Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life

Natasha sheldon - September 2, 2019

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.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Indo-European homeland according to the Kurgan hypothesis. Picture Credit: Karl Udo Gerth. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

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.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Hittite silver vessel, terminating in the forepart of a stag. C. 14th-13th century BC. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

2. Celtic Culture did not arrive fully formed. It evolved.

The Celts, however, did not just “arrive.” Instead, Celtic culture evolved as a result of events that occurred around 1200 BC when established civilizations such as the Mycenaean and Hittite empires began to collapse. This collapse had a significant effect, sparking off a series of mass migrations of people — and knowledge. The Hittites were skilled metal workers — and so, as their empire fragmented, their metallurgical secrets leaked out, gradually making their way into Eastern Europe. As a result of the subsequent advances in existing bronze working, a new, proto-Celtic culture began to emerge in the first and second millennium BC: Urnfield Culture.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Typical Urnfield Culture bronze weapons from the late Bronze Ages in central Europe. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

3. Urnfield Culture was the prototype for Celtic Culture.

Urnfield culture was the first European culture to display unique features later associated with the Celts. Arising in eastern Europe around 1200 BC, Urnfield culture derived its name from its distinct practice of burying the dead in flat pottery urns. Urnfield Culture also displayed innovative metalwork which allowed its people to forge innovative bronze weapons. Urnfield weapons were unique and more efficient — such as the slashing sword with an easy-grip hilt which arose at this time. A warrior class developed, and Urnfield Culture began to press westwards, into central and western Europe — into the lands later dominated by the Celts. There, Urnfield culture laid the foundations for Celtic society. It developed fortified settlements rather like Celtic hillforts, and experts believe that its people spoke of an early form of the Celtic language.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Cimmerian riders. Picture Credit: Shams Bahari. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

4. It was Iron and Horses that lead allowed Urnfield Culture to develop into Celtic

Advanced Bronze working was not the only metallurgical secret to escape from the Hittites. The Anatolian civilization had been practicing ironworking since 1500 BC. But once the Hittite empire collapsed, the secret was out. Ironworking first entered Europe with the Cimmerians, a nomadic warrior culture from Turkey that settled along the Black Sea. In the eighth century BC, the Cimmerians began to migrate into eastern Europe, and it was then that Urnfield culture learned the secrets of Ironworking — and horsemanship. Wagons and the occasional horse started to appear in Urnfield graves in Czechoslovakia and Germany, demonstrating the growing importance of the horse — and cultural change. New iron weapons also began to appear, which the emerging new culture began to use to secure the best lands and resources. The Celtic culture had begun.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Hallstatt ‘C’ Swords in Wels Museum, Upper Austria. Picture Credit: Tyssul. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

5. The first identifiable Celtic Culture was Hallstatt Culture, named after Hallstatt in Austria.

In the ancient world, salt was an essential life — and a source of wealth and power. Any people who could hold a salt mine would be formidable indeed. Such were the people of Hallstatt or the “place of good salt”, near Salzburg in Austria. In 1846, Georg Ramsauer, director of the Hallstatt state mine excavated a series of grassy mounds above the village. What he found was an Iron Age cemetery containing 2500 graves with grave goods that spoke of a wealthy and powerful warrior society. The grave goods included artifacts such as metal vessels and iron horse trappings and weapons — all of a standard not previously seen in prehistoric Europe. Hallstatt was the first distinct Celtic culture which dominated central European between 800 and 500 BC.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
An overview map of the Hallstatt (yellow) and La Tène (green) cultures. After Atlas of the Celtic World, by John Haywood; London Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2001, pp. 30-37. Picture Credit: D Bachmann. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

6. From Switzerland Austria and Germany, the Celts spread across the rest of central Europe

Hallstatt Celtic culture, with its iron weapons, and horse-drawn chariots quickly began to dominate Europe. Celtic influences started to expand out of Germany and Austria to stretch across Europe. By the late first century BC, the Roman geographer Strabo was able to report how “Celtica” spreadas far as the river Rhone. Its northern side is washed by the whole length of the British channel, for the whole length of the island of Britain is parallel and lies over against the whole of Celtica…..its eastern side is bound by the river Rhone …..on the southern side it is bound in part by the alps…and in part by the Mediterranean….in which areas are the notable cities of Marseilles and Narbonne.”

