- Celts redirects here. This article is about the European people. For the tool, see celt (tool). For the television documentary series, see The Celts.
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The term Celt, normally pronounced /kɛlt/ (see below), refers to a member of any of a number of peoples in Europe using the Celtic languages, which form a branch of Indo-European languages, as well as others whose language is unknown but where associated cultural traits such as Celtic art are found in
Historical theories were developed that these factors were indicative of a common origin, but later theories of culture spreading to differing indigenous peoples have recently been supported by some genetic studies.
The Celts themselves had an intricate, indigenous polytheistic religion and distinctive culture, though the spread of the Roman Empire led to continental Celts adopting Roman culture. The eventual development of Celtic Christianity in Ireland and Britain brought an early medieval renaissance of Celtic art between 400 and 1200, only ended by the Norman Conquest of Ireland in the late 12th century. Antiquarian interest from the 17th century led to the term Celt being extended, and rising nationalism brought Celtic revivals from the 19th century in areas where the use of Celtic languages had continued.
Today, "Celtic" is often used to describe the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany (see the Modern Celts article) but, in some opinions, corresponds more accurately to the Celtic language family - of which four are spoken today as mother tongues plus two recent revivals, Manx and Cornish: Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx (Goidelic languages) and Welsh, Breton and Cornish (Brythonic languages).
In the last two decades of the twentieth century multidisciplinary studies were brought to bear on the history of the Celts. Disciplines such as ancient history, palaeolinguistics, archaeology, history of art, anthropology, population genetics, history of religion, ethnology, mythology and folklore studies all had an influence on celtic studies.
Development of the term "Celt"
The first literary reference to the Celtic people, as keltoi is by the Greek historian Hecataeus in 517 BC; he locates the Keltoi tribe in Rhenania (West/Southwest Germany). According to Greek mythology, Celtus was the son of Heracles and Keltine, the daughter of Bretannus. Celtus became the primogenitor of Celts. In Latin Celta came in turn from Herodotus' word for the Gauls, Keltoi. The Romans used Celtae to refer to continental Gauls, but apparently not to Insular Celts. The latter were long divided linguistically into Goidhels and Brythons (see Insular Celtic languages), although other research provides a more complex picture (see below under "Classification").
The term in English
The English word is modern, attested from 1707 in the writings of Edward Lhuyd whose work, along with that of other late 17th century scholars, brought academic attention to the languages and history of these early inhabitants of Great Britain. In the 18th century the interest in "primitivism" which led to the idea of the "noble savage" brought a wave of enthusiasm for all things "Celtic". The antiquarian William Stukeley pictured a race of "Ancient Britons" putting up the "Temples of the Ancient Celts" such as Stonehenge before he decided in 1733 to recast the Celts in his book as Druids. The Ossian fables written by James Macpherson and portrayed as ancient Scottish Gaelic language poems added to this romantic enthusiasm. The "Irish revival" came after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 as a conscious attempt to demonstrate an Irish national identity, and with its counterpart in other countries subsequently became the "Celtic revival".
Nowadays "Celt" and "Celtic" are usually pronounced /kɛlt/ and /kɛltɪk/, derived from a Greek root keltoi, when referring to the ethnic group and its languages. The pronunciation /'sɛltɪk/, derived from the French celtique, is mainly used for the names of sports teams (for example the NBA team, Boston Celtics and the SPL side, Celtic F.C. in Glasgow.
In a historical context, the terms "Celt" and "Celtic" can be used in several senses: they can denote peoples speaking Celtic languages; the peoples of prehistoric and early historic Europe who shared common cultural traits which are thought to have originated in the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures; or the peoples known to the Greeks as Keltoi, to the Romans as Celtae and to either by cognate terms such as Gallae or Galatae. The extent to which each of these meanings refers to the same group of people is a matter of debate.
|Isle of Man|
In a modern context, the term "Celt" or "Celtic" can be used to denote peoples speaking Celtic languages and descendants of such peoples. There are six modern nations typically defined as Celtic Nations; these are: Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. Only four, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany have 'mother tongue' speakers of Celtic languages and in none of them is it the language of the majority. All six have significant traces of a Celtic language in personal and place names, and in culture and traditions.
