Who Were These People?

Holidays and Festivals

Kings and Queens


Druids / Religion



Records and Laws





Who are these people?  (A basic historical timeline is here.)

First of all, just exactly who were the Celts? I know before I began my journey I had a vague idea, beyond Stonehenge, of wizards and wicca type witches. Toss in a Merlin or two.

The Celtic people were:

* Those who spoke the Celtic languages that include Breton, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Gaelic. The oldest Celtic evidence is hundreds of graves from 700 BC in Hallstatt, Austria. By 500 BC the Celts had spread to France, Portugal, Spain and British Isles, invading Rome in 390BC, conquering much of Europe between 300 BC and 100 AD.
William L. Langer's "The Encyclopedia of World History"

* The ancient Celts have been described as 'the first Europeans', the first Transalpine civilisation to emerge into recorded history. Greek merchants, first encountering them in the sixth century BC, called them Keltoi and Galatai. Later, the Romans would echo these names in Celtae, Galatae and Galli.
Peter Berresford Ellis' "The Celts"

* A mixture of the Nordic and Alpine races who occupied modern France, Belgium, southern and western Germany, Switzerland and the western Alps in circa 1000 BC, descended from the Battle-Ax people who came from the north of Europe and in part the Beaker folk who had been living in the upper Danube Valley in the Alps.
David Harris Wilson's "A History of England"

* A fierce tribe of people that inhabited a large part of central Europe, called "Galli" by the Romans. Very tall, white with thick, dyed blonde, shaggy manes like horses in bright cloths and cloaks fastened at the throat with a broach.
Gerhard Herm's "The Celts"

* Celt was a member of a group of peoples who spoke various forms of an Aryan language known as Celtic. Persons were called Celtic because of the language they spoke rather then because of the race to which they belonged. The ancient Celts were famous for their wit, their love of liberty and their bravery in battle.
World Book Encyclopedia 1951

And so, they began.

In the British Isles, Celts were divided into two basic tribes. One spoke Gaelic and included the Irish, Manx, and the Highland Scots. The other group spoke Brythonic and included the Welsh (Cymry), the Cornish, and Britons.

The Celts were a chaste group, consisting of the Kings (ri or rix) and Queens (rigan), the warriors  and nobles (flaith or aire), and the commoner. Bards were singers and poets, Vates were scientists and seers, and Druids were judges, the priests, moral philosophers and decision makers.

The tribes were ruled by kings (rix) while 'over kings' or 'high kings' ruled several tribes, and generally regarded as divine. Celts were master road builders, warriors, surgeons, artists and craftsmen.

Julius Caesar, in his De Bello Gallico (The Gallic Wars) said the Gauls were those who were called Celts in their own language, and that the Celts claimed to be ancestors of Dis-Pater and this is the tradition is maintained by their Druids. Dis-Pater is believed to be translated to the All-Father God or Sky God, Jove.

Caesar recorded the count of the Helvetii migration into Gaul to be at 263,000. A tribe could be anywhere from 20,000 to 250,000, and tribes formed larger coalitions like the Belgae or the Brigantes.

The discussion of what the word Celtic really means is as long and rich as their history. The most readily accepted theory is that the word came from the Indo-European word root word kel, meaning hidden. Caesar reported the Celts were forbidden by their own laws and beliefs to commit their knowledge to paper, or the written word, and used the Greek alphabet for common and public writings. The word celt in Irish means and act of concealment, as in kilt.

Irish words derived from the Celtic language are amazingly similar, both in word and definition to Aryan Sanskrit. Celtic creation myths bear remarkable similarity to Hindu creation stories. Our current world in simply filled with words that originated form the Celts.

Some historians believe that the Celts were the ancestors of the Tocharian people, a Indo-European culture from the Xinjiang province of China north of Tibet from written texts from the 8th to 9th centuries.

Archaeology  uses both documents and languages to state Celts appear as a distinct culture at the head waters of the Danube, the Rhine and the Rhone, Switzerland and south west Germany. The Danube (Danuvius), the Rhone (Rhodanus)  and the Rhine (Rhenus) are all named after Celtic gods, goddesses and the Celt word for sea, rian. Archaeology concludes the Celts descend from a mixture of the Bronze Age Tumulus culture from 1550 BC to 1250 BC and the Urnfirld culture, 1220 BC.

The Greeks, being of higher learning and in appreciation for the skills of the Celts, regarded the Celts with admiration. The Romans, who were soundly beaten by the man-eating, head-hunting, blood thirsty, uncivilized Celts adopted a rather negative story-telling flavor to their reports of the Celts.

