We are all so close and yet so far, and it is not a matter of distance. It is a matter of the similarities we share with people and the differences we have. Our resemblances bring us closer; however, the variances make the world a bigger place. The vastness of the planet made room for a wide diversity. People can be different in appearance and culture; that is exactly the definition of race.
There are lots of races in the world, including Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Hispanics, and more. However, there are more than a few races that not everyone is aware of. Among those races lie the Celts. In fact, they were mostly Caucasians; they were not a race, but rather a cultural group. Some people refer to them as a race on its own. They have their own origins, tales, and history that we’ll get to know shortly.
WHO WERE THE ANCIENT CELTS?
The Celts weren’t actually a race, but, as previously mentioned; they were a group of people. Those people had their own culture and they descended from European origins. In fact, they came from different parts of Europe. The most significant times where the Celts were popular were during the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. They were spreading all over Europe during the 5th century and all the way to the 3rd.
The North of the Alps was the most occupied spot in Europe. However, they eventually settled in both Ireland and Britain. The people who lived in those places at that time left off. Eventually, the Celts were the people who populated the Islands of Ireland and Britain by that time. Throughout the years, all the people there were known as Celtic people. Those folks included the Britons, Gaels, Galatians, and Irish.
While the Celts roamed around the continents, the Romans managed to defeat the Celtic groups in various areas. They wanted to protect themselves against the invasion of the Celtic tribes. Thus, they built the Hadrian’s Wall to prevent them from entering their land.
Moreover, the Roman invaded Britain twice. They failed in taking over the land for the first time. However, the second time was in their favour; they invaded Britain, pushing the Britons to the west and the north. Wales and Corwall happened to be the cities where they resided in the western part. On the other hand, Scotland was the destination of the northern part.
Survival of the Celtic Culture
During the ancient times, other cultures regarded the Celts as savages and brutes. How people regarded them was obvious through the names they gave to the Celts. Those cultures include the Romans and Greeks; the former called them Galli while the latter called them Keltoi. Both names have the same meaning which is the barbarians. Yes, the Romans perceived the Celts as barbarians and they tried to protect themselves.
On the other hand, the Romans were the ones to invade the cities where the Celts resided. They pushed them away for different islands and tried to take over the Islands of Britain. However, the Romans never managed to take over Ireland or reside there. That actually left room for the Celtic people to stay in Ireland more than elsewhere. Probably, that was also the reason the Celtic culture survived in Ireland the longest. It still exists to this very day.
On the other hand, Anglo-Saxons happened to be other enemies of the Celtic groups. They invaded Britain right after the withdrawal of the Romans. However, they never did invade Ireland.
The Invasion of Ireland
The fact that the Romans and Anglo-Saxons gave a wide berth to Ireland saved the Celtic culture big time. This is not a clear statement that Ireland is free of invasions. In fact, it faced brutal invasions more than a few times in the 7th century A.D.
The Vikings were the first to invade Ireland during that time. They remained there for two centuries in a row, destroying a lot of the Irish culture. The Vikings actually diminished manuscripts, monasteries, and more cultural elements. On the other hand, they were the ones who founded two major cities in Ireland, Belfast, and Dublin. The Vikings may have occupied Ireland for a very long time, but they never took over the lands. Later, they departed and left the Celts to live in peace.
Ireland witnessed prosperity until 1160. There were not any other nations that lived within the borders of the country until the English occupation. The Normans got into Ireland; they came from England and stayed in Ireland until 1922. For that reason, Ireland is greatly influenced by the English culture. Even five countries in the northern part of Ireland are deemed to be part of Britain.
However, that did not actually exile the Celtic culture; they managed to survive even under the English occupation. The Celts have been surviving in Ireland for over 2500 years now. The Celtic history is not just one of the Irish culture’s elements or characteristics.
Christianity and the Celtic Culture
The majority of Ireland is Christians. This country is famous for being religious and for the impact of the spiritual aspect of the culture. When Christianity first arrived in Ireland, it was in the 4th century. Later, St. Patrick arrived in almost 432. It was in the middle of the time where the Celtic culture was still taking over.
The Celtic culture is so much combined with Christianity. Yet, a lot of druids faced suppression and, eventually, were murdered. But, monks kept rising and increasing in number in spite of the suppression.
The Origins of the Celtic Tribes
History is usually an ocean shrouded in mystery and ambiguity. There may be one theory that seems to be true, only to realize there is another that contradicts it. As readers, we barely know what is authentic and what is not. Thus, we just adopt the theories that historians exerted efforts in concluding. Among the mysteries of the historic tales lie the origins of significant tribes.
There are always more than a few opinions regarding the origin of each cultural group. Definitely, the origin of the Celts is not an exception; there are many theories regarding that point. The only aspect that every historian seemed to agree upon was the fact that they were originally Europeans. However, Europe is actually a vast continent, so where exactly they came from is unknown.
Mainly, the Celtic tribes are known to have come from the Indo-European family. However, they did not all originate from the place. In fact, they split into different groups who had different languages. Apparently, in around 400 B.C, the Celtic languages were part of history. They were all spread around Western continental Europe, Britain, and Ireland.
The Theory of the Greek Historian
Well, since the Celtic culture seemed to have lots of bluffing around it, there’s one famous theory about the origins. There was once a Greek historian, Ephorus. He was known as Ephorus of Cyme and existed in the 4th century B.C. Ephorus believed that the Celts originated from Islands that sat off the mouth of the Rhine. He claimed that they resided there; however, it was not their real home.
Ephorus actually professed that the Celtic groups forcefully left their homes due to the frequent wars and violence. The latter was what escorted the Celts to leave their homes behind searching for safer places to reside in. The Irish literature backed up the theory of Ephorus. Especially, the early tales of the literature focused on the heroic warriors who dominated the Celtic communities. The incidents of the stories usually took place around two rivers, the Danube and the Rhine.
Another theory claims that the Celtic culture originated from another one. The latter was actually the Urnfield culture of western Middle Europe. However, both cultural were deemed to be distinct, but they are both branches of the Indo-European family.
In actual fact, the Urnfield culture of western Middle Europe was one of the most outstanding cultures. It was very prominent during the late years of the Bronze Age, starting from 1200 B.C to 700 B.C. Those times witnessed impressive innovations in agriculture and technology as well. Besides, the population during the period of the Urnfield increased significantly. The increase resulted in several branches of cultural groups, from which the Celtic culture originated.
The Development of the Hallstatt Culture
The Urnfield culture stayed around for a categorically long period of time. There were other cultures that developed right from the Urnfield. According to Ephorus, the Celts originated from the Urnfield. However, during the spread of the iron-working, the Urnfield resulted in a new culture; which is the Hallstatt culture. The latter developed during 700 B.C. and stayed all the way to 500 B.C.
Before the Hallstatt Culture, there was the culture of La Tene of Central Europe. That Roman Empire was the one responsible for spreading the La Tene culture. They did so by making sure that even when the La Tene was gone, their traces would still be around. The artifacts of the Gallo-Roman was influenced by the La Tene style. Besides, the La Tene impacted the art of Ireland and Britain.
In the early 1st millennium BC, people believed that the Celtic languages were around during that time of the Urnfield. They made an appearance during the late period of the Urnfield and the early development of the Hallstatt cultures.
The languages even spread all around Ireland, Britain, and Iberia. There were actually shreds of evidence, archaeological ones, which proved that the Celtic languages were around since ancient times. Scholars claimed so; they believed that Britain and Ireland embraced the Celtic languages long before the evidence’s discovery.
