The CeLtic Identify

Gold Stater Coin

Homer. Hesiod. and Herodotus were among the first writers to give the Celtic peoples an identity.

Who were the Celts? From the first reeorded links between the Mediterranean world and Celtic civilization the Celts have exuded an element of mystery. The term "Celtic" itself has obscure origins, and several theories have been proposed about where it came from. Apart from the archaeological evidence, everything we know about the Celts camc from the Creeks and Romans. Known as the "Keltoi" or "Calatai" by the Creeks, and "Celtae" or "Calli" by the Romans, we don't even know what they called themselves. To this day, the Celts retain their mystery.

Right: The face and reverse side of a Celtic copy of a Greek sater of Philip II of Macedon, 3rd century bc. Around this time Celts from the Balkans to Belgium began minting Greek-style gold and silver coins.

he first historical mention of the Celts came from Homer, who mentioned them in a passage in the Odyssey, written in the ninth or eighth century BC.

We reached the deep-flowing ocean where the Cimmerians (Celts) have their land and their town. This people is hidden under clouds, in mists that the sun's bright rays have never pierced...

Homer heard of the Celts (or Cimmerians) from explorers, and placed the Celtic homeland somewhere to the north and west of Greece. There is some literary evidence that several Greeks ventured into the land of these mysterious barbarians. The eighth or seventh century BC Greek poet Hesiod described rivers and mountains in the Celtic homeland, and Herodotus in his Histories of 435 BC provided the first mention of the Celts as a distinct people. His description was clearly based on the writings and maps drawn up by the Greek geographer Hecatacus.

According to I lerodotus, the Celts lived in the territory between the source of the Danube in modern southern Germany and the Hilars of Hercules, or Gibraltar. Modern archaeological evidence supports these boundaries. The Celts have also been linked with the Hyperboreans, a mythical people who inhabited the lands to the north of Greece. As more links were forged between the cultures of the Mediterranean world and the Celtic world, more information became available to Greek and then Roman historians, i lerodotus claimed:

The river Iser / Rhône/ rises among the Celts and the town of Pyrene ami crosses the whole of Europe... the Celts are beyond the Pillars of Hercules /Gibraltar/, next to the Cynetes /Portuguese/, who live furthest west of all the peoples of Europe. Carthaginian mariners came into contact with the Celts during the sixth and fifth centuries BC and the fifth century explorer Hamilco ventured as far north as the (Jestrymnides (possibly the Orkney Islands). The sea was described as

Homer. Hesiod. and Herodotus were among the first writers to give the Celtic peoples an identity.

being windless and full of sea monsters. A century later the Greek explorer Pytheas ventured as far as the Baltic sea, and delineated the western and northern boundaries of the European continent.

About the same period an increasing number

Above: Celto-Greek dedication of a temple in Vaison, France indicates the cross-cultural references of the southern Celts.

merchant Colaeus who was driven into the Celtic port of Tartessus, in eastern Spain. He described how the local Celts were engaged in silver mining in the area. Trading links were soon established between the Greeks and the Spanish Keltoi (Celts).

Entomologists are still debating the roots of the name Celt or Keltoi. In his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar claims that the Gauls (French Celts) are called Celts in their own language. In other words, the people called themselves Celtic, and the term was adopted by Mediterranean historians to descrilx; the same people. ()thers have suggested the term came from the Indo-European word quel, meaning elevated (similar to the Latin celsus, which has the same meaning). This could refer to the role of the aristocracy in Celtic society, or it could be linked with their geographical location. Another suggestion is that the Indo-European term kel- (hidden) refers to their geographical isolation from the Mediterranean world.

of Greek and Carthaginian merchant explorers encountered the Celtic peoples of the Mediterranean coast on a regular basis. 1 leododotus recounted the story of the Greek


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