Remember that joke about the door-stop and the greatest sleep-aide since Sominex? Well, this chapter, for me, is as dry as it comes. So-and-so culture spread out every which way but loose and this culture conquered that culture and whoops! they were on the wrong side of the Roman Civil War and by x century they were in decline, and… and… (holds head in hands). Oh, dear. I have a rough time remembering ANY of this chapter, so I have to write it RIGHT now or forever be referring back to the book.
Essentially, the linguistic and cultural group we refer to as the Celts came from the headwaters of the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhône rivers, and were the first group to appear in written history; it is from the Greeks who identify and describe the Celts starting around the sixth and fifth centuries.
Spreading across Europe and Asia Minor, their weaponry, road-building skills and bravery in battle was legendary; the Celts conquered Rome and Roman armies many times and fought with the Spartans. At their height, they even had an elite group of warriors which would hire out as mercenaries (hire-a-thug) to different governments, and of course, anyone else who would pay for their services. Classical writes all record their bravery, battle tactics and weaponry, which, as I recall, the Romans got much of the credit for, especially the road-building part. Anyone who relies on the History Channel is going to be rather misinformed, I’m sad to say.
By the time the classical writers noticed them, the Celts had four main classes: Intelligentsia, Warriors, Merchants and Labourers, similar to other Indo-European cultures. However, over time, Celtic society evolved into five. It was these five classes that were codified into Brehon law (thought to come from the Gaelic word breitheamh, judge). Kings and cheftains made up one class; the intelligentsia were the second, officials and magistrates were the third, clansmen, who were an amalgam of warrior and labourer were the fourth; and finally, those who had given up their civil rights, such as criminals, were the fifth and final class.
By the first century B.C., the Celts were in decline and rapidly losing ground everywhere, making some disastrous political affiliations, falling prey to invasions, and being walloped by the Romans. Only Gaul at this time, along with the British Isles and Ireland were independent Celtic territories. Ultimately, only Northern Britain and Ireland remained unconquered.
This, area, too, was the last Pagan stronghold of the Celts, until around Fifth Century, A.D., when Christian thought replaced the older Ways.
The Celtic peoples continued to suffer many waves of conquerors and attempted assimilation from Jutes, Angles, Saxons, English, French and many others. Gradually driven back into the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Ireland, Brittany and other islands and peninsulas of Northwest Europe, the Celts survived as a shadow of the culture’s former glory. Today, the Celtic Language, although it still exists in the various forms of Gaelic still spoken by a few; it is a struggling, endangered language in many of these places; a few branches are extinct, many more are in jeopardy. It seems the Celtic culture may eventually be lost.
As for the Ancients, what survives and comes down to us of the ancient Celtic culture is a portrait seen through inimical eyes, for the most part, of a childish, savage, drunken, brawling culture, an ignorant and distasteful vision of a society of louts. The truth seems very different. Archeology and research has shown the Celts to be a very prosperous tribal society, one that had mastered agriculture and that could mobilize their surplus populations in any direction they chose; hence the idea that they were ‘nomadic’. They were sophisticated potters, artists, weavers and engineers – this includes social engineering, for Celtic law was unique in several ways. Community was at the forefront of the society, and their provisions for the sick, for medical care and for taking care of those who could not take care of themselves seem progressive and unusual (sadly) even today.
So much for Hire-A-Thug.