Galicia and Asturias in north western Spain are considered Celtic regions by many because of the strong Celtic cultural identity and acknowledgement of their Celtic past. Regions of England such as Cumbria and Devon likewise retain some Celtic influences yet haven't retained a Celtic language (even Cornwall became fully English-speaking during the 18th century) and are therefore not categorised as Celtic regions or nations. Northumbria, or North East England, isn't considered a Celtic nation but possesses the oldest worn tartan in Britain and has its own bagpipes. Cornish aside, the last attested Celtic language native to England was Cumbric, spoken in Cumbria and southern Scotland and which may have survived until the 13th century, but was most likely dead by the eleventh. As in the case of Cornish, there have been recent attempts to revive it, although the evidence upon which this is based is slight in the extreme. Another area of Europe associated with the Celts is France, which traces its roots to the Gauls. In Scotland, the Gaelic language traces at least some of its roots to migration and settlement by the Irish Dál Riata/Scotti. The settlement of Germanic immigrants in the lowlands — among other things — reduced the spread of the Gaelic language which was supplanting Brythonic in Scotland; this has meant that Scots-Gaelic-speaking communities survive chiefly in the country's northern and western fringes.
"Celts" in Britain and Ireland
The use of the word 'Celtic' as a valid umbrella term for the pre-Roman peoples of Britain has been challenged by many writers — including Simon James, formerly of the British Museum. His book The Atlantic Celts - Ancient People Or Modern Invention? makes the point that the Romans never used the term 'Celtic' in reference to the peoples of Britain and Ireland, and points out that the modern term "Celt" was coined as a useful umbrella term in the early 18th century to distinguish the non-English inhabitants of the archipelago when England united with Scotland in 1707 to create the Kingdom of Great Britain and the later union of Great Britain and Ireland as the United Kingdom in 1800. Nationalists in Scotland, Ireland and Wales looked for a way to differentiate themselves from England and assert their right to independence. James then argues that, despite the obvious linguistic connections, archaeology does not suggest a united Celtic culture and that the term is misleading, no more (or less) meaningful than 'Western'.
Miranda Green, author of Celtic Goddesses, describes archaeologists as finding "a certain homogeneity" in the traditions in the area of Celtic habitation including Britain and Ireland — she sees the inhabitants of Britain and Ireland as having become thoroughly Celticized by the time of the Roman arrival, mainly through spread of culture rather than a movement of people.
In his book Iron Age Britain, Barry Cunliffe concludes that "...there is no evidence in the British Isles to suggest that a population group of any size migrated from the continent in the first millennium BC...". Modern archaeological thought tends to disparage the idea of large population movements without facts to back them up, a caution which appears to be vindicated by some genetic studies. In other words, Celtic culture in the Atlantic Archipelago and continental Europe could have emerged through the peaceful convergence of local tribal cultures bound together by networks of trade and kinship — not by war and conquest. This type of peaceful convergence and cooperation is actually relatively common among tribal peoples; other well known examples of the phenomenon include the Six Nations of the Iroquois League and the Nuer of East Africa. He argues that the ancient Celts are thus best depicted as a loose and highly diverse collection of indigenous tribal societies bound together by trade, a common druidic religion, related languages, and similar political institutions — but each having its own local traditions.
Michael Morse in the conclusion of his book How the Celts came to Britain concedes that the concepts of a broad Celtic linguistic area and recognizably Celtic art have their uses, but argues that the term implies a greater unity than existed. Despite such problems he suggests that the term Celt is probably too deep-rooted to be replaced and — what is more important — it has the definition that we choose to give it. The problem is that the wider public reads into the term quite anachronistic concepts of ethnic unity that no one on either side in the academic debate holds.
With the information gathered recently by population geneticists, it is becoming increasingly clear that the old idea of large-scale replacement by newer invaders is sometimes a misleading concept. The Celtic ethnicity debate took off at a particularly early stage in population genetic studies, a science still in its very early stages of development. Taking this into account along with the fact that these limited studies are dealing only with particular sections of DNA (eg. MtDNA, Y chromosome; no studies can currently be carried out regarding X chromosome inheritance), the results cannot be considered conclusive in any way.
In his book Neanderthal, archaeologist Douglas Palmer refers to genetic research conducted across Europe, then states the original modern genetic group in Europe arrived between 9,000 and 5,000 years ago with the spread of farming, displacing the earlier hunter gatherer populations. Such displacement coincided with a population explosion, since farming is capable of supporting up to 60 times greater population than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the same area:
- "None of Europe's subsequent historic upheavals - even catastrophic wars and famines - has seriously dented the old pattern set by the influx of farmers. The Goths, Huns and Romans have come and gone without any significant impact on the ancient gene map of Europe".
