The Celt, also spelled KELT, Latin CELTA, plural Celtae, a member of an early Indo-European people who from the 2nd millennium BC to the 1st century BC spread over much of Europe. The people who made up the various tribes of concern were called Galli by the Romans and 'Galatai' or 'Keltoi' by the Greeks, terms meaning 'barbarian'. It is from the Greek 'Keltoi' that 'Celt' is derived.

1000-750BC - Proto-Celtic people of the Urnfield culture dominate much of Continental Europe. Also start to spread out over northern Asia as far as the frontiers of China. Development of the deliberate smelting of iron in the Middle East and China around the same time. Prompting the title 'The Iron Age' for this period.

700-500 - Hallstatt culture developes in Austria.

700BC - Early Celts in Austria bury iron swords with their dead.

600BC - Greeks found the colony of Massilia, opening up trade between the Celts of inland Europe and the Mediterranean. First evidence of Britain having a name - Albion - (albino, white - called after the chalk-cliffs of Dover). A major rebuild of old Bronze Age defences, and construction of new hillforts takes place in Britain.

550-500 -A princess in Vix (Burgundy) is buried with a 280 gallon bronze Greek vase, the largest ever made. 60 miles away a prince is buried layed out on bronze chais-lounge in a hugh chamber tomb.

500 - Trade between the Etruscans and the Celts begins. La Tene phase of Celtic culture speads through Europe and into mainland Britain. The Greeks record the name of a major tribe - The KELTOI - and this becomes the common name for all of the tribes.

500 - Celts (the Gaels - from Galicia) arrive in Ireland from Spain.

400-100BC - La Tene culture spreads over Europe and into the British Isles.

400 - Celts invade Italy and Cisalpine Gaul.

400 - Celts atack the Etruscan city of Clusium.

390 - Raiding Celtic tribes under the leadership of Brennus ravage Rome and occupy the city for three months. Offended by the dirty conditions of the city (they were country boys at heart) they demand a ransome to leave the Romans alone. Brennus demands his weight in gold and when the Romans complain he throws his sword on the scales to be weighed as well with the cry "VAE VICTUS" - (Woe to the Vanquished).

335 - Alexander recieves envoys from the Celts, and exchange pledges of alliance. Large numbers of Celtic Warriors join the Greeks in a war against the Etruscans.

323 - Alexander dies and the Celts push into Macedonia.

279 - Celtic tribes invade Greece.

Their tribes and groups eventually ranged from the British Isles and northern Spain to as far east as Transylvania, the Black Sea coasts, and Galatia in Anatolia and were in part absorbed into the Roman Empire as Britons, Gauls, Boii, Galatians, and Celtiberians.

Linguistically they survive in the modern Celtic speakers of Ireland, Highland Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, and Brittany.

The oldest archaeological evidence of the Celts comes from Hallstatt, Austria, near Salzburg. Excavated graves of chieftains there, dating from about 700 BC, exhibit an Iron Age culture (one of the first in Europe) which received in Greek trade such luxury items as bronze and pottery vessels.

It would appear that these wealthy Celts, based from Bavaria to Bohemia, controlled trade routes along the river systems of the Rhone, Seine, Rhine, and Danube and were the predominant and unifying element among the Celts. In their westward movement the Hallstatt warriors overran Celtic peoples of their own kind, incidentally introducing the use of iron, one of the reasons for their own overlordship.

For the centuries after the establishment of trade with the Greeks, the archaeology of the Celts can be followed with greater precision. By the mid-5th century BC the La Tene culture, with its distinctive art style of abstract geometric designs and stylized bird and animal forms, had begun to emerge among the Celts centred on the middle Rhine, where trade with the Etruscans of central Italy, rather than with the Greeks, was now becoming predominant.

Between the 5th and 1st centuries BC the La Tene culture accompanied the migrations of Celtic tribes into eastern Europe and westward into the British Isles.

Although Celtic bands probably had penetrated into northern Italy from earlier times, the year 400 BC is generally accepted as the approximate date for the beginning of the great invasion of migrating Celtic tribes whose names Insubres, Boii, Senones, and Lingones were recorded by later Latin historians. Rome was sacked by Celts about 390, and raiding bands wandered about the whole peninsula and reached Sicily. The Celtic territory south of the Alps where they settled came to be known as Cisalpine Gaul (Gallia Cisalpina), and its warlike inhabitants remained an ever-constant menace to Rome until their defeat at Telamon in 225.