The Histories of Herodotus
The history of Herodotus was one of the clear written evidence that claims the Danube was the origin of the Celts. Stephen Oppenheimer was the one who pointed this evidence out. The history claims that the Keltoi, who were the Celts, lived near the Danube.
On the other hand, Oppenheimer had proven that the Danube rose to near a location named the Pyrenees. This claim states that the Celts of ancient times resided in a whole different region. This region would be either in Gaul or the Iberian Peninsula. The latter locations align with the claims of the classical writers and historians.
Modern Suggestions of the Origins of the Celts
Most of the sources seem to agree that Ireland and Britain are the most places where the Celts reside. However, regarding the origin, things are not certain. Two scholars, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo, suggested that Southern France was the heartland of the Celts. On the other hand, two scholars accepted the theory that states the Celtic tribes settle in Britain. Those scholars were Nora Kershaw and Myles Dillon; they claim that this theory date to the culture of Bell Beaker.
Because suggestions never end, Martín Almagro Gorbea had more to suggest. He believed that the initial roots of the Celtic tribes go back to the Beaker. Gorbea stated that the Beaker period started in the 3rd millennium B.C. Although those suggestions can be a bit confusing, most of them seemed realistic to most historians.
In fact, all these suggestions could be true regarding the fact that the Celts were widely dispersed throughout Western Europe. Their scattering explains the unevenness of the Celtic tribes and the variability of their languages. Alberto J. Lorrio and Gonzalo Ruiz Zapatero decided to adopt Gorbea’s theory and build on it. They used a multidisciplinary approach, presenting a model for the Celtic origins.
The Irish Heritage
The most recent research was made by Barry Cunliffe and John Koch. They suggest that the Celts originated during the Atlantic Bronze Age in parallel with the Hallstatt culture. For that, they still survive now in Ireland, Scotland, and Brittany.
This also explains the reason that the Irish consider themselves originally Celtics. In fact, a large number of Irish still speak Gaelic as their first language. And, those who don’t, speak the language as their second one. They even use the language in public areas like street signs and banners.
The Iron Age of Celtic Britain
Well, according to many sources, the Celtic culture took place in Britain. It was spread around many places among which Britain was. In fact, the Celtic culture managed to develop and establish in the Isles of Britain. That happened during the Iron Age when Roman invaded Britain for the first time.
In the past, the Celtic tribes used to fight each other, for they all came from different places. The concept of the Celts was actually a modern one; modern historians established the term to refer to those people. In fact, those different Celtic people did not even realize that they all originated from the same place.
During the Iron Age, the Romans and the Celts were enemies. However, some sources claim that most of the evidence about the Celts were obvious through the art of the Romans. In spite of being their enemies, the Romans managed to introduce the Celtic culture to the world unintentionally.
Still, the Romans portrayed the Celtic tribes as barbarians and savages. However, historians have always suspected this concept. The Romans were always known to be civilized and of a great force. If they were the ones to write the history of the Celts, then they must have lied about it.
Celtic Britain was a Myth
This could be shocking as much as confusing, for it totally contradicts the Iron Age theory. Many scholars have come to realize that there were many sources to prove that ancient Celts never resided in Britain. For some reason, there are still sources that claim otherwise. Those scholars who deny the Celtic Britain notion claim that the Celtic culture expanded around Europe. However, it accumulated more towards the far east reaching to Turkey; the Celtic tribes settled there for a long time.
There was an archaeology professor, John Collis, who pointed out the same claim in his book. In his book “The Celts: Origins, Myths, and Inventions,” Collis professed that the ancient Celtic writers mentioned residing in Europe. Conversely, the British Isles were not mentioned among the European settlements of the Celts. He claimed that scholars have usually distinguished Celts from Britons. They weren’t the same as some believed.
To support Collis’ claim, he stated that the inhabitants of the British Isles included neither Celts nor Gauls. Besides, none of the other terms used to describe the Celts was used. Simon James was another professor at the University of Leicester; he backed up the claim of Collis.
James stated that the specialists of the British Iron Age have uninhibited the idea of Ancient Celts in Britain. That claim was surprising, for most people believed that Britain was populated by Ancient Celts before the Roman invasion. It’s mysterious whether they abandoned the truth or people thought wrongfully in the first place.
The Peculiarity of The Celtic Culture
The Celts might originate from several places around Europe, but, in the end, they had their own culture. They were different and peculiar in their own traditions. Perhaps, those customs were the reason that led other cultures to regard them as barbarians.
During the 5th century, there were four different barbarian people from which the Celts were. The Romans and the Greeks were the ones to consider the Celtic tribes as savages. The empire of those Celtic tribes extended from Iberia and all the way to the Danube. They came from different places, so it was normal to have their very independent culture and superstitions.
Before the arrival of Christianity, the Celts had their own religion and holidays as well as a distinctive approach to warfare. In fact, the Celtic warriors were known to have specific approaches on the battlefield as well. Beyond the savageness, they had a great heritage.
The Artists of the Celtic Society
Well, here is the first thing that may be surprising for folk that was known as barbarians. The Celtic culture was not only about wars and brutal combats. That folk was known as “The Men of Art.” The Celtic tribes always had more than a few types of men; they included bards, blacksmiths, metalworkers, druids, and artisans. Those people were called the men of art, for their exceptional skills in crafting valuable stuff in the Celtic community.
Nobles had also worked their way toward gaining titles that fall under the category of “Men of Art.” It was a significant category within the community of the Celtic culture. Art was one thing that would dust off the barbarian tag of the Celtic tribes. They were so keen on flourishing art and making it thrive and blossom consistently.
In spite of being a society with many enemies, that category was given several privileges. Precisely, they received those privileges from the ruling class. Those artists managed to highly contribute to the Celtic community by crafting items that were of high value. They managed to produce songs that were morale-boosting; they made mass weapons; and designed brazen jewellery as well.
The Relation Between Wealth and Prestige Maintenance
The Celtic culture existed in a very ancient time when there were always wars and battles. They had their own rules in picking up a leader. However, they always select that that was capable of maintaining the society’s prestige among the other societies.
The leader of the Celtic community was responsible for developing a reputable status that would get them clients. He did so by acquiring the most wealth through his accomplishments in battles. However, battles would not the only source from which he acquired his wealth. There were other sources that included trading and raiding. It was a groundbreaking rule; the leader who acquires the greatest has bigger opportunities in manipulating power.
One more thing, the more they acquired from the distant lands, the more prestigious they become in their native lands. Their economic system was as simple as that. We have come to learn about it from an earlier entry that mentioned it. That entry stated that whichever group of Celtic warriors becomes the armed forces; they gain privileges from other lands. It also stated that those who were capable of gathering valuable items and spoils from Egypt, Rome, and Greece were capable of augmenting their status.
Trading Slaves for Extravagant Goods
Yes, there were slaves at that time and the Celtic tribes were so good at rounding them up. In fact, trading was another thing that helped the Celts maintain their prestige. Eventually, it was all about wealth and materialistic goods and trading was one way for accomplishing that.
The warbands of the Celtic community found it extremely easy to gather slaves. However, they never integrated them into their own society. Instead, the Celts traded those slaves for extravagant goods and lavish materials like gold coins, wine, and more.
Most of the trades worked in favour of the Celtic leaders. That was because merchants of other cultures, including the Mediterranean one, believed that slaves were very profitable. Thus, they would trade anything for them and that was very beneficial to the Celtic tribes.