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
The Iron Age Castlestrange stone, Athleague, County Roscommon. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

7. By the seventh century BC, the Celts had reached as far as Britain and Ireland too.

Strabo may have believed the English Channel formed one of the borders of “Celtica.” However, the Celts had crossed the channel into Britain and Ireland in the seventh century BC. These first Celts settled alongside the existing Bronze Age inhabitants, dominating them and introducing Hallstatt culture and technology. Eventually, the two peoples and cultures began to merge to produce their own distinct, regional styles of Celtic culture. Trade links with wider “Celtica” were established — introducing further technological and artistic innovations which British and Irish craftsmen continued to mutate into a unique style.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
The Bronze Botorrita Plaque, inscribed in the Celtiberian script. Second Century BC. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

8. Celtic Languages were many and varied.

The Celts spoke a variety of dialects which all sprang from a common root, believed to be the language of urnfield culture. The oldest records of a Celtic language come from the sixth century BC in northern Italy, in the region once known as Cisalpine Gaul. The language of the inscriptions is known as Lepontic dialect and is just one of the known ancient Celtic languages, another being Gaulish. Certain Celtic regions developed their own alphabets, as seen in Celtiberian inscriptions on the Botorrita plaques dating to 200 BC. However, the Celts were also happy to borrow other people’s alphabets. In Massalia, inscriptions were discovered dating to the La Tene period, written in Gaulish — using the Greek alphabet.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
The Greek colony of Marseilles (Massilia), ca. 323 BCE. Picture Credit: Uploadalt. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons

9. The Celts traded with the Greeks

The Hallstatt Celts prospered from farming and industry in their territories. However, commanding commodities like salt opened up trade routes with other lands and cultures. By the sixth century BC, the Greek Dark Age that followed the fall of Mycenae was over, and Greece once again began to expand its territories and establish new trading outposts on the outskirts of the Mediterranean. One of those outposts was Massilia — modern Marseilles —which was developed by Adriatic Greeks. Massilia bordered Celtic territory, and soon a trade route was established along the Rhone between the Greek colony and Hallstatt territory in south-west Germany. The Celts used this route to barter salt and iron for Greek wine, pottery and inadvertently, ideas.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
The Vix Krater. Picture Credit: Peter Northover. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons.

10. The Princess of Vix shows the impact of Greek culture on the Hallstatt Celts.

Sometime during the sixth century BC, a thirty-year-old, high-status woman died in Vix in modern France. The woman — the so-called princess of Vix— was buried in standard Hallstatt fashion in a bronze-decorated wagon on a timber mortuary house under a mound. However, amongst her grave goods were valuable Mediterranean goods. The most impressive of these foreign status symbols was a 1.5-meter-high bronze Greek krater — a giant mixing bowl for wine. Archaeologists believe that Vix may have been a center for controlling the wine trade across the rest of mainland Europe — hence the theme of the Princess’s grave goods. However, what the Vix burial also demonstrates is how much the Celts prized Mediterranean culture.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Attic Amphora by Exekias depicting Achilles and Ajax playing a game during the Trojan War. C540BC. Picture Credit: Jakob Bådagård. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

11. Greek Art Inspired the Development of Celtic Culture.

Greek pottery and metalwork certainly made an impression on the Celts. However, they weren’t just satisfied with trading for it; instead, they began to imitate it. Then in 540 BC, the contact between the two cultures was broken when the Carthaginians blocked Greek trade in the western Mediterranean, cutting off the trade routes between the Greeks and the Celts. This separation lasted for around fifty years, but during that time, the Celts fermented the inspirational ideas they had absorbed from the Greeks to create an utterly unique art form.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
La Tene fitting. Picture credit: Johnbod. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons

12. The La Tene Phase of Celtic culture was a result of this period of isolation and innovation.

In 1858, archaeologists identified the next phase of Celtic culture amongst ancient timbers found in Lake Neuchatel near La Tene in Switzerland. The team from Zurich uncovered a haul of swords, helmets and broaches dating from the sixth century BC. The objects were the result of the marriage of Greek and Celtic culture. Skillfully crafted abstract patterns and wildlife themes combined to create the unique art form that came to epitomize La Tene culture. La Tene covers the period from the sixth century BC until the Roman era. Accompanying its’ artistic revolution was the abandonment of wagons as grave goods, in favour of two-wheeled chariots. As well as maturing artistically, the Celts were coming of age as a warrior-based society.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Terrific Combat between Titus Manlius and a Gaul of gigantic Stature. Image by John Leech, from The Comic History of Rome by Gilbert Abbott A Beckett.c. 1850. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons

