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THE CELTS

 

 

 

 

Terms first found in Hecat’us, about 500 BC, he speaks of ‘Nyrax, a Celtic city’, and ‘Massalia (Marseilles), a city of Liguria in the land of the Celts’.

Equivalent, Hyperboreans.

Herodutos speaks of the ‘dwelling places of Celts beyond the pillars of Hercules’. Aristotle knew that the Celts had captured Rome, and that they set great store by warlike power. -

Hellanicus of Lesbos describes the Celts as practising justice and righteousness.

Plato disagrees and classes the Celts ‘as drunken and combative’. - Their attack on Rome, a history landmark of ancient times. - Dominion of Celts over MidEurope, Gaul, Spain and the British Isles. - Among these races the true Celts formed an aristocratic and ruling caste. Spain conquered from the Carthaginians by the Celts. Northern Italy conquered from the Etruscans. Conquer the Illyrians and make alliance with the Greeks. Conquests in the valley of Danube and Po. Alexander the Great makes compact with the Celts. - Celtic decorative motives derived from Greek art, and art of enamelling learnt by classical nations from the Celts. - The influence on European literature and philosophy from the Celts were significant. - True worship of the Celts, paid to elemental forces represented by actual natural phenomena. Reincarnation in the modern western sense, were for the Celts a reality incorporated in their daily life and religious rituals.

CREATION AND IMAGINATION: Before the end of the Bronze Age a class system had begun to operate in western Europe. Rich chieftains were buried with golden ornaments and their earthen fortresses appeared on many hilltops. The people were separating into frequently warring tribes and by 1400 BC the noble common purpose which had created Avebury and Stonehenge, when men and women dedicated themselves to great communal tasks, appears to have evaporated. Most of the causewayed camps were turned into hillforts and the bigger ones, such as Maiden Castle, grew into packed cities within their great walls and ditches. A complicated political system seems to have existed of warlike tribal chieftains whose realms were fairly extensive. In Britain particularly, where the hillforts jostle each other around the great causewayed power centres, it seems likely that barons and lesser nobles fortified themselves with earthen walls and defended homesteads, while the kings or chiefs dwelt in grander style in minor fortified cities.

The nature of the people was undergoing inevitable change. Instead of a peaceable community, strongly attuned to the cosmic laws of being and the magnetic forces of the earth, the hillforts seem to tell us of a newly insecure and fractious society in which individual greed and ego were becoming dominant. We can know quite a bit about what the people looked like and what they wore and ate from the preserved bodies recovered from Danish bogs. We know that a number of cereals were used to make bread and that it and meat were the staple foods. The men wore woollen tunics and capes, with close caps, while the women wore decorated woolen tunics, bonnets, girdles and tassels, and hairnets. This uneasy society came to be joined - as early perhaps as 2000 BC - by new waves of settlers, the Celts; or one should say, by Celticspeaking immigrants, for the Celts were never a very unified nation but rather were a collection of volatile tribes with a taste for trade and art. ‘Since the Celts were always in a minority and did not, strictly speaking, constitute a single Celtic race, the Celtic world was primarily a conglomeration of different nations under a Celtic elite, the indigenous peoples being first enslaved and then fused together by a common Celtic language, civilisation and religion. They brought with them the knowledge of the wheel and the design of the war chariot, and were later attributed with the discovery of how to smelt iron, thus giving rise to the ‘Iron Age’. Descriptions have come down to us from the pen of a Greek writer, Poseidonius. He says: The Celts are terrifying in appearance, with deep-sounding and very harsh voices... they wear a striking kind of clothing - tunics dyed and stained in various colours, and trousers, which they call Bracae and they wear striped cloaks... picked out with a variegated small check pattern. Their armour includes man-sized shields, decorated in individual fashion... on their heads they wear bronze helmets .... To the frankness and high-spiritedness of their temperament must be added the traits of childish boastfulness and love of decoration. They wear ornaments of gold, torcs on their necks, and bracelets on their arms and wrists, while people of high rank wear dyed garments besprinkled with gold.