Kings and Queens

Kings and Queens were immensely rich, living in magnificent fortresses and buried in great tombs with their wealth, chariots and small items found on groups of nine, a number evidentally reserved for royalty. Records reveals there might have been two kings for the same territory at times. Although you had to be of royal blood to be King or Queen, it was not a primogeniture system, the position going to the eldest son automatically. Kingship was passed to women and daughters as well, with. Selection was oft times determined by a high Druid's visions.

There were inauguration stones that according to legend, gave a loud cry when stepped on by the rightful king.


The warriors (flaith or equites) were indeed a noisy lot and used wild screaming to intimidate their enemies, also using trumpets (carnyx) and song in their attacks. No wonder the Romans were fearful of them and aptly named them based on their appearance.

The 'age of choice' when a boy became a man was seventeen and became a warrior. This also denoted the year a male's proper schooling would end. The tribe chieftain was always the commander.

There were special elite warriors as well. The Gaesatae ('a champion who bears arms') actually did go to war naked in their belief that the nudity helped their martial karma and enhance their spiritual vibrations during battle. The Rajputs  (raj = kings, putra = sons) were a group of young warriors recruited strictly from the kings' sons, and developed into an actual tribe. The elite warriors were rich enough to have their own followers.

Warriors were said to treasure the head of any enemy believeing that the head was the most important and vital part of a being. Skulls and heads uncovered may validate this, but nothing is known for certain.

When the Celts attacked the Romans so severely it took years for the Romans to recover, it wasn't due to a people who loved war, behaved like wild children or had nothing else to do. That particular scuffle (in 222 BC) occurred when the Celts asked, politely, for land and the Roman ambassador committed intolerable indescetions of manner. The war only started after the Celts calmly and decisively decided in counsel to teach the Romans a lesson and punish them for a transgression of universally accepted behaviour. An ambassador, above all, was a position of sacred trust.

Celtic warriors were much more advanced than the Romans in their superior wheels, their chariots, saddles, shields that included offensive weapons, spears and javelins, battle tactics and their use of cavalry. Celts invented the chain mail and iron helmets. The Romans adopted all their chariots, methods of war and weaponry, as well as their cloaks! The next time you see an old movie involving the Romans and their chariots, remember who actually designed and used them first.

Celtic warriors served Cleopatra, Syrian kings, Herod the Great of Israel, Ptolemy pharaohs of Egypt. The Hellenic kingdoms were the first to hire celtic warriors as mercenaries.

The demise of the Celts has been contributed to the fact that the Romans learned from the Celts easily and quickly, and that the Romans were superior in organization, authority and discipline, where the Celts thought and acted as individuals, classic anarchists.

Celtic warriors would send out their best fighter to challenge the best of the enemy, oft times to determine the outcome of a dispute or war. If the Celts' warrior lost, they accepted their defeat and went home. The Romans, if defeated, did not accept the decision and would retaliate. Romans viewed combat as a serious profession with ruthlessness and discipline. They were often more frightened of their commander than they were of the enemy.

In 57 BC, the Celts showed a remarkable courage in battle against the Romans, but were annihilated beyond recovery. Only 500 warriors out of 60,000 survived.


The commoners or producers (ceile) were divided into other subclasses, servants, farmers, herdsmen, criminals, menial producers and generally cremated. Husbandmen were called plebs.

The farmers were the backbone of the Celtic society, producing stable, non-migratory settlements and flourishing economies, superior wheels, improved irrigation, the Celtic plough, the first harvesting machine, practised crop rotation and manuring (ottrach), pastorial farming, made iron tools, grew extensive crops from millets and flax to berries and fruit. They produced salt for food preservation, successfully stored their grains in sealed dirt pits, bred horses and dogs for warfare and hunting.


The Celts finally developed a writing system called ogam or ogmios, named after the god of literacy and eloquence, which survives in stone inscriptions. The original alphabet consisted of twenty characters, and were incised on bark or wands of hazel or aspen, called the Rods of Fili (poets).

The Celts were forbidden, by their own precepts, to commit their words and traditions to paper, and used the Etruscan alphabet first in the sixth century, as well as Greek, Latin, Phoenician and Roman alphabets for their inscriptions until later when they used their own during the Christian period. Caesar suggested they might have wanted to maintain secrecy as well as to have their teachings taught without the handicap of the written word, that their memories would be better exercised with intricate and detailed memorization of their traditions. During the Middle Ages, the remaining Celts adopted the Greek and Latin alphabets and achieved literary fame with their extensive collection of written literature.


