Iron-using warriors established tribes in Central Europe, North of the Alps. The Celts came to Ireland around 700BC. Since the Romans never invaded Ireland, Celtic tradition was allowed to develop there uninhibited by Christianity for hundreds of years more than on the European mainland.

The Celts also wreaked havoc with the Holy Roman Empire. In 386 BC, the blonde barbarians blasted through the streets of Rome, driving all surviving inhaitants scurrying up Capital Hill. The Celts, unable to get over the Capital's fortified walls, waited at the foot of the hill for no less than seven months, until the rotting stench of the decomposing corpses littering the battlefield caused many of them to be ill. They finally agreed to go away for a tribute of 1000 pounds of gold, a sum which the city found great difficulty in amassing. When the gold was ready to be weighed, the Romans accused the Celts of using faulty weights. Brennus threw his sword into the laden balance and uttered the words, "vae victis", woe to the defeated. It was the worst humiliation Rome had suffered in her history.
The Celts are a group of people who primarily inhabited the extreme northwest part of Europe for over a millennium between approximately 500 BC and 600 AD. The history below is that of the British Celts as that's what I know. At the end there is a brief mention of Celtic groups elsewhere in Europe, if someone is able to fill in information about them I'd be delighted.

Where the Celts came from is unsure, although central/southern France or northern Spain are the most likely contenders. Why they left their homelands is also unknown, but we do know that by 500 BC there were well-established and settled Celtic communities in northwest France and the British Isles, where they probably quickly assimilated the native Stone Age peoples.

The Celts were skilled farmers and bronze-workers, and the intricate knotwork designs they produced are still very popular today. They were an apparently peaceful people, although their primary religion, Druidism, placed an emphasis on sacrifices to the Gods, including human sacrifice.

The traditional Celtic way of life was torn apart by the comnig of the Romans under Julius Caesar: first conquering Gaul and the mainland Celtic kingdom of Armorica (roughly modern-day Brittany), and then within a few decades taking the island of Britain. Many Celts retreated to the remote wildernesses where the Roman influence was weak or non-existent: Kernow (Cornwall) ,Scotland, Wales or even overseas to Ireland.

Roman tolerance for other religions was pushed to its limits by the Druids, and eventually the Roman Governors of Britain decided that the ritual sacrifices had to be ended. A legion of troops was despatched to the Druid's spritual holy land, Ynys Mon (the island of Anglesey) where after a short and bloody battle the Druid priests were slaughtered. The Druids believed that writing down the knowledge of their priests would cause their powers to fade, so with the massacre on Ynys Mon almost all knowledge of Druidism was lost. In addition a new religion, Christianity, was starting to gain an audience amongst people whose lives had been turned upside down.

When the Romans started to withdraw from the extreme edges of their empire a few hundred years later, the Celts returned to claim the land they saw as rightfully theirs. Their recolonisation was short-lived however, as the same Saxon warriors who were harrying Rome from the north now sailed overseas to begin a colonisation of eastern England. In the years between 450 AD and 600 AD a series of increasingly bloody battles were fought between the Celts and the Saxon invaders.

This was the time of legend, the time of the great warrior Arthur (a tale later usurped by medieval Christian writers to create the story of King Arthur), of princes and battles. Gradually the invaders started to win, and the Celts once again started to retreat to the extremes of their territory. Many fled to the now-revived kingdom of Armorica, others fought skirmishes from the bogs and moorland of Kernow. The majority of Celts ended up in the mountainous, remote regions of Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and the native Gaelic languages of these areas is derived from the ancient Celtic tongue.

Other Celtic peoples

Besides Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Kernow and Armorica there are Celts found in a few other surprisingly disparate parts of Europe:

  • Galicia, in northwest Spain. The population speak Galician which is a mixture of Portuguese and Gaelic, and there are strong Celtic customs
  • Galatia, in modern-day Turkey: the Celtic language was still spoken here until the 15th century, many Celtic customs live on
  • Iceland is known to have been settled by Celts at about the same time that Viking invaders were also settling there. The two populations seem to have lived peacefully side-by-side

The origin of the ancestors of the Celts is something of a mystery – it is believed that the first cultures were actually a fusion of two tribal groups (or groups subsequently derived thereof), one of which is said to have spread from Iberia (Spain) or central Europe itself. These have been dubbed the ‘beaker folk’ (so named for the abundant artefacts of this type found amongst burial sites), while another is said to have emerged from the harsh steppe-lands of Russia (between the Caucasus and Carpathian mountains, perhaps following game trails or warmer climates) and were accordingly dubbed the ‘battle-axe folk’ (as a result of the discovery of stone axes). The latter group is credited with the proliferation of the Indo-European group of languages (encompassing most of those in use in modern Europe).

