How did the Celts save Britain? Time travel?

A New Chronology.

A BBC documentary called “How the Celts saved Britain” has clearly made a bold and divisive claim in the title alone. One might not even need to watch the actual programme itself as the title by itself should shock one to their very core; it advances a radical revision of how we perceive history. It proposes that Britain was saved from a dark age, after the departure of the Roman legions in the 5th century AD, by the Celts. A group of people first identified by the Greeks asBack to the Future living in southern Germany in the 6th century BC somehow managed to build a time-machine with Iron-Age technology with the express purpose of traveling one thousand years into the future to save Britain, which for them did not yet exist. We might yet hear of Welsh-named Sarmatians defending Hadrian’s Wall, or of Huns saving the French Revolution from the Royalists if time-travel was so freely available in the ancient world.

Once the documentary begins, however, such radical notions are themselves shattered as it becomes clear that the presenter is in fact referring to the Irish, and how it was they who ‘saved’ Britain. Right. How many times must this be said? The Irish are not, nor were they ever, Celts. They never called themselves Celts, or thought of themselves as being Celts, and neither did anyone else until the 18th century. They spoke a Celtic language, but just because Brazilians and Senegalese speak a Latin language doesn’t make them Romans. To repeat, the Irish were not, and ardently continue not to be in face of overwhelming ignorance, Celts. (For a more detailed argument, see ‘Celtic Christianity and the Cult of Nonsense’).

Terms of Obscurity.

The BBC describes the programme as  a “Provocative two-part documentary in which Dan Snow blows the lid on the traditional Anglo-centric view of history and reveals how the Irish saved Britain from cultural oblivion during the Dark Ages.” Which is fair enough, and, even though most academics have known this for decades, the general public is in need of enlightenment. So why the subtle switching of words? Why does the programme not announce itself as ‘How the Irish saved Britain’? Why are the Irish pasted over as Celts? Might it be that the documentary was too provocative, that the English people couldn’t handle the idea that their neighbour, former colony, source of cheap labour, people whose culture they tried to annihilate,  could actually have been better than them at some stage? From where does this fear of the Irish appear? More realistically, none of these notions are probably correct. ‘Celt’ is a sexy term these days; in a world which has grown drunk on spiritualism, pseudo-druidism, and other such puzzling ideologies which proclaim Celtic provenance, one might imagine that slapping ‘Celt’ into the title of a programme virtually guarantees high ratings. So the Irish are rebranded as Celts, a shtick which has earned the nation quiet a few tourist dollars in recent years.

Even the Britons suffer in this tale of woe, a tale which muddles history somewhat. It might be thought that the ‘Celts’ saved all the inhabitants from Land’s End to the Shetland Islands, but Britain in the 7th century consisted only of what would become England and Wales, so in ‘saving Britain’ the Irish contribution to the conversion of the Picts and the foundation of Scotland is completely ignored. And even then, the Welsh, who called themselves British, didn’t need saving, they were already well versed in Latin learning, having been part of the Roman Empire. So the people of whom the programme is really talking about were the inhabitants of what we know as England, who were pagan invaders from mainland Europe. It might then be argued that a more accurate title for the documentary might be ‘How the Ancient Irish preserved Latin learning and re-introduced it to England after the Anglo-Saxon invasion, and from there, into Europe’. Admittedly it is less catchy, but more accurate.

How stupid are you?

Aside from various historical and conceptual inaccuracies in the documentary, which may be tolerably forgiven due to the vast time-periods under discussiSaint Patrickon, and the desire to simplify complex ideas (an arrogance of TV documentaries believing the public to be incapable of elaborate musings), there are several grossly fallacious statements made about Saint Patrick and the conversion of the Irish. Firstly, contrary to what is espoused in the programme, there were already Christians in Ireland, so many in fact that the Pope dispatched a bishop to administer to them long before Patrick appeared on the scene. Secondly, there was no High-King of Tara in this period, so Patrick could not have converted him. Thirdly, the use of hagiography as historical fact is blindingly deficient.