The Y-chromosomes of populations of the so called Celtic countries have been found in several studies to primarily belong to haplogroup R1b, which makes them descendants partially of the first people to migrate into north-western Europe after the last major ice age. According to the most recently published studies of European haplogroups, around half of the current male population of that portion of Eurasia is a descendant of the R1b haplogroup. Haplotype R1b exceeds 90% of Y-chromosomes in parts of Wales, Ireland and Spain.   
In two recently published books - The Blood of the Isles by Brian Sykes and The Origins of the British: a Genetic Detective Story by Stephen Oppenheimer - it is claimed, based upon recent genetic studies, that the majority of Britons have ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula, as a result of a series of migrations that took place during the Mesolithic and, to a lesser extent, the Neolithic eras. Oppenheimer's theory is that the modern day people of Wales, Ireland and Cornwall are mainly descended from Iberians who did not speak a Celtic language.
In Origins of the British (2006), Stephen Oppenheimer states (pages 375 and 378):
By far the majority of male gene types in the British Isles derive from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average only 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory... ...75-95% of British Isles (genetic) matches derive from Iberia...Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of the British Isles have similarly high rates. England has rather lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples...
Origins and geographical distributionTemplate:Unreferenced
The Celtic language family is a branch of the larger Indo-European family, which leads some scholars to a hypothesis that the original speakers of the Celtic proto-language may have arisen in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (see Kurgan). However, speakers of Celtic languages enter history from around 600 BC, when they were already split into several language groups, and spread over much of Central Europe, the Iberian peninsula, Ireland and Britain. Some studies now suggest (see above) that certain Celtic peoples shared genetic ancestry with the Basque people. J. F. del Giorgio in The Oldest Europeans mentions that mythologists like Robert Graves reached a similar conclusion through comparative mythology and the study of Celtic customs.
Some scholars think that the Urnfield culture represents an origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European family. This culture was preeminent in central Europe during the late Bronze Age, from ca. 1200 BC until 700 BC, itself following the Unetice and Tumulus cultures. The Urnfield period saw a dramatic increase in population in the region, probably due to innovations in technology and agricultural practices. The spread of iron-working led to the development of the Hallstatt culture directly from the Urnfield (c. 700 to 500 BC). Proto-Celtic, the latest common ancestor of all known Celtic languages, is considered by this school of thought to have been spoken at the time of the late Urnfield or early Hallstatt cultures, in the early first millennium BC.
The spread of the Celtic languages to Ireland, Britain and Iberia would have occurred during the first half of the 1st millennium, the earliest chariot burials in Britain dating to ca. 500 BC. Over the centuries they developed into the separate Celtiberian, Goidelic and Brythonic languages. Whether Goidelic and Brythonic are descended from a common Insular-Celtic language, or reflect two separate waves of migration, is disputed. Either way, the La Tène culture can be associated with the Gauls, but its dates are entirely too late for it to be a candidate for the Proto-Celtic culture.
The Hallstatt culture was succeeded by the La Tène culture, and during the final stages of the Iron Age gradually transformed into the explicitly Celtic culture of early historical times. The La Tène culture was distributed around the upper reaches of the Danube, Switzerland, Austria, southern and central Germany, northern regions of Italy, eastern France, Bohemia, Moravia, Spain,Slovakia and parts of Hungary and Ukraine. The technologies, decorative practices and metal-working styles of the La Tène were to be very influential on the continental Celts. The La Tène style was highly derivative from the Greek, Etruscan and Scythian decorative styles with whom the La Tène settlers frequently traded.
Additional forays into Greece and central Italy during the historical period did not result in settlement, though the same movement that brought Celtic invaders to Greece pushed on through to Anatolia, where they settled as the Galatians.
As there is no archaeological evidence for large scale invasions in some of the other areas, one current school of thought holds that Celtic language and culture spread to those areas by contact rather than invasion. However, the Celtic invasions of Italy, Greece, and western Anatolia are well documented in Greek and Latin history.
Pliny the Elder affirms that Celtica (the country of origin of the Celts) was in the delta of the river Guadalquivir in the south of Spain "praeter haec in Celtica Acinippo, Arunda, Arunci, Turobriga, Lastigi, Salpesa, Saepone, Serippo. altera Baeturia, quam diximus Turdulorum et conventus Cordubensis, habet oppida non ignobilia Arsam, Mellariam, Mirobrigam Reginam, Sosintigi, Sisaponem".
