The Celt As Described By Greek And Roman Authors

The Celts make their first appearance in history at the end of the sixth century B.C., when, however, they are referred to not by their name as a people but by the name of the country they occupied. Thus, IIecata?us of Miletus, writing about 509 B.C., mentions Marseilles as being a Ligurian city near the Celtic region.1

Herodotus, writing half a century later, is the first historian who uses the word /kXtoV (Celt) as distinguished from Ke\-riK,'i (the Celtic region). In the two passages'- in which the Celts are mentioned, Herodotus says that they inhabited the part of Europe where the Danube has us source, ard that the only other people to the westward were the Cynetes or Dog-Men. Both Herodotus and Aristotle erroneously supposed that the source of the Danube was situated in the Pyrenees.

Aristotle3 descrioes the country of the Celts as being so cold that the ass is unable to reproduce his species there.

Plato, who lived sixty years after the time of Herodotus, classes the Celts with the Scythians, Persians, Carthaginians, Iberians, and Thracians, as being warlike nations who like wine, and drink it to excess.4

1 Ma-triXia ito\ls tt}s At-;u.jtík'7¡s «tari rhv KeXriKty (C. ana T Muellerus, Fragmenta Historicorum tíreecorum, Paris, 1841, vol. i., p. 2, fragm. 22).

* De Generations Animulium.

4 De Legibus.

Pytheas (circa B.C. 300) is the first author who includes the part of Europe which was afterwards the Gaul of Ca;sar within the Celtic territory.1

According to the earlier historians, the parts of Europe occupied by the Celts at the end of the fourth century B.C. were the coast of the Adriatic from Rimini to Venice, Istria and the neighbourhood of the Ionian Gulf, and the left bank, of the Rhone from the Lake of Geneva to the source of the Danube.3

Polybius (B.C. 205-123) gives more definite and satisfactory information about the Celts than the somewhat vague references made to them by previous writers. From him we learn3

(1) That the Celts of upper Italy did not come from the Gaul of Cffisar, but from the valley of the Danube, and more particularly from the countries which border upon the northern slopes of the Julian Alps of Noricurn.

(2) That these peoples were primarily divided into Cisalpine Celts and Transalpine Celts, that is to say, Jnto the Celts of the Alps and of the north of the Alps. In the third century b.c. these latter were already called, more particularly by Polybius, by the name of Galati.

(3) That the Cisalpine Celts, who from a remote period long- before the fourth century b.c. inhabited the wide plains of Lombardy from the Alps to the river P6, were, for the most part, an agricultural and sedentary race living in luxury and in a state of civilisation without any doubt greatly superior to that which could have existed in Gaul at that time.

(4) That the Galati, on the contrary, the Transalpine Celts, although kinsmen to the former mountaineers, still half nomads, shepherds and warriors chiefly, always ready-to run the risk of a raid, armed trnm the fourth century with

1 C. Elton's Origins of English History, p. 25.

an iron sword, an iron-headed spear and a shield, lived undar the régime of a sort of military aristocracy, as proud as they were poor, such as the inhabitants of the Caucasus were not half a century ago.

The people who were called Celtce by the earlier historians, ar.d Galatœ by the more recent writers, were also known to the Romans as Galli; but these three separate appellations do not seem to indicate any difference of race, and indeed they all have the same meaning, viz. a warrior. The Gauls of Caisar's time preferred to call themselves by the name which he wrote, Ccltce.1

All the Classical authorities are agreed as to the physical character'stics of the Celts with whom they were acquainted. The Celts are invariably described as being tall, muscular men, with a fair skin, blue eyes, and blonde hair tending towards red.2 Such were the Gauls who conquered the Etruscans of northern Italy in B.c. 306, took Rome under Brennus six years later, sacked Delphi in B.c. 279, and gave their name to Galatia in Asia Minor.

It may well be asked what has become of the tall, fair-haired Celts who in the fourth century B.c. were the terror of Europe? The answer seems to be that being numerically inferior to the races which they conquered, but did not exterminate, they after a time became absorbed by the small, dark Iberians, who were the aborigines of France and Spain in the later Stone Age. In Great Britain the once warlike Celt at last became so effete that he fell an easy prey to the Picts, the Scots, the Angles, and the Saxons.

2 C. E'ton's Origins of English History, p. 113, the celts as represented in greek and roman art

The physical type of the Celt in Classical Sculpture was fixed by the artists of I'ergamos, who were commissioned to perpetuate the victories of Attalus I. (b.c. 241-197) and Eumenes II. (b.c. 197-159) over the Gala-tians of Asia Minor.1 The originals of the statues executed at this period to decorate the acropolis at Pergamon and at Athens have since been popularised by means of numerous copies. The statue most familiar to everyone is that wrongly called the Dying Gladiator,2 but which is really a Gaulish warrior mortally wounded, as may be seen by the twisted torque round his neck, and the shape of his shield and trumpet. The other statues of the same class are the group formerly known as Arria and Paetus3 (representing a Gaul committing suicide after having killed his wife) and the figures of an old man with a young man dead1 and a young man wounded5 from the defeat of the Gauls by Attalus.