But the one that wins the prize for “most stupid ‘fact’ ever proclaimed in a documentary” is that Patrick was so successful in converting the Irish due to the fact that they were a spiritual people who venerated the sun, and Patrick simply convinced them to worship the Son. … And the presenter agrees with this revelation as offered by a Catholic priest. … This is utterly ridiculous. Not only is it grotesque to suggest that the Irish were swayed from a sophisticated polytheism layered with revenge and sex to a Jewish death cult by the simple replacing of a ‘u’ with an ‘o’, but it beggars belief to imply that they would comprehend such wordplay. They didn’t speak English. No one did. It hadn’t been invented yet. The ignorance embedded in such a thought is mind-numbing. Slapping a cat in an effort to assuage your fears of an impending financial apocalypse makes more sense. The Irish spoke Irish, and Patrick spoke Latin and probably learned Irish during his enslavement, and you can’t turn grian (‘sun’ in Irish) into filius (‘son’ in Latin) by any stretch of the imagination. How was such a comment allowed to air; did the presenter not see through the fallacy, or the researchers, editor, or numerous other people involved in the production? That such a statement was uttered is bad enough, but that nobody bothered to say “hang on, that’s just daft” is astonishing…

Yes there should be more documentaries professing the tremendous contribution the Irish made to Great Britain and the Continent, and, equally, vice versa. The ancient and medieval Irish did not exist in a vacuum, and neither did anyone else. The quality of the research, and of the contributors, must be improved, otherwise the popular perception of the history of these islands will be distorted beyond all reason, and the factual history will be lost. And someone should be employed to slap cretins who make profoundly ignorant comments, and those who nod along acceptingly, believing themselves to be great impartors of knowledge, should be reminded that they are there to question the veracity of such statements, possibly also with a slap.

30 responses to “How did the Celts save Britain? Time travel?

  1. After your compelling critique I was stimulated to watch what I had missed. Alas no. The BBC4 broadcasts are not available on BBC i-player. Shame!

  2. In fairness, part 2 is better, and clarifies some of the first’s issues. I am puzzled, however, by the presenter’s frequent connecting of paganism with barbarity and lack of civilisation; Rome, his paradigm of civilisation, was at its greatest during its pagan days…

  3. Pingback: Leave the Celts Alone. | A Frivolous Endeavour

  4. This article is in error on a number of points. It is based on the obsolete view that the Celts were a race of people. The author is under the impression that the Celts were something approximating a nation or even a mere tribe. The Celts were none of the above. The original meaning of the term was non-Greek similar to the original meaning of Barbarian which meant non-Roman. The word Celtic is a cultural term and refers to the culture that was once widespread in northern Europe. The Celtic culture survived in Ireland because it was never conquered by Rome. It survives to this day in the Irish language, festivals, arts and traditions. Of course a millennia ago it was much more prevalent.

    • Thank you for your comment, but it is in error on a number of points.

      Firstly, ‘Celt’ is not the Greek for barbarian. Oddly enough, ‘barbarian’ is the Greek for barbarian. It is not a Latin word, it is simply one the Romans borrowed from their more civilised neighbours. ‘Barbarian’ comes from an Ancient Greek word, βάρβαρος, meaning something like ‘uncivilised’, essentially ‘non-Greek’, apparently first attested before the 14th century BC. While the Ancient Greeks may well have considered Celts barbarian, ‘Celt’ did not mean ‘barbarian’. The Romans, seeing themselves as successors to the Greeks, and the true bastion of civilisation, happily borrowed the word to refer to all non-Graeco-Romans, but the Greeks probably still regarded the Romans as barbarians.