Dates associated with the Celts in their movement into the Balkans are 335 BC, when Alexander the Great received delegations of Celts living near the Adriatic, and 279, when Celts sacked Delphi in Greece but suffered defeat at the hands of the Aetolians. In the following year, three Celtic tribes crossed the Bosporus into Anatolia and created widespread havoc.

By 276 they had settled in parts of Phrygia but continued raiding and pillage until finally quelled by Attalus I of Pergamum about 230. In Italy, meanwhile, Rome had established supremacy over the whole of Cisalpine Gaul by 192 and, in 124, had conquered territory beyond the western Alps--in the provincia (Provence).

The final episodes of Celtic independence were enacted in Transalpine Gaul (Gallia Transalpina), which comprised the whole territory from the Rhine River and the Alps westward to the Atlantic. The threat was twofold: Germanic tribes pressing westward toward and across the Rhine, and the Roman arms in the south poised for further annexations.

The Germanic onslaught was first felt in Bohemia, the land of the Boii, and in Noricum, a Celtic kingdom in the eastern Alps. The German assailants were known as the Cimbri, a people generally thought to have originated in Jutland (Denmark). A Roman army sent to the relief of Noricum in 113 BC was defeated, and thereafter the Cimbri, now joined by the Teutoni, ravaged widely in Transalpine Gaul, overcoming all Gaulish and Roman resistance. On attempting to enter Italy, these German marauders were finally routed by Roman armies in 102 and 101.

There is no doubt that, during this period, many Celtic tribes, formerly living east of the Rhine, were forced to seek refuge west of the Rhine; and these migrations, as well as further German threats, gave Julius Caesar the opportunity (58 BC) to begin the campaigns that led to the Roman annexation of the whole of Gaul.

The Celtic settlement of Britain and Ireland is deduced mainly from archaeological and linguistic considerations. The only direct historical source for the identification of an insular people with the Celts is Caesar's report of the migration of Belgic tribes to Britain, but the inhabitants of both islands were regarded by the Romans as closely related to the Gauls.

Information on Celtic institutions is available from various classical authors and from the body of ancient Irish literature. The social system of the tribe, or "people," was threefold: king, warrior aristocracy, and freemen farmers.


LANGUAGE

The Six Celtic Languages

There was a unifying language spoken by the Celts, called not suprisingly, old Celtic. Philogists have shown the descendence of Celtic from the original Ur-language and from the Indo-European language tradition. In fact, the form of old Celtic was the closest cousin to Italic, the precursor of Latin.

The original wave of Celtic immigrants to the British Isles are called the q-Celts and spoke Goidelic. It is not known exactly when this immigration occurred but it may be placed somtime in the window of 2000 to 1200 BC. The label q-Celtic stems from the differences between this early Celtic tounge and Italic. Some of the differences between Italic and Celtic included that lack of a p in Celtic and an a in place of an the Italic o.

At a later date, a second wave of immigrants took to the British Isles, a wave of Celts referred to as the p-Celts speaking Brythonic. Goidelic led to the formation of the three Gaelic languages spoken in Ireland, Man and later Scotland. Brythonic gave rise to two British Isles languages, Welsh and Cornish, as well as surviving on the Continent in the form of Breton, spoken in Brittany.

The label q-Celtic stems from the differences between this early Celtic tounge and the latter formed p-Celtic. The differences between the two Celtic branches are simple in theoretical form. Take for example the word ekvos in Indo-European, meaning horse. In q-Celtic this was rendered as equos while in p-Celtic it became epos, the q sound being replaced with a p sound. Another example is the Latin qui who. In q-Celtic this rendered as cia while in p-Celtic it rendered as pwy. It should also be noted that there are still words common to the two Celtic subgroups.

Today there are no remaining independent Celtic countries; however, the Celtic language (Gaelic) has survived in the form of Scots, Irish, Welsh, Breton, and Manx Gaelic. Irish and Manx Gaelic are the closest to the original language, retaining the Q sound in such words as cen (head), whereas the Breton and Welsh pen (also head) uses a P sound.


THE SERPENT'S STONE

The Serpent's Stone is a symbol of an ancient wisdom and fidelity; touchstone of universal truths. The complexity of earthly life sometimes obscures a simple truth. The four serpent heads emerge from the labyrinth of Creation to point the way through self-examination. The brilliant colours convey a sense of drama and intrigue. As a meditative glyph, it endorses the need for self-examination. Thus when truth becomes entangled in a moral dilemma, evoke the secret wisdom of the Serpent's Stone.