Some have also theorised that the arrival of these two groups may have initiated the Bronze Age in Europe (although it is considered more likely that trade with more technologically developed, nearby south-eastern nations was the cause). Consistent with the general absence of permanent settlement, farming practices during this early Celtic era were crude and inefficient (as hunting still proved a viable source of food).

As these two groups merged, the Únêtice culture came into being in central Europe. Their prosperity was ensured by the acquisition of rich mineral deposits and control of trade routes between the early Mediterranean cultures and the more remote parts of Europe. The next culture, derived from the Únêtice, was dubbed the Tumulus culture and (as the name insinuates) was defined by the practice of burying the dead in burial mounds. This culture prospered for a time, though widespread disruptions (believed to be internal feuding) affected trade with the south-eastern nations.

These previous two cultures were, relatively speaking, minor (that is to say that little societal development or ‘relevant’ history was accrued – instead, their importance was in setting a stage for more successful groups), although from here we see the emergence of the Urnfield culture during the 1st millennium BC, characterised by the cremation of the dead and burial in bronze urns (in flat cemeteries rather than mounds) along with the establishment of villages or tribal compounds, with rectangular wooden buildings (or stone, where wood was unavailable). The reasons for the emergence of this new culture are unknown, although it has been theorised that such a change could be in large part due to an invasion and subjugation of existing pre-Celtic groups by a divergent one, possibly even another racial group. If this is true, then it is likely that this militant group migrated from the east, according to evidence of bridle mounts and bronze fragments which, while not widespread, are considered to be indicative of a group of martial horsemen (of indeterminate size).

It is important to note that central Europe was currently engaged in the Bronze Age (heralding the creation of more advanced cooking implements, ploughs and weapons). It was from this pivotal era of progression that the Urnfield Celts became a significantly more apt agricultural society and formed rudimentary settlements in central Europe. At this stage the Celts (as they are contemporarily understood) had not yet come into being – although the foundations of ensuing Celtic existence had been created, the Urnfield had very little artistic or social distinction from other European cultures. Thus, they are not considered ‘true’ Celts – rather, they fall under the general categorisation of proto-Celtic people. When the Urnfield subsided a large, vacant space was created in mainland Europe. No source surveyed can accurately verify the date or precise reason for this decline, though it is known that the culture continued to exist for some measure of time into rise of the Hallstatt culture. Indeed, it may have been the advancing Hallstatt Celts themselves who simply outstripped the accomplishments of the Urnfield.

The Hallstatt culture existed from approximately 1200 to 500 B.C.E (although it cannot be verified when the Urnfield culture ceased to be, so there will invariably be some measure of overlap). This culture was very distinctive because, unlike past groups, it had a specific ‘power base’, centred upon the headwaters of the Danube River. This centralisation (unprecedented in Celtic history) provided the forum for the development of an organised government as, generally speaking, several tribal chieftains were gathered in one very specific area and, due to familiarity, common goals and tribal intermarriage, were likely to be more cohesive as a ruling body. Several profound changes occurred during the existence of this group, which has induced historians to divide the period into four sections (dubbed A, B, C and D for convenience).

A and B represent the late Bronze Age (c.1200-800 B.C.E, in which there was little in the way of dominant political organisation – rather, the early Hallstatt culture was under the jurisdiction of a series of petty, feudal chieftains), whereas C represents the commencement of the early Iron Age (c.800-600 B.C.E).

It was during this latter period that the oppida, or fortified hilltop town, became widespread (north of the Alps, that is – fortifications were common amongst more settled societies). Originally the Celts lived in small villages, where they settled at all. The next logical development, upon the incursion of hostile intruders, was to situate these towns atop strategic hills, and to enclose them within barriers (in the form of palisade walls). These oppida were generally surrounded by farming land (which the peasantry would work, fleeing to the confines of the fortress when conflict arose).

Corresponding to this development, we also note the emergence of a distinctive noble class, wealthy and privileged, who possessed the assets to build such fortifications and, consequentially, the power to cement their authority within their area of dominion. Many of the most valuable archaeological finds, the tombs of such individuals, indicate the commencement of international trade, with some bodies (interred whole and occasionally lain upon wagons, rather than cremated) having been discovered to be wearing garments of Chinese silk).

D ranges from c. 600-500 B.C.E, and marked the westward spread of the wealthy noblemen (denoted by the higher incidence of opulent tombs in the west during this period). This presumably occurred as a result of the desire to be in close proximity to the newly-founded Greek colony of Massilia (Marseille), a migration which promised prosperity. Following this change, we begin to see chieftains being offered more elaborate burials (likely due to a combination of the alteration of existing religious beliefs and the expansion of the Celtic economy as trade with south-eastern (and, to somewhat of a lesser extent, East Asian) cultures once again became proliferate – the reason for this will be analysed shortly).