The Unusual Celtic Tactics of War
Battles were something sacred for the Celtic tribes during ancient times. While battles were usually frightening incidents, they regarded them as opportunities to prove themselves. Surviving through a battle and getting the upper hand was their way to prove one’s value. They proved it for gods and the tribe.
Over and beyond, wars had always had tactics; they were all the same through Europe. However, those tactics evolved through the centuries, those of the Celtic tribes remained unaltered. They manipulated the psychological states of warriors in order to turn the outcome in their favour.
The Usage of Cacophony
One of those tactics was using cacophony; they did so through producing unnecessary noise, taunts, insults, and battle cries. There was a term used to describe the Scottish and Irish battle cries. That term was Slaugh-ghairm; the first word means army while the second one meant to cry.
In some cases, they used instruments that worked in their favour, including the carnyx. That instrument was actually a horn used in war. Its shape looks like an animal and the Celtic warriors used it to horrify their enemies and distract them on the battlefield.
Besides, the auditory effects were of great encouragement to the Celts in wars and battles. One more thing about the Celtic warriors, they had a battle-frenzy. It was that state where they turn into mad creatures that fight with fury and fierce. They went into their frenzies during the performance of single combats.
In the wars, the Celts had their own cheerleaders, including some druids and the banshee women. They keep encouraging their own army by insulting, cursing, and shouting at their foes.
Classes of the Celtic Community
History makes it seem like all of the Celtic tribes were warrior men and banshee women. However, that was not the case always. They had social classes just like any other society in spite of being ever travelling tribes. There were the elite classes of kings, high chieftains, nobles, and magistrates. Thus, they had clans and different families like any other society. They were all under the authorization of one king; however, it took dual authorities to share power.
Kings were usually the rulers of all of the Celtic tribes; however, some Celts had a different ruler. Sometimes, magistrates were the figureheads that ruled the Celts, especially the ones in Gaul. That took place precisely around the first century. But, the power of those magistrates was limited to the nominated requests of the Celts. On the other hand, nobles had the power to give orders of conquests and raiding.
Free men were responsible for making the real decisions. This may sound like they had the upper hand, but the nobles were the ones they followed. Besides, the nobles were actually the minority of the elite class.
Interestingly, the majority of the Celts were rather people who were unfree. Some sources even refer to them as slaves, including Julius Caesar. Those claims are a bit ambiguous, for no society would depend on its social and economic functions on slaves. However, other sources didn’t refute those claims; they stated that the Celts depended on trading their slaves in exchange for luxury goods.
Preparing for Actual Warfare
Physical activity was a significant matter to the Celts. They engaged in lots of aggressive activities that required physical strength. Thus, they depended on the nobles to provide them the physical security needed. Definitely, they needed that physical security on a frequent basis as they engaged in lots of hostility. They slave raided and cattle rustled and, above all, clans battled against one another.
Fighting within the same tribe was something the Celts referred to as low-intensity conflicts. Those ones were important for the younger guys to prepare themselves for actual wars when the time came. They learned how to handle the weapon and think tactically; besides, they gathered the methods of psychologically distracting the foes. All of that stuff was a means for young warriors to acknowledge their bravery and prove their reputations as warriors.
Joining the Mercenary Bands
The young warriors took advantage of the low-intensity conflicts as training for their physical strength. However, those conflicts were not the only ways they prepared for actual wars. In fact, they also joined mercenary bands to gain the reputation of the invincible warriors.
Those mercenaries operated in more than a few locations around Europe in ancient times. Over and beyond, the bands of any mercenaries were like the fraternity of the battles in ancient times. They had codes that label them as brotherhoods; ones that separate them from the soldiers of other tribes. In other words, in spite of being in the same army with other soldiers, they had their own community.
There was once a battle against the Romans, known as the Battle of Telamon. It included the Celtic mercenaries that came from the northern part; people called them spearmen. In the Celtic language, Gaesatae was the term equivalent to spearmen. The term Gaesatae is derived from a Celtic word, Geissi. The literal meaning of that word was either sacred rules of conduct or bonds. Either way, they both explain roughly the status of those fraternity warriors and the mercenary bands. They all bonded together so well.
The Spiritual Aspects of the Ancient Celts
There are too many aspects of the Celtic culture. One aspect that shaped a great part of the culture was the spiritual one. They had lots of supernatural beliefs and spiritual superstitions that they performed for a very long time. In fact, we might find out that the recent Celtic culture inherited those beliefs.
Supernatural and magical properties were things that the ancient Celts believed in. They associated them with natural structures like mountains, trees, and rivers; sometimes, they extended to animals as well. Those animals included a wide range of species, including dogs, horses, birds, ravens, and boars.
The beliefs of supernatural powers escorted the ancient to believe that humans were connected to the Otherworld. That world was one where gods and goddesses settled; all among those who already left the building. Believing in the Otherworld, sometimes, led to extreme sacrifices that can cost a man his life. They believed that sacrifices like those meant they were sending a messenger to the other realm. That was when the Druids’ skills come in handy; they were capable of connecting with the Otherworld.
Feasting and Social Status
Feasting has always been part of any celebration in almost every culture. The Celtic culture did not exclude that part from their rituals. In fact, they gave significant latitude to social gatherings that involved feasting.
Nobles were the ones to demean those kinds of celebrations. Attendees at such events would get heavily drunk, leading themselves to a loop of wildness. They use parodies and bard songs as part of the celebration; they may even start giving sarcastic comments about themselves. Those kinds of celebrations become ritualistic with specific features.
While everyone enjoyed their time, there was a degradation of statuses that the arrangement of seating had to reveal. The guests and the patrons who attended such feasts were not all of the same social standings. Besides the seating, the cut of meat was another thing that reflected the eminence of each guest. The best warriors would definitely receive the finest pieces of meat. This sometimes aroused jealousy and rage, leading to disputes and conflicts among the guests.
Another thing that those social gatherings served was the fact that they attracted dominant retainers and prestigious figures. Those attractions were very helpful in the military planning processes, for feasts were for not only drinking and having fun. Those planning processes actually come to pass when a warrior shared his own plans of raiding and asked for joiners. Things went best in favour of the most prestigious warriors. Those who were richer and of a higher status got the most supporters.
The Religion of the Celts and their Beliefs
Recently, the Celts are Christians. Christianity has been the religion of the majority in Ireland and Scotland. Thus, it’s easy to guess it’d be the religion of the Celtic tribes too since they reside in those places. However, long before the arrival of Christianity, people were mostly pagans. The most common religion in the Celtic culture in ancient times was Polytheism. This religion was around during the early times; as old as 900 B.C.
A Brief about Polytheism
The literal meaning of the word Polytheism is several gods or many gods. That was actually what the Celts believe in; they worshipped more than a few gods. The records of the Romans state that the Celtic culture worshipped around four hundred gods.
There were around four or five gods were the most prevalent ones. In other words, they were the gods that all tribes believed in with no disagreement. However, the rest of the gods differed from one tribe to another. Those gods were probably the same ones that ancient Ireland used to believe in before the arrival of Christianity.
Much like the statements of the Irish mythology, the Celtic gods were supernatural creatures who manipulated the world with magic. The Romans and the Greeks had the same beliefs when it came to gods and religious notions. It seemed that those beliefs around the gods were the only thing that Romans and Celts shared believing in.