The early Celts had primitive living quarters, no furniture and slept on rushes, living in small settlements opposed to large towns. Their way of life scared the heck out of the Romans. Celts during the le Tene era built their homes out of wood, and brick in Ireland and Britain.

Typical Iron Age Celtic homes still remain in Castell Henllys, Wales.  Teepee style, lengths of timber radiating from a central pole leaving a central vent, each timber attached to a vertical post secured in the ground, the entire dwelling was thatched.

Their life styles were considerably more sophisticated with extensive weaving pottery, boat making, carpentry and blacksmith knowledge that included gold, silver, tin, lead and iron. Their irrigation systems required advanced engineering knowledge.

Personal adornment was very fashionable, women wore rouge and men possessed loaded dice. Their chariots were what the Romans adopted, not the other way around! Geese were sacred.

Celtic artwork is famous, from the early forms to La Tene in 500 BC. The eternal knot, seen in millions of forms, symbolized unity, continuation, the unbroken path. Their art included all the wonders of nature, their deities, wonderous splendor for such an age. The Book of Kells is one of the most elaborate, famous, and latest Celtic works of art from the sixth or seventh century.


Women were prominent elements in Celtic society. Female heirs (banchomarbae) could inherit full property rights if there were no male heirs. They were often ambassadors, warriors and rulers. The most widely known deity was a goddess of the earth, and women were powerful, not second rate citizens.

The law texts mention women's roles including 'women who turns back the stream of war', 'war leaders', 'hostage ruler', and 'female lord' or 'chieftainess of a district in her own right'.

Women were free to make their own choice of husband or lover. Women brought their dowry to a marriage but retained the properties and profits in a separate accounting. Women and men had equal divorce rights. Women were clearly protected from rape or sexual or verbal harrassment.

A Welsh law states that if a woman discovers her husband is commiting adultry, she is within her rights to kill him, the woman or their families. However, she could only be excused for the act if it took place within three days of her discovery. A cooling off period took place after that?

Girls under the age of seven had the same right and class level of a cleric. They were educated from seven to fourteen, but could continue their education until seventeen, along with the boys, "if needed."

Women fought along side men until forbidden in 697 by the Lex Innocentium at the Synod of Birr.

I simply canna help adding the following text from Peter Berresford Ellis' "The Celts" and his quote by Ammianus Marcellinus:

"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. The voices of these women are formidable and threatening, even when they are not angry but being friendly."

Stories and Remarkable Celts

Boudicca was the Queen of Iceni (Norfolk), one of the most prominent women to be a leader and a warrior. She was the wife of Prasutagus, King of Iceni, who died in 60 or 61. The Romans, under the command of Catus Decianus, marched on her territory and while she greeted them with honour, they ravaged her people. At her protest they publicly stripped and whipped her and raped her two daughters. Boudicca retaliated by anniihilating the elite IX Hispanis force of 6000, sacking Camulodunum (the Roman capital) as well as London and St. Alban but was defeated by Seutonius Paullinus. London, Colchester and Verulamium went up in flames. She was not captured, but her fate is unknown. Speculation is that she commited suicide (common for warriors to do when defeated) or fell sick and died. She was reportedly a priestess of Andrasta, the goddess of battle and victory.

Elen Luyddog (Elen of the Hosts) was the daughter of a British chieftain named Eudaf in Segontium (near Caernafon, Wales) who became extremely powerful. Legend has it that she was the wife of Myrddin, but she was actually married to a Romanized Celt named Magnus Wledig. He served in the Roman army and had a major victory in 382 AD against the Irish and Caledonians. Elen was converted to Christainity by Martin of Tours and became an intellectual leader of their courts. When her husband was put to death by the Milan emperor, Theodosius, 28 July 388, Elen left Gaul, returned to Britain and devoted her life to the Christian Church, becoming so powerful that the Celts acknowledged her as sovereign. All her sons were famous rulers or influences, her daughter, Sevira, married King Vortigen.

Hugh MacNeill was born in the North of Ulster before the Bretonians invaded the area. Hugh rounded up masses of Clets to fight the Bretons who were determined to kill off all the Celtic leaders, starting a seven year war. A finishing battle supposedly occured the night of the first Samhain 2148 BC, where Hugh was defeated by the deception of Strongbow, an exiled Celt. Eventually, the truth was revealed and Hugh was crowned King of Ulster. When it was rumored that the Druids of Tara were to make Hugh the high king, Strongbow broke into the temple of Danu and stole the Lia Fáil. By the time Strongbow was caught and the Lia Fáil returned, Hugh was dead.

