I have been trying to find an answer to the above question. In pre-Roman and Roman Britain were the Celtic peoples promiscuous or did they have only one married partner? Is there strong enough evidence to point either way? I found this so far:
We fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women,” the Celtic lady retorted disdainfully, “for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.”
~~ Dio Cassius quoting the reply of a Celtic wife to a jeering accusation of promiscuity from a Roman matron.
However, there are also stone carvings from Celtic culture that appear to show married couples. Also, see chapter 19 of Cornelius Tacitus' "Germania":
They live in a state of chastity well secured, corrupted by no seducing shows and public diversions, by no irritations from banqueting. Of learning and of any secret intercourse by letters, they are all equally ignorant, men and women. Amongst a people so numerous, adultery is exceedingly rare; a crime instantly punished. For, to a woman who has prostituted her person, no pardon is ever granted. However beautiful she be, however young, however abunding in wealth, a husband she can never find.
Which is it, or both?
The perception that the Celts were promiscuous seems to be based on, at least in part, ancient writers' interpretations of marital relationships and / or a superficial knowledge of Celtic customs and culture.
On the latter point, Strabo admits to lacking evidence according to David Rankin in Celts and the Classical World,
… Strabo who says that Britons not only cohabit with the wives of others, but with their own sisters and mothers: he admits, however, that he has no reliable evidence for these assertions.
On the former, according to John King in Kingdoms of the Celts,
Both Caesar and Dio Cassius describe types of communal marriage or polyandry, with kinsmen sharing wives and the descent becoming in effect matrilinear… it is perfectly possible that multiple marriage was common among the Celts, at least in Gaul.
Rankin is goes into more details on Celtic marriages:
Certainly we know that both Irish and Welsh systems of marriage recognised various marital categories. Also categorised were unions not of marital status, but which also were taken into account from the point of view of compensatory payments, as were the more permanent bonds. It would be easy for foreign observers to remain unaware of the various ramifications of a system which recognised, say, eight or nine categories of union, and in the case of Old Irish Law, three classes of legitimate wife.
This must have seemed very alien to Roman observers (assuming they even understood it), especially considering
The city states of Greece and Rome had highly organised political structures which allowed no place for women in power. Greeks and Romans were all the more astonished at the relative freedom and individuality of Celtic women.
Rankin mentions the Greek city states here but he fails to note that Spartan women had more rights than those in other Greek city states, and that Spartan women could sleep with another man for the purpose of procreation if the husband agreed. As a consequence, Spartan women were regarded as being promiscuous by other Greeks, a point which actually lends weight to Rankin's argument.
We should also consider, as John King does, that
Dio Cassius no doubt intended his account to be shocking to the Roman sensibility, and the accounts of polyandry have subsequently been attacked as no more than propaganda to discredit the Celts as barbarians
Further, this kind of propaganda was used to combat potential 'lapses in Roman morality' as shown in the case of a queen of the Brigantes in northern England (cited by King)
Queen Cartimandua's elopement and alleged sexual promiscuity… scandalized Roman society, and was long cited as an exemplar to Roman matrons of the misery awaiting them if they succumbed to barbarian patterns of lasciviousness.
The issue of promiscuity inside and outside of marriage does not seem to have been considered by Roman writers, and one of these writers - Caesar - broke his marriage vows quite a few times. One wonders also if they considered the large number of brothels, prostitutes (male and female) and mistresses that Romans at all social levels indulged in.
It seems fitting to conclude with Rankin's observation on the whole matter of sexual relationships:
Of any tribe's customs, those most liable to misunderstanding by alien observers are those which concern sex.
Paul Cartledge, 'The Spartans'
D. M. MacDowell, 'Spartan Law'
Ray Laurence, 'Roman Passions'
Ancient Celtic Women…
Women’s History Month has been upon us for some weeks now and I definitely want to do my part to tout the unsung heroines of yore. And who is more unsung than the women of ancient history? Sadly, that is pretty depressing work as there were few places where women weren’t kept like prisoners, traded like property for power, alliances, or money, treated as no better than broodmares, or even condemned to die in infancy for the terrible crime of being born without a penis.
You just aren’t going to find many that ruled, led armies, or even decided what went on in their own home. Unless you look at IRELAND. Well, you can look at Scotland, Wales, England, and some other scattered parts of Europe. But also IRELAND.
As St. Patrick’s day falls smack in the middle of Women’s History Month (and I just might be Irish), I couldn’t resist talking up those Celtic Women as they had just a little more freedom and even (gasp) power than their sisters around the world, making Ancient Women’s History a mildly less depressing subject.
The Celts (Ancient Greek Κέλτοι Keltoi Latin Celtae, Galli, Galati) were tribes and tribal confederations of ancient Europe, who resided in west central Europe in the Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (the Hallstatt culture). In the La Tène period they expanded, through migration and cultural transmission, to the British Isles, northern Iberia, the Balkan peninsula and Asia Minor. The Greeks and Romans commonly referred to areas under Celtic rule as Κελτική or Celticum.  They had a relatively uniform material culture (especially in the La Tène period) and non-material culture (customs and norms), which differed from neighbouring peoples like the Italians, Etruscans, Illyrians, Greeks, Iberians, Germans, Thracians and Scythians. 
The Celtic mainland was characterised by this culture from c. 800 BC at the earliest until about the fifth century AD (end of the Roman rule in the Celtic sphere and Christianisation of Ireland). Claims made by some Celtic scholars, that traces of Celtic culture are already visible in the second millennium BC, are controversial. In Post-Roman Britain, Celtic culture and rule continued, until pushed to the margins of the island after the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. In Ireland, Celtic culture remained dominant for even longer. 
Linguistically, the Celts were united as speakers of Celtic languages, which were and are Indo-European languages related most closely to German and Latin, with clear common features. 
References to Celtic women are not only rare but are also excluding [ clarification needed ] medieval source material from the inhabitants of Brittany, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, derived from the writings of the Celts' Greek and Roman neighbours. In addition, the overwhelming majority of these sources come from the first century BC and the first century AD. The main problem, however, is the fact that the term Celtic spans such an enormous area, from Ireland to Anatolia there is no reason to expect that the position of women was the same over this whole area. Source material must, therefore, be clarified by archaeological evidence, which, however, can only answer certain kinds of questions.
Archaeological finds are almost entirely burials in the Hallstatt culture area, which is the dispersion area of this cultural material, especially at Dürrnberg near Hallein, this material can already be identified as Celtic in the Late Hallstatt phase (sixth century BC). The grave goods of female inhumations indicate cultural exchange with southern Europe, especially the North Italian Este and Villanovan cultures. 
Female burials are associated with specific grave goods, such as combs, mirrors, toiletries (nail cutters, tweezers, ear spoons  ), spinning whorls (flywheel of a pindle, a tool for making yarn,  ) pottery vessels, necklaces, earrings, hairpins, cloak pins, finger rings, bracelets and other jewellery. A large majority of graves have no gender-specific grave goods, but where such goods are found, they almost always belong to female graves. 
The Vix Grave from modern France is the most famous rich female burial, but there are several other significant ones. In the Vix Grave a huge bronze krater or mixing bowl was found which indicates the high status of the woman buried there. It derives from a Greek workshop and is 1.6 m high, weighs over 200 kg and has a volume of 1100 litres, making it the largest metal vessel to survive from the ancient world.  In eight cremation graves from Frankfurt Rhine-Main from the middle and late La Tène period, which contained young girls, statues of dogs were found, measuring 2.1 to 6.7 cm in length. They were made of jet, clay, glass and bronze their purpose, whether amulet, votive gift or toy, cannot be determined.  There is evidence that in the earlier Celtic periods rich torcs of precious metal were mainly worn by females later this changed.
Another example of a richly furnished female grave is a grave chamber of the necropolis of Göblingen-Nospelt (Luxembourg), containing an amphora of fish sauce (garum fish sauce from Gades was a widely popular food seasoning), a bronze saucepan with strainer lid, a bronze cauldron, two bronze basins with a bronze bucket, a Terra sigillata plate, several clay cups and jugs, a mirror and eight fibulae. 
Archaeological finds in the 19th century were often interpreted in light of contemporary ideas about gender without consideration of differences between modern and ancient cultures. Gender roles were assumed to be unalterable and, accordingly, grave goods were identified as "male" or "female" without ambiguity. Only when it became possible to determine the sex of human remains through osteological analysis was this approach revealed as overly simplistic. 
Literary sources Edit
Written evidence is first transmitted by the Greeks: the historian and geographer Hecataeus of Miletus (Periegesis), the seafarer and explorer Pytheas of Massilia (On the Ocean) (both of these works survive only in fragments), the geographer and ethnologist Herodotus (Histories) and the polymath Poseidonius (On the Ocean and its Problems). Nothing of Poseidonius' work survives directly it is only transmitted as citations in other authors, such as Julius Caesar's (Commentarii de Bello Gallico). Other Greek writers include Diodorus Siculus (Bibliotheke), who used older sources, Plutarch (Moralia), who took a position on the role of women, and Strabo (Geography), who expanded on the work of Polybius (Histories) through personal travels and research.
Among the works of Roman historians are the universal history of Pompeius Trogus (Philippic History) which only survives in the epitome [ clarification needed ] of Marcus Iunianus Iustinus. As a Gaul himself (he belonged to the Vocontii tribe), Trogus would have transmitted much of his information at first hand.  Tacitus (Annals) described Britannia and its conquest by the Romans Ammianus Marcellinus (Res Gestae) had served as a soldier in Gaul Livy (Ab Urbe Condita) reported on Celtic culture Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars) was also a Roman official and describes Caesar's Gallic Wars and the senator and consul Cassius Dio (Roman History) recounted the campaign against the Celtic queen Boudicca. Julius Caesar had portrayed an image of the Celts in his Bellum Gallicum, tailored above all to his own domestic political purposes. 
Among later historians, there is also Gerald of Wales who was born to a Cambro-Norman family in the 12th century and composed an important account of the history and geography of the British Isles.
Social position Edit
Irish: is ó mhnáibh do gabar rath nó amhrath
English: It is women who fortune or misfortune give.
Women as secular and religious leaders Edit
The social position of women differed by region and time period. The mainland Celtic "Princess" tombs of Bad Dürkheim,  Reinheim,  Waldalgesheim  and Vix show that women could hold high social positions but whether their position was a result of their marital status is unclear. Thus modern authors refer to them as both "ladies" and "princesses".  The chariot found in the grave of an elite female person in Mitterkirchen im Machland is accompanied by valuable goods like those listed above.  Plutarch  names the women of Cisalpine Gaul as important judges of disputes with Hannibal. Caesar  stresses the "power of life and death" held by husbands over their wife and children. Strabo  mentions a Celtic tribe, in which the "Men and women dance together, holding each other's hands", which was unusual among Mediterranean peoples. He states that the position of the sexes relative to each other is "opposite. to how it is with us."  Ammianus Marcellinus,  in his description of the manners and customs of the Gauls, describes the furor heroicus  (heroic fury) of the Gallic women, as "large as men, with flashing eyes and teeth bared." 
Recent research has cast doubt on the significance of these ancient authors' statements.  The position of Celtic women may have changed, especially under the influence of Roman culture and law, which saw the man as head of his household. 
British female rulers, like Boudicca and Cartimandua, were seen as exceptional phenomena the position of king (Proto-Celtic *rig-s) - in Gaul mostly replaced by two elected tribal leaders even before Caesar's time - was usually a male office.  Female rulers did not always receive general approval. Thus, according to Tacitus, the Brigantes "goaded on by the shame of being yoked under a woman"  revolted against Cartimandua her marital disagreement with her husband Venutius and the support she received from the Romans likely played an important role in her maintenance of power. On the other hand, he says of Boudicca, before her decisive defeat, "[The Britons] make no distinction of gender in their leaders." 
Whether a Celtic princess Onomaris ( Ὀνομαριξ ), mentioned in the anonymous Tractatus de Mulieribus Claris in bello ("Account of women distinguished in war"), was real, is uncertain. She is meant to have taken leadership when no men could be found due to a famine and to have led her tribe from the old homeland over the Danube and into southeastern Europe. 
In later times, female cultic functionaries are known, like Celtic/Germanic seeress Veleda  who has been interpreted by some Celtologists as a druidess.  ). Celtic druidess [de] es, who prophesied to the Roman emperors Alexander Severus, Aurelian und Diocletian, enjoyed a high repute among the Romans. 
On the lead Curse tablet from Larzac (c. 100 AD), which with over 1000 letters is the longest known text in the Gaulish language, communities of female magic users are named, containing 'mothers' (matīr) and 'daughters' (duxtīr), perhaps teachers and initiates respectively. 
Female slaves Edit
Slave women were mostly war booty, female property given up by insolvent debtors,  or foreign captives and could be employed within the household or sold for profit. As slaves, women had an important economic role on account of their craft work, such that in Ireland, the word cumal ('slave woman', Old Welsh: aghell and caethverched) was also the term for a common measure of wealth (a cumal, worth ten sét ['cows']). 
