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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
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
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
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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