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Facts & Fictions
1000-750BC - Proto-Celtic people of the Urnfield culture dominate
much of Continental Europe. Also
start to spread out over northern Asia
as far as the frontiers of China. Development of the deliberate smelting
of iron in the Middle East and China around the same time. Prompting the
title 'The Iron Age' for this period.
700-500BC - Hallstatt culture develops in Austria.
700BC - Early Celts in Austria bury iron swords with their dead.
600BC - Greeks found the colony of Massilia, opening up trade between
the Celts of inland Europe and the Mediterranean. First evidence of
Britain having a name - Albion - (albino, white - called after the
chalk-cliffs of Dover). A major rebuild of old Bronze Age defenses, and
construction of new hill forts takes place in Britain.
550-500BC - A princess in Vix (Burgundy) is buried with a 280 gallon
bronze Greek vase, the largest ever made. 60 miles away a prince is
buried layer out on bronze chaise-lounge in a hugh chamber tomb.
500BC - Trade between the Etruscans and the Celts begins. La Tene phase
of Celtic culture speeds through Europe and into mainland Britain. The
Greeks record the name of a major tribe - The KELTOI - and this becomes
the common name for all of the tribes. Celts (the Gaels - from Galicia) arrive in Ireland from Spain.
400-100BC - La Tene culture spreads over Europe and into the British
Isles. Celts invade Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. Celts attack the Etruscan city of Clusium.
390BC - Raiding Celtic tribes under the leadership of Brennus ravage
Rome and occupy the city for three months. Offended by the dirty
conditions of the city (they were country boys at heart) they demand a ransom
to leave the Romans alone. Brennus demands his weight in gold and when
the Romans complain he throws his sword on the scales to be weighed as
well with the cry "VAE VICTUS" - (Woe to the Vanquished).
335BC - Alexander receives envoys from the Celts, and exchange pledges
of alliance. Large numbers of Celtic Warriors join the Greeks in a war
against the Etruscans.
323BC - Alexander dies and the Celts push into Macedonia.
279BC - Celtic tribes invade Greece.
Their tribes and groups eventually ranged from the British Isles and
northern Spain to as far east as Transylvania, the Black Sea coasts, and
Galatia in Anatolia and were in part absorbed into the Roman Empire as
Britons, Gauls, Boii, Galatians, and Celtiberians.
Linguistically they survive in the modern Celtic speakers of Ireland,
Highland Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, and Brittany.
The oldest archaeological evidence of the Celts comes from Hallstatt,
Austria, near Salzburg. Excavated graves of chieftains there, dating
from about 700 BC, exhibit an Iron Age culture (one of the first in
Europe) which received in Greek trade such luxury items as bronze and
It would appear that these wealthy Celts, based from Bavaria to
Bohemia, controlled trade routes along the river systems of the Rhone,
Seine, Rhine, and Danube and were the predominant and unifying element
among the Celts. In their westward movement the Hallstatt warriors
overran Celtic peoples of their own kind, incidentally introducing the
use of iron, one of the reasons for their own overlordship.
For the centuries after the establishment of trade with the Greeks,
the archaeology of the Celts can be followed with greater precision. By
the mid-5th century BC the La Tene culture, with its distinctive art
style of abstract geometric designs and stylized bird and animal forms,
had begun to emerge among the Celts centered on the middle Rhine, where
trade with the Etruscans of central Italy, rather than with the Greeks,
was now becoming predominant.
Between the 5th and 1st centuries BC the La Tene culture accompanied
the migrations of Celtic tribes into eastern Europe and westward into
the British Isles.
Although Celtic bands probably had penetrated into northern Italy
from earlier times, the year 400 BC is generally accepted as the
approximate date for the beginning of the great invasion of migrating
Celtic tribes whose names Insubres, Boii, Senones, and Lingones were
recorded by later Latin historians. Rome was sacked by Celts about 390,
and raiding bands wandered about the whole peninsula and reached Sicily.
The Celtic territory south of the Alps where they settled came to be
known as Cisalpine Gaul (Gallia Cisalpina), and its warlike inhabitants
remained an ever-constant menace to Rome until their defeat at Telamon
Dates associated with the Celts in their movement into the Balkans
are 335 BC, when Alexander the Great received delegations of Celts
living near the Adriatic, and 279, when Celts sacked Delphi in Greece
but suffered defeat at the hands of the Aetolians. In the following
year, three Celtic tribes crossed the Bosporus into Anatolia and created
By 276 they had settled in parts of Phrygia but continued raiding and
pillage until finally quelled by Attalus I of Pergamum about 230. In
Italy, meanwhile, Rome had established supremacy over the whole of
Cisalpine Gaul by 192 and, in 124, had conquered territory beyond the
western Alps--in the provincia (Provence).
The final episodes of Celtic independence were enacted in Transalpine
Gaul (Gallia Transalpina), which comprised the whole territory from the
Rhine River and the Alps westward to the Atlantic. The threat was
twofold: Germanic tribes pressing westward toward and across the Rhine,
and the Roman arms in the south poised for further annexations.
The Germanic onslaught was first felt in Bohemia, the land of the
Boii, and in Noricum, a Celtic kingdom in the eastern Alps. The German
assailants were known as the Cimbri, a people generally thought to have
originated in Jutland (Denmark). A Roman army sent to the relief of
Noricum in 113 BC was defeated, and thereafter the Cimbri, now joined by
the Teutoni, ravaged widely in Transalpine Gaul, overcoming all Gaulish
and Roman resistance. On attempting to enter Italy, these German
marauders were finally routed by Roman armies in 102 and 101.
There is no doubt that, during this period, many Celtic tribes,
formerly living east of the Rhine, were forced to seek refuge west of
the Rhine; and these migrations, as well as further German threats, gave
Julius Caesar the opportunity (58 BC) to begin the campaigns that led to
the Roman annexation of the whole of Gaul.
The Celtic settlement of Britain and Ireland is deduced mainly from
archaeological and linguistic considerations. The only direct historical
source for the identification of an insular people with the Celts is
Caesar's report of the migration of Belgic tribes to Britain, but the
inhabitants of both islands were regarded by the Romans as closely
related to the Gauls.
Information on Celtic institutions is available from various
classical authors and from the body of ancient Irish literature. The
social system of the tribe, or "people," was threefold: king,
warrior aristocracy, and freemen farmers.