According to Caesar, favorite slaves were thrown on their masters' funeral pyres and burnt along with their corpses. 
That caring for children was the role of the women is stated by ancient authors. In addition, in families of higher social standing, there was an institution of foster parentage (Old Irish: aite [foster father] and muimme [foster mother], similar to the Gothic atta [dear father], German Mama and English mummy), in which children of household were given away. The cost which the birth parents had to pay to the foster parents was higher for girls than for boys, because their care was considered more expensive. But there was also a form of foster parentage in which no fee was charged, designed to tighten the links between two families. 
Ancient evidence Edit
The mythic rulers of British Celtic legends and the historical queens Boudicca, Cartimandua and (perhaps) Onomarix can be seen only as individual examples in unusual situations, not as evidence of a matriarchy among the Celts. The transmitted texts of pre-Christian sagas and ancient authors speak strongly against its existence. 
Modern speculation Edit
The idea of a Celtic matriarchy first developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in connection with the romantic idea of the "Noble Savage". According to 19th century Unilineal evolutionism, societies developed from a general promiscuity (sexual interactions with changing partners or with multiple simultaneous partners) to matriarchy and then to patriarchy.  Heinrich Zimmer's Das Mutterrecht bei den Pikten und Skoten (The Matriarchy of the Picts and Scots) of 1894 argued for the existence of a matriarchy in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  The evidence was British Celtic sagas about great queens and warrior maidens. The contents of these sagas were falsely presented related to the reality of the relationship between the sexes. 
In 1938 in his work Die Stellung der Frau bei den Kelten und das Problem des keltischen Mutterrechts (The Position of the Woman among the Celts and the problem of the Celtic Matriarchy), Josef Weisweiler pointed out the misinterpretation:
About the social structure of the Pre-Indo-European inhabitants of Britain and Ireland we know no more than about the situation of the pre-Celtic inhabitants of what would later be Gaul. […] It is therefore inaccurate and misleading, to speak of a matriarchy of the Celts, since a significant portion of this race was, we know for sure, always and continually organised as a patriarchy
The feminist author Heide Göttner-Abendroth assumes a Celtic matriarchy in Die Göttin und ihr Heros (1980), but its existence remains unsubstantiated. Marion Zimmer Bradley depicted a matriarchal reinterpretation of the stories of King Arthur, Lancelot and the Holy Grail in The Mists of Avalon (1987), which were dominated by the female characters. She employed the contrast between the Celtic matriarchal culture and the Christian patriarchy as a theme of her work.  Ingeborg Clarus attempted in her book Keltische Mythen (1991) to reduce the Celtic sagas of Britain to a battle between the sexes, as part of her theory about the replacement of a matriarchy by a patriarchy. She thus continues the evolutionary theories of the 19th century. She calls matriarchy the "Pre-Celtic heritage of Ireland", and she claims that the transition to patriarchy took place in the 1st century AD in the time of King Conchobar mac Nessa of Ulster. 
Matrilineality (the transmission of property through the female line) is not attested for the Celts either. In a matrilineal society, children are related only to the family of the mother not to the family of the father. A situation like that among the Picts, where, according to some accounts, kingship was inherited through the maternal line, but not inherited by the women themselves,  The Irish clan (fine, compare with the Old High German word wini, 'friend'  ) was patrilineal and the relatives of the mother had only a few rights and duties relating to the children.  Thus they received only a seventh of the weregild if a child was killed and the male relatives had a duty to seek vengeance for the deed. 
Describing the Celtic expansion into southern and southeastern Europe around 600 BC, Livy claims that the two war leaders Bellovesus and Segovesus elected by the army were the sons of the sister of Ambicatus, king of the Bituriges.  Here perhaps matrilineality could be a reason for the selection of these leaders, rather than the king's own sons, but other reasons cannot be ruled out, even if the story is not fictional. 
Among the Iberian, Gallaeci, women had an important role in the family and the clan, despite the importance of men as warriors, indicated by frequent matrilineal succession among them. 
Legal position Edit
Nearly all of the following legal matters seem to have been similar, with some regional variation, both on the mainland and in the British Isles.
General legal position Edit
General legal equality – not just equality between men and women – was unusual among the Celts it was only a possibility within social classes, which were themselves gender-defined. Celtic women were originally not allowed to serve as legal witnesses and could not conclude contracts with [ clarification needed ] the assistance of a man. [ where? ] In the law and proverb collections Críth Gablach ('The split cow') and Bretha Crólige ('Decisions concerning blood guilt'), the wergeld [ not a Celtic term? ] was specified exactly for men and women of different social classes and the compensation for women (or their heirs in the event of their death) was significantly smaller, often half the cost for a man of the same class. 
Marriage law Edit
In British Celtic law, women had in many respects (for instance marriage law) a better position than Greek and Roman women.  According to Irish and Welsh law, attested from the Early Middle Ages, a woman was always under the authority of a man, first her father, then her husband, and, if she was widowed, her son. She could not normally give away or pass on her property without their agreement. Her marriage was arranged by her male relatives, divorce and polygyny (the marriage of one man to several women) were controlled by specific rules. Polyandry (the marriage of one woman to several men) was unusual, although some Celtologists conclude that it sometimes occurred from the Irish saga Longas mac nUislenn (The Exile of the Sons of Uislius). 
Caesar provides an example of the subordinate position of women: according to him, men had the power of life and death over their wives, as they did over their children, in a similar manner to the Roman pater familias. If the head of a high ranking family died, his relatives would gather and interrogate the wives as well as the slaves, when the death seemed suspicious. Should they consider their suspicions to be correct, they would burn the wives, after torturing them in every possible way. However, he also describes the financial role of the wives as remarkably self-sufficient. 
Caesar also says that among the Britons, up to a dozen men (father, sons and brothers) could jointly possess their women.  The resulting children would be assigned to whichever man was willing to marry the woman. Today this is seen as a common cliche of ancient barbarian ethnography and political propaganda intended by Caesar to provide a moral justification for his campaigns. 
In general, monogamy was common. Having several legal wives was limited to the higher social classes.  Since marriage was seen as a normal agreement between two people (cain lanamna, 'agreement of two'), it could be dissolved by both partners. A "temporary marriage" was also common. The position of the wife (Irish: cét-muinter, 'first of the household', or prím-ben, 'chief woman') was determined by the size of the dowry she brought with her. There were three kinds of marriage: that in which the woman brought more than the man, that in which both brought about equal amounts and finally that in which the woman brought less. If the husband wished to carry out a clearly unwise transaction, the wife possessed a sort of veto power. In a divorce, the wife usually had full control over her dowry. The concubine (Irish: adaltrach, cf. Latin adultera, 'adultress') had much less power and was subordinate to the main wife. She had a legal duty (Lóg n-enech) to assist the first wife in case of illness and could be harassed and injured by her with impunity for the first three days after her marriage, with only very restricted rights of self-defence (pulling hair, scratching and punching back). After these three days, the ordinary punishments would apply to both in the event of injury or murder. 
Adultery by the wife, unlike adultery by the husband, could not be atoned for with a fine. A divorce in the case of adultery could only occur with the agreement of both parties and the wife was not permitted to seek one so long as her husband maintained intimate relations with her. If she was pregnant with her husband's child, she could not have intercourse with other men before the birth of the child, even if thrown out by him. These rules were binding for Celtic noblewomen, but they may have been less strictly binding on the lower classes.  In Wales, the wife was allowed to leave her husband if he committed adultery three times, if he was impotent, and if he had bad halitosis taking with her the property which she had brought into the marriage or acquired during it. A rape had to be atoned for by the culprit by handing over the sort of gifts customarily given at a wedding and paying a fine since it was considered a form of "temporary" marital tie. 
Inheritance law Edit
The inheritance law of the British Celts disadvantaged women, especially daughters, in similar ways to marriage law. Only if the inheritance came from the mother or if the daughters originated from the last marriage of a man and the sons from an earlier marriage, were the two genders treated the same.
A daughter inherits no land from her father, except if she has no brothers, if she is an inheriting-daughter (ban-chomarba), and even then she inherits only for her lifetime.
After that, the inheritance returned to her paternal relatives (Fine). This institution of the 'inheriting-daughter' has a parallel in ancient Indian law, in which a father without sons could designate his daughter as a putrikā (son-like daughter). 
In Gallic law, widows (old Irish: fedb, Welsh: gweddwn, Cornish gwedeu, Breton: intañvez) inherited the entire property left behind by their husband. They could dispose of this property freely, unlike in Old Irish law, in which the widow was under the control of her sons. Only a right to make gifts and a restricted power of sale were granted to her, which was called the bantrebthach ('female householder'). The right to make gifts was restricted to transfers within the family. 
Welsh women only received the right to inherit under king Henry II of England (1133–1189). 
Cáin Adomnáin Edit
The abbot and saint Adomnan of Iona produced the legal work Cáin Adomnáin (The Canon of Adomnan) or Lex Innocentium (The law of the innocents) on the property of women (especially mothers) and children. He describes the condition of women up till that point, with self-aware exaggeration, as cumalacht (enslavement), in order to highlight the importance of his own work. Adomnan reports that a woman who:
. had to stay in a pit so deep that her genitals were covered and had to hold a spit over the fire so long for it to be roasted, further she had to serve as a candlestick holder till it was time to sleep. In battle, she carried her rations on one shoulder and her young child on the other. On her back she bore a 30 foot long pole with an iron hook, with which she would grab opponent amongst her enemies by their braids. Behind her came her husband, who drove her into battle with a fence post. As trophies one took the head or the breasts of the women.
According to legend, an experience of Adomnan and his mother had been the impetus for this legal text. The view of a slain Celtic woman and her child—"mother's blood and milk streaming over"—on the battlefield, shocked his mother so much that she forced her son, by fasting, to compose this law book and to present it to the princes. 
In the Trencheng Breth Féne (The Triad of Irish Verdicts, a collection of writings dating from the 14th to the 18th centuries) the three female virtues were listed as virginity before marriage, willingness to suffer, and industriousness in caring for her husband and children. 
The ancient authors regularly describe Celtic women as large, crafty, brave and beautiful. Diodorus and Suetonius, in particular, describe the sexual permissiveness of Celtic women. According to Suetonius, Caesar spent a lot of money on sexual experiences in Gaul. His legionnaires sang in the triumph that he had seduced a horde of Gallic women, calling him a "bald whoremonger". 
Celtic women were described as fertile, prolific and good breastfeeders. These are all clichés of the Greeks and Romans about barbarian peoples.  Gerald of Wales describes how the Irish are "the most jealous people in the world", while the Welsh lacked this jealousy and among them guest-friendship-prostitution was common.   In the Irish saga of Conchobar mac Nessa, the king is said to have the right to the first night with any marriageable woman and the right to sleep with the wife of anyone who hosted him. This is called the Geis of the king.  Whether this right actually existed and was exercised by the Celts is not attested outside the sagas.  In the saga Immram Curaig Maíle Dúin (The Sea Voyage of Maíle Dúin), the conception of the main character occurs when a random traveller sleeps with a nun of a cloister. She says before this "our act is not beneficial if this is finally the time when I conceive!" The suggestion that Irish women used this knowledge for birth control, sometimes drawn from this is questionable. Large numbers of children are mentioned among the Celts by the ancient authors.  
The statement of Gerald of Wales that incest had a pervasive presence in the British Isles is false according to modern scholars, since he complains only that a man can marry his cousins in the fifth, fourth and third degrees.   Incest played a key role in British Celtic myth, such as in Tochmarc Étaíne ('The Courting of Étaín') as in other ancient cultures (like Ancient Egypt or the pair of Zeus and Hera in classical Greece. In actual social life, however, a notable meaning cannot be found. 
Palaeopathological research based on bone samples and, in the best-case scenario, on mummified corpses indicates illnesses found among the ancient Celts. Diseases like sinusitis, meningitis and dental caries leave typical traces. Growth disorders and vitamin deficiencies can be detected from the long bones. Coproliths (fossilised fecal matter) indicate severe worm infections. In total, the data indicates a society which, as a result of poor hygiene and diet, suffered from weak immune systems and a high rate of illness. This is even more marked in women than in men and was quite normal for people of this time and area. Among Celtic women degenerative damage to the joints and spinal column were particularly notable on account of the amount of heavy lifting they did. Trauma from violence was more common among men. Differences as a result of social position are not visible. The "Lady of Vix" was a young Celtic woman of exceptionally high standing, who suffered from pituitary adenoma and otitis media. 
Skeletal finds in graves provide the following age statistics for the ancient Celts: the average age at death was 35 years old 38 for men and 31 for women.  [ disputed – discuss ]
Appearance of Celtic women Edit
On account of the poor survival rate of materials (cloth, leather) used for clothing, there is only a little archaeological evidence contemporary images are rare. The descriptions of ancient authors are rather generalistic only Diodorus transmits something more detailed.  According to his report, normal clothing of Celtic men and women was made from very colourful cloth, often with a gold-embroidered outer layer and held together with golden fibulae. 
