- This article is about the Celt race. For a list of Celt characters, see Celts (category list).
The Celts is an umbrella term for a widespread group of nations in ancient times, their lands ranging from the British Isles to Galatia in Asia Minor (Anatolia). Among the Celts were many peoples, including the Gauls, the Britons, the Picts (Scotland), the Celtiberians and Asturians (Spain), the Belgae (Low Countries and western Germany), and the Boii (northern Italy and eastern Europe). And also the Galatians, who would migrate to Turkey in the Third Century BCE. Although they were fierce warriors that threatened the classical world and they even sacked Rome on occasion, the Celtic peoples were nevertheless overrun and assimilated by Mediterranean and later Germanic cultures.
Before the invasion of Britain, the Celts (also known as "Keltoi") territory covered the islands and the western part of the Rhine.
Their religion revolved around a Pantheon which included such gods such as the universally-worshipped Lugus, who was an inventor of all arts and crafts, Cernnonus a god of nature and the hunt, Epona a goddess of horses and fertility, and Taranis, a god of thunder who was especially worshipped by the Belgae Celts. There was also a powerful priestly-scholar caste known as Druids, whose cult-centres were based in places such as the Celtic city of Cenabum (now Orleans, France) and on the island of modern-day Anglesey, who were the high priests of the common Celtic religion and socially transcended the tribes and kingdoms of the Celtic peoples. Other attached specialists were Bards, the who were singers and musicians, and Vates, who were sooth-sayers.
The true appearance of the Celts is that of a long-limbed, long-haired and hairy man with dark hair and eyes. A Celt would not shave his hair. Celtic people were often seen completely naked and in a frenzy during a battle. At times, a Celt would wear animal skin during the harsh winters. Before battle, a Celt would paint themselves in "Woad" for spiritual reasons. When a Celt dons the Woad before battle, it means that they will finish the job no matter what.
The British Celts who used Woad paint to adorn themselves prior to a battle. The Gauls on the continent were not reported to do this.
Archaeological excavations of graves have revealed exquisite jewellery, among which are neck-rings called Torcs. Grooming implements, including antler-combs and tweezers, are known to have featured among burial goods. Alongside the Classical stereotype of the "savage" and "hairy" Celts, they are also reported to have groomed themselves with trimming their moustaches, plucking out body-hair, and even used soap as a cleansing agent, while their Greek and Roman contemporaries used olive-oil.
One group of Celts who had a reputation for fighting naked in battle were the Gaesatae, or "spearmen", who were found in northern Italy and in the Rhone valley. These, however, may have been less a tribe and more of a band of mercenaries, according to the Greek historian Polybios. They were led by chiefs such as Concolitanus and Aneroestes, whom aligned themselves with the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca during the Second Punic War.
Although many Celts fought naked, they did, however, invent Chainmail armor, which would be adopted by both Roman and Hellenistic militaries in the Third Century CE, having previously worn bronze cuirasses and linothorax (linen armor). Although, only upper-class Celts, the personal guards and retainers of kings and mercenary-bands fighting in the service of Mediterranean states such as Carthage, Rome, Macedon, Epirus and eastern Hellenistic states such as Pontus, Seleucid Syria and Ptolemaic Egypt, would often be among the only Celts who could afford chainmail armor.
Fighting Style and WeaponsEdit
They were known as large fierce warriors and had a frightening reputation for painting themselves (mainly blue), which in the darkness of night gave them something of a two-dimensional appearance from the perspective of their enemies, which would have made them difficult to spot, and hiding in the forest using a hit and run approach, to take advantage of their small numbers. They were often rumored among their enemies to be murderous ghosts. They carried a variety of weapons such as the long sword (a one or two handed sword with a straight double edge blade designed for chopping and stabbing), the spear, the axe, the chariot, the dirk dagger, and the burda club (a piece of ash wood around 12-16 inches long with one thick end often sealed with bees wax and with two iron rings around the end designed for smashing skulls). This weapon took advantage of the Celts legendary strength. They were also quick and agile in battle using the forest surroundings to their advantage. The Celts would collect the heads of their enemies and put them on spikes outside their homes as a symbol of fighting prowess and they believed that to possess a man's head was to have ultimate power over him.
When the Romans colonized southern Britain, the Celts mostly assimilated into Roman life, as the majority of their armies were either not linked to one another or were worn down from fighting the invading Picts from modern-day Scotland and Northern England. Some tribes refused to bow to Roman rule and fought them until the day they withdrew from Britain some 400-odd years later.
After the Romans left, the Celtic British rulers, such as the legendary Vortigern, employed Saxon, Angle and Jutish mercenaries to take care of the Picts in the north in exchange for money and a small section of land in Britain which is now Kent, as their own armies were badly depleted. The Saxons then proceeded to invade southern Britain and the remaining Celts were forced to retreat to the high land on the west of the island which is know Wales and Cornwall as they were easier to defend. It is from this that the word Welsh (people of Wales to this day) is taken, as it is the Saxon word for 'stranger'. Celtic descendants remain in Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
In Gaul, much of the indigenous Celtic population had long since Romanized, with those in the larger cities speaking Latin. During the Roman period many people from the eastern provinces, such as Greece, Asia Minor, Syra and Palestine, had emigrated to major provincial centres in Gaul such as Lugdunum. By the early 400's, Roman authority in Gaul collapsed when the general Flavius Claudius Constantinus (known to history as Constanine III), while commanding Roman forces in Britain, declared himself emperor, before assembling his troops and leading them out of Britain to pursue his ambition to rule the Western Roman Empire. He got as far as Arles in southern Gaul, but suffered a number of setbacks in the form of Saxon and Frankish pirates attacking settlements in Britain and northern Gaul, leading to a number of uprisings, since he had pulled out a number of regional garrisons. He was defeated in the siege of Arles by a rival general Flavius Constantius, whom captured Constantine before executing him.
This civil war in the western provinces and resulting chaos would open the way for numerous migratory tribes, such as the Vandals, the Alans and the Suebi to storm through Gaul between the years 406-9 CE, before finally crossing beyond the Pyrenees.
The Salian Franks, whom were forced into submission by the Roman Emperor Maximinian in 287-8 CE and settled in the Toxandria region. In 358 CE, the Franks, who were committing acts of piracy in the North Sea, disrupting trade between Britain and Gaul, came to a compromise with the Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus (Julian the Apostate), whom granted them Foederati (tribal allies) status, officially making Toxandria their homeland.
The Visigoths, under their king Ataulf, came to southern Gaul in 412, after unsuccessfully trying to establish a new homeland in Italy under their late King Alaric. In 413, Ataulf and his migratory nation would capture the Gallic cities of Narbonne and Toulouse, establishing the foundation of the first Visigothic Kingdom in southern Gaul, which would later extend westward into Spain.
The Burgundians, under the leadership of their King Gundahar, penetrated the Gallic provinces in 406 CE and with an allaince with Goar, king of the Alans, captured Roman territory in Germania Superior, taking the cities of Worms, Speyer and Strassbourg. Gundahar and Goar would take the Gallo-Roman nobleman Jovinus and set him up as their puppet emperor in order to legitimise their presence in Roman terrirtory as Foederati. After the Hunnic destruction of the First Burgundian Kingdom in 437, the Burgundians were granted Foederati staus with the influence of the general Aetius in Gallia Lugdunensis under their king Gunderic. This would be become the modern French region of Burgundy.