Who were the Celts? The Celts were an iron age people a branch of the Indo-European peoples who swept down from Central Asia through India and westward into Europe. They are closely related to the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe. Tall, heavy and powerful often with red hair and freckles these people were greatly feared by the settled peoples they met. They were pre-literate but were wonderfully skilled in metalwork and wood carving. They were animists worshiping nature.
They were nomadic and lived by hunting and herding. When they settled it was in small villages with a tribal leader selected by a vote of all free men from the tribal elders. Women were the equals of men and could hold property and participate in council.
They dressed in brightly colored woolen and linen clothing woven into identifying patterns called “tartans”. They were expert jewelers and made stunning bracelets, rings and pins from gold, silver and bronze. The men wore “torcs” metal neckbands often cunningly wrought with the greatest artistry. To take advantage of their great size and strength they often fought with two handed broadswords and axes which could easily cut through shields, lop off limbs and cleave a man from skull to crotch. They brewed ale, beer and mead. They were known for their honesty and for keeping oaths. They were likewise known for being passionate, quick to anger and violent. Unlike their Roman adversaries, they distrusted authority and prized individualism.
Celtic women were condemned by Roman women for sleeping with men other than their husbands to which the Celtic women replied “we openly sleep with the best men while you secretly sleep with the worst”. Celtic women were prized for their exotic (to the Romans) beauty and fetched high prices in the slave market. The dark skinned Romans saw the milky white complexion, red hair and green eyes of the Celtic women as the pinnacle of beauty. However, Pliny the Elder warned would be buyers that these women “were not to be trusted and would cut your throat in your sleep” something which apparently happened quite often in Rome. Actually, this could apply to certain redheads today.
Their men were likewise prized by the Romans as gladiators. They, because of their great size and skill as warriors, were often matched with as many as three opponents. Their descendants still live in Ireland and Scotland to this day speaking Gaelic.
I feel that I once must have lived as a Celtic warrior in Caledonia … kilted with torc and broadsword. I have too many vivid dreams of warfare to be coincidence. If I grew my hair and mustache I would be this guy’s twin.
Um… Okay, wow, where to begin? First off… There were no “Indo-European” people as some sort of conquering ethnic group. It’s a language branch, not an ethnicity. I don’t know why you are commenting on them having red hair, as well… Celtic languages were spoken ALL OVER EUROPE. Including in Iberia. The Celtiberians and Lusitanians who incorporated Celtic deities into their culture were unlikely to be redhaired and freckled and pale. (And if you’re going to try to tell me that they would have been fairhaired and pale because they were Gauls who invaded… Haha, no, wrong. Read some archaeological literature on the Iberian Peninsula that isn’t from the 1930’s.) Really, people need to stop thinking of this homogenous “Celtic” ethnic group in the first place, as it really didn’t exist. Also, there are more Celtic countries than Ireland and Scotland. What about Brittany? Wales? Cornwall? Galicia? Not all countries now, but definitely have a modern Celtic culture. Hell, there were people referred to as Gauls in Galatia, which is modern Turkey, or in the Balkans… I already went over the Iberian Peninsula. There were Gauls in Italy! It was called Gallia Cisalpina—“Gaul This Side of the Alps”. Kind of deflates your opinion on the exoticism of the Celtic cultures to the Romans, doesn’t it? Basically, if you live anywhere in a large swath of Europe, a Celtic-speaking culture probably lived there at one point. Also, figure out how language spreads, because just because you may live in Ireland does not mean in the remotest that you are related to some ancient long-ago dead Gaul. Language is not proof of descent.
Okay, now the rest of it…
A.) The Celts were literate. They used Latin or Greek characters to write things down in Gaul, or in Italy they used Etruscan script, and in the Iberian Peninsula the Celtiberians developed their own script.
B.) Most Celtic-speaking groups were NOT NOMADIC. The most common form of settlement were small farms and hamlets inhabited by one or two family groups, though in some places these could be clustered into more populous villages. Since most Celtic cultures were heavily agricultural, the space between these villages was essentially the same sort of idea as space between farms today. In Gaul, this territory was separated into pagi, which were small units which together formed the tribal territory. At the center of these were oppida, walled civic centers which housed artisan centers and communal gathering areas. There were often sanctuaries either associated with the oppidum or on the borders of various pagi. These served as temporary gathering places for civic rites and political assembly, though a fair number of oppidum were also inhabited year-round and developed into thriving urban environments. In Iberia, more elaborate towns existed made from stone and brick. Nothing in the archaeological record supports a nomadic lifestyle. The only reason I can think you have assumed this is that you are thinking of the prevalence of Celtic mercenary bands that moved throughout the ancient world. These warbands would have gone to foreign countries, hiring out their skills, then returned with prestige and wealth to their own homelands. They were not wanderers; they were entrepreneurs.
C.) Your average Celtic warrior’s military kit would include a spear and a shield, and maybe a sword if you were wealthy enough. If you were a nobleman or a professional soldier, you would probably also have a few throwing javelins, a thick lance-type spear for cavalry warfare, a chainmail shirt, and a helmet. Slings were also common, particularly in Britain, and in the Gallic War bowmen were called upon, though this was not likely a common instrument of war. The Gauls especially were famous for their cavalry, and in Iberia such importance was placed on the horse that it is an omnipresent motif in Celtiberian artwork. In Britain, chariots were used to great effect, though this died out early on the Continent. The Celtic sword was a sophisticated weapon with a long, straight blade similar to the Roman spatha. It was wielded in one hand. Nowhere in the Iron Age Celtic world were two-handed swords used, and I have never even heard of an axe being used in warfare… It shows up exactly zero times in the archaeological record.
D.) On the subject of slaves… You have to keep in mind while reading Roman sources that a lot of the information we have from them on Celts comes from comedic poems and theater. They exaggerated everything for comic effect or to emphasize the differences between them and their barbarian neighbors. Also, again, reiterating, not everyone who spoke a Celtic language was some red-headed freckled paleskinned beauty. Sorry to burst your bubble.
Bless this post. Here’s to you dewognatos!