The term “Celt” or “Celtic” means different things to different people. Some will automatically think of the modern cultures descended from the ancient Celts in Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. Others will perhaps think of the naked, blue-painted barbarians recorded by the writers of Greece and Rome. Or Celtic heroes like Boudicca and Vercingetorix might spring to mind — valiant champions of a free people against the tyranny of Rome.
The Celts, however, were much more than what we imagine them to be. Their culture lasted over a thousand years, spanning from the Balkans and Mediterranean across central and into western Europe. Nor were the Celt’s one-dimensional barbarians living the simple life. Their society was a sophisticated one and their culture at one time rivaled that of Rome — a civilization that they might have overcome at one time. The Celts were also conquerors as well as conquered, and the full story of their rise and fall is a complex one.
1. The Celts were Descendants of the Proto Indo Europeans
The term “Indo-European” applies to the people who are bound by branches of the Indo-European language. Archaeologists can trace the origins of this language group back to the Neolithic and the Yamnaya culture of the steppes of Eastern Europe. In the third millennium BC, the Yamnaya people began to migrate across Eurasia. By the second and early first millennia BC, their various descendants had developed into Indo- European cultures such as the Hittites in Anatolia, the Mycenaeans in the Aegean and, in Europe, Cored Ware Culture. These cultures, in their turn, spawned newer Indo- European cultures. Celtic culture was just one of them.