The Celts. For Real.

English: Vector version of a design from the B...

English: Vector version of a design from the Book of Kells, fol. 29r. Traced outlines in black and white representing three intertwined dogs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neo-Pagans are not Celts.

Since I’ve ranted about who the Celts weren’t, I thought I should say who they actually were. The term ‘Celt’ has been abused for quite a long time now; people buy Celtic music, wear Celtic designs, and imagine themselves as part of a great Celtic identity. This is twisted into odd forms of nationalism, neo-paganism, and Christianity. It might seem vaguely ironic that the term is used by both pagans and Christians, but the reality is that they are both wrong, so what’s the difference?

The Term is the Thing…

I must be quite clear on this point, and you must pay attention, as this is crucial; we are speaking here of terminology. Detach the word ‘Celt’ from any image or concept it might arouse in you mind; words are used to denote concepts, and sometimes those words are misused. This misuse might lead to one word being used to describe many individual and separate physical things and abstract concepts. It may be that no connection between these discrete and individual things exists, except for that word. While certain groups of people who specialise in the field of studying these things might grasp this fact, in popular culture the separate identities of these things are muddled and mixed because only one word is used. This mess is compounded by fashion, arbitrary notions of nationalism, and, sometimes, outright deceit. But just because something is popular does not mean that it is true (just look at that whole ‘god’ phenomenon; I mean, seriously, are we not over that yet?).

If you want a very basic example of this, look at Goths. A few hundred years ago the Goths were a migratory nation wandering around the Roman Empire generally taking things over. Nowadays ‘Goth’ refers to a non-violent post-punk subculture which is more likely to feel oppressed than go oppress other sub-cultures. ‘Gothic’ also denotes a type of architecture that has nothing to do with either the Goths (had swords) or the Goths (have ipods). The term is also applied to a type of literature, which may have influenced the Goths (tend to have piercings), but not the Goths (tended to pierce people), and may have itself drawn some inspiration from Gothic architecture. So, here we have a term that describes a certain style of writing, a certain style of building, and a certain style of fashion, none of which are really connected to the original meaning of the term which denoted a bunch of folk from northern Europe who moved to sunnier climates.

Now that we are clear on that…

There are, essentially, four things the term ‘Celt’ is attached to –

1. A historical ethnic group.

2. A family of languages.

3. Archaeological material (well, not really; I get to this in a moment).

4. A bunch of fanciful modern nonsense about faeries, druids, new-age Christian hokum, spirituality, and an economic bubble.

Let’s all agree to ignore 4. So, what are these three Celtic things, and how are they all ‘Celtic’  but not about the Celts? The problem lies with 17th and 18th century scholars (many of the world’s problems are the fault of these guys). These people were working in the dark, fumbling around with artifacts, languages, and cultures, attaching names that made sense at the time, but no longer do. All they had to work with were the histories handed down by propagandists, politicians, and priests (hardly the most trustworthy of folk), and the things they dug up, and had to make some sense out of it all. Certain elements of this process were easy; the ancient Romans and Greek were very helpful in leaving tons and tons of things in the ground and in books to be found by these scholars. Sadly, these scholars believed everything the Romans and Greeks wrote in these books. So when it was said that there were a people called the Celts, and that they were barbarians, it was believed. Almost everyone in Europe who was not Roman or Greek was labelled a Celt, because it was easier to think of great empires and cultures in opposition, civilisation in contrast to barbarity, bad guys versus good guys, us against them. Utter nonsense, of course, but that’s basically the way it was thought of for centuries.

So, history, archaeology, and culture were all muddled up by these scholars, creating a new version of the myth of the Celt (Caesar got there first in many respects, but more on that later). Then, in the 19th century, simply because academics love making things far more complicated than necessary, philologists decided to name a group of languages, which until then didn’t really have much in common with the ‘Celts’ of the historians or archaeologists, Celtic. To make matters worse, around this period racism was becoming tremendously popular, and nationalism was really taking off. Nations had to invent identities, foundation myths, reasons for why you are not one of us. Utter nonsense again, of course, but people are stupid. Certain peoples looked back and picked the bits of history they like; the anti-monarchical French liked to identify themselves as Gauls, ‘Celts’ who had resisted the imperial ambitions of a certain Roman; the English liked the idea of being made up of various peoples who had kicked the crap out of the Britons, ‘Celts’ who had been conquered by Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and Normans; and the Irish, being not-English, began to identify themselves as ‘Celts’, something which the neighbours agreed with as they had a fondness for kicking the crap out of Celts. Did the Celts of France, Britain, and Ireland have anything in common? No. And yes… It’s complicated.

