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The Celts - History and Archeology

From the Greek and Roman historians who first encountered the Celts (around 400 BC) we have developed our basic image of the fierce Celtic warrior, woad-painted and naked, howling like a banshee. We've also garnered images of ancient druids, congregating under the sacred oaks, harvesting mistletoe, and supervising human sacrifice.

Some of the history they record is likely true and some colored by hearsay, wishful thinking, and political expediency. Unfortunately, the Celts cannot answer back because at that time they had no written language.

There is one point of great debate and historical interest, however. By the time of Julius Caesar, it would appear that the power base of druid religion and Celtic culture derived from Britain. In other words, the druid religion may have spread outward from Britain to Europe rather than vice versa.

Perhaps, as the Celts migrated into the British Isles, encountering the indigenous culture and its great stone circles, they developed a unique religion, druidism, which then migrated back to France and Germany.

Buy Books about the Ancient Celts History and Archeology
The Ancient Celts
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The Ancient Celts
by Barry Cunliffe


An Oxford professor in archeology, Cunliffe has written extensively about the Celts. "Drawing on a wealth of recent archaeological findings, Cunliffe reveals how this loose band of nomads evolved from migratory barbarians into adroit traders and artists, inhabiting virtually every corner of Europe north of the Po River.

Beginning in the Hungarian plains of 1300 B.C., where the first hints of Celtic culture can be traced, the book shows how this fierce people slowly grew into one of Europes most feared powers, constantly raiding and threatening the empires of both Greece and the Rome. Cunliffe demonstrates how the unprecedented Celtic diaspora gave way to the development of a number of mature, urban societies scattered throughout the continent.

The book also describes the Celts' pantheistic religious traditions, with detailed accounts of weapon burials, human sacrifices, and the meditative powers of the Druids, and it concludes with a look at the influences of the Celtic mystique on the modern world, revealing how the concept of the Celt has been used many times by nations in search for an identity." - description.
The Celts : A History
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The Celts : A History
by Peter Berresford Ellis


Berresford Ellis is an acknowledged expert on Celtic history and has written extensively on their culture and history.

"By the third century B.C., at the height of their greatest expansion, the Celts had spread from their Rhineland home as far west as Ireland and east to Turkey's central plain, as far north as Belgium and south to Cadiz in Spain. They had crossed the Alps and defeated the armies of the Etruscan empire and had occupied Rome and invaded the Greek peninsula. Formidable warriors armed with iron weapons, they would find their way to Egypt and into Queen Cleopatra's elite bodyguard.

Bringing new material from anthropology and archaeology to this engaging illustrated survey, Ellis explores the remarkable achievements of a people who have survived three millennia, their heritors the Irish, Manx, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons who speak a Celtic tongue to this day."
War, Women and Druids
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War, Women, and Druids: Eyewitness Reports and Early Accounts of the Ancient Celts
by Philip Freeman


"The ancient Celts capture the modern imagination as do few other people of classical times. Naked barbarians charging the Roman legions, Druids performing sacrifices of unspeakable horror, women fighting beside their men and even leading armies--these, along with stunning works of art, are the images most of us call to mind when we think of the Celts," observes Philip Freeman.

This book draws on the firsthand observations and early accounts of classical writers to piece together a detailed portrait of the ancient Celtic peoples of Europe and the British Isles. Philip Freeman groups the selections by themes--war, feasting, poetry, religion, women, and the Western Isles. He also presents inscriptions written by the ancient Celts themselves. This wealth of material, introduced and translated by Freeman to be especially accessible to students and general readers, makes this book essential reading for everyone fascinated by the ancient Celts."
Atlas of the Celtic World
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Atlas of the Celtic World
by John Haywood, introduced by Barry Cunliffe


Haywood traces the history of the continental Celts from ancient times through Brittany's incorporation into France. Then, he focuses exclusively on the British Isles and follows the island Celts up through the Highland Clearances in the early 1800s. Finally, he discusses the diaspora of the Celts throughout the world - all done with maps and texts telling the complete picture. Recommended.
The Celts
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The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture
by Jean Markale


French historian Markale is well-known for his excellent scholarship and his high view of the importance and influence of Celtic culture on western civilization. In this book, he traces the influence of Celtic religious and cultural belief on the history of Europe and the European diaspora. Well worth reading.
Women of the Celts
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Women of the Celts
by Jean Markale


Markale begins with a study of the historical records, looking individually at each Celtic land, then moves to a discussion and psychological interpretation of women in Celtic myth, concluding with his own ideas for incorporating the Celtic vision of women into our present-day society. Fascinating historical exploration and insight into Markale's theory and thought.
Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe
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Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions
by Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson


This book is absolutely indispensable for anyone with an interest in the ancient religions. Davidson, a foremost scholar of ancient european mythology, compares and contrasts the celtic and norse mythologies, meanwhile explaining the meanings of sacred sites, symbols, rituals, spirits, and innumerable other practices and beliefs. Highly recommended.
Pagan Celtic Ireland
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Pagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age
by Barry Raftery


Raftery presents an entertaining and informative overview of the known archeological facts of life in Iron Age Ireland. In particular, he contrasts Irish culture of the period with that of Europe, highlighting Ireland's early distinctions. A terrific companion when studying the ancient Irish myths and legends.
The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles
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The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles : Their Nature and Legacy
by Ronald Hutton


Hutton gives a solid statement of what is known about the ancient religions of Britain from the stone age through Christianization. Debunks some common misperceptions popular among modern neopagans.
Celtic Sacred Landscapes
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Celtic Sacred Landscapes
by Nigel Pennick


From the book's description: "From the original Celtic site of the castle at Tintagel, passing through the sacred forest of Broceliande in Brittany, and on to the monastery of Scelig Mhichil off the coast of Ireland, Nigel Pennick takes us on an exhilarating spiritual and historical tour of the Celtic holy places of Europe." Emphasis on the significance of sacred sites in worship and ritual.