13. The Ancient Greeks even gave us the name by which we know “The Celts” today.

Quite whether the Celts saw themselves as a single people is debatable. It is more likely they saw themselves as separate tribes united by a common culture. Some people believe that the name “Celt” derives from a Celtic term of reference. However, most others believe the Ancient Greeks named them. The Romans, who had also encountered the Celts referred to them as “Galli’ or barbarians. However, to the Greeks, they were the “Keltoi.” “The first person to name the Celts as such was a Greek geographer called Hecataeus of Miletus who in 517BC used the term to describe the local tribes living near the Greek colony of Marseilles. According to Patrizia De Bernardo Stempel, the term means “the tall ones.” Tallness, as it turns out, wasn’t the only attribute the Greeks attributed to Celtic people.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Small Celtic olla, dating from the period before the Roman conquest (2nd-1st century BC). Archaeological Museum of Milan. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, March 13 2012. Wikimedia Commons

14. The Italians also encountered the Celts. However, their encounters weren’t as positive as the Greek experience.

As Celtic culture flourished, the population increased — putting pressure on tribal territories In the fourth century BC, overpopulated was such a problem that one Gaulish chief with a “burdensome excess of people” exiled two of his nephews, along with as many followers as they needed to combat “any hostile armies they might meet.”

One of the brothers crossed into Italy and founded Milan. However, this was not the first Celtic invasion of Italy. That occurred in the fifth century BC when migrating Celtic tribes attacked Etruria and Lombardy before settling down in the Po Valley. This invasive quest for new territory earned the Celts a less than favorable reputation with their Italic neighbors.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Brennus. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

15. The Romans particularly took against the Celts after they sacked Rome

In 387 BC, Gaulish Celts under the leadership of Brennus, defeated Rome’s legions at the Battle of Allia. The victorious Gauls took and sacked Rome. They even entered the Senate House and pulled the senator’s beards. Unlike other Celtic invaders, Brennius wasn’t interested in keeping Rome. He just wanted to plunder her. So, he demanded his weight in gold before he and his men left the city. To rub salt into the Roman wounds, he even added his sword to the scales with the words “vae victis“— woe to the defeated. Once the Romans paid the ransom, the Celts left, leaving the eternal city to rebuild her defenses and nurse a grudge.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Wounded Galatian. © Hartmann Linge, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 3.0″. Wikimedia

16. Despite being Celtic trading partners, the Greeks didn’t escape invasion by the Celts either

By the third century BC, yet another Brennus was causing trouble — this time in Greece. In 280 BC, Brennus and his partner Akichorius launched an invasion of Greece. A force of 85000 Celtic warriors divided into three groups to attack Thrace, Macedonia, Illyria and Greece. Although a Greek alliance eventually thwarted Brennus’s forces after dodging the assembled Greek armies, the Celts made for the sacred site of Delphi, which they sacked and plundered. As with Rome, the Celts did not keep Delphi but stripped it of treasure which they then carried back to Toulouse.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Gauls in Rome. François Guizot (1787-1874), The History of France from the Earliest Times to the Year 1789, London: S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1883, p. 27. Alphonse de Neuville. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

17. The Romans and Greeks saw the Celtic Character as rowdy and warlike

These encounters with the Celts formed a stereotypical Celtic character in the Mediterranean mind. The geographer Strabo, writing in the first century BC described the Celts as dramatic, high spirited and boastful, ‘extolling themselves and diminishing the status of others.’Another writer remarked how Celts were touchy and “wont to be moved by chance remarks to wordy disputes and after a challenge to fight in single combat.” Such incidents usually occurred during feasts after too much to drink — another Celtic bad habit. The whole Celtic race was also said to be “madly fond of war, high spirited and quick to battle.”

However, it wasn’t all bad. Strabo also describes the Celts as ‘frank’ and others praised their quick minds and natural ability to learn. Despite their boastfulness and fighting, Celts were also felt to be “straightforward and not of evil character.”