Records and Laws

During the Middle Ages, Irish monks preserved ancient Celtic myths, the most important are considered Lebor Gabala (or Book of Conquests) and Mabinogion or Mabinogi (a tale of youth) which comes from Wales and contains four stories, the "Four Branches" that describe the history of Britain, showing a much stronger Christian influence than the Irish  manuscripts and emphasizes more human characters and less divinities. The "Four Branches" contain the story of King Arthur and the knight's search for the Holy Grail. Links to both manuscripts are on the links page under the study group.

Giolla Iosa Mor Mac Firbis compiled Leabhar Buidhe Lecain (Yellow Book of Lecain) about 1400 AD, which contained copies of many of the early texts  in early Irish books that were studied by Aethicus in Ireland, some of which some were dated to the fifth century bc. One text was written by Benignus about how Saint Patrick in his Christian zeal burnt 180 of the Druid's books.

Surviving Irish and Welsh literature contain two complete Celtic law systems. The Laws of the Fenechus (free land tillers) of Ireland are also referred to as the Brehon Laws, breaitheamh meaning judge. An earlier version is the Book of the Dun Cow. The first known codification was in 438 AD when King Laoghaire of Tara established a nine man committee to examine, revise the laws and then set them to writing. St. Patrick served on this committee along with three judges and three kings.  The Brechon laws are astoundingly similar to the Vedic Laws in India, as well as the Welsh laws adopted by Hywel Cadell.

The Celtic Calendar

Click to see large version

The Celtic calender started on Samhain in November and was divided into four seasons:
Samhain / winter - midway between Autumn Equinox and Winter Solstice
Imbolc / spring - midway between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox
Beltane / summer - midway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice
Lughnasadh / autumn - midway between Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox

Each of these seasons were divided at the equinox, but are thought not to be Celtic festivals
Yule / Alban Arthuran - Winter Solstice, shortest day of the year
Ostara / Alban Eiler - Spring Equinox, night and day stand equal
Litha / Alban Heruin - Summer Solstice, longest day of the year
Mabon / Alban Elved - Autumn Equinox, night and day stand equal

The year began at Samhain, and days began at sundown.

The Celtic year was broken down into two basic seasons, the warm time beginning at Beltane (May) and the cold time at Samhaim (November).

The oldest Celtic calender, the broken Coligny calendar, was discovered in Coligny, France, in 1897. It dates to the 1st century BCE, when the Celts coexisted with the Romans in Gaul, and uses roman numerals. An engraved stone found at Knowth, Ireland is a graphical representation of a lunar calendar , reflecting the same principle as the Coligny calendar.

The Coligny calender, a five year calendar had 16 columns, 62 lunar months, each divided in half and marked "ATENOVX" (renewal or returning night) between the light and dark halves. There were two intercalary (leap) months used to account for the difference between the solar and lunar year for a five year period. Months were named and marked as good, MAT, or bad, ANM. The festivals were not on the calendar, although Samhaim (spelled Samonios) is specifically engraved. The language on the calendar was Gaulish, written in the Roman alphabet. The pieces were found damaged, apparently through ritual damage and not from age.

The Roman Celtic calender had twelve months, 354 days and a 13th month inserted every two and a half years. This calender was divided into two sections, Samhain and Beltraine, both of which were again, evenly divided into two.

Samhain and Beltane are thought to be the only original Celtic festivals, marking the beginning of the year (and winter) and the beginning of summer. The festival of Imbolc was celebrated in Ireland, with Lughnasadh being added much later, again, in Ireland. The solstice and equinox festivals were not of Celtic origin.

Traditionally, the seasons start about the 21st of the months, and the equinoxes are celebrated on the first of the months. However, if you calculate the exact dates of the events that determine the divisions, they would vary a great deal. More about the moons and festival dates can be found here.

Celtic Tribes

Belgae - Were established in southern and western Britain via Gaul by Ceasar's invasion.

Brigantes - reported to be have their center in Stanwick, North Riding, Yorkshore by Ptolemy circa 150 AD.

Cantii - southern Britain, most advanced culturally.

Catuvellauni - One of the most powerful tribes, in Hertfordshire near St Albans. Absorbed the Trinovantes  in Essex, center was Colchester.

Iceni's - From Suffolk and Norfolk

Parisi - Centered east of the Brigantes at Peturia, originating for the north east plains of Gaul in 200 to 100 BC.

Trinovantes - settled in Essex. Absorbed by the Catuvellauni tribes.

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