Language timothy, language.

Latin survives today as Portuguese, Romanian, French, Spanish, Occitan, Catalan, and the various Italian dialects mostly because the Romans were very, very good at killing some people, and educating those who were left. Sadly, a great number of these people spoke various forms of what is called ‘Celtic’. They didn’t call it Celtic, and they might not even have realised that their languages were related; a Portuguese person might have rather a hard time understanding a Romanian, though technically they are speaking very similar languages. The various peoples of Gaul who spoke Celtic languages might not have immediately understood one another, but they would have definitely had a hard time comprehending the Irish, or the Galatians (who lived in central modern Turkey), even though they were all speaking ‘Celtic’ languages. Not that Caesar cared when he was conquering Gaul; all that mattered to him was that they didn’t speak Latin and they had lots of gold, which he wanted. Keep an eye on this Caesar fella, a lot of the problem is in many ways his fault.

Scholars in the 19th century, when confronted with a bunch of languages, which were clearly related, found in a vast region stretching from Anatolia, central Europe, northern Italy, France, Iberia, and the British Isles looked in the works of ancient writers to see if they could find some great empire or culture to explain this phenomenon. They took a liking to the ‘Celts’ and the name stuck; these languages became known as Celtic, divided into Insular and Continental branches, the latter of which became extinct, though the former survives as Irish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton.

A family tree of languages. Click to blow your mind… (Image via Wikipedia)

Are these languages Celtic? Yes, in a very specific linguistic sense meaning that there is a language family which scholars use the term ‘Celtic’ to identify. Were the people who spoke these languages, and those who still do, Celts? No. They may, at best, be called Celtic-speakers, which would be like calling Americans German-speakers (see how often you can get away with saying that to an American before irk turns to anger). The Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and Breton speak Celtic languages but are not Celts.


Pointy stabby thing, also known as ‘sword’ (Image via Wikipedia).

Swords, Scabbards, and other Stuff.

As before, there was a time when anything non-Roman from the Stone Age on was synonymous with ‘Celtic’, but the limits of that term were eventually reduced to the Iron Age, an then into two specific periods, La Tène and Hallstatt. The folk of La Tène persuasion are customarily associated with the Celts of Caesar. The use of Celtic languages far exceeded the territories encompassed by these cultures, which may have included non-Celtic speaking populations. We might suppose that, as there was a certain unity of material culture and language in central Europe, these people were Celts, but ‘Celtic’ Ireland and Britain possess little in the way of this material culture, but are the only places where the language survives. Even the Celtic-speaking peoples of Iberia, the cleverly named Celtiberians (I bet it took months to come up with that), were hardly touched by the La Tène culture. And let’s not get into the difficulties thrown up by the Celtic-speaking Galatians of Anatolia. Can we tie artifacts and remains to languages, and make them both Celtic, essentially inventing a people with a shared ethnic, linguistic, and material identity? Well, yes, if you ignore the facts, which is what people generally seem to do.

There are more Roman archaeological artifacts found in Ireland than ‘Celtic’, which would, with seriously flawed logic, suggest that the Irish were in fact Romans. Which would be an impressive feat, since the Romans never invaded Ireland. So,  what is commonly referred to as ‘Celtic’ in an archaeological sense is really two separate material cultures, neither of which are in any serious way connected to ‘Celtic’ languages, or the modern ‘Celtic’ nations, aside from the use of fancy interlacing to entice shoppers to buy ‘authentic’ Celtic merchandise. We must then conclude that archaeology cannot tell us who the Celts were, only that there were a bunch of people hanging out in Central Europe who made things in a certain distinctive way before the Romans came along and ruined the party. But at least it gets us closer than language does.

Julius Caesar, bane of Gauls and historians (image via Wikipedia)

A Tapestry of Lies.

