The tolan CeLts

The Celtic migrations of the late llallstatt period saw a southerly movement through the Alpine passes as well as a concurrent expansion across the River Rhine and down the Danube. This brought the Celts into the rich, fertile valley of the River l'o, in northern Italy. For the next three centuries the Celts would influence the political development of Italy, and they would prove the fiercest and most persistent opponents of the Roman State.

Right: Paleovenetian votive plaque depicting a (probably Etruscan) warrior with shield and helmet dating from the 4th century bc, a time when the Celtic Venetii were penetrating into Etruscan territories.

bout 475 BC the Celts defeated an Etruscan army in the Po valley, and by the end of the century most of the valley and the Italian peninsula north of the Apennine Mountains was in Celtic hands. In .196 BC Melpum, the last Etruscan stronghold north of the Apennines fell to the Celtic invaders. According to the Roman historian Pliny, this initial conquest and settlement of the Ro valley was conducted by a confederation of the Boii, Insubres, and Senones trilles. The Celts now threatened the peninsula to the south.

The Etruscan city of Clusium in modern Tuscany was invaded by the Senones, led by their chieftain, Brennus. The Etruscans were allied to the Romans, and asked Rome for help in repulsing the invaders. Brennus correctly saw the Romans as a more significant threat to the Senones than the Etruscans, and he duly bypassed Clusium and marched on Rome. At Allia (390 BC) Brennus defeated the Roman army, then sacked Rome. ( )nly the Capitol was spared, its fortress-like walls proving too difficult for the Gauls to storm.

The Senones occupied the ruins of Rome for several months until the Senators besieged inside the Capitol paid them to withdraw. According to Roman historians, when the Romans complained that the ransom of 100 pounds of gold was being weighed on unbalanced Celtic scales, Brennus threw his sword on the

The Italian Celts at 250 bc.


Nation 500 BC.

Etruscan land before Celtic migration c.480bc.

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Brixia 0 (Brescia)


Celtic Votive Head

weights, exclaiming "Vat victis!" (woe to the vanquished). The Romans paid their ransom of 100 Celtic pounds as well as the weight of a Celtic longsword.

Rome secures its frontiers

Rome's humiliation played a significant part in Romano-Celtic relations from that point on, and the Romans remained fearful of the Celts until the conquest of Gaul in the mid-first century BC. Gallic raids into the Latin state continued until 349 BC, when the Romans were able to defeat the Gauls, forcing the Senoncs to sign a peace treaty that temporarily safeguarded Rome from further attack.

By this time the Senones had settled near Picenum on the Adriatic coast, while their fellow Gallic allies remained north of the Apennines. The Romans saw this southern spur of Celtic land as a direct threat to the safety of Rome, especially when the Senones allied themselves with Rome's Italian enemies. In 298 BC a joint Celtic-Samnite army was victorious at Camerium, only to sufter a defeat at Roman hands two years later. Another allied victory was not decisive enough to prevent a Roman army capturing Picenum and burning the territory of the Senones. This proved a costly victory, as it led to the remaining Celtic trilxrs of the Po valley entering the fray as allies of the Etruscans.

A Roman victory over the Etruscans in 283 BC led to the complete conquest of Etruscan lands, which pushed the surrounding Celts into agreeing to a peace treaty. This time the Romans had the advantage. They controlled all of the Italian peninsula south of the Apennine mountains, including the territory of the Senones. For the next few decades they built forts to protect their northern borders, and expelled all the Celts.

In 225 BC, with the Romans poised to conquer the Po valley, the Celts sought help from their northern cousins. The combined Celtic force launched a preemptive strike across the Appenines and defeated the Romans at Clusium, but was then itself destroved in battle at Telamon (224 BC). The Po valley lay at the mercy of the Romans. Aided by Gallic allies, the Celts resisted for another two years, but by 222 BC the Romans were firmly in control of all of Italy south of the Alps.

The situation changed following the outbreak of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. In 218 BC Hannibal crossed the Alps at the head of a Carthaginian army containing thousands of Celtic mercenaries (seepage 32). His spectacular victories gave him control of Italy, although he failed to capture Rome itself. Following the Carthaginian collapse in 203 BC, it took Rome a decade to reassert control over the Gauls of the Po valley. By 191 BC the local Boii people were vanquished, and the region became known as Cisalpine Gaul, Rome's northernmost province of the time.

Below: This Celtic silver shield boss found at Manerbio, northern Italy, has 11 Gallic warrior heads arrayed around the circumference.

Gallic Warrior

The spread of Celtic artistic influence.

Shetland Islands

Orkney Islands

Western, Isles %

sphere of influence of Hallstatt and La Töne Celtic art



Balearic Islands

EqrL^ Celtic A

Maps The Celts

EqrL^ Celtic A

leltic art has become popular in recent ¡years. Celtic tattoos are common, while Celtic artwork can he seen selling a wide range of products, much of which has little other connection to the Celtic world. The geometric patterns, swirls, intricate interweaving, and stylized faces of the later period of Celtic art have become instantly recognizable around the world.

Earlier examples—although as equally distinctive as the later styles—arc less well known. The renaissance of Celtic art in Ireland and Britain owed its cultural roots to the art of the La Iene period, before the Roman invasion of the Celtic world. This in turn owed its development to artistic sty les developed in the pre-Celtic Europe of the Bronze Age, or even earlier. Few artistic movements were ever created in a vacuum, and Celtic art is no exception. It owes its distinctive appearance to several influences, including the older indigenous artistry mentioned above but also to the artwork that the Celts came into contact with through trade. Celtic trading links with the Mediterranean cultures of Greece and the Etruscans had a demonstrable influence on the development of Celtic art, while some art historians have even traced a minor influence from oriental artistic styles prevalent in Persia and the Russian steppes.

Much of the artwork left behind by the Celts comes from burial sites; the prized possessions of the Celtic elite which were buried with them, designed to help the dead on their journey to the afterlife. The advent of the Iron Age did little to alter the nature of these grave goods, as the majority continued to be made from bronze. Iron was used for the production of arms and armor, domestic items, and tools. Celtic metalworkers produced some of the most exquisite bronze decorative objects of the ancient period. This outpouring of creative talent reached a peak during the late La Tene period, and the work of these artisans tells us almost all we know of Celtic culture and society before the coming of the Romans. Celtic art, like Celtic belief, mirrored the natural world. This embrace of nature and its translation into works of art ensured that the objects produced by early Celtic craftsmen would remain some of the most esthetically pleasing metal objects ever created.

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  • IAGO
    Where in the world is gaul rome?
    8 years ago

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