, and north-central Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile and León, Extremadura).

Continental Celts are the Celtic-speaking people of mainland Europe and Insular Celts are the Celtic-speaking peoples of the British and Irish islands and their descendants. The Celts of Brittany derive their language from migrating insular Celts, mainly from Wales and Cornwall, and so are grouped accordingly.

Language

The Celtic languages form a branch of the larger Indo-European family. By around 400 BC in the late Bronze Age, the Celtic languages were already split into several groups, and spread over much of Western continental Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Ireland and Britain. Evidence of Insular Celtic is available only from about 400 AD, in the form of Primitive Irish Ogham inscriptions. An important source of information on early Celtic is place names (toponymy).

Some scholars believe that the Urnfield culture of the late Bronze Age (c. 1200 BC to 700 BC) of Western Middle Europe is the origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European family.

The spread of iron-working led to the development of the Hallstatt culture directly from the Urnfield (c. 700 to 500 BC). Proto-Celtic is considered to have been spoken during the late Urnfield or early Hallstatt cultures, in the early 1st millennium BC. The spread of the Celtic languages to Iberia, Ireland and Britain would have occurred during the first half of the 1st millennium BC. The earliest Celtic style chariot burials in Britain date to c. 500 BC. Some scholars see Celtic languages as covering Britain and Ireland, and parts of the Continent, long before any evidence of “Celtic” culture is found in archaeology. Over the centuries the language(s) developed into the separate Celtiberian, Goidelic and Brythonic languages.

The Hallstatt culture was succeeded by the La Tène culture of central Europe, which was overrun by the Roman Empire, though traces of La Tène style are still to be seen in Gallo-Roman artefacts. In Britain and Ireland La Tène style in art survived precariously to re-emerge in Insular art. Early Irish literature casts light on the flavor and tradition of the heroic warrior elites who dominated Celtic societies. Celtic river-names are found in great numbers around the upper reaches of the Danube and Rhine, which led many Celtic scholars to place the ethnogenesis of the Celts in this area.

Diodorus Siculus and Strabo both suggest that the heartland of the people they called Celts was in southern France. The former says that the Gauls were to the north of the Celts, but that the Romans referred to both as Gauls (linguistically the Gauls were certainly Celts). Before the discoveries at Hallstatt and La Tène, it was generally considered that the Celtic heartland was southern France, see Encyclopædia Britannica for 1813.

Archaeological evidence

Before the 19th century the original land of the Celts was placed west of the Rhine, more precisely in Gaul, because it was where Greek and Roman ancient sources, namely Caesar, located the Celts. This view was revised by the 19th century historian Marie Henri d’Arbois de Jubainville who placed the land of origin of the Celts east of the Rhine. Jubainville based his arguments on a phrase of Herodotus’ that placed the Celts at the source of the Danube, and argued that Herodotus had meant to place the Celtic homeland in southern Germany. The finding of the prehistoric cemetery of Hallstat in 1846 by Johan Ramsauer and the finding of the archaeological site of La Tène by Hansli Kopp in 1857 drew attention to this area.

The concept that the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures could be seen not just as chronological periods but as “Culture Groups” of people of the same ethnicity and language, started to grow by the end of the 19th century. In the beginning of the 20th century the Gordon Childe theorized that these “Culture Groups” could be thought of in racial or ethnic terms. His theory was influenced by the writings of Gustaf Kossinna. This theory was bolstered by findings of “La Tène culture” and “flat inhumation cemeteries” which were directly associated with the Celts and the Celtic language. The Iron Age Hallstatt (c. 800–475 BC) and La Tène (c. 500–50 BC) cultures are typically associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic culture.