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Nude Celtic warrior. photograph of an ancient sculpture (c 1st C BC) in Museum of Brittany, Rennes. Picture Credit: Paul Barlow. Wikimedia commons. Public Domain

18. Celtic warriors terrified enemies with their appearance

One attribute Celtic warriors used to their advantage in military encounters was their appearance. According to Diodorus Siculus, the Gauls who invaded Greece and Rome towered over their Mediterranean enemies. They accentuated this height with bronze helmets adorned with “large, projecting figures.” Celtic appearance also unnerved their enemies in other ways. While some warriors went into battle in chain male, others headed into the fray naked. To be faced with an army of naked Celts, running into battle “openly and without forethought” must have been a terrifying sight. However, as long as the enemy remained unintimidated, Strabo believed the Celts were easy to defeat. His reason was that they fought without a strategy, relying on “their mighty bodies and on their numbers.”

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
The head of a Galatian as depicted on a gold Thracian objet d’art. İstanbul Archaeological Museum. Picture Credit: QuartierLatin1968. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons

19. Celts warriors developed such a fearsome reputation they began hiring themselves out as mercenaries.

Although Brennus’s invasion of Greece failed, Celtic warriors were soon in demand. Greek noblemen began to lure Celts into their armies with offers of wealth, and the Celts eagerly took up their offers. However, it wasn’t just the Greeks who were after Celtic mercenaries. King Nicomedes I of Bithynia in Asia Minor decided Gaulish mercenaries were the perfect addition to the armies he was unleashing on the Greeks. Unlike his Greek counterparts, Nicomedes found the ideal way to control his Gaulish troops, appeasing them with land instead of inflaming them with booty. Nicomedes settled his Celts near Ankara in Turkey. The region became known as Galatia, deriving its name from “Gaul”. Its inhabitants became known as the Galatians, who became famous through St Paul’s letters to them.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Representation of a Celtic warrior in the Museo delle Grigne. Picture Credit: Pakeha. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

20. The Celts sported ostentatious hairstyles

It wasn’t just on the battlefield that the Celts dressed (or undressed) to impress. They were known for their extravagant fashion sense in everyday life too. Classical writers described the Celts as very pale-skinned and generally light or red-haired. If their hair was dark, they would lighten it with lime. Celtic men were particular dandies. Like women, some would grow their hair long or arrange it in elaborate styles. Beards or clean-shaven chins were both equally fashionable. But one thing every Celtic man would sport was a long, elaborate moustache.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Torque from the grave of a warrior from Glauberg, Germany. c. 400BC. Picture Credit: Rosemania. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

21. The Celts also loved their “Bling.”

When not stripping off for battle, peacetime Celts had a very defined sense of style. What made them stand out was not so much their clothes but their jewellery. Strabo describes the brashness of Celtic decoration and how high-ranking individuals of both sexes wore “ornaments of gold, torques on their necks and bracelets on their arms and wrists.” All of this gold went over the top of “garments besprinkled with gold.” Strabo viewed the Celtic love of bling as a moral weakness. ” It is this vanity,” he noted, “which makes them so unbearable in victory and so completely downcast in defeat.”

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Inside a Celtic iron age roundhouse. Attribution: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons.

22. To outsiders from the Mediterranean, Celtic life could seem barbarous…

The Greeks and Romans looked down on the Celts because their cultural standards were so different from the Meditteranean ideal. Diodorus Siculus, writing in the first century BC described how the Celts dined not on chairs or couches but seated on the floor on the skins of “Wolves or dogs.” Siculus also described how dining occurred around the same hearths where food cooked, stewed in a cauldron or roasted on a spit. Such accounts damned the Celts as rough and barbarous. In reality, their society was anything but.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
A mether, a traditional Celtic drinking vessel once used to consume mead at feasts. Picture credit: Rosser1954. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Wikimedia Commons

23. …However, the Celts were known for their hospitality

But Siculus also noted the Celts observed various niceties that were recognizably civilized. It was their custom to serve the choicest portions of meat to the bravest warriors — as it was in ancient Greece. Siculus likens this tradition to the treatment of the Greek hero Ajax after he returned from his victory over Hector in the Illiad. Celtic hospitality was faultless — no matter how rough and ready their mealtimes were. Siculus describes how it was customary to open up hearth and home to strangers — and no Celt would dream of enquiring after a guest’s identity and business until they were comfortable and fed.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Celtic Gaul, Armorican tribe, billon stater. Attribution: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Netherlands license. Wikimedia Commons

24. Celtic society was, in fact, sophisticated and well-organized.

The Celts may have been unruly in war. But the structure of their society was stable, settled and structured. The basis of the Celtic social structure was the tribe, ruled by a chief or king. Each tribe had control of an extended territory which subdivided amongst various extended family units. The leadership of these “subtribes’ — like the Kingship— was not automatically passed down from parent to child. Instead, it went to anyone deemed worthy.