The Celtic culture had its own customs; it also had its own theories regarding spirituality. Most of the Celts believed in the life of the most lifeless things. They believed that rocks and trees had souls and interact with the natural world much like humans do. In fact, the portrayal of the Celtic gods was usually in the form of animals rather than humans. They had that impulse to believe in the most mystical notions rather than rational ones.
The Role of the Druids in the Celtic Culture
Druids, or priests, are people who we look up to and genuinely trust. The same went with the Celtic people in the ancient times. They had druids whom they trust and confide in. Druids were not only given blessings and beneficial religious advice. They also were the ones who took charge of the say in legal matters. Their say could even overpower that of the leader’s.
Over and beyond, druids were the ones responsible for keeping the heritage alive through the generations. This was actually through passing down the history and religion orally to people. At some point, people regarded them as history books in the form of humans.
Again, the Celts believed that inanimate things had souls and spirits. So, definitely, lands were among those things that were alive and had spirits. Such beliefs escorted them to ban owning lands by individuals. Lands were to be shared but not owned. They believed that one could not possess whatever had a soul.
The Significance of Triplicity
For some reason, the Celts believed in Triplicity; the power of things that come in three to form a whole. That does not mean they had three gods; they actually had hundreds of them. However, they believed that there were three types of gods. Those types were the ones who actually guide you when you’re lost, protect you from danger, and bless you.
The notion of the Triplicity resembles the Trinity in Christianity; however, it does not refer to gods. It may refer to three different realms like the Sky, the land, and the Sea
, for example. Over and beyond, that ideology had been around long before Christianity ever arrived.
The Romans were the enemies of the Celts; they both were never meant to get along despite their attempts to. Besides, The Romans were responsible for all of the written history of the Celts. Consequently, it’s easy to guess they wanted to make them look as bad as they could. You cannot trust your enemy to write about you and expect them to make you look good.
Briefly, the Celts may not be as barbarians as the Romans made them seem. That’s actually because there were other records regarding them that state their behavior towards other tribes. Those records stated that the Celts were very religiously tolerant. They accepted those who were different and never tried to impose their culture on them. That was mentioned in the entries regarding ruling the Germans. Although the Celts had power over the Germans, they never imposed their language of religion on them.
The religious tolerance of the Celtic people was not only obvious through not imposing their culture on others. But, it also showed through them letting the Germanic tribes practice their rituals even when they were against theirs.
For example, the Celtic religion stated that burning the bodies of the dead was a humiliation. They were against the usage of fire. However, their German counterparts had that practice as part of their ritualistic burying. Though, the Celts never stopped them from doing so even when they were under their ruling.
What Happened to the Celtic Polytheism?
Christianity arrived in Europe just to wipe off all of the religions that existed beforehand. Most of the people in Europe converted to Christianity. However, a lot of them remained on the same religions they previously were. At that time, the Polytheism became among the religions adopted by the minority. It was not as common as it used to be before Christianity, but it had not faded away entirely.
Polytheism was no longer constructed in the Celtic culture as much as Christianity was. That fact escorted numerous people to form a movement in an attempt to reconstruct the religion in the Modern Celtic culture. The movement was known as Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism. Its main objective was the restoration of what Christianity had wiped off concerning their notions of the ancient Celtic religion.
Important Celtic Holidays
Every religion and culture has its own holidays where people celebrate and feast. Definitely, the Celtic culture went the same way. It had important and significant holidays to celebrate. They may have had around four hundred gods; however, only four or five were the most significant ones.
Usually, holidays are associated with specific gods or goddesses, but that is not always the case. But, it coincides that the Celtic culture had four important holidays. Maybe not all of them have something to do with one of their gods, but some of them actually do.
People in Ireland still celebrate on those days until this very time. Those holidays happen to be Imbolc, Samhain, Beltane, and Lughnasa. Shortly, we will introduce the details of each day in terms of its significance, date, and celebration method.
The Celtic Calendar
The Romans had always considered themselves superior to their Celtic counterparts. They regarded themselves as civilized while the Celts were savages to them. However, there was one thing that the Celts had and their Roman foes did not; it was a calendar.
There are many calendars in this world and the Celtic one is actually included. It shows the holidays that the Celts used to celebrate and still do to this day. The calendar depended on the times of the harvest because the Celts were an agricultural society. Besides, the Celtic culture was fond of the science of the sun and stars; it aided in their holiday timings. The Celtic calendar made up four different quarters; one holiday in each quarter.
For the Celtic culture, the beginning of the year took place in October with Samhain at the end of it. It was the time when the harvest was cropped. Since it was the end of October, winter is on the verge. Then, Imbolc comes in February three months before the beginning of summer when they celebrate the Beltane. The latter happens to be the happiest celebration and the most joyful of all. Three months later, Lughnasa takes place in August with the beginning of the harvest all over again.
One of the major holidays that the Celts celebrate is the Imbolc. Sometimes, the Celts refer to it as Imbolg rather than Imbolc. The meaning of this word is actually “in the belly.” That word derives from the Celtic word “I mbolg,” which has that previously stated meaning.
Imbolc comes in February when winter is almost coming to an end. In this season, the farmers started going back and making the animals breed. More precisely, it is the breeding seasons of cattle and other animals; breeding was one important factor in the celebration. The day of celebration of Imbolc takes place on February 1st; people in Ireland still celebrate it. However, sometimes the season itself starts earlier or later, depending on the weather and the animals’ behaviour.
Animals breeding may be a significant part of celebrating that season. However, Imbolc itself has always been a celebration of farewelling the hardest time of the year; winter. The Celts had always regarded winter as the hardest time of the year. Not only hard for its painfully chilling breeze, but also because most of their life was put on hold. Yes, the Celts did not fight in winter and farmers barely work. Even the social and political practices stayed on hold until the chilly weather passed by.
The Impact of Christianity on Imbolc
During paganism, the Celts always celebrated Imbolc. However, as we previously stated, Christianity arrived to change a lot of things. As luck would have it, Imbolc was not among the celebrations that Christianity ditched. In fact, it became a Christian festival as well, making both Christians and pagans have something to share.
The Imbolc holiday is tightly related to one of the famous Celtic goddesses of war, Brigid. She existed in the Polytheism religion. She did not desire to be left behind when Christianity arrived, so she transformed into a Saint. That was her story according to the Celtic mythology. There are much more to learn about that goddess than just her transforming into a saint.
This festival is one with lots of celebration and giving a proper farewell to winter while warmly welcoming spring. There are customs and other superstitions that come on that holiday, making it be special. People believe that it is the time where they enhance the importance of one’s wellbeing and health. They also believe that it is that time where they give a wide berth to the evil spirits.
The Significance of this Holiday
The weather has always taken a great weight to the ideologies of the Celts that they even celebrated it. Among the rituals of the celebrations is lighting bonfires in several places. This practice takes place on almost every holiday, but each time has its own implication.
On Imbolc, lighting bonfires is a way to celebrate that winter has gone and the sun is shining brightly once again. However, the bonfires are usually huge ones that people place in the centre of any festival. That is not the case with Imbolc; bonfires take place insides homes instead. The whole Celtic community would witness burning fires from the windows of each home during the night.
Among the important customs, people visit the holy wells for blessings. The Celtic culture refers to this type of practice as the Irish blessings. People revolve around those wells in the direction of the sun; they pray for health and blessings. They also use a piece of cloth as offerings to the gods. Visiting the wells is a main practice in the Imbolc.
