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The Celts were an ancient cultural group, rather than a society. Spread out across large tracts of Europe, loosely bonded by a similar language structure and made up of sizeable tribal factions. Defined as barbarians by ancient scholars, they were as equally happy to farm as they were to wage war upon other nations, people and cultures.
The Celts wrote little about themselves. Much of what is known has been unearthed via burial mounds, archaeological findings and ancient text written by long dead scholars from other cultures. For the main, they appeared to be semi-nomadic, preferring to roam across continental Europe without apparent rhyme or reason. Often viewed as barbaric due to their behaviours, they held strong pagan beliefs, worshipping Gods that other cultures neither understood nor believed in.
From around 500BC, they wandered across Europe, conquering other nations, though modern history appears to be a little confused as to which countries were conquered – Spain (or North-West Spain), Italy, France and eventually, the British Isles. Ironically, despite their successful conquering of Italy, they were paid back a hundred fold when the Romans virtually destroyed them, some time around 60 or 61AD.
By nature, they were farmers and metal workers, given to creating beautiful charms and jewellery. They prayed to Pagan Gods and never gave up on their principles, despite living under the might – and watchful eye – of the Romans in the last 200 years or so of their decline.
Origin Of The Celts
The origin of the Celts is believed to have been somewhere in the North of Germany, the Netherlands, or both - though this is not belief shared by all scholars. More an educated guess, based upon ancient text and archaeological discoveries.
They were almost certainly Indo-European. That simply means that they emerged from one of histories largest melting pots of culture and language - one that included morsels of language structure from hundreds of different cultures. The main ones are known to have been:
Bear in mind that of the above three, each one could be diluted over and again by way of dialects, spiritual beliefs and societal behaviours. Add to that the fact that the Celts only began appearing in recorded history around 400BC – which only proves that they appeared in or on another culture’s time line around that period. It can not be taken as read that 400BC is when the Celts began to either exist (as they were) or simply popped into existence.
What is likely is the fact that they began appearing in ancient recordings for one of three reasons:
- The Celts were a nuisance (waged war for e.g.) of some sort
- The Celts began trading
- The culture that wrote about them had gained the ability to write
Therefore it’s likely that the Celts were around long before 400BC.
It’s entirely possible that the Celts began as a small tribal faction (or several) that had broken away or migrated from a larger group, sometime between 1200 and 700BC. At the time, there was a defined leap forward regarding man’s ability to work with and make use of metals – otherwise know as the Iron Age.
Over a period of several hundred years, they will have populated and developed as a separate culture of sorts. And again, going back to the first paragraph, they were never a cohesive culture – unlike the Greeks or Romans (for e.g.). They didn’t inhabit one specific country and appeared to literally range across large swathes of continental Europe.
Ultimately, they remain (in many ways) as much of a mystery in terms of their actual origins as they will have done for those that they existed among several millenniums ago.