Celts in Britain and Ireland
The indigenous populations of Britain and Ireland today may be primarily descended from the ancient peoples that have long inhabited these lands, before the coming of Celtic and later Germanic peoples, language and culture. As to the original culture and language, little is known but remnants may remain in the naming of some geographical features, such as the rivers Clyde, Tamar and Thames whose etymology is unclear but may certainly derive from a pre-Celtic substrate. By the Roman period, however, most of the inhabitants of the isles of Ireland and Britain (the ancient Britons) were speaking Goidelic or Brythonic languages, close counterparts to Gallic languages spoken on the European mainland. Historians explained this as the result of successive invasions from the European continent by diverse Celtic-speaking peoples over the course of several centuries. In 1946 the Celtic scholar T. F. O'Rahilly published his extremely influential model of the early history of Ireland which postulated four separate waves of Celtic invaders. It is still not known what languages were spoken by the peoples of Ireland and Britain before the arrival of the Celts.
Later research indicated that the culture had developed gradually and continuously. In Ireland little archaeological evidence was found for large intrusive groups of Celtic immigrants, suggesting to historians such as Colin Renfrew that the native late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed European Celtic influences and language. The very few continental La Tène culture style objects which had been found in Ireland could have been imports, the possessions of a few rich immigrants, or the result of selectively absorbing cultural influences from outside elites, further supporting this theory of cultural exchange rather than migration.
Julius Caesar wrote of people in Britain who came from Belgium (the Belgae), but archaeological evidence which was interpreted in the 1930s as confirming this was contradicted by later interpretations. The archaeological evidence is of substantial cultural continuity through the first millennium BCE, although with a significant overlay of selectively-adopted elements of La Tène culture. There is numismatic and other evidence of continental-style states appearing in southern England close to the end of the period possibly reflecting in part immigration by élites from various Gallic states such as those of the Belgae. However, this immigration would be far too late to account for the origins of Insular Celtic languages. In the 1970s the continuity model was taken to an extreme, popularised by Colin Burgess in his book The Age of Stonehenge which theorised that Celtic culture in Great Britain "emerged" rather than resulted from invasion and that the Celts were not invading aliens, but the descendants of the people of Stonehenge. The existence of Celtic language elsewhere in Europe, however, and the dating of the Proto-Celtic culture and language to the Bronze Age, makes the most extreme claims of continuity impossible.
More recently a number of genetic studies have also supported this model of culture and language being absorbed by native populations. The study by Cristian Capelli, David Goldstein and others at University College, London showed that genes associated with Gaelic names in Ireland and Scotland are also common in certain parts of Wales and are similar to the genes of the Basque people, who speak a non-Indo-European language. This similarity supported earlier findings in suggesting a largely pre-Celtic genetic ancestry, possibly going back to the Paleolithic. They suggest that 'Celtic' culture and the Celtic language may have been imported to Britain by cultural contact, not mass invasions around 600 BC.
Some recent studies have suggested that, contrary to long-standing beliefs, the Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons) did not wipe out the Romano-British of England but rather, over the course of six centuries, conquered the native Brythonic people of what is now England and south east Scotland and imposed their culture and language upon them, in a manner similar to how Irish possibly spread over the west of Scotland. Still others maintain that the picture is mixed and that in some places the indigenous population was indeed wiped out while in others it was assimilated. According to this school of thought the populations of Yorkshire, East Anglia, Northumberland and the Orkney and Shetland Islands are those populations with the fewest traces of ancient (Celtic) British continuation.
For obvious reasons the question of whether or not England originated with a Genocide against the indigenous, culturally Celtic, population is highly controversial and has clear political overtones - particularly with the contemporary emergence of strong Nationalist movements in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall and the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland.
Celts in Gaul
Celts in Iberia
- Main article: Celtiberians.
