, ,

Celtic Origins — The First Northern Europeans, Part I

Celtic Origins—The First Northern Europeans, Part I

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher delves into Celtic origins. Where did the Celts come from? When did they first appear in recorded history?

Celtic Origins — First Contact With the Greeks

Celtic Expansion, 1200 B.C.

Perhaps the first recorded contact with this mysterious race called the Celts was by a man named Colaeus. It was 630 BC, and this intrepid merchant was sailing from a Greek island in the Aegean sea for trade with Africa when a storm drove him off course. The winds and tide brought his ship to Tartessus, a harbor city and region on the south central Atlantic coast of Iberia (Spain and Portugal). He sailed up the Guadalquivir River, and there, for the first time in recorded history, they encountered a tribe of the Keltoi. But this was no barbarian, uncultured people. Their king was Arganthonios, and his tribe mined and fashioned items made from silver. About thirty years later, other Greek merchants returned to the Keltoi, made a treaty, and began trading goods for silver.

Celtic Achievements Were Downplayed

That by 630 BC the Celts were already a civilization as advanced as any other is a fact history has overlooked. Why, we ask? It’s because those who recorded it, the Romans, looked down upon and denigrated most of the cultures they came into contact with.

It’s also because the Celts, themselves, seemed to have a prohibition about writing down their history. The word “Celt” itself comes from old Irish celim (“I hide”) and old Welsh celaf. The word means “hidden”. The Celts were “the hidden people”. Caesar wrote: “The druids believe that their religion forbids them to commit their teachings to writing, although for most other purposes, such as public and private accounts, the Celts use the Greek alphabet.”

Once a Single People

The Celts were the first European people north of the Alps to burst into the historical record. It was their Celtic language that made them unique. But by the time they arrived in northern Europe, the Celtic tribes already spoke many dialects. Linguists tell us that once they all spoke a common, Celtic tongue. Some speculate that an original parent language existed around 4,000 BC and that it came from the Baltic or Black Sea area. So the Celts were once a single people that, over time, divided into different tribes.

Common Root Languages? — Indian Sanskrit and Old Irish

Now here is something truly extraordinary. Old Irish is similar to the Sanskrit language of India in the Vedic period, from 1500-500 BC. Two cultures, thousands of miles apart, and many words are similar. From The Celts, by Peter Berresford Ellis:

Sanskrit                         Old Irish
Arya (freeman)               aire (noble)
Naith (good)                    noeib (holy)
Minda (physical defect)  menda (a stammerer)
Raja (king)                      Rí (king)
Vid (knowledge)             uid (knowledge)

India and the Celts — Once a Common People

What does this tells us? That both the peoples of the Indian subcontinent and the Celtic peoples were once a single people. Indeed, Irish and Indian mythology also share common themes, stories, and names.

For instance, Danu was the Irish mother goddess. In the beginning of time, her “divine waters” rushed out of chaos to the earth and watered Bile, the sacred oak. From this tree sprang the other gods and goddesses of Celtic mythology. Danu’s waters formed the Danube (the Danuvius). This story is similar to myths about the Boyne and Shannon rivers in Ireland, and their goddesses, Boann and Sionan. The story also resembles how Ganga became the Hindu goddess of the Ganges River in India.

We’ll continue our exploration of Celtic origins next time, with Part II.

Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, follow the link above.