As for historical Celts? Well. This is where the fun really begins. Celts appear first in the writings of the Ancient Greeks, who wrote that the ‘Keltoi’ lived up around the Danube, northern Italy, and also in southern France. Which seems to map onto the La Tène scheme of things. Caesar gives the most information on these Celts, which is not surprising as he had an excellent research opportunity,  getting up close and personal with the Gauls, what with his conquering, killing, and enslaving campaign. That kind of thing won votes back in Rome, and he was aiming for the big leagues. It’s a pity that he was a politician and a soldier, as his views of the Gauls are heavily laden with stereotypes which had been around for centuries. He is the only person to refer to certain ‘Celtic’ practices, such as the Wicker Man, and so we cannot know if they are true. Caesar was keen to point out, though, that the Gauls were  semi-civilised, unlike the utterly barbaric Germans, but at least Teutonic trains run on time. All references to Celtic culture and religion are based on Graeco-Roman stereotypes, and, as far as I know, no mention is made of Celtic art in their literature. So, in modern terms, Caesar was a racist, and only saw what he wanted to see. To be fair, he was a clever guy, so let’s give him the benefit of doubt, and say that he was telling the Romans back home what they wanted to hear. But, essentially, he was like an Englishman going to America, writing home about the barbarous customs and foods (creationism and cheese in a can) he found there, while ignoring their contribution to world culture and science (jazz and the moon landings).

I suppose we could say that at least Caesar confirms that the people of Gaul called themselves Celts, until we recall that the Romans didn’t care what any named themselves; they called the Greeks Greek! The Greeks called (and still call) themselves Hellenes, since the place where they come from is called Helles. See how that works? Amazing, simple, apt. Like the Romans gave a damn. Uncultured sheep-herders living on the tops of hills near a swamp, the Romans re-baptised the entire Hellenic people after the first ones they met, the Graeci. Imagine if on meeting an American for the first time you asked for their surname, and from that point onwards referred to all Americans by that name. One of the first Americans I ever met was a Mr. Hickey, which would make all Americans Hicks, or Hickeans. In any event, when Caesar says that the Gauls called themselves Celts, he may have just been quoting the Greeks, because nobody back in Rome really cared what the Gauls called themselves, so long as they made good slaves or stayed dead. So they may have been Celts, maybe. But they were not seen to be the same as the people of Aquitaine or northern France, or even Iberia, or Britain. Caesar only describes a small portion of the people we would expect to be called Celts as Celtic. It’s almost like he was making it up…

Interestingly, Caesar didn’t call the people of Britain Celts, but Belgians (of a sort). And throughout the Middle Ages none of the surviving ‘Celtic’ peoples of the British Isles called themselves Celts, or had any notion that they had a shared heritage, other than the fact that they were extremely fond of killing each other. Historically speaking, the ‘Celts’ of the British Isles weren’t labelled as Celts until much much more recently.

So. There you have it.

What have we learned? The ‘Celts’, as they are commonly understood, never existed, and while certain aspects of the linguistic, archaeological, and historical notions of a Celt overlap, they do not provide us with who or what a Celt really was. A person from a La Tène influenced region of central Gaul who spoke a Celtic language may tick all the boxes of what is needed to be a Celt, but this would exclude so many others, making the whole notion invalid.

So, in conclusion, I must apologise. I said at the beginning I was going to tell you who the Celts really were, and I haven’t. But it’s not my fault, nobody can. And anyone who says otherwise has either discovered something revolutionary, and should be published in a book, or is a nutter, and should be hit with one.


10 responses to “The Celts. For Real.

  1. Pingback: The Wisdom of Trees « Beyond the stars astrology

  2. This is great – where did the linguistic diagram come from? A credit would be nice.

    • Thanks!

      The image links to Wikipedia, as you might see in the address bar when you open it. Usually WordPress places a brief description under any linked image, I’m not sure why one doesn’t appear here. I’ll look in to it.

  3. Sean O' h-Aodha

    I agree there has been considerable inacuracy in identifying the ethnic and cultural origins of many artifacts by finders, including supposedly professional archaeologists themselves since the earliest recorded histories. Chauvinism, misguided pride, nationalism, a malicious desire of clerics to demonize the unfamiliar, my people have seen it all. You see, by heritage, I am one of the surviving “Celts.” Inour family, we have saved some artifacts from various places we lived before the British Isles..and that probably includes some genes picked up in various migrations and mercenary stints. Our language,does, in fact have a clutch of words linguistically related to “Celt,” and it refers to people we know are like us. Phonics and orthography being how they are in our dialects, these words all begin with the letter C or G, though in the writings of Iberian and Anatolian tribes related to us, they may begin with Xh.

