Top 10 Interesting Facts About The Celts

10. The Celts didn’t fight naked


As opposed to a widely spread misconception (stemming mostly from Roman texts), the Celts worn sophisticated armours and were quite skillful smiths as well. They were using leather padding and worn both metal plates and mailles. They also used a wide variety of weapons including swords (coming in all varieties, short, broad and long), javelins, two-handed hammers and bows.

Artistic depiction of a battle between Celts and Romans. Image source: www.wordpress.com

9. The Druids


The Druids were the members of the educated class of the Celtic society. They were poets, law-makers, doctors and religious leaders. The English word for druid is derived from the Latin counterpart ‘druides’, thought by the Romans to be of Celtic Gaulish origin.

Although little is known about them (given the fact that there are no written accounts describing them in their own language and only a few Ancient Greek, Roman and Irish medieval texts), the Druids have been many times portrayed in the popular culture through films, books and computer games, but the vast majority of their portrayals are relying on inventions based on artistic license as well as various other misconceptions.

‘Druids of Ole England’ by Joseph Martin Kronheim, extracted from ‘Pictures of English History: From the Earliest Times to the Present Period’ (1868). Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

8. The Celts did wear horned and winged helmets


The Celts’ helms had indeed horns and wings attached to them. In Ciumești, Romania, 34 Celtic burial mounds were discovered. They most likely belonged to a Celtic chieftain and they included several artefacts with which he was inhumed. Among them, a rather bizarre helmet with a large bird of prey and two wings attached to it.

Celtic Museum Manching (Bavaria). Exhibition “Rome’s unknown borders”: Replica of a Celtic helmet (3rd century BC) from Ciumești, district Satu Mare (District Museum Satu Mare). Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

7. Celtic languages


The modern Celtic languages are: Irish (Gaeilge), Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), Manx, Cornish (Kernowek), Welsh (Cymraeg) and Breton (Brezhoneg). Of all these languages, Manx got extinct during the late part of the 20th century, but, fortunately, plans for resurrecting it eventually paid off and to date there are roughly 2,000 native speakers.

Cornish also got extinct by the end of the 18th century, but has been undergoing a similar process of resurrection since the 20th century. Irish is spoken by 140,000 native speakers in Ireland, Scottish Gaelic by 57,000 native speakers in Scotland, Cornish by 20 native speakers, Welsh by 740,000 native speakers in the United Kingdom (both Wales and England) and Breton by 210,000 native speakers in Brittany, north-western France.

6. The etymology of the term Celt


The first known usage of the term ‘Celt’ appears in a text written by an Ancient Greek historian by the name Hecateus of Mileus, namely from a geographic work in which he described a people living in the proximity of modern day Marseille, France. They were referred to as ‘Keltoi’.

Another Ancient Greek scholar, Herodotus, wrote about the Celts, positioning them in Western Europe and around the head of the river Danube. Although the etymology of the word ‘Celt’ may still be unclear, according to linguist Patrizia De Bernardo Stempel, ‘Keltoi’ could have meant ‘the tall ones’.

5. Modern Celtic nations


The modern Celtic nations form the Celtic league or the the modern Celtic realm. The Celtic nations are the following ones:

  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • Isle of Man
  • Cornwall
  • Wales
  • Brittany (in north-western France)
  • Galicia (located in north-western Spain)

Map depicting the Celtic nations and the Celtic-speaking areas from Northwestern Europe. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

4. Red hair gene


According to some genetic tests, it is believed that the gene for red hair might have actually stemmed from the Ancient Celtic populations of the Iron Age. Nevertheless, there’s an ongoing controversy on the matter, as an alternative theory had also been proposed, a theory according to which the red hair gene is actually a Norse trait and that it most likely appeared in the southern part of Norway.

Map depicting the frequency of the recessive gene that is responsible for red hair. Image source: www.blogspot.com

According to the second theory, it is believed that southwest Norway might well be the place of origin for the red hair gene, which has subsequently been spread in the British Isles and Western Europe along with the incursions of the Norsemen during the early Middle Ages. Regardless of the exact geographic origin, red hair is caused by a genetic mutation, specifically the MC1R gene. Carriers of this gene are mainly found in Ireland and Scotland, where they both account for almost 13% of the total population.

3. Origins


Although there’s no evidence that could certainly indicate the primordial geographic origin of the Celts, it is known from Ancient Greek and Latin texts that they mostly resided in Western Europe (in Brittany, the Iberian peninsula as well as the British Isles) and on the course of the river Danube before eventually expanding eastward (namely to Central and Eastern Europe) throughout Late Antiquity.

Map depicting the expansion of the Celtic tribes in Western and Central Europe during the 3rd century BC. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

2. Skillful traders


Various Celtic tribes traded with many peoples during the Iron Age in most of Central and Western Europe. The Celts proved to be very active merchants on the coastlines of the Mediterranean Sea as well, exchanging mostly iron tools, wine, and pottery. Additionally, a considerable number of Celtic artefacts which belonged to the Hallstatt culture were excavated on the territory of several Central European countries.

Territorial extent of the Hallstatt culture (which spanned from c. 800 BC to c. 500 BC). Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

1. The Celts overtook the Romans in several regards


Although Romans are credited for building the first roads in Europe, The Celts actually overtook them at this chapter given the fact that they built a large network of wooden roads in many places throughout Europe several centuries ahead of the Romans. This route of wooden roads would ensure the fact that the Celtic settlements traded with each other.

Additionally, when it comes to women’s rights, the Celts were ahead of the Romans as well. Women had more rights in the Celtic society than in the Roman one. Thus, they were able of owning land, detain power and social status and last but not least, divorce if they wished to. However, when it comes to ancient warfare, the Celts were subsequently subdued by the invading incursions of the Roman legions in places such as Gaul or ancient Britain.