In various academic disciplines the Celts were considered a Central European Iron Age phenomenon, through the cultures of Hallstatt and La Tène. However, archaeological finds from the Halstatt and La Tène culture were rare in the Iberian Peninsula, in southwestern France, northern and western Britain, southern Ireland and Galatia and did not provide enough evidence for a cultural scenario comparable to that of Central Europe. It is considered equally difficult to maintain that the origin of the Peninsular Celts can be linked to the preceding Urnfield culture, leading to a more recent approach that introduces a ‘proto-Celtic’ substratum and a process of Celticisation having its initial roots in the Bronze Age Bell Beaker culture.

The La Tène culture was late Iron Age (from 450 BC to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC) and found in eastern France, Switzerland, Austria, southwest Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It developed out of the Hallstatt culture, with Mediterranean influence from Greek, and later Etruscan civilizations. A shift of settlement centers took place in the 4th century.

The western La Tène culture corresponds to historical Celtic Gaul. If the whole La Tène culture can be called a unified Celtic people is difficult to say; archaeologists show that language, material culture, and political affiliations do not necessarily run parallel. Frey notes that in the 5th century, “burial customs in the Celtic world were not uniform; rather, localized groups had their own beliefs, which, in consequence, also gave rise to distinct artistic expressions”. Thus, while the La Tène culture is certainly associated with the Gauls, the presence of La Tène artefacts may be due to cultural contact and does not imply the permanent presence of Celtic speakers.

Minority views

Myles Dillon and Nora Kershaw Chadwick accepted that “the Celtic settlement of the British Isles” might have to be dated to the Beaker period. Martín Almagro Gorbea proposed the origins of the Celts could be traced back to the 3rd millennium BC, rooted in the Bell Beaker culture, with a wide dispersion of the Celts throughout western Europe, variability of the different Celtic peoples. Using a multidisciplinary approach Alberto J. Lorrio and Gonzalo Ruiz Zapatero added to Almagro Gorbea’s work with a model for the origin of the Celtic archaeological groups in the Iberian Peninsula. More recently, John Koch and Barry Cunliffe have suggested that Celtic origins lie with the Atlantic Bronze Age, roughly contemporaneous with the Hallstatt culture but positioned considerably to the West, extending along the Atlantic coast of Europe.

Stephen Oppenheimer points out that the only written evidence that locates the Keltoi near the source of the Danube (i.e. in the Hallstatt region) is in the Histories of Herodotus. However, Oppenheimer shows that Herodotus seemed to believe the Danube rose near the Pyrenees, which would place the Ancient Celts in a region which is more in agreement with later Classical writers and historians (i.e. in Gaul and the Iberian Peninsula).

Gaul

The Romans knew the Celts living in what became present-day France as Gauls. Their territories probably included the Low Countries, the Alps and present-day northern Italy. Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars described the 1st century BC descendants of those Gauls. Eastern Gaul became the center of the western La Tène culture. In later Iron Age Gaul, the social organization was similar to the Romans, with large towns. From the 3rd century BC the Gauls used coins.

The Romans arrived in the Rhone valley in the 2nd century BC and encountered a mostly Celtic-speaking Gaul. Rome wanted land communications with its Iberian provinces and fought a major battle with the Saluvii at Entremont in 124–123 BC. Gradually Roman control extended, and the Roman Province of Gallia Transalpina developed along the Mediterranean coast. The Romans knew the remainder of Gaul as Gallia Comata – “Hairy Gaul”.

In 58 BC the Helvetii planned to migrate westward but Julius Caesar forced them back. He then fought other tribes in Gaul, and by 55 BC had overrun most of Gaul. In 52 BC Vercingetorix led a revolt against the Roman occupation but was defeated at the siege of Alesia and surrendered.

Following the Gallic Wars of 58–51 BC, Caesar’s Celtica formed the main part of Roman Gaul, becoming the province of Gallia Lugdunensis. This territory of the Celtic tribes was bounded on the south by the Garonne and on the north by the Seine and the Marne.

Place, personal name analysis, and inscriptions suggest that the Gaulish Celtic language was spoken over most of what is now France.