      Secondly, the earliest reference to Celts is by Hecataeus of Miletus in the 6th century BC, who mentions Κελτοί living somewhere north of Massilia, modern Marseille. Who these folk were nobody really knows, but a long time later a certain adventurous Roman decided to brand the whole population of Gaul as Celts. Were they? Possibly not, but the problem was compounded in the 17th/18th centuries (AD) when scholars continued this trend of inaccurate naming conventions, muddying the waters by calling a certain branch of the Indo-European language ‘Celtic’, even though its speakers were probably not, and tying this to a certain material culture. The Irish are the perfect example of this, since they are not a ‘Celtic’ ethnic group, but did speak a Celtic language and possess elements of Celtic culture (sometimes I think I should start calling it C-culture, C-language, etc., in an effort to dispel the inaccurate mental association between the term and the various fields of inquiry). This term, which may in fact have originally been a specific tribal or regional name, was inappropriately applied to an entire material culture and language group, and, sadly, it has stuck. Interestingly, Classical and Medieval authors did not consider the Irish, nor British, to be Celts.

      I do not believe that I said, or even implied, that “the Celts were a race of people”; I did note the specific use of the original term (as mentioned above) in the article, and, in any case, I have written in brief on the issue here and here. The term ‘Celt’ did at one point refer to a specific group, but was broadened for various reasons to describe an entire culture.

      If, for a moment, we consider your two key points, that a) ‘Celt’ is Greek for ‘barbarian’, and b) ‘Celt’ refers to a cultural group which lived in northern Europe, we would have to assume a homogeneity of barbarians. The Greeks would have considered Carthaginians, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, and, well, basically everyone not-Greek to be barbarians, which, if we follow your line of reasoning, would mean that all these peoples were Celts, and that, miraculously, they all lived in northern Europe. My geography is a bit rusty, but I’m pretty sure Egypt is south of Greece, and that the Celts, who- or whatever they may have been, never lived there.

      The culture (call it what you will) which arrived in the Isles by contact, not conquest, survived not just in Ireland, but in Britain too, in spite of the Roman occupation. British kingdoms sprang up after the Roman withdrawal with an alacrity which suggests suppression rather than extermination, and while these kingdoms were slowly conquered and marginalised by successive Continental invaders, the British aspect of this Insular culture survived in Wales, as it does today in the Welsh language, festivals, arts, and traditions. Of course a millennium ago it was much more prevalent.Then again, so was illiteracy and infant mortality.

      • Your all wrong there buddy, on Caesars commentaries on the gallic wars he described the celts as calling themselves celts , the Romans called them gauls, the celts in fact called themselves celts in recorded history .

      • Yeah, I accept that. Not sure I explained aspects of my thoughts very well in those old comments (I fell into the mistake of writing overly-long responses where my focus was on clarifying certain inconsistencies and not others). I think I was trying to convey the idea that we don’t really know what the Celts called themselves. Caeser’s ‘Gallic Wars’ is a masterpiece of propaganda and rests on centuries of Graeco-Roman ethnography and historical assumptions, so we can’t necessarily trust what he says. So, just because he says the people called themselves ‘Celts’ does not mean that they did, he may have been working from Greek assumptions or from a small population and applying it to the whole. It may indeed have been the case that these people came to call themselves ‘Celts’ because of interaction with Rome; it may have been an exonym that they adopted over time. I just wanted to convey that the situation is far more complex and cannot be taken at face value. In any event, thanks for your comment!

  5. I haven’t seen it in a while but I thought the sun/son was said not in a literal sense but in a narrative sense. What i mean is that Snow was not saying they literaly converted because of the similarity of two words that were yet to be invented, but it just sounded like a good pun. Maybe I’ll have to see it again.