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18 Responses to Top 10 Interesting Facts About The Celts

  1. LM. Merrill says:

    Thank you for the education. Always interested in my family history.

  2. Janni Belgum says:

    Very interesting. My heritage is Scandinavian. My brother has red hair. Our mtDNA is U4- origin near the Black Sea and Y haplogroup Rib.

  3. Keith Dansey says:

    Wasn’t their pagan religion particularly cruel even by the standards of the time? Each deity had their favourite method of human sacrifice.

    • Hugh Bowman says:

      In fact we know very lttle about Celtic religion, as the prehistoric Celts left lttile in the way of written records. Their calendar and its various festivals appear to have been important, as can be seen in the surviving example from Coligny. Most of the negative statements about Celtic religion, including human sacrifice, were written by their enemies (e.g. Caesar, Tacitus) – although I would be loth to set aside these accounts. Besides the Vikings themselves were not particularly famous for being gentle in their religious habits – spreadeagling being one such dirty deed.

  4. Dean Shamblen says:

    There are quite a few redheads in my family. I’m English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, French and German. The Shamblen family can be traced back to Normandy. To the Earls of Tancarville. They were Scandinavian in origin.

  5. Cúchulainn says:

    First of all, there is no such place as ‘the ‘british’ isles’ or ‘the ‘british’ archipelago’. The term was used by some writer to describe the North-Eastern Atlantic Archipelago/Celtic Isles. Second of all, it is an insult to the Irish to use that term. They have never been, are not, and never will be ‘british’. Also, as a son of archaeologist, many of these ‘facts’ are not facts. It was only the Irish, who had the ancient Brehon Laws until recently when they were wiped out by 800 years of british oppression. Please refrain from offended Irish people when referring to the Celtic Isles.

    • Hugh Bowman says:

      Ahem. Writing as a Scotsman, and as a graduate in archaeology & medieval history, I object to your use of the term “British”. You are willfully confusing English with British. The term British Isles has become the commonly accepted term for this archipelago, whether you like it or not. Also, you are quite forgetting the many, very many cultural and liguistic links between these two islands throughout prehistory and well into the Middle Ages. Most of the oppression took place at the hands of the English crown and latterly Westminster. And while you may mutter about the Ulster “Scots”, do not forget that the original Scotti came from Ulster and invaded that part of Britain lattely known as Scotland. My ancestry can be included among these “settlers”, as most of my grandparents spoke Gaelic (and 1 Irish Gaelic) as their mother tongue. My surname too has a Gaelic root – nothing to do with bows and arrows, but rather “Bo”, the Gaelic for cattle – i.e. they were cowherds.

      • Dáibheadh Mac Artáin says:

        Aye yer right bout the Scotties they were mercenaries that colonised Scotland in the 6th centuries n drive the piks north many things o Scottish culture came from Ireland originally. Kilts, bagpipes, the Irish or uilian pipes are better, even the roots to Gaelic came from gaeilge so good on you n yes bo is still the gaeilge word for cow.

    • Dáibheadh Mac Artáin says:

      maith a dúirt go bhfuil na buerbartha Sarsana oilte i Cruelty agus mheabhlaireacht

    • malpravanto says:

      https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britain_(place_name)#Pre-Roman
      Britain and therefore British Isles derive from the pre-roman names of the area. Are you confusing British with English?

  6. Dáibheadh Mac Artáin says:

    First this term british isle is an insult to us Celts o all the isles in this group only part o one isle is o Anglo Saxon occupation the rest are Celts, second this article was fairly accurate which is better than alot I’ve read n i think I’d know bout that since 1 ima Celt 2nd i have a PHD in anthropology n used to lecture at Trinity college in Dublin, its rumoured that the original Celts went west n north from an area in the middle East in far away back history a legend says our languages stem from the tower o Babe,l though this is myth but interesting. As far as information on druids the elders have only authorised one book in modern tunes to be published and it under guide o a story. Oh before i forget there were times when nudity was used in battle but only after painting themselves blue n our lassies were more feared at one time than the men because o their ferocious fighting behaviour.

  7. Barry Tobin says:

    There is also a small group of nativee speakers of Welsh – perhaps 5,000 – in Patagonia in the north of Argentina.

  8. RONALD HANNAH says:

    There are seven Celtic Nations. Galicia in northern Spain is also a Celtic Nation. I have been attending the Inter Celtic Festival in Lorient in Brittany for many, many years and Galicians have been there with the other six from the very start. This year(2016) Asturias is also included.

  9. Suso Medin says:

    Galicia has not been acepted in the celtic leage.

    I am galician and the suposed celticity of Galicia is a myth. No scholar, antropologist, linguistist, historian support that idea.

    Its not even clear that a celtic language was spoken in the past. Nowdays galician language is romance with as many celtic words as spanish or italian.

  10. Michael says:

    Why don’t you all just get over the used terminology?

    For over the last couple of centuries or more, everyone the world over has become familiar with the terms British, British Isles, Great Britain, etc; and accept this fact!

    So although it may be ‘Politically Incorrect’, if you can’t change or correct the problem then don’t risk having a heart attack, stop worrying and get on with your lives!

  11. James Bennett says:

    Celts & Scandinavians originally from the lost 10 tribes of Israel…

  12. Craig Weatherhill says:

    Where does the figure of “50 native speakers” for Cornish come from? That might have been so in 1920, but not now. Nowhere near accurate. There are at least 5,000 with competent abilities in the language, while several hundred more are in the process of learning. Den heb tavas a gollas y dir (A man without a tongue has lost his land).

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