The Celts were a group of peoples that occupied lands stretching from
the British Isles to Gallatia. The Celts had many dealings with
other cultures that bordered the lands occupied by these peoples, and
even though there is no written record of the Celts stemming from
own documents, we can piece together a fair picture of them
from archeological evidence as well as historical accounts
from other cultures.
The first historical recorded encounter of a people displaying
the cultural traits associated with the Celts comes from
northern Italy around 400 BC, when a previously unkown group of
barbarians came down from the Alps and displaced the Etruscans
from the fertile Po valley, a displacment that helped to push
the Etruscans from history's limelight. The next encounter with the
Celts came with the still young Roman Empire, directly to the south
of the Po. The Romans in fact had sent three envoys to the
beseiged Etruscans to study this new force. We know from Livy's
The Early History of Rome that this first encounter with
Rome was quite civilized:
[The Celts told the Roman envoys that] this was indeed the first time
they had heard of them, but they assumed the Romans must be a
courageous people because it was to them that the [Etruscans] had
turned to in their hour of need. And since the Romans had tried
to help with an embassy and not with arms, they themselves would not
reject the offer of peace, provided the [Etruscans] ceded part of
seperfluous agricultural land; that was what they, the Celts,
If it were not given, they would launch an attack before the Romans'
eyes, so that the Romans could report back how superior the Gauls
were in battle to all others....The Romans then asked whether it was
to demand land from its owners on pain of war, indeed what were the
Celts going in Etruria in the first place? The latter defiantly
retorted that their right lay in their arms: To the brave belong all
The Roman envoys then preceded to break their good faith and helped
Etruscans in their fight; in fact, one of the envoys, Quintas Fabius
killed one of the Celtic tribal leaders. The Celts then sent their
envoys to Rome in protest and demand the Romans hand over all members
of the Fabian family, to which all three of the original Roman envoys
belonged, be given over to the Celts, a move completely in line
with current Roman protocol. This of course presented problems for
the Roman senate, since the Fabian family was quite powerful in Rome.
Indeed, Livy says that:
The party structure would allow no resolution to be made against
ch noblemanm as justice would have required. The Senate...therefore
passed examination of the Celts' request to the popular assembly, in
which power and influence naturally counted for more. So it happened
that those who ought to have been punished were instead appointed
for the coming year military tribunes with consular powers (the
could be granted).
The Celts saw this as a mortal insult and a host marched south to
The Celts tore through the countryside and several battalions of
soilders to lay seige to the Capitol of the Roman Empire. Seven
of seige led to negotiations wherby the Celts promised to leave their
seige for a tribute of one thousand pounds of gold, which the
Pliny tells was very difficult for the entire city to muster.
When the gold was being weighed, the Romans claimed the Celts were
with faulty weights. It was then that the Celts' leader, Brennus,
threw his sword into the balance and and uttered the words vae victis
"woe to the Defeated". Rome never withstood another more
humiliating defeat and the Celts made an initial step
of magnificent proportions into history.
Other Roman historians tell us more of the Celts. Diodorus
Their aspect is terrifying...They are very tall in stature, with
muscles under clear white skin. Their hair is blond, but not
they bleach it, to this day, artificially, washing it in lime and
combing it back from their foreheaads. They look like wood-demons,
their hair thick and shaggy like a horse's mane. Some of them are
cleanshaven, but others - especially those of high rank, shave their
but leave a moustache that covers the whole mouth and, when they eat
and drink, acts like a sieve, trapping particles of food...The way
dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured and embroidered
shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened
at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer.
are striped or checkered in design, with the seperate checks close
and in various colours.
[The Celts] wear bronze helmets with figures picked out on them, even
which made them look even taller than they already are...while others
themselves with breast-armour made out of chains. But most content
themselves with the weapons nature gave them: they go naked into
battle...Weird, discordant horns were sounded, [they shouted in
with their] deep and harsh voices, they beat their swords rythmically
against their shields.
Diodorus also describes how the Celts cut off their enemies' heads
and nailed them over the doors of their huts, as Diodorus states:
In exactly the same way as hunters do with their skulls of the
they have slain...they preserved the heads of their most high-ranking
victims in cedar oil, keeping them carefully in wooden boxes.
Diodorus Siculus, History.
What is a Celt and who are the Glasgow Celtics?