    also on the Celt thing, I believe Dan Snow addressed what you were saying that they weren’t a culture at all but for the purposes of the documentary he was going to use the term as meaning Irish. I think perhaps because this was one of his first solo programs the producers figured more people would watch a documentary with Celt in the title than Irish.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      It has been a while since I saw the programme myself, and I must admit I cannot recall exactly what was said, so I must rely on what I wrote (I do recall watching that particular scene, incredulously, several times). Even in a narrative sense, I don’t see how it would work: to the best of my knowledge, the Irish didn’t worship the sun. In Snow’s defence, he didn’t utter this nonsense; as I noted, he was merely accepting what a priest told him. Of course one might argue that the sun could have been used symbolically, equating the fashion in which it lights the world to how Christ lights the world, or something. But let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt for the moment, let’s say it was just a pun, that Patrick converted the Irish from sun-worship to Son-worship. I’m am still not convinced that that would make sense; for polytheists, the sun would only be one of many gods, and even then, not necessarily the most important. And, if we were to pick the male divinity most closely associated with the sun for the Irish, we would find Lugh, a war-god, a skilled craftsman, a mythic high-king, we might find some symbols sympathetic with the Christian myth (a craftsman king of kings). It is very difficult to know what the Irish themselves actually worshipped as any of the surviving material has passed through Christian hands, sometimes made to conform with other notions of polytheistic cultures, like the Greeks or the Romans. Furthermore, that kind of wordplay, sun/Son, is dangerous, and could lead one into heresy. Christian missionaries would have been wary of making such associations, of tying the intangible divinity in which they believed to a material object, until they could be sure that the society which they were converting understood that it was merely symbolic. Basically, Christians didn’t believe that the sun was God, to believe so would have been heretical, and so would have been cautious about making such associations.

      Why were they even interviewing a priest on this point? Ireland has numerous acclaimed historians, archaeologists, folklorists, Old-Irish scholars, and medieval literature experts who would have been more credible sources. Any one of these could have revealed the simple, yet often staggering, fact that we no information at all on how Patrick converted the Irish. We have a few scant hints on the organisation of his mission (it is interesting that he notes that he had to hire bodyguards for his own protection, and that some bishops thought he was out of line). There were Christians in Ireland before he arrived, the pope had even sent a bishop to administer them.

      I don’t recall Dan Snow himself referring to the Irish as Celts in the programme; I was lamenting the strange switching of ‘Celt’ and ‘Irish’ from the title, the programme itself, and the BBC description on its website. Essentially I agreed with you on your point concerning the producers when I said –

      ‘Celt’ is a sexy term these days; in a world which has grown drunk on spiritualism, pseudo-druidism, and other such puzzling ideologies which proclaim Celtic provenance, one might imagine that slapping ‘Celt’ into the title of a programme virtually guarantees high ratings.

      Overall, it was (almost) a good attempt at investigating the contribution of Ireland to Britain and the world, but what I cannot fathom is why it was researched in such a haphazard manner. I sometimes lament at how the influence of the Irish on the Scots, English, and Welsh is often glossed over. The national rhetoric of the Insular states seems to prohibit the recognition that we each have had a deep and lasting (sometimes positive, sometimes negative) impact on one another, that we didn’t exist in a vacuum, but that we are the result of an extremely complicated and inter-dependent history.

    • Direct quote from the programme: “…he, by the very simple device of changing s-u-n to S-o-n, he changed the emphasis to Christ…” (It’s on YouTube, but I won’t link for fear of copyright issues).

      And, as far as I can tell, Dan Snow didn’t call the Irish Celts.

  6. Actually this show was originally to be produced under the title How the Irish saved Britain, but the BBC execs in London though the British audience (and English in particular) would be affronted by this title.

    Further the Celts did not even call themselves Celts, but there are examples of a Celtic language being spoken in Ireland as early as the 4th century, suggesting that at the very least Celtic culture had spread here.

    It is the argument over the Coca-Cola caps people all over again …

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, as I noted under the heading ‘Terms of Obscurity’, there does appear to be a marked difference in the tone of the description of the programme and its title. I had presumed this to be some base marketing strategy, but your suggestion is far more disturbing. I believe that the British public are sufficiently mature enough to recognise the contributions of other cultures and nations to their own. Do you have a source for this claim? I’d love to see some kind of official demand for this obfuscation.

      I did point out that ‘The Irish are not, nor were they ever, Celts. They never called themselves Celts, or thought of themselves as being Celts…’, and I also provided a link to another piece I wrote – – which also discussed the nature of ‘Celts’. Since then I have written twice on the issue of the Celts – and In short, yes, the Irish spoke a language which has been inaccurately labelled as ‘Celtic’, a language which they may have adopted (along with aspects of La Tene culture) through contact, assimilation, and trade, but not through conquest. The Celts, if such a people existed, were probably a specific tribe which lived somewhere in the south of France, and the Romans applied their name to an entire culture (not unlike how they named the Greeks, who call themselves Hellenes).