Iberia

Until the end of the 19th century scholars acknowledged the Celts’ existed in the Iberian Peninsula and where related to the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures. However, since Iron Age in the 19th century Celtic populations were supposedly rare in Iberia and not linked to that of Central Europe. Three divisions of the Celts of the Iberian Peninsula are: The Celtiberians in the mountains near the center of the peninsula, the Celtici in the southwest, and the Celts in the northwest (in Gallaecia and Asturias).

The origins of the Celtiberians might be key to understanding the Celticisation process in the rest of the Peninsula. Recent investigations about the Callaici and Bracari in northwestern Portugal are providing new approaches to understanding Celtic culture (language, art and religion) in western Iberia.

John T. Koch of Aberystwyth University suggested that Tartessian inscriptions of the 8th century BC might be classified as Celtic. This would mean that Tartessian is the earliest attested trace of Celtic by a margin of more than a century.

Alps and Po Valley

Celtic (Lepontic, sometimes called Cisalpine Celtic) 6th century BC inscriptions have been found in Northern Italy at Golasecca, where the Ticino exits from Lake Maggiore. A location suitable for long-distance salt trading exchanges between Etruscans and the Halstatt culture of Austria.

In 391 BC Celts from “…beyond the Alps streamed through the passes in great strength and seized the territory that lay between the Apennine mountains and the Alps” said Diodorus Siculus. The Po Valley and the rest of northern Italy (known as Cisalpine Gaul) was inhabited by Celtic-speakers who founded cities such as Milan. Later the Celts routed Roman army at the battle of Allia and Rome was sacked in 390 BC by the Senones. At the battle of Telamon in 225 BC a large Celtic army was trapped between two Roman forces and crushed. The defeat of the combined Samnite, Celtic and Etruscan alliance by the Romans in the Third Samnite War was the beginning of the end of the Celtic domination in mainland Europe. In 192 BC the Roman armies conquered the last remaining independent Celtic kingdoms in Italy.

Eastward expansion

The Celts also expanded down the Danube river and its tributaries. The Scordisci tribe’s capital was at Singidunum in 3rd century BC (present-day Belgrade, Serbia). The concentration of hill-forts and cemeteries shows a dense population in the Tisza valley of modern-day Vojvodina, Serbia, Hungary and into Ukraine. Expansion into Romania was blocked by the Dacians.

Further south, Celts settled in Thrace (Bulgaria), which they ruled for over a century, and Anatolia, where they settled as the Galatians (see also: Gallic Invasion of Greece). Despite their geographical isolation from the rest of the Celtic world, the Galatians maintained their Celtic language for at least 700 years. St Jerome, who visited Ancyra (modern-day Ankara) in 373 AD, likened their language to that of the Treveri of northern Gaul. Galatia in central Turkey was an area of dense Celtic settlement. The Boii tribe gave their name to Bohemia, Bologna and possibly Bavaria, and Celtic artefacts and cemeteries have been discovered in Poland and Slovakia.

The Celtic language and culture spread to some areas by contact rather than invasion. However, the Celtic invasions of Italy and the expedition in Greece and western Anatolia, are well documented in Greek and Latin history. There are records of Celtic mercenaries in Egypt serving the Ptolemies. Thousands were employed in 283–246 BC and they were also in service around 186 BC. They attempted to overthrow Ptolemy II.

Insular Celts

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 debate over whether a Celtic language came to Britain and Ireland and then split or whether there were two separate “invasions”. The older view 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. This view has fallen into disfavor, to be replaced by the model of a phylogenetic Insular Celtic dialect group.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars dated the “arrival” of Celtic culture in Britain (via invasion) to the 6th century BC, based on similar Hallstatt type archaeological evidence of chariot burials in England. Some Iron Age migration was possible but details are vague. 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, the new model (championed by archaeologists such as Barry Cunliffe and Celtic historians such as John T. Koch) places the emergence of Celtic culture in Britain much earlier, in the Bronze Age due to a gradual emergence of the Proto-Indo-European culture – perhaps introduced by the Bell Beaker People and enabled by the network between the peoples of Britain, Ireland and the Atlantic seaboard.

