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The Celts (pronounced with a hard C like "Claymore") appear in Europe
as a group of peoples who spoke languages in the Celtic branch of the
Indo-European family of languages. Other branches of the Indo-European
family are Albanian, Anatolian, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic
(includes English), Greek, Indo-Iranian, Italic (Latin based) and
Tocharian. European languages *not* belonging to the Indo-European group
are Basque, Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian and Lappish (also called Saami).
Basque is notable in that it is almost certainly a remnant of the languages
present in Europe before the Indo-European expansion. Hungarian, however,
was brought from the East at a later date.
The Celts evolved from the Urnfield Culture (given that name because of the
burial system of cremation and placement of ashes in urns which in turn were
buried in fields...) much earlier than the Romanized Celtic world of the
late 500-400 BC.
I use the word "evolve" because it is difficult to define just when the
Celts became a culture unto themselves. That said, a culture can be
defined according to economic stability, shared religious beliefs and
Around 1500-1000BC, the Celts lived in an area which today is mostly in
Eastern France. The area stretched from roughly where Luxembourg is today
to a bit further south than Geneva and took in parts of modern day
West Germany and Switzerland. It was an area a little bigger than the
island of Ireland.
The Celts then expanded to cover an area covering most of Western
Europe and Central Europe. Around 400BC, the Celts lived in what
is now called Britain, Ireland, France (i.e. Gaul), Luxembourg, Belgium,
Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Celts also
lived in parts of Spain (notable Galicia), northern Italy, The Netherlands,
the southern half of Germany, and parts of Poland and Russia (source: "The
Story of English", Faber and Faber; BBC books 1992).
After the height of their power, the Celts (the first Indo-European
group to spread across Europe) were pushed north and west by successive
waves of Indo-European peoples, notably Germanic and Latin based. The main
migration was by the Galli or Gauls into France, northern Italy and the
north of Europe.
>From "The Celts", by Frank Delaney (Grafton Books, a division of Collins
Publishing Group; copyright London 1986):
Hallstatt - This site at Hallstatt, Austria, was first uncovered by a
George Ramsauer (a local) in 1846. It was not until 30 years later that
a team of investigators from the Academy of Sciences in Vienna performed
an exhaustive investigation of the local salt mine (the natural resource
that had supported a local economy near Hallstatt for perhaps 4500 years)
and the approximately 2500 grave sites there.
The time in European history of this snapshot of Celtic cultural
development is approximately 800 B.C. The Celtic people here were an
iron using people who traded salt to the south as far as Italy and as
far north as Bohemia. "The grave goods - predominantly iron-made - ...
indicated a sophisticated and hierarchical society. These people,
superb iron-workers, owned and buried beautifully-decorated vessels,
ornamented weaponry and horse trappings, all of a standard much
advanced upon that recorded from earlier Europe, reflecting a decisive
and recognizable social structure."
Prior to these discoveries at Hallstatt, the Iron Age map of Europe only included Rome and Greece as "civilizations". "But now 'the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome' had a proven tangible rival - the opulence and clear structure of the Celtic civilization."
"The Hallstatt Culture reflects the Celts in their state of development
between the beginning of the ninth century B.C. and the middle of the
seventh century B.C. - an iron-using, farming, trading people with fixed
patterns of habitation and society." So, the term Hallstatt has more to
do with the state of development of the whole society than the time at
which this development was achieved. For example, artifacts found in
Ireland dated four-hundred years later than those found at Hallstatt may
still be described as Hallstatt based on the way in which they were made
and the reflections of their local society.
La Tene -- In 1858, near Neuchatel, Switzerland, another trove of Celtic
objects was uncovered. Subsequent excavations in this area indicated that
"busy and continuous life" had existed by the lake at Neuchatel for hundreds
As the Hallstatt cultural period of the Celts lasted from between 800/700 B.C.
to 600/500 B.C., "La Tene denotes a period which took over from Hallstatt
Culture". La Tene Culture can be divided into three periods: Early La Tene,
600-500 B.C.; Middle La Tene, 300-100 B.C.; and Late La Tene which leads into
the end of Celtic dominance in central Europe as the Roman Empire began to
expand north of the Alps.
"If Hallstatt Culture may be seen as survival and breakthrough from basic
comfort to the nucleus of civilization, the Celts of La Tene Culture,
luxuriated, shone, swaggered, thought, expressed themselves....La Tene
meant more lavish burials, more advanced decoration on swords, helmets,
brooches, more cosmopolitan influence."
"La Tene Culture lifts the Celts from being just another of the myriad European tribally-originated peoples who made an impact in the days before literacy. La Tene spirit establishes the Celts as a real 'civilization'".
"La Tene Culture finds the Celts amongst wealth and glory and
possession and expression. They had mobility, style, trade, power.
They had given themselves definition; they had acquired a considerable
presence; and they had, for their elegance and heroism, earned respect,
an assured people. The way of the Celts within that period, the five
hundred years or so before Christ, fixed them in the popular
imagination - mythological in splendour, glorious in their gold and
jewels, mysterious in the tracery of their ornamentation, opulent in
the evidence of their possessions."
"And the term 'La Tene' defines the essential vision of the Celts and
their civilization, marks their major cultural presence in Europe,
when their attitude , personality, style, came of age. Through La
Tene, Europe saw them as important, powerful and fascinating.
Their spread across the continent, their multifarious presence, made
them a force to be reckoned with."
There are some Celtic artifacts in the Hungarian National History
Museum in Budapest. Gellert Hill, which towers over the Danube on the
Buda side of the river, was once a Celtic fort. After pushing through
the area on their original journeys across Europe, Celtic peoples from
what became from France returned to the area around the 4th century I
believe. They introduced coinage to the area and traded. Outside of
Budapest, there are Roman ruins which were built over the site of a
Celtic village. The Romans called the place Aquinctum -- which was
based on An-ke (I believe) which meant 'place near water' in the Celtic
language of that particular group.
See http://www.interaktive.com/Museum (in German)
If you have any questions about The Hallstatt-Period or questions about our
History, please mail me. I try to answer or give it to the people, who
know the right answer. In a few days you can see at this page all the
books we have about the Hallstatt-Period.
Greetings from Hallstatt to UK
http://www.interaktive.com/Orte/Hallstatt.htm (in German)
Celtic FAQ > FAQ Contents > Historical background > Top
Q-HTML V3.4 by Craig Cockburn created this page on 13-Jun-2012 at 22:51:54