      I am afraid that I am not familiar with this Coca-Cola argument.

  7. The Celts saved Britain, after the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes arrived. They were first mercenaries of the Romans, to fight off another group of Celts — the Picts and the Scottis. Then the Anglo-Saxon tribes arrived in large numbers, with their pagan religion, lack of Latin learning — the Celts of Britain were very Latinized, Arthur came from the Latin “Artorius,” and writing in the Roman alphabet. Which later overtook the ogham and the runes. It was writing in the Roman alphabet, which led to the creation of the manuscripts, which the medieval British Isles are famous for. Later, the Anglo-Saxon tribes were to incorporate Christianity, and along with it, the Roman alphabet. The Roman alphabet was used to write Irish, Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and the non-British Breton. As well as Anglo-Saxon, with the most famous being “Beowulf.”

    • Thank you for your rather labyrinthine comment. I’ve broken it down into its separate elements, as I understand them, so as to best answer you.

      ‘The Celts saved Britain’ – No, they didn’t. See the above post.

      ‘[The Celts] were first mercenaries of the Romans, to fight off another group of Celts — the Picts and the Scottis’ – yes, but no. The Romans did employ mercenaries from across Europe, but also drew troops from federated or subjugated tribes. Some Britons (not Celts) may well have played a role in the conquest of Britain, and the southern regions of that island became largely Romanised, hence the Romano-British. The northern half, less so. The Scoti were the Irish, speakers of a Celtic language, but that does not make them Celts. The Picts, well, as far as I know, who they belong to is still debated.

      ‘Then the Anglo-Saxon tribes arrived in large numbers, with their pagan religion, lack of Latin learning’ – this is true.

      ‘the Celts of Britain were very Latinized’ – leaving aside the Celt thing, as I noted above, the south of Britain was quite Latinised, but the north much less so, as evidenced by the near-immediate revival of certain British kingdoms with the departure of the legions.

      ‘Arthur came from the Latin “Artorius” – yes, but King Arthur didn’t exist, and was an invention of a later period, so I am not sure why this is relevant.

      ‘and writing in the Roman alphabet. Which later overtook the ogham and the runes’ – well, ultimately, yes, but this statement obscures the fact that writing in this region, in this period, was largely a domain of the Church. Ogham coexisted, for a time, with the Latin alphabet, and was used primarily as a means to inscribe monuments, not to write books. Runes came to the British Isles several hundred years later, with the Vikings, and also coexisted with Latin for several generations. Sadly, the sheer weight of Christian texts won in the end.

      ‘It was writing in the Roman alphabet, which led to the creation of the manuscripts, which the medieval British Isles are famous for.’ – It is true that the British Isles are famous for their manuscripts, but you seem to have put the cart before the horse. The use of the Latin alphabet did not necessarily lead to the creation of manuscripts; it was, arguably, the Christian Church’s obsession with the written word which led to the creation of these illustrious manuscripts, and the language of that religion was Latin. They might have chosen Greek, or perhaps even Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible) had those options been available to them. It was not Latin which led to manuscripts, but manuscripts which led to Latin.

      ‘Later, the Anglo-Saxon tribes were to incorporate Christianity, and along with it, the Roman alphabet’ – The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were converted over a relatively short space of time, and yes, they did adopt the Latin alphabet, it was, after all, the very basis of the language of the new religion. They did, however, adapt it to suit their needs.

      ‘The Roman alphabet was used to write Irish, Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and the non-British Breton. As well as Anglo-Saxon, with the most famous being “Beowulf” – The invention of vernacular systems of writing would be based on a system already familiar; if someone spoke to you in Chinese, would you write it out in Chinese characters (presuming that you have no knowledge of Chinese), or would you attempt to replicate the sounds with Latin letters? Breton is a Brythonic language, and they were, in fact, migrants from Britain who settled in post-Roman Armorica. ‘Beowulf’ is the product of a Christian world-view, so why wouldn’t it have been written in a Latin script? Besides which, the Latin alphabet had superseded runes by the time of the writing of the surviving text, so there really wasn’t any other option.