Also during this period was the creation of rudimentary – albeit distinctive – artistic expression (termed thusly only by contrast with later periods). Corresponding to the Hallstatt Celts’ agricultural expansion, common themes within this flourishing styling were floral and faunal motifs commonly associated with fertility (such as the cow), along with rigid geometric lines. Figures were also depicted. Hallstatt artworks bore few to none of the intricate curves and striking patterns commonly associated with Celtic art. In fact, this characteristic was one of the defining features of the pursuant La Tene culture. The Hallstatt period was predominantly an era concerned with survival, where the La Tene period might be considered the Celts’ zenith. To substantiate this statement, we refer to the broad migratory reach of the La Tene (a product of food surpluses and unique travel-related technologies such as the spoked wheel, as opposed to the relative confinement of the Hallstatt).

Nevertheless, the Hallstatt Celts represented a large economic and military body in the ancient world. The reason for the burgeoning of the Hallstatt Celts was material abundance; in the ancient world, salt was a phenomenally valuable trading commodity. Thus, the Celts of the Hallstatt region (Austria) became wealthy upon the discovery of a large salt mine – demonstrated by the funerary goods of individuals buried thereabouts. Most of the tombs investigated are laden with jewellery, weapons and bronze ornaments. This gradually changed, however, as another, larger salt mine was discovered at Hallein (near modern Salzburg). Hallstatt subsequently went into decline and, from the 5th century on, it boasted progressively fewer well-furnished graves.

In the fourth century B.C.E., Hallstatt was devastated by a crippling landslide, though it would prove a moot point – the flourishing La Tene civilisation (so named for the region of Switzerland in which they are believed to have developed) was poised to supplant the existing cultures with theirs in a sweeping, wave-like transition phase which is decidedly characteristic of Celtic cultures; a drastic and dramatic change which saw the advance of hitherto unseen forms of art, technology and social organisation, lifting the Celts above the status of ‘simply another barbarian tribe’ and, from apparently inauspicious beginnings, permitting the Celts to dominate much of Europe for many centuries yet to come.

Where the Urnfield and Halstatt cultures were survivalist in nature, the Celts of the La Tene period began to revel in opulence. The La Tène culture evolved during the fifth century B.C.E. in part of the Hallstatt area (modern Switzerland). The most defining aspect of this change (and the one which had the most significant historical and cultural implication) was its migratory nature. Advances in agriculture (widespread use of fertiliser, crop rotation and the invention of a rudimentary threshing machine), transportation (development of roads, horseshoes) and, as a product of these newfound capacities, an expansionist disposition, saw the La Tène Celts (previously confined to central Europe) spread from the westernmost coasts of Iberia, south into the Italian peninsula and east to the borders of Galatia (Turkey). This vast expanse was dubbed ‘Celtica’ by the dominant Mediterranean cultures, and was comprised of numerous tribes, generally numbering some 20,000-250,000 individuals.

This migration introduces the important detail that there was no single definable Celtic culture, nor (despite the report of several classical writers) a uniform image between Celtic tribes. Indeed, given the broad range of territory held by the Celts, there was much physical and social variation (and often much cultural disparity) between various tribes; it is rather more accurate, therefore to dissect Celtic culture in terms of separate tribes, though most submitted to the broad, sweeping trends which the La Tene period engendered. La Tene art is perhaps the most appropriate metaphor for the advances of the period itself. Halstatt art was generally composed of stark angles (and was vastly more utilitarian in nature), whilst the La Tene period saw the development of curves, whorls and vastly more elaborate inlays. Indeed, the move toward this luxuriant styling - which included ornate floral and faunal motifs -may be due to contact with other civilisations.

Certainly, the abundance of representations of viniculture is due in part to the trade (notably in wine) with the Greeks – this is substantiated to an extent by the distinctive similarities between Gallic and Hellenistic gods (that is to say that existing gods could have been redefined or new gods adopted during the migration). Other motifs (some including fantastic beasts) could have been derived from the sight of elephants and similarly impressive creatures imported by the Roman Empire from Africa, which they may well have sighted at the open port of Massilia. It is also possible that they were sighted by the Celts themselves during their migration. Furthermore to this, it has been proven that a rudimentary Silk Road existed, upon which valuable trade goods from Asia (such as silk and medicines, the former of which was discovered in the excavation of a tomb in Hochdorf) were carried. The La Tene culture displays certain elements consistent with eastern mythology (including a fervent belief in reincarnation, which is similar in many regards to Tibetan Buddhism).