Within this social framework, the people of the tribe divided into three main subgroups. First, there were the warriors, then the druids. Finally, came the ordinary people, who farmed and manufactured and kept Celtic society going.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Two druids. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

25. The Druids were more than priests

The druids were the priests of the Celts. However, they were also so much more and accorded a special place in Celtic society. Caesar describes how druids were also teachers and judges and so revered they were exempt from military service and taxes. It was a great honour to be chosen to train as a druid — although students had to dedicate twenty years to their studies. Unlike much of Celtic culture, which developed on mainland Europe, Caesar noted that Druidism originated in Britain before being imported to Gaul.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Llyn Cerrig Bach, Anglesey. Picture Credit: Porius1. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikimedia Commons

26. The Celts Practiced Slavery…

Below the ordinary Celtic people was another class- the cacht (Irish) or caeth (Welsh) —slaves. Both words appear to derive from the Latin captus — suggesting the Celts may have acquired the term by trading slaves with the Romans. Celtic slaves were captives taken during wars or raids. Slavery was also a penalty meted out for certain crimes or to debtors. Tangible evidence of Celtic slavery comes from Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey. Amongst the assorted weapons, horse fittings and cauldrons that formed a pre-Roman hoard of metal objects deposited in a lake was a set of neck shackles used to chain slaves. Celtic slavery was a hereditary condition. But it was also possible for a Celtic slave to win their freedom.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Boudicea haranguing her troops. Wikimedia commons. Public Domain.

27. …But Celtic women enjoyed an enviable amount of equality with men.

The Romans may have lent the Celts their name for a slave. However, one thing Celtic society didn’t take to was the Roman attitude toward women. Roman and Greek women had strictly limited and controlled roles within their community. Celtic women, on the other hand, enjoyed freedom and equality with their male counterparts. The Iceni Queen Boudica serves as the perfect example of what a Celtic woman could do, and she was no isolated example. A Celtic woman could have a voice and rule — or even fight. Furthermore, Celtic society encouraged women who were raped or abused to take vengeance rather than have a man do it for them.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Julia Domna (wife of Septimius Severus) as Ceres, from the Portico of the Fountain with oil-lamp, 3rd century AD, Ostia Antica, Italy. Picture Credit: Carole Raddato. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

28. Celtic Women were also quite sexually uninhibited — according to classical sources.

According to Cassius Dio, Celtic women also enjoyed a great deal more freedom over their sex lives than their classical counterparts. Dio reports how the wife of Argentocoxus, a Caledonian chief advised Julia Augusta, the wife of the Emperor Septimius Severus that Celtic women “fulfill the demands of nature in a much better way than do you, Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.”

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Der Maitag in dem schon mehr entwickelten Gauleben der Noriker by Karl Russ. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

29. Homosexuality was an accepted part of Celtic life.

Somewhat contradictorily, many Classical writers noted that Celtic men preferred to have sex with each other. Diodorus Siculus stated that, although Celtic women were beautiful, their men preferred to sleep with each other. Siculus also noted that it was an insult if a guest refused an offer of sex from a Celtic man. The Greek philosopher Posidonius also stated that in Gaul “men prefer to have sex with each other.” These sweeping statements may be a misinterpretation of Celtic male bonding rituals and certainly don’t suggest that Celtic men only slept with women under sufferance. However, what they do show is that homosexual relationships were not prohibited or taboo amongst the Celts and that they had a flexible approach to sexuality.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Map of Cisalpine Gaul showing the approximate distributions of Celtic populations in the area during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Picture Credit: Nancy Todd – Derived work from Gallia_Cisalpina-fr.svg by Sémhur. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.Wikimedia Commons

30. In the Third Century BC, The Romans began to turn the tables against the Celts.

Less than 100 years after Brennus’s sack of Rome, the Romans began to turn the tables on the Celts. They started by pushing the Celts who had settled in Italy out of the peninsula. At the Battle of Telamon in 225BC, the Roman’s, led by the consuls Gaius Atilius Regulus and Lucius Aemilius Papus, killed 40,000 Celtic tribesmen. The Romans also took large tracts of Celtic territory in northern Italy. By the time of Sulla, Rome had established Cisalpine Gaul as a province. It was only the beginning Rome was on the ascendant — and the Celts were on the run.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar by Lionel Royer. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