Traditional scholarship surrounding the Celts virtually ignored the Iberian Peninsula, since material culture relatable to the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures that have defined Iron Age Celts was rare in Iberia, and did not provide a cultural scenario that could easily be linked to that of Central Europe. The Celts in Iberia, however, were divided in two main archaeological and cultural groups. On the one hand were the Hispano-Celtic or Iberian-Proto-Celtic group along the Iberian Atlantic shores, made up of the Lusitanian tribes (in Portugal and the Celtic region that Strabo called Celtica in the southwest including the Algarve, inhabited by the Celtici), the Vettones, Vacceani and Germani tribes (of central west Spain), and the Gallaecian, Artabric, Astures and Cantabrian tribes of the Castro culture of north and northwest Spain); On the other hand was the Celtiberian group of central Spain and the upper Ebro valley, which both present special, local features. The group originated when Celts migrated from what is now France and integrated with the local Iberian people. The origins of the Celtiberians might provide a key to unlocking the Celticization process in the rest of the Peninsula.
At the dawn of history in Europe, the Celts in present-day France were known as Gauls. Their descendants were described by Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars. There was also an early Celtic presence in northern Italy. Other Celtic tribes invaded Italy, establishing there a city they called Mediolanum (modern Milan) and sacking Rome itself in 390 BC following the Battle of the Allia.
The Celts settled much further south of the Po River than many maps show. Remnants in the town of Doccia, in the province of Emilia-Romagna, showcase Celtic houses in very good condition dating from about the 4th century BC.
A century later the defeat of the combined Samnite, Celtic and Etruscan alliance by the Romans in the Third Samnite War sounded the end of the Celtic domination in Europe, but it was not until 192 BC that the Roman armies conquered the last remaining independent Celtic kingdoms in Italy.
Under Caesar the Romans conquered Celtic Gaul, and from Claudius onward the Roman empire absorbed parts of the Celtic British Isles. Roman local government of these regions closely mirrored pre-Roman 'tribal' boundaries, and archaeological finds suggest native involvement in local government. Latin was the official language of these regions after the conquests.
The native peoples under Roman rule became Romanised and keen to adopt Roman ways. Celtic art had already incorporated classical influences, and surviving Gallo-Roman pieces interpret classical subjects or keep faith with old traditions despite a Roman overlay.
The Roman occupation of Gaul, and to a lesser extent of Britain, led to Roman-Celtic syncretism, see Roman Gaul, Roman Britain. In the case of Gaul, this eventually resulted in the dilution of Gaulish language, and the creation of a "Vulgar Latin," see Gallo-Roman culture. However, the Celts were master horsemen, and they so impressed the Romans that it led the Romans to adopt worship of Epona, the Celtic horse goddess. During and after the fall of the Roman Empire many parts of France threw out their Roman administrators and reverted to a Celtic sense of self.
It could be argued that Rome went through a “Gaulization” as their soldiers acquired many traits from the Celts, especially in the fields of war, swords, armor design and the habit of carrying two pillum into battle, all distinctly Celtic (and Celtiberian) traits.
While the regions under Roman rule adopted Christianity along with the rest of the Roman empire, unconquered areas of Scotland and Ireland moved from Celtic polytheism to Celtic Christianity which was a major source of missionary work in other parts of Britain and central Europe, see Hiberno-Scottish mission. This brought the early medieval renaissance of Celtic art between 390 and 1200 A.D., developing many of the styles now thought of as typically Celtic, and found through much of Ireland and Britain, including the north-east and far north of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. This was brought to an end by Roman Catholic and Norman influence, though the Celtic languages and some influences of the art continued.
Successive waves of Germanic speaking invaders settled in and were absorbed by western Celtic countries, themselves having been forced by Huns and Scythians or simply population pressures out of their homelands. With the fall of the Roman Empire the Celts of Gaul, Iberia, Britannia and Belgium were all affected (linguistically more than genetically) by Germanic languages, the resulting languages of such countries combine various elements of Latin Celtic and Germanic languages. The ease and quickness with which several identified “German” tribes assimilated into Celtic cultures would seem to imply that they were simply compatible with Celtic countries or more decisively Celtic themselves. The Franks established peace with the rebellious Bretons by stating “we are all Celts” in the 7th Century.
Only on a few occasions were Celtic populations fully assimilated by invaders and in such countries their marks still remain in cultural legends and a number of place names such as Bohemia, after the Boii tribe which once lived there. The mythology of Celtic countries has been absorbed into the folklore of half a dozen other countries. For instance, the famous Medieval English Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is almost certainly partially derived from the medieval Irish text Fled Bricrend.