Interestingly, things in modern times have not changed. In fact, people in Ireland still care about the weather conditions. They wait for February to celebrate Imbolc and start anticipating the upcoming weather of summer. The Celts actually have weather predictions through reading omens and fortunes. There was that odd notion that the Celtic culture confided in. They believed that when the weather on the day of Imbolc, February 1st, is bad, it means summer will be great.
How Exactly Can the Bad Weather be a Good Sign?
Well, the Celtic folklore plays a huge role in shaping many notions of the Celtic culture. There is that mystical wicked creature in the mythology called Cailleach. It is a female creature that collects wood fire on Imbolc in case winter lasts for long.
The Cailleach goes out only when the weather is dry and clear. If the weather’s awful, it means that the creature stayed in her place asleep as winter is coming to an end. To do this, she would obviously need a bright and dry day to collect her wood, so if Imbolc was wet and windy, that meant the Cailleach had gone to sleep and winter would soon be over.
Who was Saint Brigid?
Brigid was one of the famous goddesses of the Celtic culture. She was the daughter of Dagda, the father god, and she was among the first residents of Ireland. Those residents were actually the Tuatha de Danann; god-like creatures of the Irish mythology.
The portrayal of Saint Brigid usually included her having red shiny hair as a sign of the sun. People usually referred to her as the goddess of either the sun or the fire. Most importantly, she was the goddess of war. Moreover, the Celts linked Brigid with more than a few things, including fertility, healing, arts, and poetry.
Saint Brigid in the Irish Folklore
The Celts used to worship St. Brigid. However, there were many tales about that saint. Legends claim that she had one half of her face that was incredibly pretty while the other was frightening.
Some people also associate her with the Banshee woman. The reason behind that was the statement of legends that she introduced the practice of keening to the Irish women. The literal meaning of keening was wailing and singing lamentations. She used to mourn the death of her son Ruadan. The banshee was famous for wailing and weeping at funerals, thus, people link both of them.
There were lots of mentions of that goddess in the Irish mythology as well. She was among the most worshipped goddesses during the pagan times. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, Brigid learned that whoever converted to Christianity wouldn’t worship her anymore. She knew that the new religion forbids the worshipping of gods excluded from it. To protect her reputation, she converted to Christianity and became popular for being Saint Brigid.
The Relation Between Saint Brigid and Imbolc Holiday
Legends all claim that Saint Brigid wasn’t a mystical creature like most of other gods and goddesses in the folklore. She was a real woman who existed in ancient times and died in 525 on February 1st. Her burial chamber exists in a tomb in Ireland, in Kildare in particular.
Later, the remains of her body were moved to Downpatrick where her burial was among other famous Irish saints. There were even crosses under her name that people make specifically on the Imbolc day all around Ireland. Those crosses people hang them on the entrances of their homes as a symbol of blessing and protection.
This belief had been around since pagan times. However, some people claim that it only existed since the arrival of Christianity. It was the way where Saint Brigid made the first cross to prove her conversion. However, the main legend of how she customized the first cross was about visiting a sick leader on his deathbed. She taught him about Christ and fashioned the first cross to show him the spirituality of this religion. Legends have it that the leader converted to Christianity right before he died because of her.
Imbolc in the Modern Times
Unfortunately, Imbolc is not among the Celtic festivals that survived through history. People still perform all of the usual practices of this day, but it’s not as significant as the rest. However, Christians, in Ireland in particular, still celebrate St. Brigid’s Day. Besides, Irish children of today still learn to make the Brigid’s crosses every February.
The celebration is no longer like it used to be; it is not about songs and food. It is just a remembrance of St. Brigid; however, her crosses are still believed to protect the houses of whoever hand them around.
Beltane Fire Festival
Beltane is a festival that takes place at the beginning of summer. The name of the festival is an updated version of the old Gaelic one; May Day Festival. However, some people still call it May Day; it takes place on the 1st of May. This festival has been taking place in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man for many centuries.
Since there are always gods associated with such celebration, Beltane revolves around the gods and goddesses of fertility. It is the time when people celebrate the land that turns green and the richness of fertile ones. The celebration of Beltane usually starts on the last night of April where people dance and light bonfires. One more thing about Beltane is that it does not only celebrate the fertility of the land. In fact, it celebrates the fertility of the humans’ biological functions as well.
The Significance of Fire
The Celts of both the ancient and modern times have always used fire in celebration. The usage of fire has always been a thing for the Celts. For every occasion, they usually find a purpose for using it. For example, fire in the Imbolc festival represents the returning of the sun by the end of winter.
In Beltane, fire has a different significance. First of all, the word Beltane itself literally means the bright fire. At some point, the Celts believed that fire was the healer and purifier. Thus, they adjusted all of their celebration around it. They would light a large bonfire and start walking around it, dancing, or even jumping over it.
Fire was not only a means of celebration. In fact, people believed that fire helped in connecting all of them to one another. Most people in the community used it for a purpose. The Celts of ancient times used hearth fires that were a means to reignite the households; they protected everyone in there. Moreover, even farmers used bonfires where they let the cattle revolve around them. They cleansed them around the fire, thinking that fire would help protect the cattle before they placed them in the fields.
Celebrating on Calton Hill in Scotland
The procession is driven by the beat of Scotland is among the lands of the Celts that celebrate this important festival. There, the festival takes place on Calton Hill. On that day, people start marching and gathering one group after another at specific meeting points.
Precisely, this march starts at the Acropolis; it is the National Monument, but that is how the Beltaners call it. They revolve around the path in an anti-clockwise direction and they get to meet several groups along the way. The two persons who lead the march are May Queen and the Green Man; two people usually personate them. Along the march, there are always drums celebrating the day.
There’s also a stage that includes a dramatic performance. The plot is about the birth of the summer, resulting from May Queen and Green Man igniting a huge bonfire. That bonfire is just the start of the story. However, the performance focuses on the community phase where the participants gather in the Bower. Once they reach that destination, the participants start dancing while wearing white and red.
Because every celebration needs food to be complete, they start getting served along with drinks to the exhausted performers. For the rest of the night, audiences and performers enjoy their night besides one another. They create happy memories on such a joyful event.
Colours of May Day
Usually, every holiday comes associated with special colours. Just like the relation between red and Christmas, black and Halloween, and green and St. Patrick’s Day, May Day is popular for three different colours; red, white, and green.
Each colour is a symbol of a particular thing. For example, the red colour is a symbol of strength, liveliness, and passion. On the other hand, the white colour is a clear representation of transparency, the power of resisting negativity, and purging. Finally, green, which is the colour that Ireland is popular for, represents fertility and evolution.
The Marriage of the God and Goddess
Among the wedding traditions, Beltane is a good time for people to marry. It is the time of fertility for the land and human beings. In fact, Beltane was the Great Wedding of the Goddess and the God. That made it become one of the popular times when people get married. The Celts usually refer to it as Handfasting.
It does not force the couple to stay together for a lifetime like things were in ancient times. Actually, the couple has the right to choose the length of their commitment to one another. Handfasting includes the couples exchanging vows and rings; besides, the couple ties their own hands. It is the symbol of tying the knot.
Popular Customs of May Day
Marriage becomes more common during that time. However, there are more customs that take place on that day in particular. Jumping the broomstick is one of those superstitions. This tradition has been around since the ancient times of the Celts. The superstition involved laying a broom on the ground and the couple, literally, jumps over it. This practice is a symbol that the new couple is leaving their old lives behind and leading a new one together.
