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Celtic Origins — The First Northern Europeans, Part III

Celtic Origins — The First Northern Europeans, Part III

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher concludes his look at Celtic Origins with Part III and how the Celts became the first Northern Europeans. (Click here for Part I or Part II.)

Last time we saw how the Celts were an advanced civilization long before Rome. Whatever name is first given to a mountain, lake, forest, or river is the name subsequent peoples usually adapt. We saw how because the Celts named much of European geography, we know they settled many areas first. Celtic names survive not only in geographic features, but also in the cities of modern-day Britain and in the Germanic areas east of modern-day France. Archaeologists named the first period of Celtic culture the Hallstatt period, from 1200 BC to 475 BC. It was an iron-using culture marked by geometric art.

The La Tène Period

The second period of Celtic archaeology is named for discoveries found in the shallow waters of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Numerous articles thrown into the water as offerings for the gods heralded a new, different, and even more advance culture. The La Tène period covers the fifth to first century BC. Fast, two-wheeled chariots and ornamental art forms marked the kinds of artifacts found.

A Culture as Advanced as Any on the Planet

This new Celtic culture brought improved living standards. Their farmers were skilled in raising crops and livestock. Celtic engineers built roads and developed irrigation systems in the Po River valley of the Italian peninsula. They mined precious metals such as gold and silver. They dug up utilitarian metals such as tin, lead, and iron. They mined salt, necessary to preserve and season food. Their craftsmen manufactured superior tools and weapons. Their artisans created exquisite personal items. In all but Ireland, Celtic tribes cast coins in clay molds to create currencies of gold, silver, and bronze of uniform weight and value. The Celts of this time also traded with Greece and Italy, obtaining luxury goods from the Mediterranean region. In short, for a time, the Celts were as advanced a civilization as any on the planet.

The Great Celtic Expansion

During this time, the Celts ended up in nearly every part of Europe. How did this great expansion occur? Peter Beresford Ellis suggests that the Celtic tribes numbered as few as 20,000 or as great as 250,000, and they sometimes formed great coalitions. Around 600 BC, these great tribes crossed the Alps into the Po Valley of Italy and defeated the Etruscan armies, driving them south. As mentioned in a previous post, to address a point of honor, the Senones tribe crossed the Apennines and crushed the Roman legions. For seven months, they occupied Rome. Then they settled northeast of Rome on the coast.

The Celts Occupied Most of Europe

In the seventh or sixth centuries BC, Celtic tribes pushed east through the Danube River valley into the lands of the current Czech and Slovak states, settling the southern Black Sea area. In the north, they occupied Belgae, now called Belgium, and parts of Gaul, or modern-day France. From the ninth century BC, the Celts occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Around the same time, they crossed the sea into Britain and Ireland. They even ruled for a time in Thrace (Greece) then migrated farther into Asia Minor (Turkey), forming the state of Galatia, a country to which the Apostle Paul ministered. Bands of Celts even settled in Syria, in the Israel of Herod the Great, in the Egypt of Pharaoh Ptolemy, and in North African Carthage.

The End Came—Rome and the Germanic and Slavic Hordes

This great expansion lasted until the rise of the Roman empire. In the second and first centuries BC, as Rome’s power grew and Germanic and Slavic tribes migrated west, Celtic borders receded. As we have seen, the conquering Romans were fond of maligning and slighting Celtic accomplishments. And they got to write the history. Yet the Romans owed far more to the Celts than history acknowledges.

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.

2 replies
    • Mark E. Fisher
      Mark E. Fisher says:

      What I was trying to say was that, in France, the Celts did not appear to be the first settlers to name major geographic features, leading us to conclude they settled there later than in Germany and elsewhere. The first visitors to a place get to name major geographic areas, and subsequent peoples seem to stick with the original names. So if we don’t find many Celtic place names in France, they must not have arrived there first. But I did mention that during that great Celtic expansion, the Celts arrived in Gaul later.

      Also, my focus is the pre-medieval and early medieval era–before AD 500. The French Huguenots came along much later–in the 16th Century, as a Protestant group in a mainstream Catholic country. But thanks for the question.

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