Argument rages in the academic world as to whether the population of Celts in England were largely displaced or merely absorbed by invading Germanic tribes (Anglo-Saxons) in the 4th - 6th centuries. Many historians now argue that the Germanic migration was smaller than previously believed or may have consisted merely of a social elite, with the genocide more cultural rather than physical due to such relatively few numbers of Anglo-Saxons mixing with the larger native population. A recent DNA study on Y-chromosome inheritance has suggested that the population of England maintains a predominantly ancient British element. The general indigenous population of Yorkshire, East Anglia and the Orkney and Shetland Islands are those populations with the very least traces of ancient British paternal continuation. Ironically, it may be Viking genetic influence and not Anglo-Saxon which has had a more profound impact on paternal British bloodlines, or it could very well have been a combination of both groups.
To the extent that sources are available, they depict a pre-Christian Celtic social structure based formally on class and kinship. Patron-client relationships similar to those of Roman society are also described by Caesar and others in the Gaul of the first century BC.
In the main, the evidence is of tribes being led by kings, although some argue that there is evidence of oligarchical republican forms of government eventually emerging in areas in close contact with Rome. Most descriptions of Celtic societies describe them as being divided into three groups: a warrior aristocracy; an intellectual class including professions such as druid, poet, and jurist; and everyone else. There are instances recorded where women participated both in warfare and in kingship, although they were in the minority in these areas. 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 where the succession goes to the first born son.
Archaeological discoveries at the Vix Burial indicate that women could achieve high status and power within at least one Celtic society. As Celtic history was only carried forward by oral tradition, it has been advanced that the traditions finally recorded in the seventh century can be projected back through Celtic history. If this is so then, according to the Cáin Lánamna, a woman had the right to demand divorce, take back whatever property she brought into the marriage and be free to remarry. If later Celtic tradition can be projected back, and from Ireland to Britain and the continent, then Celtic law demanded that children, the elderly, and the mentally handicapped be looked after.
Little is known of family structure among the Celts. Athenaeus in his Deipnosophists, 13.603, claims that "the Celts, in spite of the fact that their women are very beautiful, prefer boys as sexual partners. There are some of them who will regularly go to bed – on those animal skins of theirs – with a pair of lovers", implying a woman and a boy. Such reports reflect outsiders' interpretations of Celtic culture; however, it should be noted that Age-structured homosexuality was common, and often accepted as normal, in many pre-Christian European cultures.
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. 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". The Irish also liked to play games such as fidchell and hurling.
Patterns of settlement varied from decentralised to the urban. The popular stereotype of non-urbanised societies settled in hillforts and duns, drawn from Britain and Ireland contrasts with the urban settlements present in the core Hallstatt and La Tene areas, with the many significant oppida of Gaul late in the first millennium BC, and with the towns of Gallia Cisalpina.
There is archaeological evidence to suggest that the pre-Roman Celtic societies were linked to the network of overland trade routes that spanned Eurasia. Large prehistoric trackways crossing bogs in Ireland and Germany have been found by archaeologists. They 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 jewelry for international trade, particularly with the Romans. Celtic traders were also in contact with the Phoenicians: gold works made in pre-Roman Ireland have been unearthed in archaeological digs in Palestine and trade routes between Atlantic societies and Palestine dating back to at least 1600 BC.
Local trade was largely in the form of barter, but as with most tribal societies they probably had a reciprocal economy in which goods and other services are not exchanged, but are given on the basis of mutual relationships and the obligations of kinship. Low value coinages of potin, silver and bronze, suitable for use in trade, were minted in most Celtic areas of the continent, and in South-East Britain prior to the Roman conquest of these areas. The Coligny calendar, which was more accurate than the Roman calendar, shows that the Celts in Gaul had some understanding of mathematics and astronomy.
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 was mostly used in early Christian times in Ireland and Scotland, 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. The oldest recorded rhyming poetry in the world is of Irish origin and is a transcription of a much older epic poem, leading some scholars to claim that the Celts invented Rhyme. They were highly skilled in visual arts and Celtic art 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, though when faced with the Romans in Britain, their chariot tactics defeated the invasion attempted by Julius Caesar.
Celtic religious patterns
Celtic religious patterns were regionally variable, however some patterns of deity forms, and ways of worshiping these deities, appear over a wide geographical and temporal range. The Celts worshipped both gods and goddesses. In general, the gods were deities of particular skills, such as the many-skilled Lugh and Dagda, and the goddesses associated with natural features, most 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, healing and warfare.
Triplicities are a common theme in Celtic cosmology and a number of deities were seen as threefold.