The women's tunic was longer than the men's a leather or metal belt (sometimes a chain) was tied around the waist. The regional variation in fashion (as well as differences based on age and class) were more complex than the simple tunic. The boldly patterned dresses seen on vases from Sopron in Pannonia were cut like a kind of knee-length maternity dress from stiff material with bells and fringes attached. Tight-waisted skirts with bells in the shape of a crinoline are also depicted. An overdress with a V-shaped cut which was fixed at the shoulders with fibulae was found in Noricum.  The chain around the waist had hooks for length adjustments, the leftover chain was hung on a chain-link in a loop. The links of this chain-belt could be round, figure-8 shaped, with cross-shaped or flat intermediate links, doubled, tripled, or more with enamel inlays (see Blood enamel). The so-called Norican-Pannonian belt of Roman times was decorated with open-worked fittings. A pouch was often hung from the belt on the right side. 
In the British Isles during the Iron Age, ring-headed pins were often used in place of fibulae on dresses and for fixing hairdos in place. This is demonstrated by the different positions the needles are found in burials. 
On a first century AD Celtic gravestone from Wölfnitz [de] , a girl is depicted in Norican clothing. It consists of a straight under-dress (Peplos) which reaches to the ankles, a baggy overdress reaching to the knees, which is fastened at the shoulders with large fibulae. A belt with two ribbons hanging down at the front holds the dress in place. In her right hand she holds a basket, in her left hand she holds a mirror up before her face. On her feet there are pointed shoes. Her hair is mostly straight, but coiffed at the back. 
In everyday life, Celtic women wore wooden or leather sandals with small straps (Latin: gallica, 'Gallic shoe').  Bound shoes made from a single piece of tanned leather tied together around the ankle are often only detectable in graves from the metal eyelets and fasteners which survive around the feet. 
Three mannequins with reconstructed Helvetic/Celtic women's outfits were displayed in the exhibition Gold der Helvetier - Keltische Kostbarkeiten aus der Schweiz (Gold of the Helvetii: Celtic Treasures from Switzerland) at the Landesmuseum Zürich in 1991. 
Gold jewelry (necklaces, bracelets, rings) were worn as symbols of social class and were often of high craftsmanship and artistic quality. Girls of the Hallstatt and early La Tène culture wore amber chains and amulets as individual chains or multiple string colliers the colliers had up to nine strings and over a hundred amber beads.  Amulets were both decoration and apotropaic charms. They were probably added to the tombs of women who were killed violently, to protect the living.  Torcs (neck rings) are found in graves of important men and women up to about 350 BC, after that they are usually restricted to male graves.  The "Lady" from the tomb at Vix had a torc, placed on her lap, as a grave good the woman in the tomb at Reinheim wore one around her neck. Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni in Britain around 60 BC is described as wearing a torc, which might reflect her exceptional circumstances as a war leader or be an embellishment of the Roman chronicler. 
Over a colourful shirt she wore a twisted gold torc and a thick cloak closed with a fibula.
The Hallstatt-period limestone statue of a Celtic woman found at the entrance to the tomb of the "Lady of Vix" wears a torc and sits on a throne. 
Head coverings and hairstyles Edit
Since almost no depictions of women survive from the La Tène period, archaeologists must make do with Roman provincial images. In these, women are seldom depicted bare-headed, so that more is known about headcoverings than about hairstyles. Celtic women of this time wore winged caps, felt caps in the shape of upturned cones with veils, cylinder-shaped fur caps, bronze tiaras or circlets. The modius cap was a stiff cap shaped like an inverted cone which was especially common in the first century AD around Virunum. It was worn with a veil and rich decoration and indicated women of the upper class. The veil worn over the cap was often so long that it could cover the entire body. In north Pannonia at the same time, women wore a fur cap, with a spiked brim, a veil cap similar to the Norican one and in later times a turban-like head covering with a veil.  Among the Celtiberian women a structure, which consisted of a choker with rods extending up over the head and a veil stretched over the top for shade, was fashionable. 
The hair was often shaved above the oiled forehead. In the Hallstatt period, hairnets have been found in some accounts, individual emphasised braids (up to three) are mentioned, but most women tied their hair back in a braid. The hair was often coloured red or blonde.  The seer Fedelm in Irish sagas is described with three braids, two tied around her head and one hanging from the back of her head down to her calves.  Unlike married women, unmarried women usually wore the hair untied and without a headcovering. 
Hair needles for fixing caps and hairdos in place are common grave finds from the late Hallstatt period. They have ring-shaped heads which could be richly decorated in some regions. From the La Tène period, such needles are only rarely found. 
In the mainland Celtic area, a great number of goddesses are known on account of the lack of political unity of the Celts, they seem to have been regional deities. Unlike the Greeks and Romans, the Celts never had a single pantheon, although the Romans attempted to connect them up on the basis of their functions, through the Interpretatio Romana. The mother goddesses which had great importance in Celtic religion were also united in this way under the names Matres and Matronae. 
In the mythology of the British Celts almost no goddesses are present. The female figures named in the local Irish sagas mostly derive from female figures of the historically unattested migrations period, which are recounted in the Lebor Gabála Érenn (Book of the Taking of Ireland). They were originally described as mythic people, transformed into deities and later into demons after their respective expulsions by the following wave of invaders - mostly these resided in the Celtic Otherworld. An enumeration of the most important female figures of history (not exclusively Irish) is found in the account of the poet Gilla Mo-Dutu Ó Caiside which is known as the Bansenchas (contains 1147 entries). A similar development occurred in Britain, especially in Wales.
Very often these mythic female figures embody sovereignty over the land or the land itself (see hieros gamos).  Examples from Ireland include Macha and Medb, from Wales, Rhiannon. The dispute between Medb and her husband Ailill mac Máta over the wealth brought into the marriage by each of them is the indirect trigger for the Táin Bó Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley).
All kinds of legal issues in marriage are described in the Celtic myths: The marriage of a sister by her brother (Branwen ferch Llŷr, 'Branwen, daughter of Llŷr'), the marriage of a widowed mother by her son (Manawydan fab Llŷr, 'Manawydan, the son of Llŷr'), rape and divorce (Math fab Mathonwy, 'Math, the son of Mathonwy'), marriage of a daughter against the will of her father (Culhwch and Olwen). If the girl objected to the marriage, the only way out is self-help: the imposition of almost impossible tasks on the prospective groom (Tochmarc Emire, 'The Wooing of Emer') escape with a husband of her own choosing (The Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne), or suicide (Longas mac nUislenn, 'The Exile of the son of Uislius').
The already mentioned Queen of Connacht, Medb, broke with all conventions and selected her own husbands, whom she later repudiated when she tired of them. To each warrior from whom she desired support, she promised the 'Favour of her leg' (Lebor Gabála Érenn) and even marriage to her daughter Findabair - when Findabair discovers this, she takes her own life out of shame.
Other female figures from Celtic mythology include the weather witch Cailleach (Irish for 'nun,' 'witch,' 'the veiled' or 'old woman') of Scotland and Ireland, the Corrigan of Brittany who are beautiful seductresses, the Irish Banshee (woman of the Otherworld) who appears before important deaths, the Scottish warrior women Scáthach, Uathach and Aoife. The Sheela-na-Gig was a common grotesque sculpture which presented an exaggerated vulva. Her significance - ultimately as a fertility symbol - is debated and her dating is uncertain.  Possibly the display of the vulva was meant to have an apotropaic power, as in the Irish legend in which the women of Ulster led by Mugain the wife of King Conchobar mac Nessa unveil their breasts and vulvae in order to prevent the destruction of Emain Macha by the raging Cú Chulainn. 
Was Celtic society promiscuous? - History
Shadowy Nomads Were Guardians of Irish Lore
Drombeg stone circle (known as The Druid’s Altar) is one of Ireland’s best examples of a druidic shrine.
Mysterious holy men and poets were the World Wide Web of pre-Christian Ireland
Druids, Filid and Bards skilfully memorized ancient Ireland&rsquos history and traditions
Shadowy nomads were revered by Irish chieftains but reviled by the Roman Empire
Who were the fabled druid, filid and bards of ancient Ireland and what role did they play in safeguarding Irish lore? The subject often raises more questions than it answers and much of the wisdom from this era has been eclipsed by the dominance of Christianity and preference for the written word.
Their era was dominated by storytelling, poetry and the mastery of the spoken word. Recorded history and the Latin alphabet had not yet illuminated their shadowy world giving these mysterious nomads an elevated and respected position in ancient Irish society. IrishEmpire.org recently set out in search of the faintest of ancestral footprints in the lost sands of Celtic time.
Druids were revered in ancient Ireland wandering from clan to clan for ceremonial duties.
Ancient Ireland operated under a rigid and clearly defined hierarchical social network similar to the caste system in India. The upshot of this social stratification was that everybody from the head honcho all the way down to the lowly serf knew his or her place and role in society. One notable exception to this systematic ethos was the nomadic and mysterious life of an Irish druid.
As custodians of ancient Celtic knowledge, wisdom and history, these holy men roamed from clan to clan to perform religious ceremonial duties. Revered as oracular scholars, these pre-Christian sages were guardians of Celtic beliefs and spiritual conduits for the vast pantheon of Gods worshiped by the Celts. In addition to the spiritual realm, druids also served as ancient judges, counselors and mediators.
Filid were the master poets of the Celts honing their craft for years before becoming journeymen.
The Irish fili occupied a very important social position in Celtic Ireland similar to the role of a Bedouin poet in pre-Islamic Arabia. One unsolved mystery is whether or not the filid were offshoots of the druids or an entirely separate group. One theory is that the druids officiated at religious ceremonies as priests while the filid were cast in more of a supporting role.
What is known is that the filid (like the druids) studied for years and years in order to memorize ancient Irish oral lore. Their focus was directed toward the material world prioritizing history, genealogy and the law rather than spiritualism. The filid were experts in preserving and guarding knowledge rather than entertainment and performance.
Bards were considered a class beneath the Filid and were renowned performers and entertainers.
Bards were at the bottom of the food chain in this pre-Christian Holy Trinity but still played an important role as teachers, entertainers and disciples of druidic values. Bards were typically professional storytellers and/or poets employed by chieftains, monarchs or noblemen. Steeped in the history of clan and country, the bard could perform a number of key functions including commemoration of ancestors (and the patron), storytelling, poetry and musical entertainment.
Although bards were beneath the filid in the Celtic social structure, their enduring influence is arguably far greater in modern Irish society than that of their more esteemed counterparts given the eternal popularity of the Irish seanchaí and the plethora of celebrated Irish poets, playwrights and musicians.
The Roman Empire and the popularity of Christianity eclipsed druidism and ancient pagan beliefs.
The mighty Roman Empire despised the druid class not just as savages and pagans but also as prehistoric jihadis willing to fight for their beliefs and lead the resistance movements. This marked the druids out as prehistoric terrorists in the eyes of the Romans helping to seal their eventual downfall.
A massive surge in the adoption and popularity of Christianity across the world also ushered in a new era where the druids had lost much of their relevance. It wasn&rsquot all doom and gloom though as the introduction of the Latin alphabet helped the last vestiges of druidism record parts of their remarkable history for posterity providing us with tantalizing glimpses of another world.
Take a 3D tour of the famous Drombeg stone circle and The Druid&rsquos Altar below!
Kings, Kingdoms and Nations
Different parts of Gauls were developing different models of governance. By the time that Cæser went to Gaul there was a mixture of inherited and elected rulers and governing councils in various nations.
The Celtic words for “king” – Gallo-Brythonic rīx and Old Gaelic rí – are cognates of the Latin rex, and all of these derive from the Indo-European verbal root *Hreg, meaning “to stretch out straight.” The English word “regulate” (from a Latin borrowing) conveys a similar sense. Thus, early kings were intended to keep ordered, regulated, and strong the community whom they represented, who had invested their trust and interests in his person. The literary sources often emphasize the sacred and symbolic aspects of kingship, while the historical texts often emphasize the actions and political exercise of power. Celtic kingship is thus a multifaceted institution which was shaped by many factors different kinds of evidence highlight different aspects of kingly power.
The ideology of Celtic kingship held that it was a sacred institution in which the king, as representative of his human community, was married to the sovereignty goddess of the land (a motif common to many cultures). The inaugural ceremony itself reflected this idea. His good rule ensured prosperity for his people, while poor rule would sour his relationship with the divine, spoil the terrestrial condition of his people and ultimately bring about his downfall.
The Proto-Celtic term *toutā (Celt-Iberian touta, Gaulish touta, Old Gaelic túath, Old Welsh tud) referred to the people ruled by a king: a kingdom. This Celtic term may correspond to Cæsar’s “civitas.” It has a close Germanic cognate which gives the modern name for the German language (Deutsch). Celtic nations probably started as extended kin-groups but eventually grew in extent and formality, grafting dynasties together by claiming common descent from famous founder figures, deities or assumed qualities, as sometimes reflected in the names of early Celtic nations.
According to Caesar, in some parts of Gaul the civitas was ruled by a senate, in others by a ruler (such as a king), and sometimes by some combination of the two. Caesar also mentions a Gaulish council with broader territorial influences made up of prominent members of the senates of several nations and other leading men of Gaul, probably an international body meant to resolve disputes.