    Much of that which our museums (and linguists) identify as “Roman” is in fact Etruscan, Oscan, Sabian, Gaulish, Dorian/Peloponessian, Attic, Syrian, Scythian, Iberian, etc.. The so-called Latin Tribes were a minority among the population of the Etruscan province of Latium. They did not call themselves
    “Latin,” this was a derogatory term. The tribal names are lost to history, but may be among those recorded by the Greeks, The Medes, or perhaps the Hatti for a tribe of footloose, semi-vagrant cattle herders known to plague visitors to the Pontic Steppes. They supposedly had semi-wild ponies, carts with solid wooden wheels, the bulk of their weaponry was of wood and stone. In the time between 700 BC and 800 BC, there is some evidence of an exodus through Europe of many tribes from Pontus resulting in squatting on lands in the northern half of Italy the Etruscans traditionally considered theirs.

    The Etrurii, an innovative and inventive folk never so numerous themselves, hired people from Central Europe to serve as mercenaries, possibly others from Sardinia, to beef up their ranks and control or exterminate the newcomers. The Central Europeans included several of the tribes now known to us as Celts, the Sardinians have been ignored by scholars for reasons I don’t understand. They may have been the most affluent and organized of the surviving progeny of the so-called Beaker Folk. Their close cousins probably were many of the so-called Iberian tribes. I have a hypothesis that a great deal of materiel form ancient battle sites identified as “Celtic” or “Etruscan” from this time actually may be related to these Sardinians. Precious little can be identified as “Latin” much less “Roman.” Even the names of the mythical founders, Romulus and Remus are non-Pontic in linguistic origin, though they may be IE.

    From later times, much of what was considered Celtic may actually be Alemannic (German), Scythian/Alannic, Thraco-Dacian, or even vice versa. Tribal membership was fairly elastic in ancient times. Hence, today we see entire regions of Britain inhabited by people whose heritage myths identify them as “Anglo-Saxon, Dutch, or Danish” but whose genetic material has much more in common with my family and our relatives than the present day inhabitants of southern Sweden, Saxony or Thuringia.

    The most magnificent of Celtic artifacts found to date often were at least partly made by people of other nations. Either these were designed by Celts, or designed for them by artisans who knew their style, tastes and preferred motifs. An example is the Gundestrup Cauldron. It may be a product the Danubic Celtic tribe called the Bastarnae, amigrant group composedof Boii, Treverii, and others. The work includes vitallinesand geometry more typical of Tracian or Dacian art. The metal definitely came from Thraco-Dacian mines. For a longtime, since it was dug up in a bog near Himmerland, Denmark, Danes claimed it as one of their paleo-ethnic works. The depicted figures, stories and groupings speak to Celtic Myth, so nice try folks. It is,however, evidently the product of international team effort.

    Nineteenth and early twentieth century Irish scholars claimed dozens of Saxon artifactsas “Celtic,” based on these having interlaced motifs familiar from ancient illuminated Psalters, Gospels and Bibles. Interlaced motifs, though they are found on identifiably Celtic and proto-Celtic objects back to about 5000 BC, are hardly unique to Celtic work and were NEVER a specialty or focus until the middle Christian era in Ireland, roughly late seventh century. My family has some brooches relatives wore back then, a mishmash of curvilinear, geometric, and interlaced designs. It was the monks who made this popular, using them as artistic equivalents to Celtic, “Greco-Latin” symbols to illustrate Christian ideas to pagan mostly pre-literate Gothic peoples, as they used the “Shamrock” or triquetra to illustrate to the Gael.

    It truly hurts me that you seem to want to eradicate my family’s ancient heritage because of bowdlerizers. It wouldn’t be the first time someone used sophistry to make us invisible and extinct. Rome nearly did it, then the Church, then the monarchy or England and Great Britain, now scientists and atheists?

    • Thank you for your comment, though I must admit it confuses me at several points.

