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Celtic Origins—The First Northern Europeans, Part II

Celtic Origins — The First Northern Europeans, Part II

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher continues his look at Celtic Origins and how the Celts appeared suddenly on the European stage and spread across the continent. (Click here for Part I.)

The Celts Were the First Northern Europeans

Last time we saw how the Celts were already a civilization in 600 BC, long before Rome was a gleam in the founders’ eyes. Once, the Celts spoke a common language, possibly around 4,000 BC, and so we know they started out as a single people. But by the time they arrived in northern Europe, they had already split into many tribes, each with their own dialects. We also looked at the amazing similarities between Indian Sanskrit and Old Irish. This tells us that these two disparate peoples once had a common origin.

(This, by the way, agrees with the account in Genesis 11, where all of civilization was once concentrated in Babylonia, and was scattered at the Tower of Babylon because they had begun to view themselves as greater than God and had turned away from their Creator.)

The evidence from archaeology and linguistics tells us that when the Celts arrived in Europe, there were distinct cultures in Switzerland and southwest Germany, at the headwaters of the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhône rivers.

The Celts Named Much European Geography

The River Danube–A Name of Celtic Origins

Here’s a truism about the naming of geographical places such as rivers, mountains, and forests: The first people to settle there get to name the place. And all those who come after will refer to the place by the original name. What are some of the Celtic names applied to Europe’s geography?

  • The great River Danube, named after Danu, the Celtic goddess.
  • The name of the Rhône River in France derived from its original name, Rhodanus. (See the goddess Danu in there?) The word is preceded by the Celtic word, ro, for great.

What about Gaul, now modern France? Celtic names there are rare, telling us it wasn’t settled by the early Celtic tribes.

The list of Celtic names given to rivers and towns is extensive. Here’s a smattering of river names: Avan, Dart, Don, Ouse, Thames, and Trent. Of hills and forests: Barr, Brent, Cannock, Crich, Malvern, and Penn. Names of towns: London, Carlisle, Dover, and York. Names of whole areas: Kent, Wight, and Leeds.

Thus we see how the Celts were some of the earliest settlers in many regions of northern Europe.

The Hallstatt Period

The Strettweg Wagon–Hallstatt Period

Archaeologists divide Celtic culture into two periods based on artifacts found and the nature of their art.

The first was named after Lake Hallstatt in Upper Austria that produced some of the earliest finds. Hallstatt covers the period from 1200 BC to 475 BC. This was an iron-using culture marked by the use of geometric art. Such art was found in large chambers inside the mound tombs of Celtic princes. The princes’ bodies were laid out in four-wheeled wagons with exquisitely crafted harnesses and yokes bearing the geometric art. We know the Celts built sophisticated roads over which these wagons traveled.

This ability to smelt iron and other metals and to make iron weapons and tools probably was the reason for the Celts’ sudden appearance in the first millennium BC. It was simply a superior culture. Artifacts from as far away as Carthage, Greece, and Etruria—the area to the north of present-day Rome—also attest to an extensive trading network. This was a culture far in advance of the founding of Rome.

Next week, we’ll conclude our look at the origins of the Celts with the La Tène Period and how the Celts spread throughout Europe.

The source for this post was from The Celts, by the great Celtic historian, Peter Berresford Ellis.

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.