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Thread: 'The Celtic Empire, the First Millenium of Celtic History 1000 BC - 51 AD' by Peter Berresford Ellis

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    'The Celtic Empire, the First Millenium of Celtic History 1000 BC - 51 AD' by Peter Berresford Ellis

    Has anyone here read The Celtic Empire, the First Millenium of Celtic History 1000 BC - 51 AD by Peter Berresford Ellis? I also have a copy of A Brief History of the Druids by the same author.
    The Phora

    "There are no principles; there are only events. There is no good and bad, there are only circumstances. The superior man espouses events and circumstances in order to guide them. If there were principles and fixed laws, nations would not change them as we change our shirts and a man can not be expected to be wiser than an entire nation."
    —Honoré de Balzac

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    Senior Member FadeTheButcher's Avatar
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    Post Re: The Celtic Empire

    Here is the Preface:

    The Celts were the first European people north of the Alps to emerge into recorded history. At one time they dominated the ancient world from Ireland in the west to Turkey in the east, and from Belgium in the north, south to Spain and Italy. They even made their presence felt in the Egypt of the Ptolemy pharaohs, where they attempted, according to one ancient chronicler, a coup d'état to gain control of the country. They sacked Rome, invaded Greece and destroyed every army the Greek city states could throw at them. Their sophisticated weapons and sturdy war-chariots devastated all adversaries.

    According to Titus Livius (59BC - AD17), popularly known as Livy, at the time when Tarquinius Superbus was King of Rome (c.534-508 BC), Ambigatos of the Bituriges ruled over a Celtic empire 'so abounding in men and in the fruits of the earth that it seemd impossible to govern so great a population'. This statement, according to the Celtic scholar Dr. Eoin Mac Neill (Phases of Irish History, 1919), was the basis on which many nineteenth-century historians wrote about 'a Celtic empire' in ancient Europe.

    I have chosen the title The Celtic Empire for this history perhaps somewhat mischievously. Any resemblence to empires as we know them, such as the Roman Empire or more recent examples, is in fact spurious. There emerges no known sustained series of Celtic emperors having supreme and extensive dominion over numerous subject peoples. However, I believe there is some justification for my contentious title, as will be demonstrated by this book, in that, during the period of Celtic expansion, Celtic tribes and confederations of tribes spread through the ancient world challenging all who opposed them and settling as the dominant people in the areas they conquered.

    In this fashion they spread down the Iberian peninsula, into northern Italy and east through what is now Czechoslovakia, along the Danube valley as far as the Black Sea, moving on into Asia Minor, where they established the Galatian state in the third century BC, which state gives us our first information about Celtic political institutions. . .
    The Phora

    "There are no principles; there are only events. There is no good and bad, there are only circumstances. The superior man espouses events and circumstances in order to guide them. If there were principles and fixed laws, nations would not change them as we change our shirts and a man can not be expected to be wiser than an entire nation."
    —Honoré de Balzac

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    Post Re: The Celtic Empire

    I will use this thread to post some interesting excerpts about the Celts and their culture.

    "It was the Celts who were the great road-builders of northern Europe. The ancient roads of Britain, for example, often ascribed to the Romans, had already been laid by the Celts long before the coming of the Romans. This is a fact only now slowly being accepted by scholars in the light of new archaelogical finds. Yet Celtic roads were mentioned by Strabo, Caesar and Diodorus Siculus. It is obvious, looking at Caesar's account of his Gaelic campaigns, that he was moving his legions rapidly through Gaul because there was an excellent system of roadways in existence. Similarly, when Caesar crossed to Britain, he found a highly mobile army of Celts opposing him in heavy war-chariots, some of them four-wheeled. For the Celts to be able to move in such vehicles with the speed and determination recounted by Caesar it becomes obvious, to the careful historian, that there had to be a well-laid system of roads in existence.

    Now archaelogy is reinforcing history. For example, in 1985 in Co. Langford, Ireland, 1,000 years of roadway were uncovered, having been preserved in a bog. The road was dated approximately to 150 BC. It hada foundation of oak beams placed side by side on thin rails of oak, ash and alder. Other such finds of chance survivals demonstrate that the Celts used local materials, the great forest of Europe, with which to build their roads. The Romans simply reinforced these roads with the materials they were used to handling - stone. Thus the Roman roads were preserved over the top of the Celtic roads. There is one fascinating point about the Co. Longford road. In one of the old Irish myths "The Marriage of Étain', a king named Eochaidh Airemh is said to have imposed the task of building a causeway across the bog of Lemrach on the clans of Tethba, who dwelt in an area covering parts of Longford and Westmeath. The road is where the ancient tale placed it, demonstrating that Irish myth can have a basis in reality.