      Large portions of your argument appear to agree, in general, with my discussion of this debate, yet somehow you arrive at the point where you disagree with me. First off, let us discuss the issue of your ‘family’. It would appear that ‘Chauvinism, misguided pride, [and] nationalism’ may have led you astray (and you clear disdain of the clergy and the Church strikes a curious note). You situate your argument in bizarrely personal terms, referring to your ‘family’, and (I think rather unfairly) my attempt to ‘eradicate [your] family’s ancient heritage’, accusing me of using ‘sophistry to make [you] invisible and extinct’. Your approach to this debate is not quite what one could call friendly, or even good-spirited. Who is this ‘family’ you write of? The ‘Celts’? If I may be so bold, I might guess from your name that you are, in fact, Irish. Is Gael iad muintir na hÉirinn, ní Ceiltigh sinn. There is no evidence of anyone ever referring to the inhabitants of these islands as ‘Celts’ before the 17th century. Now, these peoples may well speak a Celtic language, but that is simply a label that 17th century scholars attached to a certain group of languages which bore specific similarities, similarities which go far beyond ‘Phonics and orthography’ and initial letters, to systems of grammar, syntax, and morphology, among others linguistic features (and, I think you mean ‘phonetics’, the sounds of speech, not ‘phonics’, a method of teaching how to read and write the English language using phonemes). Now, the Irish, the Galatians of Anatolia, and the conveniently named Celtiberians may all have spoken languages which belonged to the same language family, but that does not make them all ‘Celts’ (in spite of the inaccurately named Celtiberians). Indeed, I chose these three peoples specifically as they share another common feature: none of them are home to significant features or artefacts of the La Tène culture, which is the most tangible expression of ‘Celtic’ material. Hallstaat features are found in Celtiberia, but where does this leave the Irish and the Galatians? Of course artefacts of these cultures have been found in Ireland, but substantially more Roman material has been discovered there, so if we were to discern who the Irish were, historically speaking, based on material culture, they would be Roman. Perhaps not the best solution for you. Even so, who were these peoples we call ‘Celts’? They do not speak to us, they have left us little in the way of written material, but it does not appear that the various tribes or kingdoms of these peoples would have recognised themselves as belonging to one great, geographically dispersed culture. The Gaulish tribes were known to employ translators to communicate with one another, they would have had little hope of comprehending the Irish, Britons, Galations, etc.; indeed I have trouble catching the gist of some Irish-speakers, let alone someone who speaks Scots Gaelic.

      I utterly reject your baseless association of my argument with ‘bowdlerizers’; I assure you, I do my best to offer complete expositions, and, when I am shown to be incorrect, I admit that I am, and correct myself (there are one or two instances of this in the posts of the Frivolous Endeavour, you may seek them out at your leisure).

      Your claim that the ‘Celts’ are your family is utterly ridiculous. These peoples you associate yourself with don’t speak any language you use on a daily basis, they do not have your values, they would not recognise your laws, your beliefs, the structures of your society, your music, your fashions. You are two thousand years removed from anyone who belonged to the La Tène culture. You could hardly even claim to be unalloyed Irish; there is bound to be Scandinavian, Norman, English, Welsh, French, and possibly even Spanish or Moroccan blood in you, and that is only with regards to the last millennium or so. Your claim to belong to a single ‘family’, as you call it, is stupefyingly narrow-minded, considering not only the complex history of Ireland, but of Europe, the Near East, and our ultimate place of origin, Africa. But, for the sake of argument, let’s run with this emaciation of the wonderful complexity of humanity, let’s say that your ‘family’ is resolutely ‘Celtic-Irish’. The language? Heavily influenced by Latin – long < navis longa, ‘ship’, every Irish placename beginning with kil-, originally ceall < cella, ‘monastic cell’, eaglais < ecclesia, ‘church’, Nollaig < natalicia, ‘Christmas’, I could go on, but you get the idea) – Norse – porskr > trosc, ‘cod’, knappr > cnaipe, ‘button’), – French – flur > plúr, ‘flour’, garçon > ‘gasúr, ‘boy’ – and English – bricfeasta/breakfast, cóta/coat, it’s a long list, I’ll stop here. So, the very language of the Irish illustrates a diverse history of cultural exchange. Oh, art! Art is always a good one, right? High crosses! What could be more quintessentially Irish? Except that the earliest examples are found in Northumbria, and were probably the result of Irish and Anglo-Saxon interface with Roman ideas. The Book of Kells! Oh no, wait, same issue there. Some of these ‘Irish’ aspects are found in some very ‘English’ places. Could it be, perchance, that such nationalist divisions didn’t exist over a thousand years ago, and that two cultures intermingled, fusing together Irish, Anglo-Saxon, and Roman art to come up with a new and vibrant visual media (we’ll return to this point again)? What family would they belong to? Law! The medieval Irish had one of the most complicated and complete systems of law in post-Roman Europe, but it wouldn’t really pass muster today, too many violations of basic human rights. Music! God knows, they never wrote any of it down. Yeah, I’m going to stop now, because I don’t want to succeed in disassociating myself from a culture that I, in some small way, identify with.