Classical writers did not use the terms Κελτοί or “Celtae” when referring 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, who sailed around “Pretannikai nesoi” around 310-306 BC 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.

Romanization

Roman local government mirrored pre-Roman tribal boundaries, and archaeological finds suggest native involvement in local government. The native peoples became keen to adopt Roman ways. Celtic art incorporated classical influences, and kept faith with old traditions despite a Roman overlay. The Gauls often served in the Roman cavalry and the Romans adopted the Celtic cavalry sword, the spatha, and Epona, the Celtic horse goddess.

Society

Tribes appear to have been led by kings, although there is some evidence of oligarchical republican forms of government eventually emerging in areas closely tied to Rome. Celtic societies were divided into three groups: a warrior aristocracy; an intellectual class including professions such as druid, poet, and jurist; and everyone else. In ancient 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 decentralized to urban. The popular stereotype of non-urbanized 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 many fortified Iron Age settlements (oppida) of Gaul late in the first millennium BC, and with the towns of Gallia Cisalpina.

Slaves were acquired from war, raids, and penal and debt servitude. Slavery was hereditary, though manumission was possible. The Old Irish and Welsh words for ‘slave’, cacht and caeth respectively, are cognate with Latin captus ‘captive’ suggesting that the 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.

Archaeologist have discovered large prehistoric trackways created for wheeled transport crossing bogs in Ireland and Germany, part of a network of overland trade routes that spanned Eurasia. The Celts mined tin, lead, iron, silver and gold. Celtic smiths and metalworkers created weapons and jewelry for international trade, particularly with the Romans.

The monetary system was complex and is still not understood. 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 axe heads, rings, or bells.

Appearance and Clothing

According to Diodorus Siculus: “The Gauls are tall of body with rippling muscles and white of skin and their hair is blond, and not only naturally so for they also make it their practice by artificial means to increase the distinguishing color which nature has given it. For they are always washing their hair in limewater and they pull it back from the forehead to the nape of the neck, with the result that their appearance is like that of Satyrs and Pans since the treatment of their hair makes it so heavy and coarse that it differs in no respect from the mane of horses. Some of them shave the beard but others let it grow a little; and the nobles shave their cheeks but they let the moustache grow until it covers the mouth.”

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 jewelry 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 norms

According to Aristotle 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).” In book XIII of his Deipnosophists, the Roman Greek rhetorician and grammarian Athenaeus, repeating 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.”

A few records show women participated both in warfare and in kingship. 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 the Roman’s.

Evidence in some Iron Age burial sites in the Champagne and Bourgogne regions of Northeastern France suggest that women had roles in combat during the earlier La Tène period. Individuals buried with both female jewelry 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. It has been suggested that “the weapons may indicate rank instead of masculinity”.

Among the insular Celts documents suggest symbolic if not actual roles warrior for women. There is the famous commentary by Tacitus about Boudica. Poseidonius’ 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

Celtic art is generally the art of the La Tène period across Europe, while the Early Medieval art of Britain and Ireland called “Celtic art” by much of the general public, is called Insular art in art history. Both styles absorbed considerable influences from non-Celtic sources, with a preference for geometrical decoration over figurative subjects, which are often extremely stylized 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 with decorative carving, is very rare; possibly it was originally common in wood. Celts also created musical instruments such as the carnyces. These famous war trumpets were used before the battle to frighten the enemy, the best preserved one was found in Tintignac (Gaul) in 2004 and is decorated with a boar head or a snake head.

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 and incorporated with great skill and enthusiasm by Celtic artists in metalwork and illuminated manuscripts. These “Celtic” forms were used for the finest Insular art; such as, in 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. The peak period of Insular art lasted from the 7th to the 9th centuries, before the Viking attacks sharply set back cultural life.