In all these works of art the Gaulish type is the same, the men being tall and muscular, with abundant unkempt locks, and an energetic, almost brutal, physiognomy, the very opposite of the intellectual beauty of the ideal Greek. The type thus fixed by eminent artists was handed down from generation to generation, unt;i the last years of the Roman empire. It may be recogniscd on the Triumphal Arch at Grange1*

1 Les Celtes, p. 37; II. B. Walters' Greek Art, p. 91 ; and Dr. A. S. Murray's History of Greek Sculpture, vol. ii., p. 376.

2 In the Museum of the Capitol at Rome; cast in the South Kensington Museum.

3 Prof. Ernest Gardner's J/andoook of Greek Sculpture, pt. ii., p. 456; and A. Baumeister's Denkmiiler, p. 1237.

4 At Venice. s In the Louvre.

6 A. de Caumont's AbdUdaire d'Arclii'ologie (Ere Gallo Romaine), Second edition, p. 194.

(Vaucluse), in the south of France, and at the sarcophagus of Ammendola1- in the museum of the Capitol at Rome, both of which have derived their inspiration from the works of art of the time of the kings of Pergamon. Latterly the Gaulish type became that of barbarians generally.2


From ar. archaeological point of view the Celtic civilisation which existed in Central Europe, certainly as far back as 400 B.C., and very probably three or four centuries earlier, was that of the Iron Age. The Continental antiquaries divide the Iron Age in this part of Europe into two periods marked by differences in culture. The culture of the Early Iron Age is prehistoric, and is called that of " Hallstatt," after the great Alpine cemetery near Salzburg in Austria.

The culture of the Later Iron Age comes after the time when the Celts tirst make their appearance in history, and is known to Swiss and German archaeologists as that of " La Tone," from the Gaulish Oppidum at the north end of the Lake of Neuchatel in Switzerland. The La Tene culture in the form it occurs in France is called " Marnian," and corresponds with the " Late-Celtic " culture of Great Britain.

Hallstatt, from which the Celtic civilisation of the earlier Iron Age takes its name, is situated thirty nrles S.E. of Salzburg in Austria, amongst the mountains forming the southern boundary of the valley of the Danube. It w as a place of great commercial importance in ancient times, in consequence of the salt m:nes in the neighbourhood, and because it lay on the great

1 S. Reinaeh's Les Gaulois dans I'art antique.

trade route by which amber was brought from the mouth of the Elbe to Ilatria, at the head of the Adriatic.1

The pre-Roman necropolis of Ilallstatt was discovered i.-i 1846, and excavations have been going on there at intervals ever since. In 1864 M. de Sacken, curator of the collection of antiquities in the Vienna Museum, published a monograph on the subject, which still remains the best book of reference. M. de Sacken did not superintend the excavations personally, that task having fallen to the lot of George Ramsauer. Copies in MS. of Ramsauer's notes on the contents of the tombs, and sketches of the antiqu-ties discovered m them exist in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, and in the national museums at Saint-Germain and at Vienna.

The Hallstatt rinds show very clearly the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age in Central Europe.

M. Salomon Reinach thus summarises, in his Les Celtes dans les Vallées du Pô et du Danube (p. 129), the conclusions arrived at by M. de Sacken :—

(1) Two distinct races have been buried at Hallstatt ; one of which cremated the bodies and the other which practised inhumation ; the former showing themselves to have been much richer than the latter.

(2) The people, as represented by their grave-goods, must have supported themselves, besides working the salt mines (their chief Industry), by breeding cattle. The number of bones and teeth of animals found in the tombs show that they possessed herds. Their agricultural pursuits are proved by the presence of numerous scythes and sickles in the graves. Slag and moulds from founderies indicate that they were metallurgists.

1 C. Elton's Origins of English History, pp. 46 and 62, and l'rof. W. Boyd Dawkins' Early Man in Britain, pp. 417, 466, and 473.

(3) Amongst the individuals who had been burnt the greater part of the men and women displaved a relative luxuriousness of toilet appliances, a luxuriousness which was ministered to by foreign commerce supplying amber from the Baltic, Phoenician glass, ivory, embroidery in gold thread and stamped gold-leaf of oriental workmanship, used in the. decoration of the sword-hilts and scabbards.

(4) On the bronze vessels, side by side with the old geometrical ornament, common to them and to the Cisalpine vases, are to be seen new combinations of symbolical designs which recur on the Celtic coinage of Gaul.

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