In principle, Celtic kingdoms/nations were self-contained units whose integrity was not to be impinged upon by others in other words, the laws and rule of a nation and their leader did not extend beyond their own boundaries. We can see this reflected, for example, in Caesar (§ 7.33): “by the laws of the Aedui, it was not permitted those who held the supreme authority to leave their territory […].” Thus, the king (and his kingdom) corresponds closely to the notion of the head of the kin-group in that both men are responsible for managing affairs within the bounds of their population, enforcing laws internally and negotiating external affairs with their peers who ruled other groups.
What are the differences between the ways in which Celtic kings in different nations gained their office and exercised their power in the following passages?
- Julius Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic War § 2.1, 5.54, 7.4, 7.32
- Strabo, Geography § 4.4.3
- Titus Livius, The History of Rome § 5.34
Historical characteristics of the Celtic race
You are met to-night as a Celtic Society, and that, too, as a Celtic Society in connection with the University—can it be justified? Has such an Association a right to exist, to make demands upon the students' time and attention, at a period when there is so much both to do and to know that needs to be done and to be known? It is a question not hastily to be answered, though some bold and crude spirits might at once volunteer an answer in the negative, consigning all things Gaelic, as they would all things Greek, to one limbo, a quiet euthanasia. To-night, I should wish to advance some reasons of a contrary kind, in arrest of judgment, in favour of preserving, even encouraging, an element which has some valuable qualities, with a special differentia, qualities both moral and intellectual, stripped of which the University and society would be undoubtedly poorer. For this purpose, I shall ask you to take a survey of some of the best attested traditions as to the Celtic race, its fortunes and historical position, that we may better appreciate its individuality and special character, and in doing so, I hope to be able to show cause for such a union or society as the present, in order that the honourable, and often noble, associations belonging to your race may be preserved, and also that you may be stirred, by way of remembrance, to investigate your own antiquities for yourselves. Those antiquities are most fruitful and important, and a great harvest awaits the young Gael who is fortunate enough to enter the field with the proper weapons for its reaping, a harvest that will add to our knowledge of the past, and so increase the general treasure of humanity.
The Celtic race, as we know, occupies the outlying promontories of Western Europe, having been pushed in the pressure of the ages into remote fastnesses and picturesque, but shadowy, glens overlooking the western main. Brittany, Ireland, Wales, and our Western Highlands stand out as the fortresses of the Gael, the bluffs and promontories to which the Celtic speech has now retired. But although the Celtic-speaking population is thus squeezed into a corner, the Celtic element in Europe is of much wider extension, and is not limited to the Celtic-speaking area. Much of Scotland, for example, is really Celtic in the substratum, even where the Gaelic tongue has vanished and it is not possible to understand Scottish history without a knowledge how much of the Celtic fire comes out in and underlies the perfervidum ingenium Scotorum. So with the great and potential nation of France, we are entitled to claim it also as of Celtic stem, the French tongue being mainly a fusion of Latin and Celtic speech. We shall equally fail to comprehend the history of France, if we do not recognise in its great movements, the generous, though often wild, pulsations of the Celtic fire.
The rival Teutonic or Saxon element can claim, no doubt, to possess its own virtues and energies and no one would deny that the world has been the better through these energies, has profited through the more solid, though, perhaps, less brilliant or electric qualities of the German. There is this, however, to be said of the literary achievements of the Saxons, that they had to be wakened up from abroad, and the flame had to be communicated from without, whether the spark came through the Welsh and Norman  chivalry, through Classical Renaissance, or through French wit and only then, when so touched by some external impulse, their genius flashed out in Chaucer, in Shakspere, in Pope, in Goethe, and so became magnetised. The Celtic genius, on the other hand, may claim to be itself magnetic, not dependent on vivification from without, and this I take it is one main reason why we may affirm that the qualities of the Celt are of a different type from those of the Saxon, that they bear another image and superscription, a special mint mark of their own among the mental endowments of the nations of the earth.
In endeavouring to appreciate more precisely what these special endowments are, let us take a glance of inquiry as to the countries where we may expect to find the Celtic differentia giving evidence of its existence. If we take the names of the three kingdoms—England, Scotland, Ireland—we can gauge to some extent the Celtic element in their very philology. We find that in one, the Anglo-Saxon element occupies the whole area of the word, while in the other two the Celtic element has maintained its ground so far, and so far has not succumbed. Thus philology, in this instance, coincides with history. For it was only in England, and in England proper, as distinct from Wales and Cornwall, that the Celtic element was clean extirpated and so the name of "England" has no trace of Celtic in its composition, while in the sister names of "Ireland" and "Scotland" the Celtic and the Saxon elements are found co-existing. Further, when we proceed to study the matter in minute detail, we find the evidence both striking and abundant. Thus to take the topographical nomenclature of Scotland and Ireland, we find it presenting a remarkable contrast to that of England, Not to go deeper than the names of shires, there is hardly a Scottish county but still bears in the etymology of its name homage to the Celtic race. Apart from a few county names of Saxon stem in the south, and a few Norse county names in the far north, all the Scotch county names are Celtic but when we turn to England, the proportions are reversed. There is scarcely a county name south of the Cheviots, except Kent and York, that can be called Celtic, and these two are relics from old British days. In some few, as in Cambridge, Oxford, the Celtic names of rivers still maintain a kind of footing, as appellatives, alongside of the Saxon substantive. And a few Roman names, like Chester, and some with mixed elements, survive, such as Lincoln, Dorset, Lancaster, Cumberland, which are semi. Celtic but the rest of the English shire-names, as a rule, seem purely Saxon. As for the tribe-names of the ancient Britons—Iceni, Regni, Trinobantes, Brigantes, Silures—these have utterly perished on the soil of England,  leaving no local reminiscences. If, however, we turn to the map of France, we find not merely river names and mountain names but tribe names largely preserved in the topographical vocabulary. The old clan names familiar to us in Cæsar, have their simulacra still floating in the geography of France—Lingones, Langres Arverni, Auvergne Treviri, Treves Remi, Rheims Caletes, Calais Parisü, Paris Veneti, Vannes Turones, Tours Mediomatrici, Metz Bituriges, Bourges &c. On the other hand, non-Celtic names like the German Strassburg or Scandinavian Bec in Normandy, are few and far between in the topographical nomenclature of France, which is therefore Celtic to the core. And whence this difference between France and England? Were the conquering Franks not Teutonic like the victorious Saxons? Yes, but the Franks under Clovis or Chlodwig simply subdued, the Anglo-Saxon under Cerdic and Hengist extirpated, and the reason of this seems to have been that the Saxon conquered while still heathen, the Frank obtained ascendancy after he became Christian and hence arose the difference of treatment meted out to the subject population. Further, the Frank not only preserved the subject people, but he did not rob them of their lands although he imposed himself as an over-lord or signior, and exacted certain dues, he himself remained a huntsman and a sportsman, as well as a warrior contented himself with the produce of the woods and the forest, and so by a happy compromise, as Gibbon remarks, left the cultivated parts to their Gaulish possessors. It is on evidence of this kind that historians affirm the people of France to be still largely Celtic (George Long will have it, to the extent of 19-20ths, which seems an over-estimate, and overlooks the Basque element in Gascony and Aquitaine), but in any case we can claim the people of France as illustrating largely the virtues and also the weaknesses of the Celtic character. Moreover, there is ground for affirming that the great eruption which we know as the French Revolution—the eruption which changed the face of modern society—was largely a Celtic movement it was a bursting of the fetters imposed by the Teutonic Frank, the shaking off of the Feudalism which was the growth of Frankish institutions and, as a result of this eruption, the France of the Revolution became under that movement more Gaulish and less Frankish. One of the songs of Béranger, the poet of the Revolution, bears witness to this. "Forward, ye Gauls and ye Franks!" "En avant, Gaulois et Francs!" where the Celtic element is made to accompany or even take precedence of the Teutonic. The relative proportion of these two elements in the French population has been still further altered by events taking place under our own eyes: the excision of Alsace–Lorraine in 1870 has had the effect of eliminating still more the Teutonic, intensifying and concentrating the Celtic element in the French nationality.
Assuming, then, that you have as a race such kinship and affinities, I proceed to inquire what are the qualities that can be predicated as appertaining to the Celtic race in the various stages of its history. That history has been a long and chequered one—Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum but amid the varying fortunes of the Celtic people, it will be found that in their pure and unsophisticated condition they have been in the main distinguished by these four qualities more particularly, Reverence religiously, devoted Faithfulness politically, Politeness or civility socially, and Spirit, or, as the French would call it, Esprit universally. In one word, Idealism is that which belongs essentially to the Celtic character, showing itself in the disposition to make the future, or the past, more important than the present to gild the horizon with a golden age in the far past, as do the Utopian Conservatives or in the remote future, as do the equally Utopian Revolutionists. This ideal tendency has no doubt its dangers, the risk, namely, of mistaking fancies for facts, and also neglecting hard and flinty facts, so receiving wounds and bruises in our environment but, rightly regulated, this Idealism is at the root of all nobleness, for we must agree with the great burly Anglo-Saxon Dr Johnson, when standing upon the Celtic soil of Iona, and inspired by its sacred memories, he declared that "whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, exalts us in the dignity of thinking beings". That is an entirely Celtic sentiment, and once we appreciate it, we come to discern the origin of those qualities which have formed the strength and also the weakness of the Celtic people. The weakness, I say, as well as the strength, for just as a man's strong point is also found to be his weak point, through, it may be, vanity in himself, or through envy on the part of others feeling his superiority, so the Idealism of the Celtic race has had its weakness in this respect that, while they meditated and dreamed, other and more realistic and less imaginative races acted, and so stept in before them frequently in the arena of the world.
To expound in any adequate form the influence of this Idealism in the various relations we have indicated is beyond our present purpose. We can only glance at a few of the more salient features. Thus we are compelled to omit entirely one aspect of the Celtic Idealism—that which we have called their faithfulness or loyalty, whether seen in things political or ecclesiastical, that disposition which has prompted them to look up to chieftains and leaders implicitly, asking no questions, and often suffering accordingly when under unwise leadership. Culloden and the war in La Vendee tell the same tale of devotion to chiefs and leaders, and it has been well avouched on many a battlefield since yea and the Saxon race has been helped to its present position to-day because of that devotedness of its Celtic troops which leads them to obey implicitly at the cannon's mouth, and makes them at Balaclava as at Tel-el-Kebir the backbone of the British army. In this regard, the glowing picture given by Lord Byron of the Albanian mountaineers suits well the mountaineers of Albyn nearer home, and it is possible that the features he has pourtrayed were originally recognised among the Deeside hills, for, with him, Lochnagar, as well as Ida, rose over all the Orient.
Fierce are Albania's children, yet they lack
Not virtues, were these virtues more mature.
Where is the foe that ever saw their back?
Who can so well the toil of war endure?
Their native fastnesses not more secure
Than they in doubtful time of troublous need.
Their wrath, how deadly I but their friendship sure,
When gratitude or valour bids them bleed,
Unshaken, rushing on where'er their chief may lead.
With what emotion, therefore, ought we to read in the Gallic war of Cæsar such an entry as this regarding an ancient Lochiel— Litavicus cum suis clientibus, quibus more Gallorum nefas est etiam in extrema fortuna deserere patronos, Gergoviam perfugit —"Litavicus succeeded in escaping to Gergovia along with his clansmen. To desert their chief, even in the extremity of fortune, is, in the moral code of the Gauls, accounted as a crime."
Let me now ask you to accompany me in a short survey of the more notable historic scenes in which the Celtic race has figured, and in which, therefore, their peculiar character may be expected to be discerned.
At the dawn of recorded history, we find the Celt already occupying a vast area of Western Europe, and exercising a wide ascendancy. We know of no period during which he is not in possession we find him always in the stream of history, never in the fountain. From low down the Danube, along by the ridges of the Alps, we discern his tribes entrenched and the topography of Western and Middle Europe, in so far as its river names and mountain names are concerned, rests on a Celtic basis, and is unintelligible, unless from Celtic roots, even in regions from which the Celtic race has long retired. But without claiming for them a wider area than from the Adriatic to the Hebrides, from Gallia Cisalpina to our own Western Isles, we meet with this strange phenomenon, that, unlike the other Aryan races of Europe, the Celts, when first historically discernible, are seen to be flowing eastward, and, as it were, backward, instead of westward. One of these eastward eruptions poured down into the valley of the Po, whence we know that basin in Cæsar's time as bearing the name of Cisalpine Gaul. Another and later eruption was deflected round the head of the Adriatic, poured down into Greece as far as Delphi, crossed the Hellespont, and ultimately became quiescent in the heart of Asia Minor about 270 B.C. The name Galatia enshrined for us in the N.T,, in the great epistle of St Paul, is the monument that marks the Celtic race in its furthest eastern extension as a returning tide.
