The origin of the Celtics
Where the Celts of the prehistoric Hallstatt period came from is still not clarified. The cultural evolution was from tribes of the urnfield time. In the 8th century BC. they first populated the areas on the Upper Rhine and the upper Danube.
Only in the early La Tène period do we find common ground for a larger, uniform culture. The first historical world map on which the Celts appear is that of the Greek Eratosthenes around 250 BC. It originated among other things from reports of Alexander the Great.
Celtic traces throughout Europe
The Celts were neither a homogeneous people nor a European primal community. They were never organized or had a leader accepted by all sides or even a state. Rather, the Celts spread to many different tribes, which had some cultural similarities. In France lived many tribes, which got summarized by Caesar as Gaul.
In Germany and Switzerland lived the Helvetii and in Turkey, the Galatians. In the year 387 BC, Celtic warriors occupied Rome and released the city only for ransom. Greece also got involved with the Celts in 278 BC. As a result, the city of Delphi was almost taken by the Celts, but this did not happen. The Greeks could not defeat the Celtic invaders, but at least displace them. These attacks made the Celt's enemies of the civilized world in the eyes of the Greeks and Romans.
Special role of the Druids
Some ancient works still provide important insights into demographics and customs. Druids and noble warriors were at the head of Gallic society. Druids were not only responsible for the religious rites. They also performed the duties of teachers and judges.
It took a lot of time and learning to become a druid and the training could take up to twenty years! Many Celts volunteered for an apprenticeship because being a druid also had decisive advantages. Druids paid no taxes and did not go to war. Druids did not pass on their knowledge in writing, but only through oral. Scripture was for practical purposes only, not religion or literature.
The Celtic Druids taught a transmutation of souls. A belief in the personal rebirth is something else like Celtic immortality. Druids transmitted the idea of immortal soul, resurrection in the other, imaginary world. The idea of the immortality of souls got rooted in the whole of European thought history. The oldest writings of the Indo-Europeans speak in clear firmness, for example in the Rig Veda.
Social status of women
It is noticeable that the women of the Celts enjoyed a high reputation. Some even believe that the Celts were almost equal between men and women. It is almost known today that women in the Celtic tribes had many rights for the time. The man would even determine the lives and deaths of women and children. It is hard to imagine today, but in most ancient societies it was normal. Often the men were in charge of the Celts. But in contrast to other ancient cultures, there were also princesses and warriors.
To call the Celtic woman equal would be going too far. In the families, as in antiquity, the principle of patriarchy prevailed. There is some evidence that the woman held a special position in the Celtic society. Historical texts and archaeological finds prove that there were female princesses. The warrior queen Boudicca led an uprising against the Roman occupiers of Britain in 60 AD.
The Celtic women also had a great influence on their own family planning. Although the boys married the girl of their family choice it was nothing unusual for the time. But there are also reports that the brides choose their future husbands themselves. It was the woman who determined on possible offspring. Some myths also report women who participated in wars and drinking events.
The busy economic life of the Celts
The Celts had a developed economic life very early on. They raised pigs and cattle and grew cereals and legumes such as lentils. Their fields got fertilized both with cattle manure and with marl and lime.
The Celtic economy was particularly distinguished by the metal industry. Besides copper and tin, the Celts also used gold and silver. The most important metal for them was iron. They used it for everyday things and also for the production of weapons.
The Celtic iron industry had the scale of large-scale operations in the 1st century BC. Another important resource the Celts gained underground was salt. The tunnels of Hallstatt were already driven into the earth more than 200 meters deep in the 6th century BC.
With their abilities and available raw materials, they build an extensive trading network. The people of the Mediterranean provided them with merchandise such as amber and tin. But the Celts were not only shrewd business people but skilled craftsmen as well. Their skills were in pottery, weaving, glass production and leather processing. They use the first machines, such as woodturning lathes, wheel carriages and rotary mills. Among the goods imported by the Celts were wine, bronze vessels and other luxury items from the south.
From very early on, they were able to pay for these goods with money. They had been using coins themselves since about 300 BC, modeled on Greek models. The Roman women, for example, loved the dresses and jewels of the Celtic women. Most Celts wore colored fur and linen robes and the men among them washed their hair with lime. The beards were also colored.
The religion had great influence on the life of the Celts. The Roman authors tried to equate the Celtic deities with the Roman gods. The Celtic god Teutates, for example, was often assigned by the Romans to the god of war Mars. What the individual gods meant is unclear. At any rate, Teutates was a tribal god. The Celts saw in him a kind of paternal leader to whom they could turn in times of peace and war.
The area of the Celts became smaller and smaller over time. Because the Roman Empire on the one side and the Teutons on the other side continued to expand. At some point, the Celtic kingdom on the mainland had completely disappeared.
Celtic tribes in Britain and Ireland were able to assert themselves for longer. The uprising led by Boudicca had almost even led the Romans to leave the province of Britain. Around the 5th century BC, Britain was finally conquered by the Teutons and Celts faded away. Celtic languages are still in use today, such as Welsh in Wales and Gaelic in Scotland and Ireland.
How is the Celtic world of gods constructed?
The Celtic world of gods is of a typical Indo-European structure. Three main gods were the god of heaven Taranis, the tribal god Teutates and Esus, god of wealth and war. As a sign of the cosmic god Tarani was the wheel with four or twelve spokes. It symbolized the year and thus the rule of Tarani over time.
The universe had three parts into the spheres of heaven, earth, and the underworld. The idea of a sacred middle of the country also seems to have played a role in the Celtic worldview. The same applies in the early medieval Ireland for the places Tara and Uisneach. Tara was the first seat of the High King and Uisneach holy central point of Ireland.
What other gods were there?
Of the children whom the god Dagda has with his wife is the river goddess Boand. The goddess Brigit is most important as patron deity of poets. Dagda's extramarital son, Angus Óg, also enjoys great veneration as the god of youth and beauty. One of Dagda's concubines is the war goddess Mórrígan, whom he meets at the time of the Samhain festival. Then she promises him help in future battles. Mórrígan forms together with Badb and Macha the trinity of war goddesses. But it may also be three manifestations of a single goddess of war.
Mórrígan is also endowed with prophetic abilities and magic skills. In the battles she usually does not act as an active warrior. She works only through her terrifying appearance. She intervenes in animal form in the fight. In the legend of King Arthur, she appears as a fairy Morgain.
Which mother and fertility deities got worshiped?
The Celts also worshiped many female deities. The main goddess of the pantheon was the mother goddess Ana, whose name means prosperity. Even so, it unites two natures in itself, can be both benevolent and harmful. There may be a pre-Celtic fertility deity behind her. A related goddess is the Gallic mother deity Matrona, who gave her name to the river Marne. She lives on in the shape of the Welsh mythological figure Modron, whose son Mabon gets kidnapped. Mabon goes back to the Celtic-Roman god Maponus, related to music and poetry.
Did you know that
much of the Celtic mythology in a modified form is still alive today? So the Halloween festival goes back to the old Celtic festival of Samhain. It got celebrated to mark the end and beginning of the Celtic new year. That night, the spirits were on their way. At the same time, the mythical union of the tribal god with the Earth Mother took place.