WRITING - OGHAM

The ancient Celts had a form of writing called ogham (pronounced OH-yam). It was the writing of Druids and Bards. Ogham is also called 'Tree Alphabet' because each letter corresponds to a tree and an associated meaning. The letters were, in fact, engraved onto sticks as well as larger standing stones.

In keeping with Druidic concepts, each of the Ogham's twenty letters bears the name of a tree. A-Ailim (Elm), B-Bithe (Birch), C-Coll (Hazel), for example. The Celts had an oral tradition so it was not used to write stories or history as these were memorized.

The Ogham alphabet contains twenty letters and is read from the bottom up. The letters are constructed using a combination of lines placed adjacent to or crossing a midline. An individual letter may contain from one to five vertical or angled strokes. Vowels were sometimes described as a combination of dots. The midline was, most often, the edge of the object on which the inscription was carved.

Ogham was named after the Celtic god of literature, Ogma. It was used on the edges of burial stones and boundary markers. They usually held the name of a person. Examples exist to this day.

It was also used on rods or strips of wood that were fastened together at one end. These wands were opened and closed to present stories or poems.

Since these wands were made of wood, none survive today. Only the messages on stone survived.

The wooden sticks with the Ogham marking were used for divination similar to the way Runes were used by Norse peoples. Only the Druids and Bards understood the system and could have great influences on their people when they demonstrated its power.

There are 369 verified examples of Ogham writing surviving today. These exist in the form of standing stones concentrated in Ireland, but scattered across Scotland, the Isle of Man, South Wales, Devonshire, and as far afield as Silchester (the ancient Roman city of Calleva Attrebatum).

Similiar markings have been found on standing stones in Spain and Portugal. The markings in Spain are believed to be much older than the ones in Ireland, perhaps dating from 800 BC. It is from this area of the Iberian Peninsula that the Celts who colonized the British Isles may have come.

Ogam can still be seen inscribed on hundreds of large and small stones, on the walls of some caves, but also on bone, ivory, bronze and silver objects. The Ogam script was especially well adapted for use on sticks. Sticks are part of the Basque word for "alphabet": agaka, agglutinated from aga-aka, aga (stick or pole) and akats (notch). The meaning of the word agaka therefore isn't so much "alphabet" as "writing", a stick with Ogam notches conveying a message. The name Ogam likely comes from oga-ama, ogasun (property, wealth) ama (Priestess, mother) property of the Priestess, which indicates that the script was originally designed for use by the clergy of the pre-Christian religion.

Ogam was adopted and further developed by the first monks in Ireland. Our earliest information indicates that they were not sure as to where Ogam came from. According to the "Auraicept" the origin of Irish and Ogam must be sought in the Near East: "In Dacia it was invented, though others say it was in the Plain of Shinar" (line 1105-06). A "made in Ireland" version is recorded in "In Lebor Ogaim" in which the inventor is "Ogma mac Elathan who is said to have been skilled in speech and poetry and to have created the system as proof of his intellectual ability and with the intention that it should be the preserve of the learned, to the exclusion of rustics and fools" ( McManus 8.4).

The script was used by the monks as a monument script between 450 and 800 A.D. and they used it for literary purposes between 650 and 900 A.D. Every time the script was inscribed in stone it must have been used thousands of times on sticks, for which medium the script was obviously designed. Over 500 Ogam inscriptions are known from Ireland (collected by R.A.S. Macalister), some 40 from Scotland ( A. Jackson) and a growing number from the east coast of North America.

The fact that not a single one has been successfully translated is not so much the fault of the monks who wrote the texts, as of our linguists, all of whom assumed that the language of the script was Gaelic. However, this assumption appears to be without foundation, because the syntax of the Gaelic language in no way lends itself to be written in traditional Ogam.


CALENDAR

There are many questions arising as to what calendrical practice was used by the Celtic people. Regarding this issue there are three primary schools of thought. These three theories all attempt to offer us a better understanding of the Celtic calendar. To use the term 'Celtic calendar' is somewhat inaccurate, as it were the Druids who were primarliy concerned with calendar-keeping.

One of the most commonly accepted beliefs holds that the year was divided into thirteen months with an extra day or so the end of the year used to adjust the calendar. This theory states that the months correspond to the vowels of the Ogham or Celtic Tree Alphabet. For every of the months there was a designated tree. From this a 'tree calendar' wheel emerged

Most archaeologist and historians accept another calendar. This calender is represented by the surviving fragments of a great bronze plate, the Coligny Calendar, which originally measured 5 feet by 3-1/2 feet. This plate, found in eastern France, was engraved in the Gaulish language (similar to Welsh) in Roman-style letters and numerals. It depicts a system of time keeping by lunar months, showing 62 consecutive months with 2 extra months inserted to match the solar timetable. They appear to have worked with a 19-year time cycle that equaled 235 lunar months and had an error of only half a day.