      So, let us return to the premise of the argument, that the ‘Celts saved Britain, after the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes arrived’. Ignoring the ‘Celt’ myth, isn’t the claim that Britain needed to be save rather presumptuous? That is clearly the product of a view that believes that Britain should have been Christian and Roman. Why did Britain need saving? Did Gaul need saving from the Franks, the people who gave us the Carolingian renaissance, and the very way we write today? And surely ‘saving’ Britain would have resulted in there not being an England in existence today? The Celts didn’t do a very good job of saving Britain, perhaps because they didn’t exist, or (if we more accurately refer to the Irish) didn’t even try. And who would they have been saving Britain for, the Welsh or the Romans? Who had the rightful claim to the land?

      • I realize that Breton is a Brythonic language, which originally came out of Cornish. But the reason why I said ‘non-British,” is because today it is spoken in Brittany, France, not in Great Britain. Like Cornish, Welsh, Manx, and Gaelic. Historically, King Arthur is tied into the Battle of Badon, which archaeology proves it took place. But the first recording of King Arthur and his Round Table, comes from a written Breton myth. Before they used the Roman alphabet, did not the Anglo-Saxon tribes write in runes? They are most famously tied into the Vikings. When you read “Beowulf,” you can see how the old pagan Germanic beliefs went parallel with Christianity. Because when they converted to Christianity, the old beliefs did not disappear, they just continued parallel with the new beliefs. We see that today in Christmas celebrations. The kissing underneath the mistletoe, comes from when two Celtic chieftains made peace. They kissed each other underneath the mistletoe. The mistletoe grows on oak trees, and the Celts did not build temples, they conducted their religious processions in oak groves, and the oak tree was connected by lightening to the deities.

      • You have to admit, your statement was somewhat misleading – ‘The Roman alphabet was used to write Irish, Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and the non-British Breton’. Perhaps elucidate by using terms such as ‘the non-insular Bretons’, ‘the continental Bretons’. They were, after all, ‘British’, after a sense, though of course it would be more precise to say ‘Britons’.

        Yes, indeed, the Anglo-Saxons did have runes, my mistake, I totally forgot about the Ruthwell Cross.

        I have never heard of mistletoe being connected with acts of peace as you suggest (though kissing is; the Irish word for kiss, póg derives from the Latin pax), I’ve only heard of it in a Mediterranean pagan or Christian context.

        As for all that stuff about oaks, yes trees appear to have been sacred to Celtic-speaking peoples, and the oak was chief among. Actual religious practices are unknown, as the practitioners never wrote anything down.

        Yes the Battle of Badon took place, even Gildas reports on it (it was fought in the year of his birth, forty-three years before his writing of De Excidio Britanniae in the early sixth century). Gildas notes the involvement of a certain warrior named Ambrosius Aurelianus. Neither Bede in the early eighth century, nor the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the late ninth make note of anyone we could relate to Arthur; the only such reference can be found in the mid-ninth century Historia Brittonum and the tenth century Annals of Wales, neither of which are regarded as reliable sources. The whole Arthur myth really kicked of in the twelfth century with Geoffrey of Monmouth, who had Ambrosius as a separate figure. So, the historical evidence for Arthur is a wee bit thin, by which I mean, if it was ice, I wouldn’t skate on it. And besides, Arthur is more of a Welsh phenomenon than a Breton one.

    • And just to add my own confusion to David’s comments:

      ” ‘Then the Anglo-Saxon tribes arrived in large numbers, with their pagan religion, lack of Latin learning’ – this is true. ”
      Not so sure about this, Yes, Angles and Saxons did come, though I would not at that point yet call them Anglo-Saxons, but whether they came in large numbers is still being discussed and we have no evidence to back up the hypotheses, of which there are many.
      Then to talk about ‘their pagan religion’ as if the Brits and the romans had had a religion that we would not call pagan is a bit odd. Does latinisation somehow save one from being pagan?