That is the limit in space: the limit in time, beyond which we cannot trace them chronologically, is the well-marked date of 600 B.C. , the founding of Massilia, now Marseilles, a Greek colony upon Gallic soil This well-ascertained event is important in another respect, that it brought the Celts into contact with the Greek race, and gave them early access to the arts and culture of the authors of European civilisation. Hence Cæsar tells us that in the camp of the Helvetians, and, therefore, in the interior of Gaul, he found camp rolls kept in Greek characters, the knowledge of the Greek alphabet having been propagated from Massilia as a centre far into the interior of ancient Gaul. There is, therefore, evidence obtainable regarding the Celtic race six centuries before the Germanic race comes, through Cæsar and Tacitus, into distinct regard, and ten centuries "before history has much to say of the Anglo-Saxon portion of the Germanic race. Moreover, it is something to know among the honours of your pedigree that the Celtic language assumed a written form earlier than any non-classic speech. This we could gather from Cæsar as regards the Continental Gauls and as regards the insular Celts, we may accept the verdict of John Hill Burton, who, though far from Philo-Celtic in his leanings, states the matter thus:—"The Irish (or Gaelic) was a language not only calculated for the public and domestic uses of civilisation, but it became a literary language earlier than any of the Teutonic tongues". So Father Innes avers that the "Letters" and "Confession" of St. Patrick are "the most ancient writings of any native of the British Isles that now remain".
The date 600 B.C. was mentioned as our earliest, but I now come to another, the most notable date in the ancient Gallic history, that of 390 B.C. , marking the greatest exploit in ancient times of the Gallic race, the capture of Rome by the Gauls. Among the confusions and the suspected figments of the Roman historians, we can discern this much, that the Roman Commonwealth was never so near extinction, and that it never received so staggering a blow as in the "Dies Alliensis". The Gauls came as an avalanche, and as suddenly departed, after being masters of Rome all except the capitol, until fever and pestilence compelled them to relax their hold, and they withdrew after exacting ransom, ignominious to the Roman remembrance, an indignity which was hushed up by various falsifications. But it may be said. Was not Cannae a severer blow than Allia? Not so, for the dies Cannensis brought no invasion of the Urbs, Hannibal never had a foot within the sacred Pomoerium: neither Carthaginian, nor Greek, nor Samnite ever penetrated to the Forum, nor any other enemy, save only the Gaul with his claymore. Before that terrible weapon, even the Roman Gods had to retire they went away for shelter to an Etruscan city. Vestals and Augurs once, and only once, had to seek a refuge: it was before the Celtic avalanche thundering downward from the Alps. For any commotion among the Gauls the Romans had a special name:—they called it a Tumultus and we are told that the Romans felt they had always a special business on hand when they had to deal with Gauls: in the words of Sallust—"Cum Gallis pro salute, non pro gloria certari"—that a war with the Gauls was for existence, not for glory. Therefore we need not wonder that the catastrophe of 390 B.C. was burnt deep into the Roman remembrance, as shown by the hesitation as to rebuilding the city and by the temporary paralysis which made them think of huddling into the ruined Veii.
In the minuter touches of the historian, much of interest reveals itself regarding this event. The suddenness with which the Gauls took fire at an insult, the impetuosity of their march, are features to be noted. "Flagrantes ira" says Livy "cujus impotens est gens"—"Burning with indignation, a passion which nationally they are unable to restrain." May we not see in this little touch a spark of that Esprit which we know, or did know of in ourselves as the perfervid temperament of the Scots? So with Buchanan, whose "Scoti" are properly the Gaels, our forefathers are characterised as a race "ad iram natura paullo propensiores".
Let us not forget also the splendid picture of this scene in the Virgilian Shield of Æneas.
Galli per dumos aderant arcemque tenebant,
Defensi tenebris et dono noctis opacæ
Aurea cæsaries ollis atque aurea vestis
Virgatis lucent Sagulis turn lactea colla
Auro innectuntur duo quisque Alpina coruscant
Gaesa manu, scutis protecti corpora longis.
"The Gauls were at hand marching among the brushwood, and had gained the summit sheltered by the darkness and the kindly grace of dusky night. Golden is their hair and golden their raiment striped cloaks gleam on their shoulders their milk-white necks are twined with gold: each brandishes two Alpine javelins, his body guarded by the long oval of his shield." (Conington). A very Turner or Gainsborough in verse, radiant in colour.
Virgatis lucent sagulis—This can be no other than the Tartan, and the heart warms to the gleam of it, discerned even at a distance of two thousand years. Buchanan must have recognised this, when he writes regarding the dress of the Scottish Highlanders—"Veste gaudent varia ac maxime virgata"— no doubt a Virgilian reminiscence.
The next great event in the history of the Gauls is that already alluded to—the eruption which ultimately settled down into Galatia, in the heart of Asia Minor. I shall only refer to two points bearing on these eastern Gauls: that they also were tremendous warriors, for not only does Polybius (in II. 19) speak of the terror inspired by the Gauls as a unique experience but we have an artistic monument of a Gaulish warrior which represents to all time the Greek idea of Gallic fortitude. The wonderful and pathetic statue known as the Dying Gladiator is now known to have come from Pergamus in Asia, and to represent an Asiatic Gaul bearing his death-wound: the tore or torquis around his neck, a Celtic ornament, marks him as a Celt and so Lord Byron has fallen into a slight mistake when he says, "Arise, ye Goths, and glut your ire". It ought to have been, in strict historical accuracy, "Arise, ye Gauls".
Along with the bravery, these eastern Gauls seem to have carried "with them a full measure of the impulsiveness of the western Celt. Their descendants, as we know, came in contact with the Apostle Paul, and though by his time largely Grecised, they seem to have retained somewhat of the Celtic enthusiasm, showing itself in fitful outbursts in a way very memorable. In the presence of this emotional race, the apostle is himself swayed by emotions such as he feels or expresses nowhere else. While he censures them for being so soon turned away to false teachers, he speaks of the emotion with which they received him: they received him, he says, as an angel of God, and in their enthusiasm, "if it had been possible, they would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him". Does St. Paul use language like this of any other race? Has he expressed himself so regarding any other people? We feel in such a case the pulse of a peculiar enthusiasm there throbbing, a true indication of the Celtic origin of the Galatian people.
We have seen how the Gauls just brushed the wings of the victorious Alexander: we all know how they came under the chariot of Imperial Cæsar, but we are apt to forget that they came into association with the third great warrior of antiquity, whose name alone can be matched with these—the Punic Hannibal The Gauls were largely confederate with the Carthaginians, and it was the levies in Cisalpine Gaul that reinforced the depleted ranks of the Punic army. Again the claymore, or, as Livy calls it, the gladius prælongus Gallorum, wielded cæsim magis quam punctim (with slash rather than stab), did terrible service on the side of Hannibal, not without disaster to themselves. At Cannæ, we are told, he had to lament the loss of 4000 Gauls, two-thirds of the loss by which he purchased his most brilliant victory. Unfortunately for his ultimate success he had shifted his base too far away from his recruiting ground in Cisalpine Gaul if he had leant more on Gaul and less on Magna Græcia and Carthage, as his base of operations, the odds are that Rome might not have been the capital of the ancient world, and, perhaps, that instead of Latin you might now be studying Punic or Celtic, as the classic language in the schools of the Western World.
Thus far Strabo, and now comes George Long's comment on the social state resulting, indebtedness and poverty:—
"Cæsar does not explain how the poorer sort got into debt, nor how the land was divided. The rich had doubtless large tracts. There is no evidence that the poor had any land in full ownership. They were probably in the condition of tenants who paid their rent in kind, or partly in money and partly in kind and their debts might either arise from arrears of rent or from borrowing to supply their wants. There is no difficulty in seeing where they might borrow the towns would contain the traders, and the markets would be in the towns. Arms, agricultural implements, and clothing must be bought with corn, cattle, and hogs. The poor cultivator, whether a kind of proprietor or a tenant, would soon find himself in bad plight between his lord, the shopkeeper, and the "mercator" who travelled the country with his cart loaded with the tempting liquor that he could not resist. (Diod., v. 26.) The enormous waste of life in the Gallic domestic quarrels, their foreign expeditions, and in their wars with the Romans, was easily supplied. A poor agricultural nation, with such robust women as the Galli had (Diod., v. 32) is exactly the people to produce soldiers. Among such a people more male children are born than the land requires: and those who are not wanted for the plough, the spade, or to watch the cattle, are only fit to handle the sword."
Again, as to the Allobroges, the following was the state of matters, revealing how they came into relation with the Catiline tragedy of 63 B.C. :—
"They were overwhelmed with debt, both the state and individuals a common complaint of the provincial subjects of Rome. The Romans levied heavy contributions on the people who had made most resistance, and both communities and individuals felt it. Besides this, the Gallic cultivator seems to have been always in debt. He borrowed money from the Roman negotiatores at a high rate, and his profits would be hardly sufficient to pay the interest of the money. The profitable business of feeding sheep and cattle was in the hands of the Romans, who probably got the exclusive use of much of the pasture land. As the Allobroges were a conquered people, we may conjecture that their waste lands had been seized by the Roman State, and were covered with the flocks of Romans, who paid to the Roman treasury a small sum for the right of pasture. P. Quinctius, for whom Cicero made a speech which is still extant, had a good business in Gallia as a flockmaster ("Pecuaria res satis ampla," pro P. Quinctio, c. 3). A Roman named Umbrenus, who had been a "negotiator" in Gallia, undertook to open the conspiracy of Catiline to the Allobroges, and he promised them great things if their nation would join in the rising. From fear, however, or some other cause, the Allobroges betrayed the conspirators to the consul Cicero. (Sallust Cat. 40 Appian B. Civ. ii, 4.) It does not appear that the ambassadors got anything for their pains, though they well deserved it. There were signs of insurrection in Southern Italy as well as in Gallia, citerior and ulterior, and the revelations of the ambassadors saved Rome at least from a civil war." (Smith's Dict. of Geo.: in Gallia.
In reading the above, and comparing it with what we hear around us, we feel as if History were now well-nigh repeating itself, and the wheel of Time coming round full circle, with the same social difficulties and dilemmas recurring after two thousand years.
But we must hasten on to the consummation which overtook the Gallic race in ancient times. Julius Cæsar appeared, and the Celt was absorbed in the Empire of Rome. How that warrior entered Gaul, and crushed tribe after tribe in one cruel but resistless progress, is known to every schoolboy—belongs to the tragedies of ancient history. The clemency of Caesar, of which we hear much, has no existence toward Gauls: and the name of Vercingetorix may be coupled with that of our own Wallace as the type of the brave and unselfish, but ill-fated, patriot. Yet it was no easy task to subdue the warlike Gauls this foremost man of all time, as some style him, Julius Caesar, took eight years to do it, and it remains his biggest achievement.
There is no lack of evidence in his own pages as to the prowess of his foe but it may be well to notice one or two of his testimonies as to their talents and ingenuity. In one place he compliments them on their sollertia or ingenious inventiveness,
Singulari militum nostrorum virtuti consilia cujusque modi Gallorum occurrebant, ut est summæ genus sollertiæ atque ad omnia imitanda et efficienda quæ ab qttoque tradantur aptissimum. (B.G. vii. 22.) Further, the Bituriges who gave him trouble at a siege by their countermines have learned that art as workers in metal mines. This interesting tribe seems to have borne a rather high-sounding name, as if conscious of their cleverness the word is believed to mean "Kings of Creation" [Bith (existence) and righ (King)].
Another important fact mentioned quite incidentally by Cæsar is that regarding the Yeneti, in what we now know as Brittany. He mentions that they had ships moored, not by hempen cables, but by iron chains (ferreis catenis), an invention only recently introduced in the British marine. Evidently the art of metallurgy was well practised, and a certain Gaul bears the name of Gobannitio, which can be no other than "Gow" in some form, i.e., a son of Vulcan, or blacksmith.
But the Gauls, with all their skill and bravery, have to succumb. Immediately thereafter, however, we hear of Cæsar himself, who knew the quality of the material, enlisting them in his armies, and the Gallic legions at Pharsalia find a melancholy revenge over one-half at least of their Roman oppressors. This utilising of the Gaul reminds one of the enlisting of the Highland clans by Chatham in the generation subsequent to Culloden, when that statesman found a field for their energies abroad as the mainstay of the infantry in the British army.
With Julius Cæsar, therefore, and his conquest, the Continental portion of the Celtic race ceases to occupy an independent position. It becomes absorbed in the Roman Empire, and follows its fortunes. The insular Celts, however, are only partially absorbed for while the ancient Britons, in what is now England, become for a time Romanised, the Gaels of Ireland and the Caledonians of Scotland never came under the Roman eagle. The former were never invaded by the Romans the latter were invaded, but were eventually left alone, and remained unsubdued. Even in those times the native dignity of the Celtic race is discernible and, whatever may be its authenticity, the speech of Galgacus at the battle of Mons Grampius is ideally, if not literally, true, as the indignant outburst of Caledonian fire, a "Brosnachadh Cath" on the eve of a battle. It almost looks as if Tacitus felt a moral grandeur in the simple manners and proud sentiments of the Caledonian Celts, which he looked for in vain among his own degenerate countrymen and there is no more striking fact in ancient history than the circumstance that Tacitus, with an eye of almost prophetic vision, looked away over the Alps from Italy and the enervated nations of the south to the Celtic and Germanic races of the north as containing, under the rough shell of barbarian manners, and amid the northern snows, the future hope of the world. The Germania and Agricola of that historian are thus of a singular importance in the development of the ages, leading out the old and preparing the way for leading in the new civilisation and, to you, therefore, the Agricola which tells of the brave resistance of the Caledonians, ought to possess a special interest, as it forms a splendid literary monument to the virtues and patriotism of the Celtic race.