      Let’s continue with your argument, shall we?

      ‘Much of that which our museums (and linguists) identify as “Roman” is in fact Etruscan, Oscan, Sabian, Gaulish, Dorian/Peloponessian, Attic, Syrian, Scythian, Iberian, etc..’ I don’t know what museums you go to, but most of the ones I have entered seem to relish in the ‘nativisation’ of artefacts, claiming them to be non-Roman, sometimes at the expense of actual Roman material. And even so, most museums are honest, and strive for accuracy.

      I have been told that ‘Latini’ means ‘men of the plain’, which doesn’t sound very insulting, but I may have been led astray.

      But the point you make here is, in essence, the very point I am trying to make: all of the diverse peoples that have been identified as ‘Celts’ aren’t. It’s the exact same issue. You even restate it at a later point – ‘…much of what was considered Celtic may actually be Alemannic (German), Scythian/Alannic, Thraco-Dacian, or even vice versa.’ If we can’t tell which is which, what does that tell us? That perhaps greater nuance is required? That we need less inaccurate and broad terminology? ‘Tribal membership was fairly elastic in ancient times’ – yes, absolutely, so how then would you define a ‘Celt’? Is it inherent, genetic? Or can one simply join a tribe and become ‘Celtic’ by learning the language and customs? Does this change over time? Remember, we are dealing with thousands of years of history here. What does all this mean for your ‘family’?

      ‘Hence, today we see entire regions of Britain inhabited by people whose heritage myths identify them as “Anglo-Saxon, Dutch, or Danish” but whose genetic material has much more in common with my family and our relatives than the present day inhabitants of southern Sweden, Saxony or Thuringia.’ I’d be careful with the genetic argument, did you know that humans and bananas have around 55% of the same DNA? Such studies are interesting, but they have their limits. Do you know the genetic history of Iceland? I’m not sure that they would consider themselves ‘Celts’. And the very same system is at work in Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales, claims of a mythic common heritage in a glorious Celtic past: nationalistic invention.

      Back to the Etruscans: the speculation of the movements of peoples who didn’t write anything down into the lands of people who also left very little by the way of records is tenuous at best, and can we really trust the Greeks? They thought that everyone else in the world was a barbarian, and I find it hard to believe that they, or any other ancient culture, would have been academically rigorous in recording the exact movements of specific peoples.

      I can’t say that I know much about Sardinia, or its history, but considering the detail of the Wikipedia entry on the Nuragic civilisation which occupied the island, I would have to say that it would seem that Sardinia has not been neglected from the inquisitive eye of scholarship. I mean, obviously Wikipedia can be inaccurate, but one might use it as a yardstick, so to speak.

      It is curious that you attack me for divesting the ‘Celts’ of myth and inaccurate associations, yet you are more than happy to do the same for the sake of these Sardinians. I am also puzzled by your statement that ‘Romulus and Remus are non-Pontic in linguistic origin, though they may be IE’; well, yes, Latin is an Indo-European language, and those are probably Latin names, and their parents had Latinised Greek names, which is also an Indo-European language. Which might lead one to the conclusion that the Latins were Indo-European. And, in contrast to your argument, it is believed that the proto-Indo-European linguistic family came from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, which would make Romulus and Remus ‘Pontic’ in origin, though at a considerable distance in time and geography. So yeah, the logic of your point escapes me, perhaps because it is ethereal.

      What next?

