The Celts of Pre-Roman Europe







A Brief History of Celtic Ancestors in Europe


One of the most interesting features of the Celtic peoples is their history, which can be traced back to the indigenous hunter-gatherers of the Neolithic period beginning in north central Europe in 8000BC. This group of people survived relatively undisturbed and unchanged until the beginning of the Bronze Age in 2300BC. The introduction of bronze from their southern Greece neighbors provided a new avenue of technology that would forever change this group of hunter-gatherers to a mainly agricultural and pastoral society(Pennick, 62). The late bronze age would be characterized by the Urnfield Culture, referred by this name because of the custom of cremating the dead and placing their ashes in urns. At approximately 900BC we see the beginnings of the Hallstatt culture which ushers in the use of iron over bronze, hence the beginning of the Iron Age. The Hallstatt culture spread across eastern and central Europe and lasted from approx 800BC-500BC. Schutz states: " the transition from the Hallstatt culture to the La Tene culture[culture of the Celts]was largely material in nature, so that most probably the appearance of the Celts is the result of regional cultural developments(243). The first Celtic cultures probably appeared in the area of the upper Rhine and in south central Europe north of the Alps. From the 5th century on the Celts expanded out of central Europe in all directions. They grew in both numbers and strength, and at the peak of their prosperity, in approx 350BC they spanned modern day East and Western Europe, Spain, Greece, Northern Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland. Their overall reign would last some 500 years! The 2nd century marks the beginning of the decline of the Celts, possibly because the ties between their immense territories were linguistic and religious rather than political. This gradual decline through natural process came with the final military blow from Julius Caesar of Rome in the first century BC. It was only in Britain and finally in Ireland, that population groups survived into medieval times preserving the Celtic heritage, but under other, more local names(Powell, 206).
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The Urnfield, Hallstatt and La Tene Periods


A grave urn from the Urnfield period, discovered in Marburg, Hesse, Germany
A grave urn from the Urnfield period, discovered in Marburg, Hesse, Germany


Further information on the Urnfield Period





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Hallstatt Culture Artifacts, Iron Age, Pre-Roman Europe. *Click on picture to view additional resource*









  • The core Hallstatt territory(800BC) in solid yellow. It's expanding influence by 500BC in light yellow. LaTene territorial core(450BC) in solid green & it's expanding influence by 50BC in light green. Some major Celtic tribes are labeled.
    The core Hallstatt territory(800BC) in solid yellow. It's expanding influence by 500BC in light yellow. LaTene territorial core(450BC) in solid green & it's expanding influence by 50BC in light green. Some major Celtic tribes are labeled.



La Tene period artifacts on display at the British Museum. A votive shield from a river offering, a spear head from Lyn Cerrig Bach, and a horned helmet. *Click on the picture to view link*
La Tene period artifacts on display at the British Museum. A votive shield from a river offering, a spear head from Lyn Cerrig Bach, and a horned helmet. *Click on the picture to view link*






A Brief Review of Art in Pre-Roman Western Europe
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When discussing the art of early Pre-Romanized people of Western Europe, we must remember that there are no documentations of a written language. From an archaeological stand point, all information of the lives, thoughts, traditions, and cultures of these people are taken from the materials that have been preserved and left behind. This is why art is so important in understanding who these people were.
Before the Romans, the development of Celtic art began in Central Europe by the many Celtic tribes. In the beginning it was heavily influenced by the Greeks, Etruscans, and Scythians because of established trading. After the adoption of oththames%20round%20celtic%20shield%20bm%2001.jpger culture's art, Celtic art began to distinguish its self in its own way: faces of people begin to take on a more individual style, animals (real and mystical) are strongly incorporated, and geometric patterns are heavily used.

Celtic art is full of representation despite its classical background and models. Nature and the elements seem to be a key factor in art work of this time. Celtic art is also extremely symbolic being clustered with birds, horses, deer, humans, and plants. The majority of symbolism in Celtic art also seems to point heavily at their different religions, focusing on Earth worship. Most of the art that has been preserved are in the forms of weapons, drinking vessels, jewelry, armor, metal works, and in stone.
The "Art" section of this project concentrates on these forms of art, the symbolism and traditions of Celtic art, and a more in depth history of art made by the people we know as the Celts.



The Role of Women in Celtic Society external image BoudiccadgWarriorQueen.jpg


As stated in the above paragraph the Celtic culture spread throughout Europe, assimilating various cultures along the way. The ancient population of Gaul, Briton and Ireland greatly influenced the Celtic Civilization. This may explain some of the important differences between the Mediterranean societies and the Celtic societies, especially in the areas of religion, politics, social hierarchy, and, as it pertains to my area of research, the role of women. The Celts were a patriarchal society, however, there are recorded instances of female rule, archaeological evidence of elite females and even occasional mention of a possible matriarchal society at some point in time. From these sources and through the excavation of our world, we can get a glimpse of the lives of Celtic women when the world was theirs.





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Religion in Pre-Roman Europe


Religions of Pre-Roman Europe is a vast topic that also includes a lot of guessing. The peoples of Europe in the times before the Romans did not emphasize the written word. There are exceptions to this of course, but in general we have very little in writing from the people themselves. All we get eventually is the writings of other cultures looking from the outside in, and these writings were generally done by the victors and with state propaganda laced throughout. The scope of this topic is immense, and therefore, it is not feasible for me to discuss all aspects of these unique and varied cultures. I will attempt to give a broad picture comparing the similarities of the cultures concerned in this period.

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www.celtnet.org.uk/.../ gundestrup-cauldron.html
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Celtic Monuments


Some of the most compelling monuments of the world were created by pre-Roman Europeans. Sites like Stonehenge, Avebury, and Newgrange continue to fascinate people to this day. The uncertain purposes of these structures, the difficult construction, and the sheer size prove that this civilization was knowledgeable and capable of producing large, impressive, and important monuments. These monuments can be found throughout the world, but each differs in shape, size, and use, and some of the largest are found throughout Britain and Ireland.

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Newgrange, Ireland

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Social Structure and Organization in Every Day Life Before Roman Rule

The ancient Celtic culture was one that grouped many different people together under a common language. The most well known of these Celtic groups being the Únětice culture, Tumulus culture, Urnfield culture, and as mentioned above the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures. According to most of the written record about them, which comes from the Romans, they were violent barbarians, however, it is seen through their social structure which included kings, free commoners, priests, warriors, etc., their law system, and their art and religious practices that this is more than likely untrue.
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Bog Bodies of Iron Age Europe


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Tollund Man (By Robert Clark)
Thousands of years old, but vividly portrayed in shades of peat, bog bodies enthrall even the most unconversant audiences. Since the late 1700s, unearthed bog bodies have intrigued their viewers and the air of mystery that surrounds them has not dissipated over the years. To this day, scholars endeavor to determine the processes by which the bodies were preserved, the identities of these individuals, and the reasons that they were laid to rest in the bogs. Their findings, based on the archeological materials, can be used to make assertions about some aspects of the society in which these people lived. This subject is directly related to the social and religious aspects of pre-Roman Europe, and is also associated, in a more indirect way, with the role of women, the art, and the monuments in this area and time period.

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RESOURCES:
Pennick, Nigel. Celtic Sacred Landscapes. Thames & Hudson, 1996
Schutz, Herbert.
The Prehistory of Germanic Europe. Yale University Press, 1983
Powell, T.G.E. The Celts. Thames & Hudson, 1980