In contrast the less well known spectacular art of the richest earlier Continental Celts 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 formalized styles. Roman Britain created more enamel objects than most of the Empire, and its development of champlevé technique was probably important to the later Medieval art of the whole of Europe. Rising nationalism led to a revival of Celtic art in the 19th century.

Warfare and weapons

While epic literature depicts warfare as more of a sport focused on raids and hunting rather than organized 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.

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…” The Celtic weapon was a long bladed sword which was used for hacking edgewise rather than stabbing.

Polybius 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.

Polytheism

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.

The Irish god Lugh, associated with storms, lightning, and culture, is seen in similar forms as Lugos in Gaul and Lleu in Wales. The continental Celtic horse goddess Epona had her Irish and Welsh counterparts, Macha and Rhiannon, respectively.

Druids held ceremonies 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 served as priests and religious officiants, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers, and lore-keepers. Druids organized and ran religious ceremonies, and they memorized and taught the calendar. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community.

Gallic calendar

The Coligny calendar, an engraved on a bronze tablet, dates to the end of the 2nd century, and was found in 1897 in Coligny, Ain, was. It is written in Latin inscriptional capitals, and is in the Gallic language. The restored tablet contains 16 vertical columns, with 62 months distributed over 5 years. The French archaeologist J. Monard speculated that it was recorded by druids wishing to preserve their tradition of timekeeping in a time when the Julian calendar was imposed throughout the Roman Empire.

Roman influence

The Roman invasion of Gaul led to many changes in Celtic religion, the most noticeable of which was the weakening of the druid class, especially religiously. Deities began to appear with both Roman and Celtic attributes. Other changes included the adaptation of the Jupiter Column, a sacred column set up in many Celtic regions of the empire. Another major change was the use of stone monuments to represent gods and goddesses. Prior to Roman conquest the Celts had only created wooden idols; such as, monuments (sacred poles) carved into trees.

Celtic Christianity

areas of Ireland and Scotland unconquered by the Romans began to move from Celtic polytheism to Christianity in the 5th century. Ireland was converted by missionaries, such as Saint Patrick, from Britain. Later missionaries from Ireland went to Scotland, Anglo-Saxon parts of Britain, and central Europe. Celtic Christianity in Britain and Ireland had limited contact with Rome, continental Christianity, and Coptic Christianity. Celtic Christianity developed, or retained, features that made them distinct from the rest of Western Christianity, most famously their conservative method of calculating the date of Easter. In 664 the Synod of Whitby began to resolve these differences.

The free standing Celtic cross with a circular nimbus (representing a halo or sun cross) Is a form created by early Celtic Christians (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_cross).
I wonder if it is also an incorporation of the sacred poles carved into trees. 

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celts) This is my much reduced version – believe it or not. I hope a few of you are interested enough to read all this.


A few other photographs taken at the two museums:

4 thoughts on “Celts – British and London Museums

  1. Midwestern Plant Girl 2016-02-08 / 6:38 am

    Great read! My family tree started growing in the German area along with my hubby’s in Ireland. We are fascinated by Celtic history.
    My hero is Queen Boudicca, a Celt who had to take on the Roman’s after they killed her hubby and raped her daughters. She was so underestimated as a woman, that Ceaser kept sending troops (to their deaths) thinking it would only take one army to kill her. He had to send a few to finally take her down.
    Never underestimate a woman! !

    Liked by 2 people

  2. the dune mouse 2016-02-10 / 11:11 pm

    great history and I love it. Thanks for this so informative post. Of course in Scotland there were also the Picts. I wrote a tiny bit about St. Columba on the Isle of Skye.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sherry Lynn Felix 2016-02-11 / 4:23 am

      Scottish history is fascinating too. I remember being there as a child and love reading about it. Such a dark romantic place. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

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