The Celts seem to have originated from an area around the Caspian Sea. Their eruption into the west came at much the same time as a similar migration into India and Persia. It is thought that the Celts and the Hindus shared a common ancestry in a race known as the Battle-Axe People, whose mark was a perforated stone battle-axe and whose home was in southern Russia; the language spoken by the Celts came from the same source as Sanskrit, the classical language of the Hindus. Thus the Celtic language is called Indo-European and it is not too far-fetched to see correspondences between the Indian deities and those of the Celts; and likenesses between the brahmins, the priest-astrologers of India, and the druids, the priest-astronomers of Europe - in fact, much has been written about the links between the two races. It is noticeable, for instance, that Celtic gods are depicted seated in a similar meditation posture to the Hindu deities, and that giant figures are carved on the hillsides of India as well as of Europe. It might even be that the woad which was painted on the bodies of Britons facing the Romans signified their allegiance to a particular god or goddess, just as the white paint on a Hindu forehead indicates a follower of Vishnu. Physically and emotionally, however, the two peoples drifted far apart. The Hindus intermarried with older Indian races and developed a dark skin and eyes, while the Celts became renowned for their fair, reddish hair and piercing blue eyes. They were formidable warriors and were known for their boasting and threats and also for their selfdramatisation. But with great rapidity their moods would change to a dreamy sadness. Plato thought them highly intelligent, although much given to drinking. They divided society into three groups. The druids, who were learned priests, shamans and judges; the military aristocracy, who were the power-holders and the heroes; and the free men, who were farmers and owned cattle. Both men and women were thought to be immensely brave in battle.

Diodorus Siculus wrote that the Celtic women were not only like their men in their great stature (the Celts were exceptionally tall and well-built), but that they were also their equals in courage. Women were honoured in Celtic society and lived in an equal way with men. A strict legal code ensured that women could inherit property, and name and title were taken from the mother rather than the father. They could marry whom they pleased and could claim damages if molested. They took their place in battle beside the men. There were two major waves of Celtic immigration and by 700-500 BC they had emerged as one of the most important peoples of Europe. By 387 BC they had conquered Rome (it fell, according to the Roman historian Livy, because of the terror inspired by the ‘magic’ war-cry of the Celts, who went into battle naked) and by 279 BC Delphi had fallen too, although both it and Rome were retaken later. France (known as Gaul) was entirely Celtic and Britain too became one of the Celtic strongholds as Rome advanced through Gaul. England was a centre for culture and education and the sons of Gaulish chiefs were sent there for instruction by the druids, the priests of the Celts.

And from Iman Wilkens: WHERE TROY ONCE STOOD we can read this point of view about the origin of the Celts: # 730: ...It is very difficult to obtain a clear picture of the preChristian Celts from the transmitted texts, not only because of the typical mixture of myth and reality, but above all because of the very great lapse of time between events and their eventual recording in writing. This greatly hampers any rigorous and systematic analysis of the type that I have tried to apply to Homer’s work, which itself certainly combines myth and reality, but has the very great advantage of being an eye-witness account transmitted orally for a relatively short period and written down as early as the eighth century BC, the original text being preserved practically intact until our own time, as I shall demonstrate below. Caesar recounts that the Celts were using the Greek alphabet when the Romans arrived in Gaul, in the first century BC: In the camp of the Helvetii were found, and brought to Caesar, records written out in Greek letters... However, the knowledge possessed by the initiates was transmitted entirely orally, often in the form of verse or a kind of limerick. In the case of Homer’s works, this technique has helped considerably to preserve the original text without too many modifications. One has the impression that the powerful rhythm of Homeric verse also reflects the movements of the Ocean waves, but this effect is unfortunately lost in prose translations. The impression one gets of the Celts is that of a dynamic, but somewhat undisciplined people, proud, full of imagination, loving freedom, adventure, feats of arms, tournaments and fêtes. The Celts were renowned for their eloquence and their poetry, to such an extent that a poet was held in much greater esteem than a common priest. The bards accompanied their ballads on a type of lyre. Despite their individualism, the Celts often acted together, while remaining suspicious of any centralized authority. Their lack of discipline finally brought about their downfall, but for a long period they dominated Europe militarily and even sacked Rome in 387 BC. There is uncertainty about the origin of the Celts. According to the more generally accepted theory, they spread outwards from Central Europe, where many Celtic objects have been found, notably in excavations at Hallstatt (Austria) and La Tène (French-speaking Switzerland), to establish themselves on the Atlantic Coast, in the British Isles, the north of Italy and Yogoslavia. However, according to another theory, the movement was in the other direction, from the Atlantic coast and islands to the interior of Europe.