Other stark contrasts with surrounding cultures arise; whereas Rome was inherently patriarchal, Celtic women were given great regard (and often venerated, particularly where they served as queens or warrior-chieftains of a tribe). It was from this reverence that the notion of witches, or pagan wise women arose. This interesting social trend can be ascribed to Celtic religion – where Roman deities were primarily male, the vast majority of the assorted hundreds worshipped by the Celts were female (perhaps as a result of wonderment at cycles of fertility and birth, which is substantiated by the nature of to the Celts’ society, which was essentially agricultural).

The cessation of tribal disparity (along with existing knowledge of the Celts’ warlike disposition and sheer numbers) is characteristic of the beginning of an imperial power (where the unifier, Vercingetorix, chief of the Arveni and a talented strategist and diplomat, was nominated to lead Gaul against Roman invaders). The disorganised nature of the Celtic host was to prove their downfall against the disciplined Roman legions during Caesar’s campaign to subjugate Gaul. The Celts persevered, as we all know, though only remote tracts of Britain truly remained purely Celtic – most mainland territories were lost upon the invasion of the Saxons, Normans and various other parties. One might even consider that, given the current state of world politics, nothing is ‘genuinely’ Celtic any longer. The Celts never rose as one unified civilisation, and fell for that simple fact.


The World of Ancient Times, Carl Roebuck
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology, Timothy Darvill
The Celts, Frank Delaney


Also study notes.

Celt is track 8 of 9 in the Mike Oldfield album, QE2. It is an excellent song from an excellent album.

The lyrics are nonsense, only there because they sound good. The vocals are done by Maggie Reilly, a singer who quite often worked with Mike Oldfield. The words are allegedley by Tim Cross, a man who has played keyboard with Mike on some occasions.

Here are the commonly accepted nonsene lyrics. I have added in commentary of what happens in the song itself in italics.

Pounding electronic drums and bass play the main major-sounding bass line of the entire song, every second out of four bars has some kind of timpani added in to back the electronic drums. The whole progresson runs once alone, and continues throughout almost the whole song.

Synth chords enter to accompany the bass line. After one run of the bass with the synth chords, the vocals come in. It seems to be multiple recordings placed at once (which get more and more like vocal chords as the song goes on) of Maggie singing:

As Far Wrengo Delta
Cento Elto Rebishow
Novish Rama Esto Rama
Cento Rebishlow

The bass line and synth chords change to something a tad more minor (but still half major), and a crazy yet very fitting descending-then-ascending piano plays to add to the next few lines:

Now Bella Rema Bella
Suma Zappa Retisgo

The vocals stop and the song returns to the original drum, bass, and synth chord progression. After one run of that, it plays again, but with a beautiful, pedaled, high-pitched, overdriven guitar bit. Then, the chord progression goes to that of the "Now Bella Rema" line, and the guitar bit adjusts by playing an equally beautiful, twiddley solo bit. Then, it goes back to the main progression and the synth gets a bit more forte.

As Far Wrengo Delta
Cento Elto Rebishow
Novish Rama Esto Rama
Cento Rebishlow

Maggie sings again. Then, the

Now Bella Rema Bella
Suma Zappa Retisgo

part again, only this time, there are emotional heavy guitar chords added to accompany the synth chords, one strummed on each chord change. Also, the vocals are an octave higher, adding to the extra oomph in this part.

As Far Wrengo Delta
Cento Elto Rebishow
Novish Rama Esto Rama
Cento Rebishlow

This part is sung again, but then it is repeated. The second time around, the beautiful, pedaled, high-pitched arpeggios from the earlier solo are added in on top of the vocals. The song fades out about here, before it can get to the next "Now Bella Rema" part.

Now wasn't that fun?

Celt,, the longitudinal and grooved instrument of mixed metal often found in Scotland, also a stone instrument of a wedgelike form found in barrows and other repositories of Celtic antiquarian remains. Though the primary application of the word was to the metallic implement, yet the stone celt is believed by archaeologists and geologists to be the older of the two.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

Celt (?), n. [L. Celtae, Gr. , , pl.: cf. W. Celtiad one that dwells in a covert, an inhabitant of the wood, a Celt, fr. celt covert, shelter, celu to hide.]

One of an ancient race of people, who formerly inhabited a great part of Central and Western Europe, and whose descendants at the present day occupy Ireland, Wales, the Highlands of Scotland, and the northern shores of France.

[Written also Kelt. The letter C was pronounced hard in Celtic languages.]


© Webster 1913.

Celt, n. [LL. celts a chisel.] Archaeol.

A weapon or implement of stone or metal, found in the tumuli, or barrows, of the early Celtic nations.


© Webster 1913.

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