The third school of thought is an amalgam of both of the others. The proponents of this last theory believe that the first calendar pre-dates the Coligny discovery.

It is from ancient writers such as Caesar that we learn that the Celts were to have counted by nights and not days and in reckoning birthdays and new moon and new year their unit of reckoning is the night followed by the day.

Ancient Celtic philosophy believed that existence arose from the interplay between darkness and light, night and day, cold and warmth, death and life, and that the passage of years was the alternation of dark periods (winter, beginning November 1) and light periods (summer, starting May 1). The Druidic view was that the earth was in darkness at its beginning, that night preceded day and winter preceded summer a view in striking accord with the story of creation in Genesis and even with the Big Bang theory. Thus, Nov. 1 was New Year's Day for the Celts, their year being divided into four major cycles. The onset of each cycle was observed with suitable rituals that included feasting and sacrifice. It was called The Festival of Samhain - linked with Halloween.

The Celts measured the Solar year on a wheel, circle or spiral, all of which symbolize creation and the constant movement of the universe � growth and development.

To the ancients, the Heavens appeared to wheel overhead, turning on an axis which points to the north polar stars. At the crown of the axis, a circle of stars revolved about a fixed point, the Celestial Pole, which was believed to be the location of Heaven. At the base of the axis was the Omphalos, the circular altar of the Goddess' temple. The universe of stars turning on this axis formed a spiral path, or stairway, on which souls ascended to Heaven.

This Sunwise, clockwise, or deiseal (Gaelic), motion of the spirals represented the Summer Sun. The continuous spirals with seemingly no beginning or end signified that as one cycle ended another began � eternal life. The spiral's never-ending, always expanding, motion also symbolized the ever- increasing nature of information and knowledge. Many of these symbols often also appeared in triplicate, a sign of the divine.

In addition, the seasons of the year were thought to be part of this cycle. In Gaelic, the names of the four seasons date back to pre-Christian times: 1) Earrach for "Spring," 2) Samhradh for "Summer," 3) Foghara for "Harvest" which refers to Autumn, and 4) Geamhradh for "Winter."


DRUIDS

The Druids, who were occupied with magico-religious duties, were recruited from families of the warrior class but ranked higher. Thus Caesar's distinction between Druides (man of religion and learning), eques (warrior), and plebs (commoner) is fairly apt. As in other Indo-European systems, the family was patriarchal.

Celtic Tree of Life


ECONOMY

The basic economy of the Celts was mixed farming, and, except in times of unrest, single farmsteads were usual.

Owing to the wide variations in terrain and climate, cattle raising was more important than cereal cultivation in some regions.


CLOTHING - TEXTILES

Textiles in ancient times were fairly advanced. Weaving is a very basic technology and was quite advanced as early as 5,000 BCE, and brightly colored dyes were readily available. If we met our Celtic ancestors, they would probably look as gaudy to us as they did to the Romans, since they were very fond of bright colors and ornamentation.

There aren't a lot of textile remains found for Celtic clothing from prehistoric times through the 16th century; we mostly have to rely on manuscripts and descriptions of what was worn at various times. However, I will make some educated guesses based on textile construction techniques from the few Celtic finds available, as well as evidence from the bog finds in Denmark, which could arguably be either Celtic or Teutonic. Obviously, fashions varied from place to place and time to time, so Celtic clothing wasn't universally the same in all places over the thousand or so years I'm spanning; however, similar techniques of constructing and decorating clothing were used throughout Europe, and results can be inferred from these.


HOMES

Hill forts provided places of refuge, but warfare was generally open and consisted of single challenges and combat as much as of general fighting.


ART - MUSIC

There are many modern 'politically correct' problems surrounding exactly what is Celtic and what is not. The most common error is to talk of 'Celtic knotwork', that complicated and elaborate interlacing of lines, curves and geometric shapes which seems to be appearing everywhere nowadays.

This style of design and decoration was in fact brought to Britain in the 6th century AD by Saxon Christian monks and was used exclusively to illuminate the handwritten Christian Gospels. The Saxon people used some of the art for personal decoration. Any of the knotwork that has animal shapes incorporated shows influence from the Vikings. It is indeed a very attractive and distinctive style of decoration - but it is not Celtic.