Into the later fortunes of the Celtic family time and space forbid us to enter with any minuteness. We can only glance at one or two of the most prominent points among the many tempting themes that would present themselves in a complete survey. Foremost among these, we might name the peculiar Celtic influence diffused from the mysterious lays of Ossian as well as from the Irish melodies of Tom Moore, a proud pathetic melancholy of which all Europe has felt the power. That constitutes the literary honour of the Scoto-Irish or family of the Gael. But hardly less important has been the influence of the other branch of the Celtic stock which we know as the Welsh, or, as they style themselves, Cymric, a race which looks as if it were to preserve its speech and nationality longest among all the Celtic peoples. The Welsh still cling to their language with an almost Jewish tenacity. That speech is an anvil that has worn out many hammers it has survived three conquests—the Roman, the Saxon, the Norman—and they can claim a continuous national existence up to the Roman times of Cassivelaunus and Caractacus. Our Queen Victoria, will it be believed? is with them only Victoria the Second they claim an older one, the Queen of the Iceni, the same of whom the poet tells as
"The British warrior queen
Bleeding from the Roman rods."
Boadicea (Gaelic Buaidh, victory) is their Victoria the First, and our present queen is in Welsh, "Buddug yr Ail" i.e., Boadicea Altera or Secunda.
It was from the legends of this people that the romance of chivalry proceeded, and all the associations that cling around the Knights of the Round Table. That was a fascination that went the round of Western Europe, subduing, as in Spenser's Faery Queen, even the Saxon genius and though Cervantes in Don Quixote smiled the last breath of it away, extinguishing also the national esprit of his own country, the spell has since revived in the legends of Arthur under the muse of Tennyson. Those legends attracted Milton, himself also of Welsh blood on the mother's side, and for a time it was doubtful whether the author of "Comus" was to choose between Arthur and the patriarch Adam as the hero of his crowning poem. And here we may remark regarding the Cymric people how notably the great Saxon dramatist, growing up and flourishing on the Welsh border, has paid them a certain respectful and most honourable homage. Not only has he founded two of his noblest plays on legends of the ancient British foretime—King Lear, perhaps the most perfect of (his tragedies, and also Cymbeline—but he has pourtrayed the Welsh character with the interest of a discoverer who lights upon a special vein of sentiment and feeling. Shakspere has seized for us the strong as well as the weak points of that character—Bravery and Sentiment — Bravery to the edge of rashness, and high-soaring Sentiment, disdaining the fetters of pedestrian logic. He makes us laugh, no doubt, at the gallant Fluellen (who is only Llewellyn in another form), and endless has been the mirth over that soldier's resolute determination to make of Henry V. another Alexander the Great, or, as he calls him, "Alexander the Pig" reasoning from Macedon to Monmouth, because both begin with an M but for all that, Shakspere has a genuine respect for the choleric Fluellen, and though he makes mirth of his words and his utterance, he compliments him by the mouth of the king, who has these words regarding him—
"Though it appear a little out of fashion,
There is much care and valour in this Welshman."
With what fine insight likewise have we pourtrayed to us the companion picture of the Welsh chief, Owen Glendower. He comes before us as the victim of sentiment, puffed up with portents at his own nativity, importing the creations of imagination from the airy hall of the poet into the domain of actual life, into the tented camp of the warrior. How much of meaning lies in that line in which Owen Glendower magnifies the resources at his command —
"I can call spirits from the vasty deep" —
There speaks the imaginative and romantic Welshman.
"But will they come, when you do call for them?"
asks the Percy, in reply, mocking the pretension.
In point of fact, it is in the Celtic area, either of Wales or of Scotland) that Shakspere finds his favourite material for the darker forms of the supernatural and we cannot forget that it is the Celtic Macbeth whom he makes the central figure of that drama, in which he deals with the invisible Powers of Evil—another testimony to the affinity of the Celtic mind toward the Night-side of Nature, towards the weird and the "eerie" and the supernatural.
This brings us to say a word on the kindred theme of the religious sentiment of the Celtic race, their inborn reverential feeling, one of their most prominent and honourable characteristics. Like the romantic sentiment we have just been considering, which has drawn the Celtic mind toward the mystery of Nature, it is a plant rooted and grounded in the same soil, nurtured by the dews of the same Idealism. The blossoms of it may, in ancient and in modern times, not unfrequently resemble those of Superstition yet it forms an inherent and characteristic product of the Celtic mind Regarding this feature, we have the evidence of Ernest Rénan, who is himself a Breton: how long that feeling may survive under his and other influences at work may be doubtful, but that it has lived all along the course of the Celtic history is both clear and certain. Says Rénan: —
"The characteristic trait of the Breton race in all its ranks is Idealism the pursuit of an end, moral or intellectual, often erroneous, but always disinterested."
This character he pourtrays in minute detail, showing how it produces simplicitjy, unselfishness, devoutness how it has almost extinguished suicide, so that such an exit from life, just as among our own Celtic race, is recoiled from with horror and various other salutary fruits he traces to this source. In point of fact, one might almost affirm that the religious feeling of the Celts, strong under the Druids, strong under the Christian Faith, is, next to the Jewish, the most intense that Europe has known. It is a singular corroboration of this position that the great historian of the "Decline and Fall" has coupled the Celts and the Jews in one category in this regard. These, according to Gibbon, are the only races who had a national faith against which the Romans made war, not on political grounds, but as a religious belief. The capture of Jerusalem by Titus, and the extirpation of the Druids by fire and sword from the groves of Anglesea, are therefore parallel events at the two extremities of the Roman world and you will read the Agricola with fresher interest when you discern the evidence thus supplied as to the characteristics of the Celtic race.
Leaving this loftier theme, I must now descend to a lower level, into the region of manners, to say a word as to a more lowly and mundane characteristic—politeness of demeanour. This is a feature of character universally conceded to you—a courteous politeness there is confessedly nothing boorish or vulgar about the true Celt there is, on the contrary, an aversion to everything mean or base. It is often remarked, even by the Englishman, that the Celt has the air and spirit of a gentleman, as if he were come of good blood in the economy of the world. One of his names for the Evil One signifies the mean or base one (Muisean, see Nicolson's Gaelic Proverbs), and we can easily understand how Sir Walter Scott found a magnet of attraction in the chivalry of the Highlands, whence have flowed creations like the Lady of the Lake, or Waverley and Rob Roy. Nearly 300 years ago this nobility of the Highland people in their games struck an old poet of the Elizabethan time, who has left us his impressions of a hunt which he saw in the Brae of Mar as far back as the beginning of the 17th century:—
"Through heather, moss, 'mong frogs and bogs and fogs,
'Mongst craggy cliffs and thunder-battered hills,
Hares, hinds, bucks, roes are chased by men and dogs,
Where two hours' hunting four score fat deer kills
Lowland, your sports are low as is your seat
The Highland games and minds are high and great"
The same note is struck here as in—
"England, thy beauties are tame and domestic,
To one who has roamed o'er the mountains afar."
So that it is as it were only re-echoed from Byron's Lochnagar. In keeping, therefore, with the character of the scenery is the bearing and demeanour of the people. Among his bleak, but majestic, hills, the Celt can still say—Ged tha mi bochd, tha mi uasal, buidheachad do Dhia—"Though I am poor, I am respectable, God be thanked." And travellers among them who have seen all Europe, place the Highlander and the Irishman high in natural politeness. John Wesley, who knew both sides of the Atlantic, says he found as real courtesy in the Irish cabins as could be found at St James's or the Louvre and Campbell, in his Tales of the West Highlands, has the following, and much more than we can quote, to the same purport:
"There are few peasants that I think so highly of, none that I like so well. Scotch Highlanders have faults in plenty, but they have the bravery of Nature's own gentlemen, the delicate natural tact which discovers, and the good taste which avoids, all that would hurt or offend a guest."
No doubt the enemy will say, "All very easy this politeness of yours in those who lounge about and are inactive we Saxons have not time to consider the feelings, much less the prejudices, of our neighbours around us in the race and chase of modern life, it is not possible to maintain the suavity and feel the courtesy which you exhibit. Festina lente is your motto, which may be translated—'Go on, but take plenty of time' that is an antiquated maxim for us Saxons in this Darwinian Free Trade iron age of the world."
And herein lies our fear for the future of this and other virtues in the Celtic race, that in this high-pressure age, when under competitive friction everything of the tender, much also of the ideal, is to vanish, we shall have no time to feel, much less to study, anything like politeness. Leisure is essential to refinement, and where the leisure is to be found in the rising generation, when the motto of men who are taken as leaders is "Sacrifice, relentless sacrifice, and no mercy,"—that seems more difficult to discern every day.
Before concluding, I may just refer to one testimony emerging recently in an unexpected quarter, which gives me hope that the potentiality of the Celtic element may still survive, and the genius and sparkle also, which often accompany the Celtic fire.  It is a voice from the Deanery of Westminster in the heart of Saxondom, for Dean Stanley is the speaker, as reported by Bishop Thirlwall. The Bishop tells us how the Dean, in a semi-jocular, but still serious vein, claimed to have Welsh blood in his veins.
"You heard," writes Thirlwall to a friend, "what Stanley said about his semi-Cymric origin. I do not know whether you were also told that he attributed all the energy and vivacity of his character to his Welsh blood. I believe your theory is that the relation between the two great divisions of mankind—the Celtic and non-Celtic—is that of Mind to Matter and that whenever the two elements are combined in an individual, the only use of the grosser is to serve as ballast to moderate the buoyancy of the more spiritual. Though the theory may not have needed confirmation to yourself, you will be able to cite Stanley's spontaneous confession for the conviction of gainsayers." (Thirlwall's Letters to a Friend, p. 42.)
This is, no doubt, hyperbole to be taken cum grano although there is a large measure of truth in the statement and of sincerity in the exponent. Yet, without claiming such superlative potency for the Celtic intellect and character, we may feel confident that it has a distinctive differentia of its own which makes it worthy of our homage, worthy, therefore, of our efforts to preserve it, a peculiar aroma attaching to it, a sparkling, yet tender old-world weirdness which the world ought not willingly to let die. These title-deeds and memories of your race are no mean heritage and when to the historical memories to which we have alluded we add the poetical and literary memories preserved for us in the Welsh legends of chivalry circling around King Arthur, and the Gaelic legends of Ossian circling around Fingal when we find that twice in the ages the pulse of a new poetic emotion passed over Europe from the Celtic lyre, that Ossian threw his spell over both Goethe and Napoleon, the strongest spirits of the past age, and that the glamour of the Cymric Arthur has subdued the greatest poet of the present, you may feel a just pride in the place which the Celtic intellect must occupy in the literary monuments of Europe. In such a thought and in such a fact lies the justification of your society, and great ought, therefore, to be the encouragement with which you should study the antiquities and lore of your race, and preserve and cultivate your knowledge of the language which keeps the key to these inspiring memories.
Who were the Celts?
So much of Irish culture, both in today’s society and in the past, has been influenced by the island’s first significant inhabitants – the Celts. Their traditions, activities, language and laws dictated the way of life in Ireland for thousands of years and still form the foundation of many aspects of Irish life today. Our national language is Gaelic, our national sports were invented by the Celts, and our musical instruments come from them too. As well as all of this, they left behind a rich legacy of art and mythology that is still the cause of much discussion and analysis by historians. The Celts are even inspiring artists and craftspeople today – many of our own pieces of jewellery at Claddagh Design have been inspired by their artwork and symbols.
Unfortunately, one thing the Celts didn’t perfect until later on in their existence was writing. So while we have a plethora of objects and other evidence of their early lives and time in Ireland, we can only guess at what their lives were like until they began to write things down, first in the form of Ogham writing carved on stones and wood, and later in illuminated manuscripts after the introduction of Christianity. However, although this meant the Celts now had the skills and equipment necessary to write about themselves for posterity, instead they decided to study Christianity and make endless transcriptions of the bible (albeit intricately decorated transcriptions). Lucky, today’s historians are a smart bunch, and have been able to deduce a lot of information about this mystical ancient society from the traces they left behind.
Where did the Celts come from?
Despite having left such a big impression on the country, the Celts were not the first inhabitants to land on Irish shores. The general consensus among experts is that the first inhabitants crossed over the narrow sea between Scotland and what is now Northern Ireland. This was in 6000BC, so the climate and sea level was very different back then. Crossing a sea on what would have been a small and very basic boat would not have been too difficult! These people gradually made their way from north to south, living very primitive, hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Over time, their skills developed into farming and agriculture, and eventually the people learned how to mould and work with metals, creating various tools to make life easier and more efficient for themselves.
