Why Don’t We Know Much About The Celts?

Bryn celli ddu, anglesey, is one of the finest prehistoric passage tombs in wales, united kingdom, landscape

What we know about the Celts isn’t from them. Most of what we know about the Celts are from Roman and Greek writings. Celts supposedly abhorred writing. No one is sure that is true, but it comes from what the Romans and Greeks wrote about them. Since they warred with the Celtic peoples, they may have written about them negatively more than in a positive light.

The Celts had a significant impact on the growth of the European civilization. It isn’t easy to see much of anything else they did without them writing things down. Again, most of what we know about the Celts is what the Greeks and Romans wrote. The archaeological evidence we find for most civilizations is missing for the Celts. The Greeks and Romans did not speak Celt, so anyone looking at translations of that language would need to keep that in mind.

Many modern-day ideas of Celtic culture are usually exaggerated or wrong. Our understanding of Celts makes us think of them as barbaric. We see them as a warlike culture with little value for human life and no social structure. This idea comes from the Greek and Roman interpretations and not from the Celtic peoples themselves. War was an essential part of their culture. Still, they were religious and practiced a complicated pagan religion. We don’t fully understand their faith even today.  They were also skilled artisans who had a considerable impact on European art and culture.

Despite these qualities, the Celts were disorganized. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of different tribes living all across Europe all spoke some Celtic language version. They rarely, if ever, formed a unified culture. It was common for them to fight amongst themselves, relying on a third, outside party like the Romans to help solve their fights.

When Julius Caesar came upon two important Celtic centers of his time, Hispania (Spain and Portugal) and Gaul (France), the Celtic culture was doomed. Caesar marched through the Celtic territory and, in less than a decade, conquered these people. The Romans also conquered the Celts in Central Europe. As the Romans defeated them,  they slowly became more Roman until their culture disappeared.

Interesting, isn’t it? I’ve always heard about the Romans having such trouble with the Celts at Hadrian’s Wall. That they couldn’t defeat them, so the Romans built the wall to keep the Celts at bay. That is true, but not in the way we’ve heard. There was much more before Hadrian’s Wall.


History, Captivating. History of the Barbarians: A Captivating Guide to the Celts, Vandals, Gallic Wars, Sarmatians and Scythians, Goths, Attila the Hun, and Anglo-Saxons (p. 13). Kindle Edition.

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