In the past, people performed this practice when they could not afford a church ceremony. There are lots of Irish wedding traditions and drinking mead is one of them. For the Celts, mead has always been the appropriate drink for lovers in such happy ceremonies. It is one of the most ancient drinks that the world has ever known.
A-Maying and Maypole
Here is one of the weirdest traditions of the Celts that take place in Beltane. Couples of all ages head to the woods and spent the night there. Each couple would make love in the woods and go back home with lots of blossoms. They refer to this custom as A-Maying. However, hawthorns are not among the lucky plants, but it is okay to bring them home on Beltane. People use the flowers they gather in decorating their houses and barns, making them livelier places.
That is not the end of the customs; Maypole was another one. It is a pole that the Celts insert into the earth as a representation of God’s strength. On top of the pole lies a ring of flowers as a symbol of the Goddess’s fertility. The coloured ribbons there reveal the connection between the land and the sky.
The Celtic Harvest Festival of Lughnasa
Lughnasa is one of the happy festivals for the Celts. This celebration marks the start of the season of the harvest. Again, most of the festivals bear a story about a god or a goddess or has a relationship with any of them. Apparently, the Celtic God, Lugh, is the one associated with this festival, hence the name. This God had a lot of stories in Celtic mythology. He was one of the most prominent gods as well.
Lugh was God of the harvest and sun. He was responsible for providing an affluent crop for each harvest year. Lughnasa is the last festival in the Celtic year, taking place on the first day of August. In fact, the Celts of modern times don’t give too much attention to that day, unlike the other festivals. However, that does not mean that they stopped celebrating it.
The Origins of Lughnasa
Lugh, the Celtic god, was the one who held the Lughnasa festival, for sure. The festival was meant to be a funeral feast as well as a competition for the athletes. Lugh did it as a tribute to his deceased mother, Taitlin; she died out of exhaustion while clearing the plains.
In the past, this festival used to be a religious ceremony with specific customs. It was the time when people eat the very first meal of the new crop throughout the whole year. There were other customs that the festival involved. These include trading, matchmaking, athletic competitions, and feasting. These traditions are no longer alive in modern times. On the other hand, some sources claim that the traditions still exist, but in different forms.
The Customs of that Day
Every festival has its own customs and traditions. For Lughnasa, Reek Sunday is one of the traditions. It takes place on the last Sunday that comes in July. It is that day when numerous people march from different places in the country to county Mayo. At that destination, they climb to the peak of Croagh Patrick.
People around different areas of Ireland still practice this tradition to the modern times. Climbing the steep of Croagh Patrick is the most popular tradition that occurs at that festival. However, the celebration is not limited to that tradition. The celebration includes storytelling, dancing, and enjoying their time with food and drink.
The Story of God Lugh
In the Celtic mythology, Lugh was among the champions. He was a member of the Tuatha de Danann and one of their prevalent gods. Lugh was one of the strongest and most youthful characters of the Celtic mythology.
Lugh came from two different races; he was half-Tuatha de Danann and half-Fomorian. He succeeded in becoming a king after joining the Tuatha de Danann and avenging the death of their leader. There were many stories in the Celtic mythology that included Lugh. He was also the possessor of one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha de Danann. This treasure is the spear; the Celts refer to it as Lugh’s spear.
Nuada was the king of the Tuatha de Danann when Lugh joined them. Balor, the king of the Fomorians, killed Nuada during their last battle of the Tuatha de Danann. Lugh decided to avenge the death of his king, so he killed Balor. Interestingly, the latter happened to be Lugh’s grandfather. A fortune teller once told him that his grandson would kill him, so he tried to keep his daughter away from men.
About Lugh’s Spear
The full name of that god is Lugh Lamfada. His name gives the literal meaning of The Long Arms. It was a symbol of his exceptional skills in throwing the spear and killing his enemies with ease. Throwing the spear with great skillfulness was not the only trait that God Lugh possessed. He was, like the Tuatha de Danann, highly skilled at arts and fighting.
Samhain: The Halloween of the Celts
Samhain is actually the first festival of the Celtic year. It takes place on the last day of October; however, people celebrate it on October 31st and November 1st. This festival is a symbol of ending the harvest season. It marks the beginning of the cold days all over again.
The Celts sometimes refer to it as the Dark Half of the Year. Because it takes place on the same day of Halloween, people consider it Halloween of the Celts. In fact, a lot of people do believe that the origins of American Halloween go back to the Celts.
Samhain actually goes back to pagan times. It was one of the prominent festivals of ancient times. The Celtic mythology claims that more than a few important events take place, particularly, on that day. They also believe that the boundaries between the real world and the Otherworld fade away. Probably, that was from which the scary tales about Halloween come. At the beginning of winter, a lot of works stay on hold, so the cattle get brought down from pastures.
A Festival for the Dead
Halloween and the dead aren’t that different from one another. After all, this day became popular for wearing spooky costumes. The Celtic mythology claims that Beltane is the festival for the living, but Samhain, well; it is for the dead. It also claims that the end of October is the time when the doors are wide open. Creatures from the Otherworld can get through the other side with ease. This pretty much explains why they regard that time as the darkest half.
This festival is associated with one of the most famous warriors of the Irish mythology, Finn MacCool. He was the one who claimed that the doors of the Otherworld open on Samhain. Every year, there would always be an assembly at the Hill of Tara. It’s that time when Aillen, a creature whose breathe is fire, comes out of the Otherworld to cause damage. He had that music that put everyone into a deep sleep and he’d burn the palace of Tara down.
Finn MacCool comes to the rescue at such time. He was the only one who was resistant to Aillen lulling music. Finn always managed to slay him with his spear; that event made him the leader of the Fianna. There are other tales around Samhain, including Colloquy of the Elders. The story revolves around female werewolves who come out of Cruachan cave to kill the cattle. There was a harpist who managed to transform them into humans through his harp for the Fianna to slay.
The Precious Sacrifices of Samhain
According to the Celts, Samhain was not particularly a happy time for them. It is the time when the monstrous power is unleashed and they had to do big sacrifices to stop them. In the ancient times, there was a race named Nemed. They were victims of the Fomorians, a race of monster-like creatures that spread chaos and darkness.
Every Samhain, the Nemeds had to give offerings for the Fomorians. Those offerings would include milk, food, and, sometimes, their own children. The Nemeds had no other choice but sacrificing in order to put the blight powers at rest.
Costumes were Part of the Celebration
Again, Halloween actually seems to have originated from that festival of the Celts, Samhain. Every festival had a bunch of songs and traditions that people perform as part of the celebration. For Samhain, the Celts always enjoyed the game of being in disguise. They wore spooky costumes, just like the modern version of the festival. This tradition has been around since the 16th century.
The Celts believed that wearing frightening costumes is their own way of personifying the souls of the dead. Moreover, they believed that mimicking them was the perfect way of defending themselves as if the evil spirits wouldn’t recognize. People in costumes would roam around and knock the doors asking for food. It was their way of receiving the sacrifices and offerings on their behalf.
The Practice of Divination
The Celts usually practised a lot of traditions during Samhain. One of the most significant ones was the practice of divination. That practice was all about predicting the future. The Celts have always had such a practice as one of their most prevalent customs.
Well, most of what the Celts used to perform is no longer around. However, some remnants stick around, giving us an insight into the ancient practice. In the modern times, people wait for Halloween to go to churches at midnight and stand in the porches. You must be wondering why; well, they are out there for their modernized version of divination. They read the future; that of theirs and their neighbours’.