In the meantime, the Celts had come to be known in the central European Alps, and spread throughout the continent in all directions from Greece and Asia Minor all the way up to our shores. The Greeks called them ‘Keltoi’ and the Romans ‘Galli’, which is where the names Celtic and Gaelic originated. Naturally, as they spread across the continent, they brought their music, art, customs and language with them. They were even the first to give Britain and Ireland a name they called both islands the ‘Pretanic Islands’, which later transformed into ‘Britain’.
Described as tall, dark and great warriors, conquering the ‘Pretanic islands’ required little effort for the Celts. They had a distinct advantage over the people that had come before them iron. Although the process of extracting metal from ores was more or less the same, iron is a much stronger and more durable metal, so the poor hunter gatherers never stood a chance! They began arriving around 500BC, first directly from the continent and moving westwards, and then from the north moving southwards. Within a few hundred years, their culture was extremely dominant, and all signs of Bronze Age Ireland had been well and truly eradicated. The Iron Age had begun. There is no evidence of a genuine invasion however, and it is equally possible that the Celts arrived gradually and naturally assimilated with the society already in place.
The Celts were celebrated warriors, and so their society did not exactly revolve around peace and quiet! The many tribes and kingdoms were almost constantly fighting amongst themselves, so much of a Celt’s life was spent preparing for or fighting in conflicts of varying scales. Blacksmiths, druids and poets were the most esteemed members of society for the roles they played in warfare the blacksmith for making weapons, the druids for making prophecies, and the poets for making epic tales about the victorious battles. Along with other skilled people such as judges, medics, and craftsmen, they comprised a group known as the ‘Aos Dána’. Outside of this, the highest rank possible was a successful warrior, for obvious reasons.
Kingdoms were known as ‘tuath’, each with its own leader or king. There were three categories of kings rí tuaithe, the ruler of a single kingdom, Ruirí, the king of several kingdoms, or Rí Ruirech, the king of a province. At any one time, there were between 4 and 10 provinces in the island. Individual members of a tribe spent their days farming their land, looking after their animals (usually horses and oxen). Family relationships were of the utmost importance for the Celts, with every descendant of a great-grandfather given equal standing. The same was true of the Rí’s family when a king died, all of his descendants were eligible to take the throne, so it was put up to the freemen of the tuath to vote.
The Celts had their own governing system and laws known as Brehon law, which was surprisingly extensive and complicated. It worked on the basic principle that each person’s identity was defined by the kingdom they lived in. A peasant had no legal standing outside his or her tuath and were bound to it by the king. Land was owned by families rather than individuals, and the penalty for crimes was a fine of the family’s cattle. War between kingdoms was a regular occurrence, but never a long lasting one. The Celts were said to be so fierce in battle that they actually turned up naked, with only a spear in their hands! Every war was very well thought out and meticulously planned, and was only for the seasoned warriors to take part in the ordinary folk were left to go about their business as usual.
Celtic Houses and Buildings
The Celts quickly spread throughout the entire island of Ireland and settled into tribes, territories and kingdoms. In most territories, a central hilltop fort that was strongly fortified was the centre of the tribe. The fort was used as a residence for the local king, or as a refuge during times of war. They were wattle and daub structures (solidified mud strengthened with wood, with thatched grass on top as a roof), but were surrounded by a defensive stone wall and sometimes a moat or small lake. Other smaller and less well defended structures were built within the general vicinity of the main fort, used as general residences for the rest of the tribe.
Certain sites around the country were believed to be sacred and were very important centres of power for the Celts. Much larger scale structures were built on these sites and they were used for significant political events, ceremonies and celebrations. Instead of stone walls they were fortified with a series of earth banks, many of which still exist in various locations around the country. These sites also contained designated burial mounds and enclosures, where the great chieftains of the region were buried. The Boyne Valley, a region almost in the dead centre of Ireland, is probably the largest example in the country with world famous burial sites such as Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, all topped off with the magnificent Hill of Tara, where the High King of Ireland was said to reside.
As well as burial mounds and political fortresses, the Celts also decorated the landscape with carved stones of varying designs. Many included typical Celtic symbols such as spirals and knots, and are thought to have played some sort of role in ritualistic ceremonies. They also used tall slender stones for writing, carving letters of a primitive alphabet called Ogham onto the edge of the stone. Usually it was the name of a prominent chieftain that was carved onto the stone and they have often been found near a burial site.
Celtic Languages and Art
By far the most significant contribution the Celts have made to Irish society today is the languages they spoke and the art they created. The Celts didn’t have one single language, or if they did it very quickly spread out into a whole range of similar (but at the same time quite different) languages. There are certain similarities in sound and grammar between Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic, and even between Breton (spoken in Brittany, France) and Irish, but they each have their own unique qualities – an Irish Celt would never have been able to make sense of a Brittany Celt was saying if they crossed paths! The Irish language we speak today is not too dissimilar from what the Celts would have spoken, with the exception of spelling changes and some grammatical alterations.
There is no doubt that the Celts loved all things beautiful, and went to great lengths to produce intricately decorated pieces of jewellery, carvings on stones, and various other stunning objects. The majority of their art survives today in the form of precious metals. Among other things, they particularly enjoyed crafting torcs – decorated rings of gold, silver or bronze that were worn around the neck – lunulae, a similar crescent shaped collar and armlets. In their art, they became very skilled at creating complicated interlacing patterns and symmetrical knot designs. Spirals and triskeles were also regular features of Celtic art.
When Christianity was introduced to Ireland, Celtic culture and the new religion became intertwined and with the addition of writing and paper, Celtic art had a whole new medium of expression. The natural result was illuminated manuscripts, the vast majority of which were transcriptions of the Bible, beautifully decorated with drawings of animals, humans, monsters, and angels all incorporated into the typical interlaced patterns and knot designs. The most exceptional example of this is the Book of Kells.
What happened to the Celts?
In Ireland at least, the Celtic way of life and traditions stayed very strong all the way up until the 17 th century when Britain began to gain control of the land. Being an island on the western tip of a huge European continent, trade and cultures were not as interchangeable as they were on the mainland. When the Roman Empire came to the fore, much of the Celtic legacy from France to Rome was lost. The Romans invaded Britain and managed to reach what is now the border with Scotland, where they built Hadrian’s wall to keep the Celts out of the north. They were considering raiding Ireland because of the access it would have given them to France, but decided it was more trouble than it was worth. For that reason, Ireland still has the most tangible Celtic legacy than any other European country. Luckily, this legacy is still kept alive today for everyone to enjoy.
Our Promiscuous Prehistory
What is it about the nature of human sexuality that virtually all civilizations throughout history have tried like the dickens to suppress? Why is sex so often such a problem when it really *should* be a pleasure? Why might your otherwise devoted husband rather masturbate to porn than have sex with you? Why might your normally modest wife fantasize about being consensually gangbanged by the Brazilian soccer team? Why do so many happily married people risk everything they love and cherish to go off and have an affair?
These are some of the big questions that Drs. Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. address in their hot new book, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. With provocative wit, yet intense seriousness of purpose, they gather together up-to-date research from various scientific disciplines to reveal a side of ourselves that is wild, scary, exhilarating, egalitarian and, without a doubt, non-monogamous.
Sex at Dawn also addresses some of the little questions like: Why does a man tend to thrust during intercourse (to displace a rival’s sperm through active suction)? Why does a woman tend to moan (to let other possible partners know she’s hot)? Is there a way to understand our non-monogamous sexual urges and fantasies as natural and useful instead of perverse, immoral or dysfunctional? Ryan and Jethá say yes.
The evidence is voluminous, but the repression of it is tremendous. So…are we ready to confront such scandalous biological truths about our hunter/gather sexual nature? Since Sex at Dawn recently hit the the New York Times Best-Seller List, it seems that yes, by golly, we are. At least, some of us are, from Newsweek’s Kate Dailey, who calls the book “a scandal in the best sense,” to Seattle-based sex guru Dan Savage, who has dubbed Sex at Dawn “the single most important book about human sexuality since the Kinsey Report.” Then again, Australia’s Sunrise on 7 tried to paint the book as a threat to marriage, morality and all that society holds dear, which, considering the source, only proves the irrefutable power of its message.
I discovered Sex at Dawn on Twitter—where the cyber-hunter/gatherers meet and feast on each other’s tweets—thanks to Bonobo Handshake author Vanessa Woods (a previous guest on The Dr. SUSAN BLOCK Show). It’s appropriate that our kissin’ cousins the bonobos led me, swinging from Twitter tree to tree, to Sex at Dawn. In fact, the bonobos themselves, as well as the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure, all but embody Ryan and Jethá’s concept of a prehistoric human forager community where “fierce egalitarianism” once ruled, war was virtually unknown, paternity was not an issue and possessiveness was not a problem—after all, what is there to possess when you’re always on the move and U-hauls haven’t been invented?
Most otherwise topnotch evolutionary psychologists, primatologists and anthropologists—like Drs. Helen Fisher, David Buss, Frans de Waal, Owen Lovejoy, Matt Ridley, Steven Pinker, Robert Wright and such notables—come up with flip, vague or convoluted ways to explain away unpopular evidence. They seem to be trying to squeeze the square peg of monogamy into the round hole of humanity. Ryan and Jethá have chosen a more well-rounded term to characterize the essence of human sexuality as practiced by our prehistoric progenitors: promiscuity.
That’s a loaded word in common parlance, but when Ryan and Jethá say “promiscuous,” they don’t mean reckless, uncaring, libertine screwing around. Rather they impart the sense of its Latin root, “miscere,” which means “to mix,” implying that our ancestors enjoyed what biologist Alan F. Dickson called “multi-male/multi-female mating systems,” involving ongoing erotic, caring relationships with a mix of selected members of their close-knit tribe. I imagine this promiscuity could take many different forms perhaps one approach might involve serial romances with three or four partners at any given time, erotic skin-to-skin encounters with several others and an orgy around the fire every Saturday night. Sound like fun to you?
It did to me, so I asked Ryan to send me a review copy in preparation for our radioSUZY1 interview which would take place, appropriately enough, at dawn in Barcelona where he and wife/co-author Jethá reside. As soon as the 400-page tome arrived at the Institute, I devoured it like a hungry forager who had just stumbled upon the Tree of Knowledge, laden with luscious fruit. Then I read it again, slowly, savoring the pages like an after-dinner liqueur. Sex at Dawn is a sheer pleasure to peruse, and not only because it eloquently backs up theories I’ve been espousing for years with mountains of carefully compiled evidence (which I can now use to thwart enemies of pleasure). This is a book whose time has come…and with all the reverberating tweets, excited postings and passionate reactions (I’m not the only one who’s reading it twice), it seems to be coming again and again…
But back to Ryan and Jethá’s thesis: homo sapiens (that’s us) did not evolve in monogamous, Flintstonesque, nuclear families, with or without the white picket fences, as so many people, corporations and institutions in the “Marital Industrial Complex”—from couples counselors to congressmen, religious preachers to science teachers—preach and teach. Rather, we evolved in 20-150 person hunter-gatherer groups in which nobody owned property (nor much of anything at all), and normal adults would have been engaged in multiple ongoing sexual relationships with different group members at any given time, quite like our closest living relatives: common chimps and bonobos.
Why is the sexuality of our ancestors some 100,000-200,000 years ago such a huge deal to us now—even to those of us who don’t care about history, let alone prehistory? Because the human body (featuring, of course, the human brain inside that body) evolved under these prehistoric conditions to be, essentially, what it is today: a highly social, communicative and very sexy beast.
So how in civilized tarnation did we come up with monogamy? With blood, sweat and a lot of tears. After hundreds of thousands of years of nomadic, promiscuous foraging, some 10,000-12,000 years ago, a human revolution took place that spread throughout the planet. This was a revolution like no other before or since though it didn’t alter human anatomy, it fostered a monumental change in the human way of life. This revolution was the advent of agriculture.
With agriculture came a relatively reliable source of food for which you didn’t have to hunt or search. You simply had to cultivate it. Sounds awesome, huh? Seems like it would make life a lot easier now that you didn’t have to chase down your lunch through the bushes every day. That’s a fine theory. The reality is that farming didn’t make life easier at all, say Ryan and Jethá. On the contrary, the Great Agricultural Revolution spawned a much more demanding, oppressive, property-oriented, greed-driven, envy-stricken, brutal, stressful lifestyle.
Of course, it also meant that a lot more babies would survive than did in hunter-gatherer days. Farming increased fertility and lowered the rate of infant mortality, generating population explosions that led to the creation of great cities and elaborate cultures. Yet, the host of new diseases farming unleashed, coupled with the less varied nutritional diet, actually worsened adult human health.
Farming also generated a need for a military, to protect “your” property and/or make war on your neighbors if you felt like taking their property. It spawned governing bureaucracies to make property-conscious laws against stealing and adultery. And it favored certain aggressive individuals (almost always men) who took “possession” of land, resources and animals, including their fellow homo sapiens. Yes indeed, the agricultural revolution involved the domestication of human beings—a farmer’s slaves and hired workers, as well as his “own” children and his “own” wife or wives—right along with his other domesticated animals.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this time while standing up on Ryan and Jethá’s mammoth mountain of evidence: Farming is the root of all evil.