The second theory would appear to be confirmed by tha analysis in this book of the origin of the peoples engaged in the Trojan War, for they were already well-established on the Atlantic coast before the dates generally put forward. Excavations have confirmed that the Celts were also well-established in Denmark during the Bronze Age (from about 1500 to 500 BC) and it was there that the famous Gundestrup silver cauldron was found. The Celtic tribe that has moved the least is that of the Helvetii, who have been in Switzerland for a very long time. The Italo-Celts lived in the north of Italy and the Illyrians on the Adriatic coast. In Germany, the frontier between Celts and Germans was ill-defined and in some cases we do not know whether a certain tribe were Celts, Germans, Celticized Germans (i.e. converted to Celtic rites) or Germanized Celts. It should not be forgotten that at that period peoples of sometimes very different origins and cultures could be scattered throughout the same region. Examples are the Germans and the Celts in Central Europe (as shown by archaelogical evidence), and the nonGreeks and autochthons in Greece, (as mentioned by Thucydides). Thanks to the Roman historians we have a good picture of where the various Celtic peoples, from Scotland to the Balkans and from Spain to the Baltic, were living at the beginning of our own era. That Celts were living for a long time in the region of Cadiz in the extreme southwest of Spain (Celtiberia) and in the north of Morocco is clear not only from archaeological evidence, but also from the writings of historians such as Ephorus, who demonstrated Celtic greatness in his UNIVERSAL HISTORY. There was a certain unity of language, religion and culture among the Celts throughout Europe. Although they never formed a great national or political entity they were prepared to help one another against a common enemy, even though they also fought among themselves. There was also another very important link between them, at any rate for those who lived in coastal regions - the sea routes. The Celts of the Atlantic regions were sea-faring peoples, ‘friends of the oar’, as Homer calls them, who often undertook long voyages, as we shall discover below. During their voyages or migrations, communication between the different Celtic tribes must have been linguistically easier than it would be today, because the different languages of the Indo-European family were more homogeneous 3,000 years ago. Many words had the same root from one end of Europe to the other; for example, ‘horse’ was Epo in Celtic and Hippos in Greek. Wilken’s book shows many more examples, and from the grammatical standpoint, too, the languages of Europe more closely resembled one another, for example, the conjugation of Gothic verbs contained elements close to Latin. What is more, according to Louis Kervran: ‘When Rome conquered Gaul, the latter had been in contact with Greek civilization whose bridgehead, since 600 BC, had been Marseille, at the mouth of the Rh"ne ... After the arrival of the Romans, as a sign of resistance against the occupiers, Greek continued to be the language of the intellectual élite.’