      “‘Arthur came from the Latin “Artorius” – yes, but King Arthur didn’t exist, and was an invention of a later period, so I am not sure why this is relevant.”
      This is neither relevant nor correct as such, as far as I know Artorius may be the latin form of Arthur, but the Arthur in question is never called Artorius even in the Latin texts that mention him. Also, the sentence “Arthur came from the Latin “Armorius” and writing in the Roman alphabet” makes no sense at all!

      “The medieval British Isles are famous for creating manuscripts…” well, yes, as well as many other places, but again, the use of British here is baffling. Surely the early medieval Irish would be just as pleased at being called british as any Irish Republican of today?

      The Roman alphabet has been used for writing a lot, yes, including all that you mention, but not exactly all around the 5th century, which seems to be roughly the time we’re talking about. Though I suppose you might find a cornishman intent on telling you about his cornish ancestors who tried to fend off the anglo-saxon invaders, I doubt that said ancestor would have called himself a cornishman…

      And the most famous Anglo-Saxon was Beowulf? Or should this mean the most famous anglo-saxon text??

      • Thank you for your comment!

        You highlight features of the initial comment that I let slide: appalling construction and grammar. I did my best to break it into understandable clauses.

        It is also true that pagan Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (everyone forgets the poor Jutes) arrived in ambiguous terms on Britain, a Britain which was not yet resolutely Christian, or even fully British. The entire notion of coherent ethnic identity in this period is a minefield.

        In fairness, the official term for the archipelago off the north-west of Europe is the ‘British Isles’. I debate the use of this term myself; some prefer the neutral ‘the Isles’, but that seems terribly vague, while others use ‘the Western Isles’. On the other hand, these islands were called ‘British’ Isles long before the political invention of Britain: the ancient Greeks refer to the Prettanic Isles, the Greek ‘p’ becoming ‘b’ in Latin. Ptolemy names both island as Britain, one big, ‘megale Britannia’ and one small, ‘mikra Brittannia’. Which could lead to confusion, as the Irish for Wales translates as ‘small/little Britain’. Maybe Britannic Isles would be a nice compromise…

        Thanks again!

      • It was never said the most famous Anglo-Saxon was Beowulf, the paragraph was about writings. A great deal of archaeological remains have been tied into King Arthur. So can it stil be clearly stated that King Arthur never physically existed? A motion picture was made about King Arthur, based on what these archaeological remains tell us.

      • Here again, you must admit to a certain lack of clarity in your writing, which is what misled the other contributor to believe that you thought that Beowulf was an Anglo-Saxon. If you would permit me to illustrate:

        The (1) Roman alphabet was used to write Irish, (2) Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and the (3) non-British Breton. (4) As well as Anglo-Saxon, with the most famous (5) being “Beowulf.”

        The (1) Latin alphabet was used to write Irish, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, and the (3) non-insular Breton, (4) as well as Anglo-Saxon, the most famous (5) textual example of this final language being ‘Beowulf’.

        (1) Rome was the state, Latin was the language, which is why it is called more commonly referred to as the Latin alphabet. I’ll grant that you might find ‘Roman alphabet’ in some sources, but its usage is waning for the sake of clarity.
        (2) I’m not sure why Gaelic is included, since that is essentially Irish. If you mean Scots Gaelic, during this period it was identical to Irish, and so need not be included.
        (3) I’ve pointed this out elsewhere.
        (4) This is simply an issue of grammar; the clauses only make sense if connected, dividing them leads to confusion.
        (5) The manner in which you have constructed the sentence would seem to suggest that Beowulf is an indefinite example of something which you refer to as Anglo-Saxon. My revised sentence underlines that you are referring to a famous text in a certain language.

        As I write in almost every essay handed in to me by my students, clarity is key.