Or as Sex at Dawn so eloquently explains: The Bible got it backwards. Adam and Eve weren’t kicked out of a Garden into the wilderness as punishment for their sins. They were kicked into one. Upon eating from the Tree of Knowledge and learning the mysteries of agriculture, humanity was swept out of the wilderness, the wild jungles, forests, savannas and untamed coastlines and plopped down behind a Neolithic lawn mower in a garden, aka: The Family Farm.
With farming, the “family” was born, complete with Father knowing best and Mother being barefoot and preggers, presumably with only Father’s offspring. Before the agricultural revolution, paternity was not an issue. Since prehistoric human females, like bonobos, hid their estrus, the mechanics of conception were a mystery. Nobody could be sure whose father was whose, just as no chimpanzee male knows whose baby his current favorite female is carrying (this, by the way, is how chimp kids escape infanticide).
Ryan and Jethá theorize that our prehistoric ancestors may have believed that it took several men’s sperm to make one baby (studies show that some forager tribes still believe this). Thus, all the men in any given tribe felt more or less the same level of responsibility for and kinship with all the children (also like bonobos and common chimps).
As soon as farmers started breeding plants and domesticated animals, learning exactly how “sex makes babies,” they applied this knowledge to their own sexual relationships. Paternity went from being a great unknown to being a great big deal. One of Ryan and Jethá’s main points here is that the male obsession with paternity and the female obsession with finding a breadwinner are not innate human sexual nature. They are not as old as humanity. They are a reaction to the modern, post-Neolithic world.
With this newfound knowledge of paternity, men cultivated ownership of “their” women and children. The elite practiced polygamy while the majority developed monogamy, in order to “guarantee” paternity. This way, you knew your kids were “yours” and you could force them to work on your farm and then pass that farm down to them—the lucky little bastards—so that you might feel some sense of immortality, as you died prematurely, victim of diseases from which your forager ancestors never suffered.
With the Agricultural Revolution, the natural promiscuity of “mixing” lovers was turned into the grave sin of “cheating” or “infidelity,” for which the punishment—especially for women—ranged from ostracism to torture to public execution.
Thus chastened, ladies learned to hide their desire, along with their lovers. And civilization developed the notion that human females are naturally “choosy” and reserved about sex. Ryan and Jethá reference Advice Goddess Amy Alcon’s over-confident statement that “ancestral women who successfully passed their genes onto us…[were] choosy [about] weeding the dads from the cads” as a prime example of an ill-informed “sexpert” writing about sex they then proceed to utterly demolish it with illustrations and recent studies from 12 different branches of science.
Though you’d think it would have been dashed by common sense. If females are indeed the “choosier,” more sexually reserved gender by nature, why would men throughout history have gone to such great lengths to control the female libido?
And isn’t it funny how we generally don’t assume that motherly love should be confined to one child. So why do we believe that sexual love must be confined to one lover?
Pleasure, Violence & The New Promiscuity (Much Like the Old Promiscuity)
Sex at Dawn doesn’t present any brand new findings or even any particularly new ideas. It’s the way in which Ryan and Jethá bring together old and recent findings and ideas to support their thesis that is so valuable and extraordinary.
I was particularly delighted to read their reference to my favorite developmental neuropsychologist and mentor, Dr. James Prescott, whose landmark 1975 paper, “Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence,” demonstrated that the deprivation of pleasurable physical touch, especially during the infant and adolescent years, leads people to violence and war in 49 cultures.
Ryan and Jethá also quote The Lifestyle: Erotic Rites of Swingers, by my old friend Terry Gould, with regard to the WWII Air Force officers and wives who started the modern swinging couples “lifestyle” in 1940s suburban America with their secret “key clubs.” (Gould devotes another chapter in The Lifestyle to following me and my Bonobo Gang of friends and lovers around a 1996 Lifestyles Convention as we party and discuss Ethical Hedonism and the Bonobo Way.)
That same year, Gould introduced me to the concept of the “sperm wars” that go on inside a woman’s vagina (explained more thoroughly in “Sperm Wars: Cuckolds, Hot Wives and Evolutionary Biology”). So even if women aren’t so “choosy” about with whom we have sex, at least our reproductive tract is somewhat selective. That is, through a series of biological hurdles and the phenomenon of sperm wars, the female genital system only allows the strongest—or best positioned—sperm to win the prize of fertilizing the egg. Of course, this assumes that a woman has sperm from more than one man inside her—or, at least, that she is anatomically built for that purpose—which flows right into Ryan and Jethá’s thesis that the human body has evolved to practice promiscuity.
And they weave it all together—stats and studies on everything from porn to prairie voles, balls to bukkake, vibrators to vampire bats, cuckolds to cougars, Melanesian Wedding Orgies to Victorian morality, instant lust to lasting love—to support their idea (which holds very close to my idea) that the human body and the human mind and that general all-around crazy thing that we call human behavior all reflect both our true highly sexual nature and our very promiscuous prehistoric past—one which seems to have also been a relatively peaceful past, much like the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure suggests that it would have been…
This is not to suggest that we should all live in polyamorous households. Personally, I love being married—to just one husband. And the Sex at Dawn authors, themselves married for over 10 years, aren’t overtly advocating anything except opening our minds to the evidence of our innate promiscuity and the way in which it influences our lives.
But that doesn’t mean that others won’t use Sex at Dawn to validate their open marriages and polyamorous adventures.
Celtic women had ferocious fighting ability and were considered equal in sexual freedoms
Celtic women at the time were rulers and warriors and had the same sexual freedoms as men, according to an article on Care2.com.
In ancient Celtic times, women were trained alongside men to fight and use weapons, and they led armies into war.
When Romans attacked the island of Mona (now Anglesey in Wales), the Celtic women were reported to have used psychological tactics during the battle, such as yelling, dancing wildly and pulling at their faces. They frightened the Romans and were temporarily able to hold them off.
Roman soldier and historian Ammianus Marcellinus once said: “A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Celt if he called his wife to his assistance!”
Women were also leaders. Boudicca was the female leader of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe in Britain. In an act of peace, her husband Prasugatus had agreed to give the Romans a large portion of his holdings after his death. But when the Romans came to collect, they carried out horrific acts against the Celtic tribe. Boudicca was flogged and her daughters were raped.
In response, Boudicca united the local Celtic tribes and led a revolt against the Romans. They leveled the Roman administrative center of Londinium (London) and sacked two other Roman towns. They were ultimately defeated, but Boudicca was able to unite the communities and make a stand against injustice.
Celtic women were also allowed to be educated. Druids were the intellectual elite in Celtic society, and both men and women were allowed to become Druids. They were educated in history, poetry, astronomy, and Celtic law. They presided over religious ceremonies and were advisors to kings and queens.
Women also had sexual freedom. Ancient Celtic culture was polygamous and polyandrous, meaning both men and women could have multiple spouses. Women were also partners in marriage. They were allowed to choose their husbands and divorce freely and remarry.
*Originally published in 2018, last updated in December 2020.
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Was Celtic society promiscuous? - History
Info on the Ancient Celts: The Greeks encountered the Celts around the sixth
century BC and called them Keltoi. This name is derived from the Indo-European root
‘kel,’ which means ‘hidden.’ The Celts were the hidden people. The term 'Celt'
applies to any of the European peoples who spoke a Celtic language. The historical
Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age Europe.
The Celts left their legacy behind in Britain, Ireland, Spain, France, southern
Germany and the Alpine lands, Bohemia, Italy, the Balkans and even central Turkey.
Greeks and Romans portray them as barbaric and there are no written texts written
by the Celts to defend this accusation.
Archaeology has proved that these people were not the barbarians they were
accused of being, but that their society was a superior one, especially in the areas of
metalworking. Many of their lands were well populated and farmed, dotted with
settlements and gathering places. Forts and shrines were often found at these sites.
The Celts were wealthy and intelligent and played a pivotal role in the making of
Timeline of Celts: 500 BC: Celts first appearance in history. They have spread over much of the Alpine region and areas in France,
and in parts of Spain. These Celts are associated with the Halstatt culture of the European Iron Age. Excavations have revealed rich
tombs of the chieftains or royal classes. Evidence discovered in these tombs points to trade with the Classical Mediterranean.
400 BC: A Celtic culture arose in eastern France to Bohemia named after the archaeological site of La Tene in Switzerland. Rich tombs
were also found here. Soon after 400 BC, these Celts blazed over the Alps, seizing and settling in the Po valley and sacking Rome in
about 390 BC. The Romans called them ‘Galli,’ Gauls—a term later used for the Celts in France. Other Celts migrated through the
Balkans, attacking Greece and possibly sacking Delphi in 279 BC. The Greeks called them Keltoi or Galatae. Some of these Celts tore
across the Hellespont and started a kingdom in central Turkey (Galatia).
Beginning in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, the Celts spread north to France and the British Isles. Decorated metalwork from the La
Tene culture was found in these areas. But recent evidence reveals that the Celts may have been occupying these areas in an earlier
By the third century BC, the Celts stretched from Ireland to Hungary, with isolated tribes from Portugal to Turkey. But during the later
third and second centuries BC, Celtic lands were beginning to come under pressure from the Germans and falling under the rule of
Rome. In Turkey, the Romans crushed the power of the Galatians. They were almost annihilated by the kingdom of Pontus in the 80s
BC. The greatest blow to the Celts was the conquest of Gaul in the 50s BC. This left the British Isles. Claudius invaded southeastern
Britain in AD 43 and by the early 80s the Romans had conquered as far as the Highlands of Scotland (Caledonia). The legions were
unable to hold the north, which remained a free zone of Celtic people or at least people who were partly Celtic.
Roman rule seems to have wiped out the Celtic culture. After Rome fell in the fifth century AD, the old Celtic lands came under Germanic
rule, even the name of Gaul was replaced by France (derived from the Germanic tribe of the Franks).
Following the appearance in Britain of the proto-Welsh and other British kingdoms, there was a resurgence in Celtic culture.
Ireland retained much of its Celtic history because it had not been Romanized like the British Isles.
The Celtic revival in the early Middle Ages was halted by the appearance of the Vikings at the end of the eighth century.
The story of the Celts in the later Middle Ages is one of gradual absorption and partial assimilation by France.
England and Scotland were formally unified in 1707. The Gaelic speaking clan society of Scotland’s Highlands was destroyed after the
rebellion of 1745. Ireland was also incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1801.
Today, some Celtic culture lives on in some of the British Isles and in Ireland.
Druids: According to Caesar, the Druids were a highly organized intertribal brotherhood, which met annually in the territory of the Carnutes in
Gaul to confer and elect a Chief Druid. The word ‘Druid’ is connected with the Celtic term for oak, and trees and sacred groves undoubtedly
loomed large in Celtic religious life. Their gathering places were in sacred groves called ‘Drunemeton’ or ‘oak sanctuary.’
They were not pious priests who abstained from violence or sex. It is not known whether each tribe had its own specific group of Druids, but
later Irish tales record that kings were served by a personal Druid.
Druids believed in the reincarnation of the soul and keeping a balance in the universe. To do this, sometimes it was necessary to sacrifice
animals and even humans. When they had to make a human sacrifice, the victims (usually warriors of an enemy tribe), were burned to death in
a wicker basket that was hung from an oak tree. The victims had to be free of fear to appease the Creator, so they were drugged and usually
died of smoke inhalation. The Picts in northern Scotland were known to drown their victims. When the victims died, the Druids would chant,
praising them for their courage.
Druids were guardians of the tribe’s traditions and administered tribal law. As privileged members of a learned class, the Druids were exempt
from military service and taxation. They were involved in politics and diplomacy and even though the chieftain or king ruled the tribe, the Druids
had the final say in these matters. This was the reason why the Romans attacked the Druidical center in the territory of the Carnutes and later
the Isle of Mona. The Druids were getting in the way of Rome’s progress.
In some accounts there are different tasks associated with each Druid. One might be the Sacrificer, one might be a healer and one might be
musically skilled (Bard).
The Druids passed on their teachings to novices for initiation into the Druidical order. Novices were expected to memorize a great number of
verses, laws, histories, magic formulae and other traditions. It could take as long as twenty years for a Druid to complete his or her studies.
Druids usually wore white hooded robes and carried an oak staff. Some accounts say they shaved their forehead from ear to ear. There was
an air of mystery surrounding the Druids and they were well respected and possibly even feared by other members of the tribe.
Shrines that were used by Druids were often situated close to the powers of nature on hilltops or in grottoes. Some were in sacred groves, holy
lakes, pools and springs, as well as formal religious temples.
“Having made preparation for sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls…Clad in a white robe, the priest
(druid) ascends the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is received by another in a white cloak. They then kill the victims,
praying that the god will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has granted it. They believe that the mistletoe, taken in drink,
imparts fertility to barren animals, and that it is an antidote for all poisons…”
Pliny, Natural History