Under these circumstances it must not have been very difficult to translate Homer’s works from a Celtic language into Ionian Greek, at the same time commiting them to writing, since the Greeks had no taboo on writing. Translation was certainly necessary, for despite a certain number of words in common, Greek is far from being a Celtic language. But was it possible to make a translation in hexameters (lines of six feet) without losing too many details of the original text? The answer is affirmative, since there are examples of translations into Dutch, one in hexameters and one in pentameters, the former, in particular, being very close to the original. It is thus perfectly possible that the epic history of the Trojan War was transmitted by Celts living in central Europe to find its way to Greece, where it was translated and preserved entirely intact, especially, as Henri Hubert assures us, when talking about the period before 800 BC, that: ‘If it can be taken as proven that the Greeks came from the north, i.e. from central Europe, it is not unreasonable to assume that they had contacts not only with the Illyrians (thus confirming Thucydides), but also with the Italo-Celts and even the Celts.’ On the other hand, it is unlikely that a Greek author would have composed the work himself on the basis of echoes he had heard of a war that had taken place in some distant part of Europe several centuries before his time, as the hundreds of coherent details in the text are so many indications that the original poem was composed by an eyewitness. However, these details correspond so little to the Greece of the period, or of today, that certain commentators have concluded that the poet did not have a precise idea of the places he was describing. We shall see below that the truth is quite the reverse - the poet knew exactly what he was describing, but it had nothing to do with Greece. Wilkens write in his book of ‘Celts’, although it would perhaps have been more correct to call them ‘proto-Celts’ for their culture had not yet come to match entirely what the traditional archaeologists call ‘Celtic’, which dates only from 800 BC. However, Homer mentions the legendary mother of the Celts - ‘glorious Galatea’ - and describes the Celtic custom of cremation. Wilkens therefore adopted the general rule of the archaeologist Bosch-Guimpéra, who always speaks of Celts where funeral urns are found, and Homer mentions such urns several times. Furthermore, when he is writing about Celts and their migrations in Europe, he is not always referring to the time of Homer, but possibly to any time in the thousand years before Christ, because as yet we have no precise chronology of the development of their culture.

Wilkens continue: ‘Let us hope that further research will enable us to establish such a chronology. In the meantime, I have sometimes had to work back from elements known about the Celts in the Roman era’. In part III in his book, he returns to Galatea, who turns out to be a major key for the research as she will be proof that the Celts were already around in the Bronze Age - much earlier than assumed hitherto. The dynamic and inventive Celtic culture brought a certain civilization to Europe before the Greeks and the Romans. They were the first to construct harvesting implements and war chariots. They invented tools still used today, such as pincers; they had keys; they forged iron rims for their chariot wheels; they produced coats of mail. They shod their horses. These shoes, at first in bronze, were not nailed, but had rings round the edge through which a thong was passed to tie them in place. This explains the use of such expressions as horses ‘with flashing feet’ or ‘single-hooved horses’ in Homer. The Celts taught the Greeks and Romans the use of soap - Sapo in Celtic. They have left us some very beautiful ornaments, in gold, such as fibulae (decorated clasps) and torques (collars), and in bronze, such as phalerae (decorative bosses for horses’ harness), oenochoe (wine pitchers - it should not be forgotten that the Celts had vineyards even in the north of Europe), situlae (square-shouldered vessels in bronze or glass) and pans for evaporating seawater for salt. Other finds include numerous decorated bronze swords and axes and chiefs’ helmets covered with gold or decorated with a bird of prey and, of course, a great deal of pottery. But the Celts exelled above all in the nonplastic arts, such as eloquence, poetry and music. Certain Celtic practices have persisted down to our own day, such as that of starting the new day as from midnight, and certain feast days have been adopted and adapted by the Christian religion. An example of the latter is the 1 November, which was the feast of Samhain, which marked the beginning of the new year for the Celts. They lit fires in the night, not only to celebrate the new year, but also to communicate with their dead, for if the barriers between the natural and supernatural were already narrow, they believed them to be absent during Samhain night. All Saints, the day the dead are specially remembered, is now celebrated on the 1 November, and on Halloween fires are still lit. The beginning of spring was 1 May, the day of Beltaine (or Apollo) when fires were lit and fertility rites were celebrated, with dancing clockwise in circles. The flocks were let out and the sailors went to sea after sacrificing the first vessel they had built during the winter to the gods of the sea.