Wandsworth_Shield Cesare_prima_Gallia_58_a.C._jpg Celts_in_III_century_BC (1)800px-Parade_helmet

Many people in the modern world recognise the word Celtic as a label for those of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Cornelian origin, though the latter is not so much as was in the past. This may ring true in the modern era but in history the ‘Celtic’ peoples was not as small or as simple as that. Many may have heard of the Celtic peoples whilst skimming through history books or may have heard a small mention of a Celtic presence in different histories taught in Roman or Greek lessons, if so lucky even in ancient French, Spanish, and Eastern European history as well but as you are about to find out there is a lot more to the ‘Celtic’ peoples than many presume to know.


The Celts (Celtic peoples) were nomadic peoples that had flourished from 1200BC-400AD after the Roman Conquest, this era known as the Hallstatt era. They spread across from as far West as Ireland, Scotland and Britain, to as far East as Spain and Portugal and into Asia Minor and it has been argued that they were the first Trans-Alpine civilisation. The term ‘Celtic’ was originally a term coined by Greek merchants who labelled them as ‘Keltoi’ which was replaced with Julius Caesar’s translation to ‘Gaul’ who referred to them as “those who are called Celts in their own language” in his De Bello Gallico (Gallic War). The Celts were feared and respected by their advisories, the Greek and Romans for their military prowess and their incredible craftsmanship and were a recognised threat by the Eastern powers.


When people study the Hallstratt era many simply study the Romans and the Greeks which is completely understandable since they were the two great ancient powers. This makes studying the Celts an afterthought, as they have not traditionally been thought of as educated or literate. They were a savage and uncontrollable people if Caesar is to be believed, or that were drunkards and quick to war if Greek writers are to be believed, all this however could not be farther from the truth. Compared to the great powers, if studied in depth, it is clear that the Celts were far from uneducated and illiterate, they had a governing system, they had literary knowledge and they were certainly not ‘savage’ and ‘war hungry’, true it may not be as sophisticated as the Greeks and the Romans but it certainly was not savage and primitive. The Celtic governing system was a monarchical rule, with layers of governing; there is the One king (High King) who was the ruler of all, the High King was the central governor, he would protect and rule all his subjects for tribute. Beneath the High King there were the minor ‘Kings’, these kings were vassals of the High King but ruler of their own counties, in which they would write up the laws and collect the taxes of their subjects and pay tribute to the High King. Beneath the Kings there were the Druids the religious powers, the judges, philosophers and the educated, the people the Gods speak through and the counsel of the High King, due to this there is some discussion of the hierarchy which claims that the druids held more power than the minor kings. Beneath the Druids there were the Nobles (knights) and artisans and of course the peasantry (farmers and labourers). So evidently they are not so savage and unorganised, they had a governing structure.


The Celtic peoples were respected military adversaries of the Romans and the Greeks, this falls very much in line with the opportunity, speed and prowess in which the Celts had expanded throughout Europe. In 323BC at the death of Alexander the Great, the Celts who had already expanded South and East of Europe due to overpopulation then proceeded to lead forces into Macedonia and overrunning it proceeded to head south towards Apollos sanctuary of Delphi, on their way cutting through all Greek resistance. The Celts did indeed make it to the sanctuary and besieged Delphi after which the sources become non-existent and it becomes unclear as to what happened, some sources claim that snowstorms and rock fall demoralised the Celtic forces which led to their eventual defeat and they retreated back Northwards. Roman forces were also forced to recognize the great military prowess of the Celts particularly in the Po Valley and Italy in which the Etruscan town of Clusium was attacked in 391BC and the following year the city of Rome was ravaged on and off by roving Celtic Warbands for as long as 150years. During the Second Punic War (214-202BC) Celtic mercenaries hired by Hannibal caused great concern for the Roman forces and after Hannibals defeat, the Romans decided to be rid of the Celtic threat once and for all, in which they forced the Celtic peoples to peace.


After the Romans had completed their conquest and solidified their power the Celtic civilisation, though still existent was made to pursue peace under Roman rule and was eventually, Romanised. Though the Romans had gained absolute control the Celtic peoples still held great value to the Romans, many Roman armies had recruited Celtic warriors to fight as their frontline soldiers, and Celtic artisans were commissioned to build roads. The roads built by the Celtic artisans is said to have been the greatest roads the Romans had built. Cleopatra after swearing fealty to the Romans was said to have had as many as 300 Celtic bodyguards.


The study of the Celtic civilisation shows that it had a much greater impact on the world then it is given credit for. The Celtic peoples are not simply an afterthought for those who study Greek and Roman empires but an active force on these two great Empires and should, in my opinion be given more attention in a field of study. The Celts were not just savage and barbaric as these two empires claim; since if they were they would not have been given so much attention by the two and the respect given to the Celts by both powers illustrate this.

{ Images are from google images commons}