The Celts had literally hundreds of deities, some unknown outside of a single family or tribe, while others were popular enough to have a following that crossed boundaries of language and culture. For instance, the Irish god Lugh, associated with storms, lightning, and culture, is seen in a similar form 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, as priests and religious officiants, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers and lore-keepers. In general, they were the "college professors" of their time. Druids organized and ran the religious ceremonies, as well as memorizing and teaching the calendar. Though generally quite accurate, the Celtic calendar required manual correction about every 40 years, therefore knowledge of mathematics was required. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community.
The Celts as head-hunters
"Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world." - Paul Jacobsthal, Early Celtic Art.
The Celtic cult of the severed head is documented not only in the many sculptured representations of severed heads in La Tène carvings, but in the surviving Celtic mythology, which is full of stories of the severed heads of heroes and the saints who carry their decapitated heads, right down to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the Green Knight picks up his own severed head after Gawain has struck it off, just as St. Denis carried his head to the top of Montmartre. Separated from the mundane body, although still alive, the animated head acquires the ability to see into the mythic realm.
A further example of this regeneration after beheading lies in the tales of Connemara's St Feichin, who after being beheaded by Viking pirates carried his head to the Holy Well on Omey Island and on dipping the head into the well placed it back upon his neck and was restored to full health.
Diodorus Siculus, in his 1st century History had this to say about Celtic head-hunting: "They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and carry off as booty, while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory; and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses, just as do those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies, and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that for this head one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold.
The Celts also believed that if they attached the head of their enemy to a pole or a fence near their house, the head would start crying when the enemy was near. Also if the head was taken from an enemy who was important enough they would put it in a church and pray to it believing it had magic powers.
The Celtic headhunters venerated the image of the severed head as a continuing source of spiritual power. If the head is the seat of the soul, possessing the severed head of an enemy, honorably reaped in battle, added prestige to any warrior's reputation. According to tradition the buried head of a god or hero named Bran the Blessed protected Britain from invasion across the English Channel.
Names for the Celts
The origin of the various names used since classical times for the people known today as the Celts is obscure and has been controversial. It appears that none of the terms recorded were ever used by Celtic speakers of themselves. In particular, there is no record of the term "Celt" being used in connection with the inhabitants of Ireland and Britain prior to the 19th century.
The name "Gauls"
English "Gaul(s)" and Latin Gallus or Galli might be from an originally Celtic ethnic or tribal name (perhaps borrowed into Latin during the early 400s BC, Celtic expansions into Italy). Its root may be the Common Celtic *galno, meaning "power" or "strength". Greek Galatai (see Galatia in Anatolia) seems to be based on the same root, borrowed directly from the same hypothetical Celtic source which gave us Galli (the suffix -atai is simply an ethnic name indicator).
The English form Gaul comes from the French Gaule and Gaulois, which is the traditional rendering of Latin Gallia and Gallus, -icus respectively. However, the diphthong au points to a different origin, namely a Romance adaptation of the Germanic *Walha-. See Gaul: Name.
The word "Welsh"
The word "Welsh" is Germanic, yet it may ultimately have a Celtic source. It may be the result of an early borrowing (in the 4th century BC) of the Celtic tribal name Volcae into early Germanic (becoming the Proto-Germanic *Walh-, "foreigner of the Roman lands" and the suffixed form *Walhisk-). The Volcae were one of the Celtic peoples that for two centuries barred the southward expansion of the Germanic tribes in what is now central Germany on the line of the Hartz mountains and into Saxony and Silesia.
In the Middle Ages certain districts of what is now Germany were known as Welschland as opposed to Deutschland, and the word is cognate with Vlach (see: Etymology of Vlach) and Walloon as well as with the "wall" in "Cornwall". Other examples are the surnames Wallace and Walsh. During the early Germanic period, the term seems to have been applied to the peasant population of the Roman Empire, most of whom were, in the areas immediately settled by the Germanic people, of ultimately Celtic origin.
The name "Celts"
English "Celt(s)", Latin Celtus pl. Celti (Celtae), Greek Κέλτης pl. Κέλτες (Keltoi) seem to be based on a native Celtic ethnic name (singular *Celtos or *Celta with plurals *Celtoi or *Celtas), of uncertain origin. The root would seem to be a Primitive Indo-European *kel- or (s)kel-, but there are several such roots of various meanings to choose from (*kel- "to be prominent", *kel- "to drive or set in motion", *kel- "to strike or cut" etc.)