So, the observers stand there on the porch, waiting for the future to show up. The bravest ones see the souls who are soon-to-die; they may run the risk of seeing their own self. On the other hand, women usually go looking for the man that they should marry. Unfortunately, Halloween is not always a happy time for either the Celts or anyone. In fact, some women may realize that their future husbands are devils in disguise.
The Most Significant Tales of the Celts
The literature of every culture plays role in shaping traditions and superstitions. The Celts had a lot of significant tales that have always been popular in Ireland and Scotland. One of those tales was The Cattle Raid of Cooley. The Celts sometimes refer to this story as the Tain. That is because the Celtic name of the story is Táin bó Cuailnge. Lugh happened to appear in this tale and he had a vital role in it as well. He was a brave warrior as well as the god of fire.
A Brief about the Tale of the Cattle Raid of Cooley
This tale falls in the Ulster Cycle, one of the Irish Mythology Cycles; it’s the longest tale in the cycle. The story revolves around a conflict between the armies of two countries; Ulster and Connacht. The ruler of Ulster owned a brown bull which the ruler of Connacht, Queen Maeve, wanted to possess.
Queen Maeve was the wife of Ailill. They both always compared their wealth was one another. Ailill had a white bull when the queen didn’t, so she was jealous. She learned about the brown bull of Ulster and she wanted to have it. Jealousy started to drive her and she sent her messenger to get the brown bull of Cooley. That bull was the only one that was stronger than that of her husband. The king of Ulster agreed to lend her the bull for a year. Then, he heard rumours about her trying to betray him.
Thus, the king of Ulster decided to decline the queen’s request of having the bull. She went there to fight and take the bull by force. Cuchulainn was one of the famous warriors of the Ulster. He also happened to be Lugh’s son. During the heat of the battles, Cuchulainn had several wounds. While going back to his town, he was about to die due to his severe wounds. By that time, Lugh appeared and healed all of his son’s wounds. His role was a very little one yet it was significant.
The Celts and their Famous Tales
There are a lot of tales that the Celts have always told for one generation after another. Those tales have had lots of impact on the Celts’ lives, directly or not. It impacted them in a lot of different aspects, including culture, religion, beliefs, and so. Some of the famous tales of the Celts are the following:
The Tale of Mac Datho’s Pig, The Children of Lir, The Banshee, The Cattle Raids’ of Cooley, and a lot more. We have already mentioned a summary of some of their famous tales. However, we never had a chance to introduce you to The Tale of Mac Datho’s Pig. Since it is one of the most significant tales of the Celts, we will provide a summary of it.
The Tale of Mac Datho’s Pig
This particular tale is highly related to the tale of The Cattle Raids of Cooley. It also revolves around a conflict that the king and queen, Ailill and Maeve, of Connacht arise. In the Cattle Raids of Cooley, they had a conflict with the king of Ulster. However, the Tale of Mac Datho’s Pig was a conflict against the king of Leinster. He was a legendary, named Mac Datho; he owned a hound, Ailbe.
That hound was not just an ordinary one; it was able to protect the whole city. It was popular all around Ireland. Thus, Queen Maeve and Ailill wanted to have that hound, so they send messengers to demand it. Apparently, they were not the only people who were after that mighty creature, so was the King of Ulaid. At that time, Conchobar mac Nessa was the king of the Ulaid.
Both provinces had offered Mac Datho amazing tributes in exchange for that hound. The messengers of Ulster offered cattle and jewellery and promised to be their ally. On the other hand, the messengers from Connacht offered two horses, of the finest ones, along with around 160 milch cows.
The two offers were very pleasing that Mac Datho had trouble choosing one. In fact, he kept thinking that he went three days with no sleep or food. His wife realized how exhausted he was, so she helped him with a plan. She suggested that he should provide the hound to the two parties.
A Feast in Leinster
He liked the plan and privately informed each party that the hound was theirs. Right after, he invited each party in his hostel for a feast. That feast was supposed to be where the parties would claim Ailbe, the hound. His hostel was called Mac Da Tho’s Hostel. At that time, it was one of the best feasting halls all around Ireland. There were seven different entrances to that hostel. In each entrance, there was a huge cauldron laden with beef and pork.
Anyhow, the two parties arrived at the hostel all at once, thinking that they were the only one collecting the hound. Neither of them was aware of Mac Datho’s brutal scheme due to the innocent pretense he wore. The two parties were already enemies and fought against one another before. Yet, they forcefully sat with one another for the sake of the hound claiming.
The Huge Pig of Mac Datho
Apparently, the hound was not the only mighty creature that Mac Datho possessed. He had a very large pig; one that about sixty milch cows nourished for seven years. When the time of the feast had come, Mac Datho ordered to slaughter the pig.
The two parties, Ulster and Connacht, entered the hostel from all of its many entrances. The pig caught their attention; it was too big they wondered how they will divide it. There was what they called “The Hero’s Portion”; whoever boasts himself gets to have the largest portion. One of the warriors of the Connacht managed to defeat the warriors of the opposite party. That warrior was Cet mac Magach.
For Further Reading: The Tale of Mac Datho’s Pig
Interesting Facts to Know about the Celts
We have already provided more than a few facts about the life of the Celts and their culture. However, it apparently seems that there are still lots of interesting things for you to learn about them. You will be entertained by the unfolded history of the Celts. Their mystery actually starts off from their origin. It seems to deeply hide in unfindable places.
Well, yes, the Irish and Scottish people consider themselves from the descendants of the Celts. But still, there are sources that refute that fact. It won’t matter a lot whether they are the Irish of modern times or not. What really matters are the facts that people know about them and the ones they mistakenly believe. So, prepare yourself for a quick ride around the remarkable facts about the lives of the Celts.
Images over Words
The Celts had their own culture; however, they did not care to write their heritage down. Scholars managed to find very little written evidence about their culture. But, those documentations seemed to be wrecked. It was not obvious why exactly the Celts did not like to write down. That made us wonder how they learned and educated themselves without any writings.
Interestingly, they believed in learning orally; the druids maintained that system of education for centuries. The druids thought that learning did not require hands and eyes; it just needed the presence of your heart. Of course, the Celts were not looking for their culture to fade away. So, they used art to let the world learn about their existence.
On the other hand, there are actually some written accounts about the Celts. But, the Celts were not the ones who wrote it though. The Romans and Greek were the ones who did. Yes, they were the only ones who recorded the history of the Celts. Probably, that was the reason that the inscriptions were biased.
Both the Romans and Greek were enemies of the Celts. All the inscriptions that claim the Celts were savages were in Greek and Roman. They seemed to have written this claim without paying attention to their artwork.
Raiding Other Cultures through Art
The Celts preferred using images in reflecting their culture. They had what the world knows as the Celtic knots. Those knots were actually an amazing work of the Celtic society. The knots are actually modern pieces of art that are endless; they had no beginning or end.
The Celtic society had the penchant to attack other cultures to make more art. They did not disrespect other cultures like the Romans did to them. For them, fighting was one thing and art was another; they never eliminated anyone’s art.
Raiding different cultures was an opportunity for them to produce art. They merged between the arts of the foreign and their own, resulting in masterpieces. In fact, scholars believe that the incorporation of different cultures with the Celts’ is the reason their art exists.
Their art was not only about painting and so. Despite their aggression, the Celts were the one who made the gears of the battle. That includes helmets, shields, and swords; they are other forms of art. Besides, they were also popular for their fondness of bronze; they made a major part of their artefacts in bronze.
