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Celtic Britain

 

 

Who were they? The Iron Age is age of the “Celt” in Britain. Over the

500 or so years leading up to the first Roman invasion a Celtic culture

established itself throughout the British Isles. Who were these Celts?

 

For a start, the concept of a “Celtic” people is a modern and somewhat

romantic reinterpretation of history. The “Celts” were warring tribes

who certainly wouldn’t have seen themselves as one people at the time.

 

The “Celts” as we traditionally regard them exist largely in the

magnificence of their art and the words of the Romans who fought them.

The trouble with the reports of the Romans is that they were a mix of

reportage and political propaganda. It was politically expedient for the

Celtic peoples to be coloured as barbarians and the Romans as a great

civilizing force. And history written by the winners is always suspect.

 

Where did they come from? What we do know is that the people we call

Celts gradually infiltrated Britain over the course of the centuries

between about 500 and 100 B.C. there was probably never an organized

Celtic invasion; for one thing the Celts were so fragmented and given to

fighting themselves that the idea of a concerted invasion would have

been ludicrous.

 

The Celts were a group of peoples loosely tied by similar language,

religion, and cultural expression. They were not centrally governed, and

quite as happy to fight each other as any non – Celt. They were

warrious, living for the glories of battle and plunder. They were also

the people who brought iron working to the British Isles.

 

Hill forts. The time of the “ Celtic conversion” of Britain saw a huge

growth in the number of hill forts throughout the region. These

were often small ditch and bank combinations encircling

defensible hilltops. Some are small enough that they were of

no practical use for more than an individual family, though

over time many larger forts were built. The curious thing is

that we don’t know if the hill forts were built by the

native Britons to defend themselves from the encroaching Celts,

or by the Celts as they moved their way into hostile

territory.

 

Usually these forts contained no source of water, so their use

as long term settlements is doubtful, though they may have

been useful indeed for withstanding a short term siege. Many

of the hill forts were built on top of earlier causeways

camps.

 

Celtic family life. The basic unit of Celtic life was the

clan, a sort of extended family. The term “family” is a bit

misleading, for by all accounts the Celts practiced a peculiar

form of child rearing; they didn’t rear them, they farmed them

out. Children were actually raised by foster parents. The

foster father was often the brother of the birth – mother.

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