    Incidentally, it is interesting to note that several Latin words connected with transport were in fact borrowed from Celtic into Latin, such as the names of various chariots, carts and wagons: carpentum (from which derives our modern car as well as carpenter), carruca, carrus and rheda - all of which were four-wheeled methods of transport used by the Celts - and the essendum, the war-chariot used by both Gauls and British Celts which was later adopted by the Romans for their own transportation use.

    Archaeology has also shown much evidence of the prosperity of the rich farming communities of the Celts as well as their advances in art, Celtic pottery, jewellry, especially the enamelwork from north Britain and metal jewellery. This artwork found much favour in the ancient Mediterranean world. During the first century BC, before Caesar's invasion of Britain, British woolen goods, especially cloaks (sagi), were eagerly sought after in Rome. The ownership of a British woolen cloak was as prestigious in Rome in that period as the possession of a Harris-tweed suit was in the mid-twentieth century.

    The Celts generally built their houses and settlements in wood but in some places they used stone, showing great sophistication in the construction of buildings. In Britain the remains of many such stone structures survive from the fourth to second centuries BC. One such structure survives to a height of forty feet, with lintelled entrances and inward-tapering wall, sometimes fifteen feet thick, with chambers, galleries and stairs. Staigue Fort, in Co. Kerry, Ireland, a circular stone fortress built some time during the first millennium BC, still stands with walls thirteen feet high, enclosing a space eighty-eight feet across, with two chambers constructed within the thickness of the walls. Most of these constructions were of drystone. The evidence demonstrates that the Celts were excellent builders.

    The basis of their society was tribal. By the time the Celtic law systems were codified, with the Irish Brehon Law system being written down in the early Christian era, the Celtic tribal system was a highly sophisticated one. Comparing the Irish system with that enshrined in the Welsh laws of Hywel Dda one can observe a common Celtic attitude to law. The good of the community was the basis of the law - in other words, a primitive yet sophisticated communism was practised. Chieftains were elected, as were all officers of the tribe. Women emerge in Celtic society with equality of rights. They could inherit, own property and be elected to office, even to the position of leader in times of war, such as Cartimandua of the Brigantes and her more famous compatriot Boudicca of the Iceni. Tacitus observed, 'There is no rule of distinction to exclude the female line from the throne or command of the armies.'

    The Celtic tribes varied in size. Some were small, others constituted entire nations. The Helvetti, for example, were said to be 390,000 strong when they began their exodus. Of special note was that the Celtic tribes cared for their sick, poor and aged at that, according to Irish records, hospitals, run by the tribes, existed in Ireland around 300 BC, many hundreds of years before St. Fabiola founded the first Christian hospital in Rome.

    It is not the intention of this book to examine in detail the social life of the early Celts to simply to give some taste of it so that the history be better understood. The Celtic religion is of importance in the understanding of Celtic attitudes. By the time the Greeks and Romans began to comment on the religion of the Celts, towards the end of the third century BC, it was, in its philosophy, a fairly standard one. It is true that the gods and goddesses were numerous, often appearing in the triune form (three-in-one), although a 'father of the gods' is mentioned by many ancient observers. A lot of the gods and goddesses appear as ancestors of the people rather than as their creators - heroes and heroines. Celtic mythology, for example, surviving in Irish and Welsh texts, is a heroic one; for the Celts made their heroes into gods and their gods into heroes. In the lives of these gods and heroes, the lives of the people and the essence of their religious traditions were mirrored. Celtic heroes and heroines were no mere physical beauties with empty heads. They had to have intellectual powers equal to all the natural virtues and vices. They practised all seven of the deadly sins. Yet their world was one of rural happiness, a world in which they indulged in all of the pleasures of mortal life in an idealized form: love of nature, art, games, feasting, hunting and heroic single-handed combat.

    The Celtic religion was one of the first to evolve a doctrine of immortality. It taught that death was but a changing of place and that life went on with all its forms and goods in another world, a world of the dead - the fabulous Otherworld. But when people died in that world, the souls were reborn in this world. Thus a constant exchange of souls took place between the two worlds: death in this world took a soul to the Otherworld; death in that world brought a soul into this world. Thus did Philostratus of Tyana (AD c.170-249) observe that the Celts celebrated birth with mourning and death with joy. Caesar, the cynical general, remarked that this teaching of immortality doubtless accounted for the reckless bravery of the Celts in battle.