Survival of the Ancient Celtic Languages
Romans were not a regular enemy of the Celts. They were always looking for ways to wipe them off of the surface of the earth. Yes, they could not and that was probably why they wrote about them in the most horrible ways possible.
One of the things that the Romans were after is phasing out the Celtic languages. At some point, people believed that the Celtic languages were no longer in use. Even in modern times, Britain managed to occupy Ireland for a very long time. They tried to impose their own language on them. Interestingly, all of the attempts ended up with failure.
Until this day, the Celtic languages are still prominent ones that never faded away. However, some of them are no longer used in modern times. For example, Celtiberian, Pictish, Lepontic, and Lusitanian are some of the very ancient forms of the Celtic languages. People today do not speak them anymore. Those languages may not have survived to the modern times; however, they survived for centuries even after the Roman conquest.
The world regards the Celts as a unit, but that isn’t the same perspective of the Celtic tribes themselves. They never saw themselves as one tribe. In fact, they fought against one another, causing the Celtic languages to decline over the years.
Their Exceptional Creation of Road Network
Apparently, the Celtic tribes were good at more than a few things. Unfortunately, they have not even taken credit for their great work. The Romans took the credit for being pro at building a large network of roads. The truth is; they actually did it, but their enemies were too selfish to admit it.
Originally, the Celts were popular for being professional at trading. They even created a trading centre near the Danube River; the location remained the most significant for trading. They always traded slaves and more for luxury goods.
The location remained the same for over a century until the Celtic tribes were able to trade all around Europe. Thus, they had to create roads to expand their trading distances. They were the ones who shaped the Tin Road; it was a famous road, starting from Massalia and all the way to Britain. The Amber Road was also one of their accomplishments.
Women can be Warriors
Have you ever taken a moment to wonder how the Celtic life looked like? Ancient times were definitely different from how things are today. They were so consumed with battles and wars, for sure. But, what about women? How had life been for them? It’s easy to imagine a grimy life for people depicted as savages, but that doesn’t have to be true. In fact, women didn’t face the oppression of ancient cultures. They could be warriors just like their male counterparts.
Actually, being a warrior did not depend on a specific social class; everyone could be one if they want to. Most of the Celtic people of the ancient times were warriors. Most of the women were housewives like most of the cultures around the world. But, they chose to be fighters, they were. Women could even be fighting teachers; they trained the young generation how to fight.
The Celts used to have warrior schools and women had run some of those schools. A woman warrior was the most powerful of all. They could own lands and other possessions; they could also have a divorce if they needed. Yes, divorce was not common in the Celtic society in ancient times.
The Myth of Nudity
Well, the Romans seemed to have done their best to depict their enemies as the worst creatures on earth. They had the audacity to portray them as uncontrollable savages, so they’d take the extra mile to worsen their image.
One of the myths that spoiled the reputation of the Celtic society was fighting naked. Seriously? How weird does that sound? Yes, big time, but it probably was a myth that supports the Romans’ claim of their enemies’ savageness. It is time to put that claim to rest and dust off the Celts’ status. The Romans had exaggerated a lot of things when it came to the image of the Celtic tribes. They would never make their enemies look any good.
It is true that the Celts used weird approaches, but getting into the battlefield naked can’t be one of them. The sources that professed that claim said that the Celts believed that going naked into the battle always worked in their favour. You are probably wondering how is that even reasonable when it is too dangerous? Well, it definitely was dangerous, in case it was true, but they always had armours and weapons that protect them. Besides, it must be a very frightening experience to the enemies.
In the end, it is not normal to be attacked by a completely nude warrior that was yelling inaudible words. Cacophony was their eccentric method of shattering the enemies’ focus, but if nudity was true, it certainly would’ve worked.
The Relation between the Celts and the Weird Helmets
Remember when we mentioned that the Celtic culture was full of art? Lots of them were actually artists, but that was not limited to paintings and the likes. They were the first to customize the battle gear, including armours and helmets. Yes, they were popular for making helmets and not actually regular ones; they were quite weird. In what sense? Well, they must have liked the feeling of being different, so they went for the extremist designs.
Helmets were supposed to be metal protectors for the head. However, they managed to make them more entertaining by designing them in the craziest ways possible. In Romania, archaeologists discovered some of those Celtic helmets in Ciumesti. That was pretty usual since the Celts had been all around Europe.
Romania was among the countries that possessed a lot of Celtic artefacts. During an excavation, the archaeologists discovered a cemetery that belonged to the Iron Age. It contained around thirty-four graves that held bronze objects like armours and weapons. This stuff belonged to a Celtic leader who believed they would help him in the Otherworld.
Rummaging through his objects, they found an eccentric helmet. That one consisted of a large bird that had bronze spread-out wings. Those wings could flap up and down, making the helmet equally cool and bizarre. Despite its coolness, historians suggest that the leader may have never worn this helmet to a battlefield. It was going to be a bit of distracting to him. So, they suggested that he must have worn it on special events only.
The Celts had a Very Special Hobby too; Headhunting!
There are a lot of things about the Celtic culture, but the most popular thing was having a special hobby. Yes, they loved being warriors and battles were one thing that fulfilled their ambition. Thus, their hobby would not have been a cute one. They loved to headhunt; yes, they, supposedly, were not savages, but they had extreme hobbies.
Why would they do something horrible like that? Well, they thought that going for their enemy’s head was the best prize to claim in a battle. There have been a lot of claims around that fact. One of them goes to a notion of their religion that claimed that the human’s soul lived in their heads. So, they collected their enemies’ heads as a way to brag about taking down their souls. They sometimes exaggerated by using those heads in decorating their places or the saddles of their horses.
The Usage of Iron Weaponry
The Celts existed in the ancient times; however, they were ahead of time compared to the other tribes. They were good at what they did; be it fighting, arts, or headhunting. But, what made them the fierce warriors they were was being technologically advanced. They had the right weapons that made them one step ahead of their enemies. The Celts succeeded in being the first race to ever forge iron into their battle weapons.
Bronze was the dominant metal at that time, but the Celtic tribes managed to replace them with iron ones, starting from 800 BC. They wanted the battles to work in their favour by giving the best performance. Thus, they made lighter swords and chased after daggers, for their relatively light weight. That helped them perform better and fight more efficiently by moving faster. Later, the Romans adopted most of their weapons; they also adopted the chainmail.
The Richest Race in History
In spite of all the records of the history of the Celts, they were deemed to be the richest. History always portrays them as savages and barbaric, ignoring the fact that they also were artists. However, we have to admit, the most barbaric act they engaged in was hunting the heads of their enemies.
On the other hand, they were also very professional at trading. They even had a major trading centre that served them for centuries. Thus, one can easily assume that they were insanely wealthy. Besides, they were the first race that ever forged iron into their weapons. They definitely made use of that fact through their trading skills and increased their fortune.
They exaggerated a little bit and used gold in their weapons and armours just because they could. Gold was not only limited to their armours and weapons, but they also used it in their art. The Celtic regions were laden with gold, so it was easy for them to use it in almost everything. They also made use of that gold by crafting fine jewellery.
Despite the Celts’ confusing origin, they actually had an incredible history to tell. Too bad there was no one other than the Romans to do it on their behalf. There must be a hidden treasure that they damaged along the way.
If you enjoyed this blog make sure to check out other related blogs: The Unfolded History of Gaelic Ireland Throughout the Centuries| Dive into the Finest Legends and Tales of the Irish Mythology| Interesting Facts about the Legend of the Children of Lir