In Pre-Celtic Britain, there are many ancient places that were elaborately and painstakingly decorated and carved with many different styles of spiral, zig-zag, diamond, line and curve but nowhere do these separate symbols and designs overlap or interlace and nowhere is there to be found an example of knotwork. It should also be noted that these elaborate designs and symbols are not Celtic either. They were carved into the rocks by an unknown race of megalith builders thousands of years before the Celtic culture arrived.

It is also a common practice for modern day Celtic groups to employ various symbols, such as the Crescent and V-Rod, the Switch, the Two Worlds etc, as part of their Celtic regalia and ritual but, once again, these ancient symbols are not Celtic they are Pictish. The Picts were a scandinavian people and the only places where these symbols are to be found, carved on stones etc, are in the North East of Scotland and they are, therefore, as foreign to the British tribes as the 'Celtic' knotwork is.

Another modern addition to this confusing collection of symbolism is the ubiquitous pentagram which is unquestionably non-Celtic - Jewish, from the seals of Solomon.

What, then, were the symbols used by the Celts? It is true that they greatly admired all art-forms and decorative styles and that they used these to a great extent on just about everything from household utensils to battle-chariots. But the symbols they used are the ones that are still all round us today :-the trees, the birds, the animals, the hills and lakes and all the other manifestations of the life-force on Earth.

The Celts were a warlike, passionate people with a love of art. Truly, Celtic art is distinguished for its extensive curves and intricate knot work which is used to form complex decorations for weapons, jewelry and body tattooing. Along with the extensive use of body tattooing the Celts highlighted their naturally fair hair by washing it in lime-water. This fondness for art and personal decoration was merged with acts of barbarism, such as beheading their enemies and carrying the severed heads around the necks of their horses. The head was the ultimate source of spiritual power; to posses the enemies head, was to posses his spirit. Riding naked on fast moving, light chariots, shreiking and swinging large hacking swords and throwing spears was a most effective method of warfare for instilling terror into their enemies.


WARRIORS

Celtic warriors were drawn from what we would describe as the middle and upper class. The warrior class did the actual fighting: the free poor served as chariot drivers. The Celt was a warrior in the heroic sense. Everything had to be larger than life. He lived for war. His glorification of bravery often led him to recklessness. Part of a warriors ritual was to boast of his victories, and fighting between warriors was an important part of life.

Most Celts scorned the use of armour and before about 300 B.C. preferred to fight naked. Some Celtic tribes still fought naked at the battle of Telamon in 225 B.C. The Celt was renowned as a swords-man but he also used javelins and spears. Two spears which were found at La Tene in Switzerland were nearly 2.5m long. His only protection was his large shield which was usually oval. The suggestion that the Celt wore heavy bracelets in battle has to be questioned, as it is hard to understand how they would stay on his arm whilst he wielded his sword. Dionysius tells us that in battle the Celts whirled their swords above their heads, slashing the air from side to side, then struck downwards at their enemies as if chopping wood. It was this use of the sword that so terrified their enemies. The Celts did not fight in a rabble as is so often supposed. They were organized in companies. This can be proved by their use of standards.

The Celt was a head-hunter. In battle he would cut off the head of his fallen enemy and often hang it from his horse's neck. After battle he would display the severed head at the entrance to his temple. The severed head is a constant theme in Celtic art. At the battle of Beneventumin 214 B.C. the Roman general Gracchus had to order his army of freed slaves (presumably Celts) to stop collecting heads and get on with the fighting. After a battle the Celts would often dedicate their enemies weapons to the gods and throw them into a river or lake. The hundreds of weapons that have been dredged from the Lake of Neuchatel at La Tene were such offerings. In fact the site at La Tene has revealed so many Celtic artifacts that its name has been given to the whole Celtic culture.

The chiefs and the wealthiest Celts often did wear armour particularly when they came into contact with the Greeks and Romans. They often adopted items of Greek or Roman armour. A pair of greaves were found in the chieftain's grave at Ciumesti. Several graves have been found in Northern Italy which contain Etruscan armour and Celtic weapons. Before a battle the chiefs would ride out, in front of the army clashing their weapons on their shields, proclaiming their great deeds and challenging the enemy to single combat. Caesar describes the British as dressed in skins (meaning leather) and decorated with woad, a blue dye. Some tattooed skin from a Scythian grave of this period suggests that the Britons were tattooed in blue.

ODIN - A Celtic Warrior


- Encyclopedia Britannica

- Encyclopedia of the Celts








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