31. The Romans then moved into the Celtic heartlands, and their motivation was gold

However, Romans were not content with annexing Cisalpine Gaul. By the first century BC, they were intent upon conquering and acquiring the rest of the Celtic territories. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar used the migration of the Helvetii as a pretext to move into wider Gaul. By the time of Emperor Augustus, the process was complete, and the region was under Roman control. However, the Roman motivation for these campaigns against the Celts was not just vengeance or expansion but gold. Writers such as Strabo noted Gaul was famous for its gold mines. Mines such as Limousin in southwestern France had been mined for centuries and had an abundance of gold. The opportunity to control that wealth was not to be missed.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life

François-Émile Ehrmann, “Vercingetorix calling the Gauls to defend Alaise” by François-Émile Ehrmann. c. 1869. Picture Credit: Eunostos. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Wikimedia Commons.

32. The Gauls, led by Vercingetorix, however, did not give up without a fight.

Despite being picked off one by one by the Romans, the Celtic tribes in Gaul did not give up. Putting aside their differences, they united under the leadership of Vercingetorix, the chieftain of the Arverni to mount a campaign of resistance in the hope of driving their common enemy out. Vercingetorix mounted a successful guerrilla campaign and even defeated Caesar at the Battle of Gergovia. However, eventually, Vercingetorix’s — and the Gauls’— luck ran out. After being driven into a corner by Caesar’s troops, the Gauls surrendered Vercingetorix to Caesar. The Celtic chieftain was taken to Rome and paraded in Ceasar’s triumph. He lived for a further six years before being strangled in a Roman prison.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
A complete gold Iron Age stater of the Southern Region Belgae, dating to the period 65-50 BC found in West Berkshire. Portable Antiquities Scheme Oxfordshire County Council Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

33. Meanwhile, the island of Britain remained as one of the last independent Celtic outposts.

However, Caesar had less luck with invading Britain in 54 BC. He eventually gave up his efforts, leaving the island as a place of refuge for continental celts fleeing Rome. Archaeology shows that in the first century BC, a significant migration of continental Celts, the Belgae poured into Britain and settled on the south coast. The Belgae had a considerable influence on existing British Celtic culture. Crucially, they established trade routes with the continent and somewhat ironically Rome. Belgae-led trade exposed British Celts to Roman luxury goods. It was also the start of Celtic Britain’s downfall.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
Stater of the Trinovantes or Catuvellauni, Celtic, Britain, the second half of 1st century BC, gold – Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University. Picture Credit: Daderot. Public Domain.

34. Celtic Britain might have been safe- if King Cogidubnus of the Atrebates had not sold out to the Romans

In 43 BC, Emperor Claudius succeeded whereas Julius Caesar failed by successfully invading Celtic Britain. The emperor’s troops landed on the south coast and after beating back resistance, established their capital at Camulodunum. Claudius’s invasion succeeded because the Romans had already gained a foothold in Britain by winning over some southern tribes. Key to their campaign was King Cogidubnus of the Atrebates. Cogidubnus loved all things Roman, and so he sold out to the Romans, allowing them to build military bases in Atrebate territory where they could mass troops and cavalry. His reward was riches not seen again in Britain until the middle ages.

Brutal and Intriguing Facts About Celtic Life
A panoramic view of the Rivers Wye and Severn, showing boats and ships by Amelia de Suffren c.1802. National Museum of Wales. Wikimedia commons. Public Domain.

35. The Romans may have conquered the Celts. But the Celtic legacy is preserved today

The ancient Celts may be gone, but they are not forgotten, and their legacy survives to this day in many European languages and place names. Two-thirds of England’s rivers have Celtic names, such as the rivers Avon, Severn, Derwent and Trent. So too do many of their continental counterparts such as Germany’s River Neckar which derives from the Celtic for wild water. Celtic languages also still survive such as Welsh, Breton, Cornish, Gaelic and Irish.


Where Do we get this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Celts, Frank Delaney, Harper Collins, 1993

Celtic Britain, Lloyd Laing, Paladin, 1979

42 Brutal Facts About The Celts, The Scourge Of Ancient Rome, Kyle Climans, Factinate, January 25, 2019


Who’s Who in the Roman World, John Hazel, Routledge, 2002

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