    The Celtic religion was adminstered, as was all Celtic learning, law and philosophy, by a group called the druids, first mentioned in the third century BC. To the Greeks and Romans, the druids were described as a priesthood, but they fulfilled political functions as well - indeed many tribal chieftans were also druids, such as Divitiacos and Dumnorix. It took twenty years to learn all the druidical canon, for the druid functioned not only as a minister of religion, with its doctrine of immortality and complete moral system, but also as philosopher, teacher, and natural scientist and keeper of the law and its interpretation. Druids were often called upon to take legal, political and even military decisions.

    Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) reports the drudis to have been great natural scientists, with a knowledge of physics and astronomy which they applied in the construction of calenders. The earliest known surviving Celtic calender, now in the Palais des Arts, Lyons, France. It is far more elaborate than the rudimentary Julian calender and has a highly sophisticated five-year synchronization of lunation with the solar year. It consists of a huge bronze plate which is engraved with a calender of sixty-two consecutive lunar months. The language is Gaulish but the lettering and numerals are Latin. Place-names, personal names and inscriptions testify to a certain degree of literacy in the Celtic language. Caesar explains: 'They count periods of time not by the number of days but by the number of nights; and in reckoning birthdays and the new moon and new year, their unit of reckoning is the night followed by the day.'

    Bards, poets and minstrels held a high position in Celtic society and were closely associated with the Druids. Diodorus Siculus observed: 'They have also lyric poets whom they call bards. They sing to the accompaniment of instruments resembling lyres, sometimes a eulogy and sometimes a satire.' The bards were highly trained, a professional group who were the repositories of Celtic history, legends, folklore and poetry. They were under the patronage of the chieftans. The tradition, as we noted, was a strictly oral one, the bards having to commit to memory a vast store of knowledge and be word-perfect in their recitations.

    As a people, the Celts had a stong natural feeling for learning and intellectual exercise. Greek and Roman writers often remark on this aspect of their temperament, constrasting it with what they considered to be the crudity of their material civilization but praising the refinement and elegance of their use of language and appreciation of linguistic subtlety. Marcus Porcius Cato (234 - 149 BC) remarked on the sophistication of Celtic eloquence and rhetoric. Poseidonius (c.135 - 50 BC), quoted by Athenaeus (AD c.200), recorded an incident at a feast in Gaul given by a chieftan named Louernious - whose name means the fox.

    A Celtic poet who arrived too late met Louernious and composed a song magnifying his greatness and lamenting his own late arrival. Louernios was very pleased and asked for a bag of gold and threw it to the poet, who ran beside the chariot. The poet picked it up and sang another song saying that the very tracts of Louernios' chariot on the earth gave gold and largesse to mankind.
    Both Poseidonius and Diodorus Siculus noted the popularity of music amongst the Celts and mentioned the variety of instruments which they used. Musical instruments and people dancing can be observed as decorations on Celtic pottery as early as the seventh century BC."

    Peter Berresford Ellis, The Celtic Empire, the First Millenium of Celtic History 1000 BC - 51 AD (London: Carolina Academic Press, 1990), pp.14-18
    The Phora

    "There are no principles; there are only events. There is no good and bad, there are only circumstances. The superior man espouses events and circumstances in order to guide them. If there were principles and fixed laws, nations would not change them as we change our shirts and a man can not be expected to be wiser than an entire nation."
    —Honoré de Balzac

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    Post Re: The Celtic Empire

    The Celts are in fact an often underestimated Ethnic group in the European (pre-)history.
    Magna Europa est patria nostra
    STOP GATS! STOP LIBERALISM!

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    Post Re: The Celtic Empire

    Quote Originally Posted by FadeTheButcher
    Has anyone here read The Celtic Empire, the First Millenium of Celtic History 1000 BC - 51 AD by Peter Berresford Ellis? I also have a copy of A Brief History of the Druids by the same author.
    i read it.. off course.. but acc to him anyone that posses celtic speech is celtic..but its a good book with much data...

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    Post Re: The Celtic Empire

    The role of Celts and Slavs in European history is regularly underestimated, under-rug-swept, avoided, lied about.

    Little is known about Celts by the everyman, because everything else is advertised far more.

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