The Ancient Celts – Interesting Celtic Facts, Part I

In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher presents some interesting facts about the ancient Celts, Part I.

Let us begin our list with these four random factoids of interest:

1 – The Celts Believed in Community

I covered this a few weeks ago, in a previous post, but it’s worth reiterating here. In our world today, community is sadly lacking. For the ancient Celt, the clan, not the individual, was paramount. The clan’s honor, not one’s own, was what was important. The clan or tuath was an extended family, sleeping together at night in a single roundhouse, fighting, building, and working together. It included parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other close relatives. Individuals owned property, to be sure, but the clan was a person’s primary anchor to society, his or her security. A crime against the clan was a crime against all who belonged to it.

2 – Celtic Women Had More Rights Than Elsewhere

The Celts allowed women to fight in their battles, become clan leaders, and even become druids. In the ancient world, women usually had few rights, often being treated as chattel. This attitude still existed among the Celts. In ancient Ireland, the basic unit of currency was the cumal, or woman slave, equivalent to several milk cows. Yet, the Irish Celts also seemed to have given their women rights that the Romans and Greeks were loathe to bestow. In a previous post on Celtic Women, Part I, I wrote this:

“The later Brehon laws of Wales tell us something about Celtic women’s legal positions. They talk about women as women as ‘war leaders’, ‘hostage rulers’, ‘female lords’, and ‘the chieftaness of a district in her own right’.”

3 – Celtic Women Were Fierce in Battle

In a previous post I wrote this:

“The Roman, Ammianus Marcellinus, said this about Celtic women in battle:

‘A whole troop of foreigners would not be able to withstand a single Celt if he called his wife to his assistance. The wife is even more formidable. She is usually very strong, and has blue eyes; in rage her neck veins swell, she gnashes her teeth, and brandishes her snow-white robust arms. She begins to strike blows mingled with kicks, as if they were so many missiles sent from the string of a catapult.’

He paints a picture of fearsome lasses, indeed. Diodorus Siculus also says this, ‘The women of the Celts are nearly as tall as the men and they rival them also in courage.'”

4 – The Celts Invented the Chariot

And you thought it was the Romans who gave Ben Hur his wheels? Again, borrowing from a previous post, I wrote:

“The Celts used chariots and cavalry to make their forces quick to respond to changing conditions on the battlefield. Hundreds of years before the Romans and Celts collided, most armies of the time had abandoned chariots for use in battle. But not the Celts. With their iron working skills, they improved the war chariot.

They added stronger wheels and made them big enough so the bed could carry both a charioteer and a warrior. Sometimes, the axles were fixed with scythes or blades. In battle, a number of Celts’ chariots could race to the flanks of their enemy, drop off warriors where they were least expected, then retreat. Used in conjunction with cavalry, this would unnerve and cause panic in an enemy used to a slower moving, less mobile antagonist.”

Next time, we’ll continue our list of interesting facts and factoids.

Ancient Celtic Ireland is the setting for Mark E. Fisher’s books of Christian historical fiction—one in publication, The Bonfires of Beltane, and The Amulet, now in search of readers before a final edit. The same setting is also the basis for Mark’s fictional world in a novel of Christian fantasy, The Scepter of Elyon, now seeking a publisher. Click on the link to learn more about The Bonfires of Beltane.