      ‘The most magnificent of Celtic artifacts found to date often were at least partly made by people of other nations. Either these were designed by Celts, or designed for them by artisans who knew their style, tastes and preferred motifs. An example is the Gundestrup Cauldron. It may be a product the Danubic Celtic tribe called the Bastarnae, a migrant group composed of Boii, Treverii, and others. The work includes vitallines and geometry more typical of Tracian or Dacian art.’ Seriously, which side of this argument are you on? Surely this is not evidence of a monolithic Celtic culture, but numerous diverse and inventive groups operating in a dynamic, fluid artistic environment?

      ‘Nineteenth and early twentieth century Irish scholars claimed dozens of Saxon artifacts as “Celtic,” based on these having interlaced motifs familiar from ancient illuminated Psalters, Gospels and Bibles. Interlaced motifs, though they are found on identifiably Celtic and proto-Celtic objects back to about 5000 BC, are hardly unique to Celtic work and were NEVER a specialty or focus until the middle Christian era in Ireland, roughly late seventh century. My family has some brooches relatives wore back then, a mishmash of curvilinear, geometric, and interlaced designs. It was the monks who made this popular, using them as artistic equivalents to Celtic, “Greco-Latin” symbols to illustrate Christian ideas to pagan mostly pre-literate Gothic peoples, as they used the “Shamrock” or triquetra to illustrate to the Gael.’ Again, doesn’t this stand in defence of my argument? On the Shamrock thing, that is a myth that was invented after the Norman conquest, long after Irish monks began wandering around Germany. Those groovy designs are largely based on Roman vines, hyper-stylised images of animals, and simple geometry, and yes, they draw on native Irish art, but also Anglo-Saxon, Romano-Gaulish, and later, Norse art. It was a wonderful melting-pot of ideas. And really, the whole ‘my family’ thing is creepy; are you part of a vampire dynasty, a clan of immortals?

      Right. I think I’ve covered the important things, I’ve a few other quibbles, but they aren’t vital. This has been an interesting exercise, I hope you have enjoyed it. Thanks again for your meandering comment.

  4. Sean O' h-Aodha

    Your linguistic tree is interesting. you would do even better to include in it linguistically significant “micro-dialects” such as Valencian, Venetic, Babel (Asturian), Cantabrian, the Galleaeic dialects, old Genovese (ask them in Gaelic “conas ata tu?” they will understand) , and some of the Slavic dialects that survive in what we now call Germany and the Polish Highlands, the Romance tongue of certain people in Switzerland, the lower Danube region of Bulgaria and Romania, Turkish, as it is still spoken in some villages around Ankara and the old area of Trebizond is pretty special, as well.

    • Thank you for your comment. Note that, in a preceding comment, I point out that this tree is not my creation. I’m sure one could go into much greater detail if one wished. What about Newfoundland Irish? I hardly understand the Donegal dialect of Irish, I imagine Italians have an even greater diversity considering their divisive history.

  5. Amergin Hickey

    Might this be semantically splitting of hairs? Though it has become an extremely broad umbrella term, is “Celtic” that inaccurate of description for the cultural-linguistic groups that were in Ireland and Great Britain before the arrival of the Roman and Teutonic cultures. From the language to the spiritual motifs and the Druidic tradition there is a discernible heritage. It may be just a matter of perception. Is the self-identification really about the ”Celt” proper or generally speaking about Celtic related cultures? The term Latino is used not to identify one race or obviously Romans, rather to group a super-stratum of cultural linguistic similarity. People should investigate the full scope of the word and history, but it is simply an umbrella description. There is nothing wrong with people taking pride in their ancestry and heritage. But you should know that because “Teutonic trains always run on time”.

  6. What a load of crap Dna of people of Ireland and Britain is full of R1b language can disappear in a century just look what happened in Wales and the Druids were known all over Weatern Europe !

    • Not sure what the DNA comment refers to, but since you seem to suggest that it is only found in Irish and British folk, wouldn’t that suggest that they are not Celts? I in no way claim to be a geneticist, but the R1b group does not match the full distribution of the Celtic-speaking peoples, which is suggestive.

      The Welsh still speak Welsh, so I’m not sure what your point is.

      The druids were known in Ireland, Britain, and Celtic Gaul, and those in Celtic Gaul apparently came from Britain, which seems to suggest that they were part of a specific religious landscape and not a feature of the entire Celtic linguistic group.

      Thanks for the comment!

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