        Finally, you must be trolling me, using a ‘motion picture’ as evidence. Yeah, by that logic Robin Hood was real (he wasn’t). Or the Battle of Stirling Bridge took place nowhere near a bridge, as we saw (or rather, didn’t see) in ‘Braveheart’, which also revealed to us that the Scots had digital watches. ‘Gladiator’ doesn’t stick with the facts, even with Ridley Scott’s assurances that it did. I mean, if we were to use movies as criteria, which Arthur would we choose? Clive Owen in ‘Arthur’, Nigel Terry in ‘Excalibur’, Sean Connory in ‘First Knight’, or the son of Romulus Augustulus as depicted in ‘The Last Legion’?

      • When I refer to Breton, I refer to it today as being spoken in France. So it is a language of France, with French loan words in it. The motion picture I was referring to is called “Arthur.” In the motion picture “Braveheart,” I do not recall seeing anyone with a digital watch. Motion pictures can be fictionalized, but they also can be throughly researched on the historical subject matter. Michael Wood will theatrically recreate scenes, in his documentaries. Mostly with the actor or actress reading a historical text recalling a specific event.

      • I really really hope you don’t mean this film.

        I’ll tell you a short story, a story of laughter and lies.

        So, a few years ago a dear friend of mine suggested that we watch this film. We were puzzled by the script which appeared at the beginning referring to new archaeological evidence, and our hopes were raised. Mere seconds later we were reduced to laughter so great the film had to paused so that I could catch my breath. This happened at several points throughout the movie. It is a hilarious tapestry of fantasy, which is fine, since so is King Arthur, but the claim of historicity at the beginning made the whole effort utterly deceitful.

        Read a book, read a good book (preferably, of academic quality) on the issue. Don’t refer to movies. Film-makers and studios are not in the business of facts, they are in the business of making money. Documentaries a whole different kettle of fish, that is why they belong to a different category.

        Other than that, this is my final comment on the issue. There is nothing to be gained from this conversation, your argument has descended into absurdity. Unless you offer a genuinely interesting point, or, with sincere curiosity, seek valid information and frank discussion, I will no longer engage in your baffling line of ‘reasoning’.

      • I have read books, and I have researched at the British Museum in London. My specialty is saving endangered languages. Which I thought what this was all about, how Celtic languages were reduced by the expansion of Anglo-Saxon, which later became English. But you have to reduce to personal insults and ridicule. Your lowly behavior does not lend itself any credibility, nor does your pomposity.

  8. Oh and David Works, all this indignation about The Celts, what about the indiscriminate use of “Britain” in all this?

    • One hurdle at a time 😉

      • The Jutes only settled in Kent, while the Saxons established kingdoms such as Essex and Wessex. Of course England, comes from Angleland. Also, Wales is Saxon for “strangers.”

      • The Jutes also settled on the Isle of Wight, and on the mainland immediately surrounding that island; these people were know as the Wihtware, and were under the domination of the West Saxons.
        The Saxons founded the kingdoms of Wessex, Sussex, Midddlesex, and Essex; not terribly inventive as names go, West- South-, Middle-, and East-Saxons.
        The Angles were a bit more original in their names, aside from East Anglia, there was Mercia, Lindsey, Deira, and Bernicia. The Mercians dominated several other kingdoms, including that of those Hwicce, the Magonsaete, and the Middle Angles.

        Sadly, medieval kingdoms were not tidy affairs, and sometimes there would be divisions, and sub-divisions of kingdoms; in the 760s Sigered was referred to a ‘king of half Kent’

        Many population-names are rooted in ideas of ‘us’ or ‘them’. For example, the Welsh for ‘Wales’, Cymru, basically means ‘us’ (more accurately, something like ‘fellow people’, I think). Interestingly, the Irish for England is ‘Sasana’, which ultimately derives from Saxon; isn’t it curious how both the English and the Irish language chose one population after whom to name the whole, but neither chose the same one?

  9. Whoa your taking the comment made by the priest about Saint Patrick way too literally. the priest was just telling a story and using a metaphor to explaining how the native Irish connected their old pagan imagery with their new Christianity religion. lol obviously, most folklores from the past are made up and make absolutely no sense if you take them so literally.

  10. Apologies if I’m late to this party, however. cat-slapping is not recommended, as mine will slap you right back.

    I found your excellent series of posts after watching Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver’s latest series about ‘Celts’.

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