Int Roducf ion

Some three thousand years ago, an Indo-European civilization emerged in eentral Europe that came to dominate the north of the continent. Possessed of an advanced culture, the structure of their warrior-society allied to their ability to produce well-crafted metal weapons made them a force to be reckoned with. The Greek traders who first encountered them during the sixth century BC called them the Keltoi or (jalatai. Today, we know them as the Celts and Galatians.

he Celts have variously been described as I "the conquerors of Europe," or, less flatteringly, as "the barbarians of Europe." They were certainly the first northern European people sufficiently organized to lie labeled a civilization. At the height of their power during the second century BC, the Celtic world stretched from Turkey to Ireland, and from Spain to Germany. Other Celtic settlements have lieen traced as far away as the Ukraine. Celtic peoples inhabited the banks of the great rivers of Europe; the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Bj, Thames, Seine, and Loire. Consequently these people established trading links with their neighbors in the Mediterranean, and goods from the Middle East have lx-en found in Celtic grave sites in modern France and Germany. The entire continent of Europe north of the Alps was joined together in a loose confederation of tribes who shared a common Celtic culture.

Much of what we know about the Celts comes from accounts by the Romans and Greeks, as well as from the archaeological clues the Celts left behind them. To the civilizations of the Classical Mediterranean, the Celts were a people to be feared, and Celtic armies swept into Italy, Greece, and Spain before the Romans were able to contain them. Celtic warriors were recruited to serve in the armies of the enemies of Rome, and they became Rome's most implacable foe.

The Celts were a warrior aristocracy, and military prowess was considered one of the strongest virtues of a Celtic ruler. They were also impetuous, and their eagerness to meet the enemy in battle proved to Ix: a weakness, which the Romans exploited to the maximum. Celtic civilization on the mainland of Europe was all

Right: Sword with a human head. The pommel is made from bronze, but the blade is forged from iron, making this Celtic weapon from the La T6ne III period more fearsome than the purely bronze swords of the Celts' enemies.

but extinguished in a single decade when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul during the mid-first century BC. The only group of independent Celtic peoples left were in Britain, and a century later the Romans launched a conquest of this last Celtic bastion. The Romans were followed by Germanic conquerors, and by the tenth century the Celts were reduced to a shadow of their former glory. From then onward, the Celtic world comprised of a handful of small, poor nations clinging onto the Atlantic rim of the European continent.

The Celts ha\'e a reputation as one of the greatest artistic peoples of the ancient and early medieval world. They have left behind them an artistic legacy in their metal artifacts, many of which are seen as some of the most beautiful objects ever produced. They possessed a creative drive and vibrancy that survived through the centuries. When the Celts converted to Christianity, this artistic ability was channeled into the production of exquisite devotional objects, including illuminated manuscripts which still stun people with their color and complex beauty. Above all, the Celts are remembered for their enigmatic artistic signature; complex patterns of intertwined scrolling decoration that graced Celtic artistic endeavors for over a thousand years.

Through this artistic legacy, and also through the myths and legends written by later Celtic scribes, we can understand a little of the world of these Celtic people; how they lived, who they worshiped, how they fought, and how they celebrated life. Their civilization touched most of Eurojx; at some stage in its history, and it remains one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood of all the world's great cultures. Be prepared to fall under the spell of the Celts as you journey through their rich and colorful world.

Below: Celtic artistry is probably seen at its most intricate in jewelry, such as this gold filigree brooch, inset with colored glass and stones.


Chapter I

CeLtic Orzigins

0 re-Christian Celts left no written records, so all the accounts we have of these people are from prejudiced Mediterranean writers, the first by Greek historians, writing in the fifth century BC. Fortunately, a wealth of archaeological material has survived that has allowed us to come to a closer understanding of Celtic society, and its origins.

The Celts dominated Europe for over 500 years, and their roots can now be traced to earlier European societies of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Historians and archaeologists have established that the Bronze Age "Urnfield" people were the direct ancestors of the Celts, and in the period between the tenth and the seventh centuries BC the foundations of Celtic culture were established in central Europe. These Bronze Age people seem to have assimilated the earlier indigenous inhabitants of

Movement of northern European peoples from the Urnfield Proto-Celts (1000 bc) to the pre-Roman conquests of the last century bc.

extent of Proto-Celtic Urnfield groups c.800 bc early Slavic early Celtic flKlkal'

early Italic tribes Jl precursors of lllyrians

\\\c expansion early Hallstatt culture (iron producers) extent of Hallstatt culture original territory of La T6ne civilization expansion of the Celts Celtiberians

Celtic e


the continent, and also managed to form a union with a mysterious wave of equestrian warriors who swept into Europe from the east during the eighth century BC. Archaeological evidence suggests a period of instability in Europe, as settlements were destroyed, religious offerings and human sacrifice increased, and whole populations sought safety in remote areas. The end result of all this turmoil seems to have been the creation of a new ruling caste, a group of outsiders who became closely linked with the Bronze Age people of the "Urnfield" era.

By the beginning of the Iron Age in the eighth or seventh centuries BC, these people seem to have merged into a unified culture, based in modern Austria, Hungary, Germany, and the Czech Republic. A burial site at Hallstatt, Austria has provided the name for these people. The "Hallstatt" culture (see pages 16—17) was the first true Celtic society, and within two centuries these early Celts had managed to extend their influence throughout much of Europe.

Like the La Tene period Celts (see pages 20-21) who succeeded them, these people were part of a warrior society, where conquest and military prowess were exalted. Although they were unable to resist the pressures created by Germanic incursions from the east, these Celtic warriors succeeded in carving out a unified European civilization that would dominate the continent until the ascendancy of the Romans in the first century BC. Far from being a "barbarian" culture as portrayed by the Romans and Greeks, the Celts formed one of the great civilizations of the ancient world.

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