The people who made up the various tribes of concern were called
Galli by the Romans and Galatai or Keltoi
by the Greeks, terms meaning barbarian. It is from
the greek Keltoi that Celt is derived. Since no soft c
exists in greek, Celt and Celtic and all permutations should be
pronounced with a hard k sound.
It is interesting to note that when the British Empire was
distinguishing itself as better and seperate from the rest
of humanity, it was decided that British Latin should have different
pronunciation from other spoken Latin. Therefore, one of these
distinguishing pronunciational differences was to make many
of the previously hard k sounds move to a soft s sound, hence
the Glasgow and Boston Celtics. It is the view of many today
that this soft c pronunciation should be reserved for
sports teams since there is obviously nothing to link
them with the original noble savegery and furor
associated with the Celts.
The Six Celtic Languages
There was a unifying language spoken by the Celts, called
not suprisingly, old Celtic. Philogists have shown the descendence
of Celtic from the original Ur-language and from the
Indo-European language tradition. In fact, the form of
old Celtic was the closest cousin to Italic, the
precursor of Latin.
The original wave of Celtic immigrants to the British Isles
are called the q-Celts and spoke Goidelic.
It is not known exactly when
this immigration occurred but it may be placed somtime in the
window of 2000 to 1200 BC. The label q-Celtic
stems from the differences between this early Celtic tounge
and Italic. Some of the differences between
Italic and Celtic included that lack of a p
in Celtic and an a in place of an the
At a later date, a second wave of immigrants took
to the British Isles, a wave of Celts referred to as the
p-Celts speaking Brythonic. Goidelic
led to the formation of the three Gaelic languages spoken
in Ireland, Man and later Scotland. Brythonic gave rise
to two British Isles languages, Welsh and Cornish, as well as
on the Continent in the form of Breton, spoken in Brittany.
The label q-Celtic
stems from the differences between this early Celtic tounge
and the latter formed p-Celtic.
The differences between the two Celtic branches are simple in
theoretical form. Take for example the word ekvos
in Indo-European, meaning horse. In
q-Celtic this was rendered as equos while
in p-Celtic it became epos, the q
sound being replaced with a p sound. Another example
is the Latin qui who. In q-Celtic this rendered as
cia while in p-Celtic it rendered as pwy.
It should also be noted that there are still words common
to the two Celtic subgroups.
As an aside, take note that when the Irish expansion
into Pictish Britain occurred (see below),
several colonies were established in present day Wales.
The local inhabitants called the Irish arrivals
gwyddel savages from which comes
ge¡dil and goidel and thus the Goidelic
The Irish and the Scots Are From the Same Tribe
Ireland used to be divided up into five parts,
the five fifths. There was a northern fifth,
Ulster, a western fifth, Connaught, a southern fifth,
Munster, an eastern fifth, Leinster and a middle
The Ulster Cycle is a set of stories which are grounded in the five
Indeed, they are primarily concerned with C£ Chulainn,
the Ulster hero and his king, Conor Mac Nessa in their wars
against the king and queen of Connaught, Ailill and Maeve.
These figures play a prominent role in the what may be the
greatest story of the
Ulster Cycle, the T in B¢ C£ailnge, The Cattle Raid
Sometime after 300 AD, Ulster became steadily less important in
status among the five farthings and the ruling family of
Mide, the U¡ N‚ill Sons of Niall started to
take over large parts of Connaught and most of Ulster.
A similar move was made in Muster by the ruling family of Munster,
the Eoganachta family. Thus was Ireland divided almost entirely into
The people of Ulster were pushed to a small coastal strip bordering
the Irish Sea. The kingdom changed it's name to
D l Riata. Yet eventually D l Riata fell under the rule
and influence of the U¡ N‚ill. This family, not content with the
boundry presented by the sea, launched colonies across the Irish Sea
into then Pictish Britain. Thus was Scotland founded, for it was
U¡ N‚ill that the Romans called Scotti, not the original Picts.
Indeed, it was this Irish Expansion which led to Christianity
in Scotland in 563 AD. St. Columba, the patron saint of Scotland,
was a member of a powerful family in D l Riata and in order
to keep his ties in Ireland he settled on an island
that was close to both Scotland and Ireland, Iona.
Of course, even more bizarre is the fact that St. Patrick,
the man responsible for bringing Christianity to Ireland in the
first place, was from Wales.
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