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There are many variations on the theme, but in outline, the history of the Celts is usually told as follows.

By around 8-600BC, in the lands just North of the Alps, peoples had appeared whom their literate Greek neighbours to the South came to call Keltoi.

These earliest known Celts formed principalities in the zone North of the Alps, and traded with the Greeks and Etruscans. Around 500BC these principalities were violently destroyed.

During the 400s, in a band of territory stretching across Europe from Eastern France through Germany, Austria and into Bohemia, new groups arose, characterised by, among other things, warrior graves and a new kind of art. Archaeologists call this the 'La Tène culture', the physical remains of groups who, around 400BC, suddenly erupted into Italy and began to settle the Po Valley.

These newcomers were the Ancient Celts par excellence, otherwise known as Gauls. No longer a distant scholarly curiosity, the Celts were suddenly the most fearsome 'barbarian' danger. Around 390BC, the Gallic Senones actually sacked Rome, but they were driven back and largely contained in the Po Valley which became Gallia Cisalpina, 'Gaul this side of the Alps'.

The Celts in medieval times and beyond

  • BRITTANY, an independent kingdom in the 9th century, became one of the many almost-independent duchies which made up medieval France. As central Royal power grew in the fifteenth century, so its independence dwindled, and it was politically absorbed by France in 1532. 
  • WALES remained a separate principality, but under increasing English dominancefrom the 10th century. In 1485 the Welsh Henry Tudor became King of England, but his totally Anglicised son Henry VIII united Wales politically to England.
  • SCOTLAND was divided, roughly, between the Gaelic speaking (Irish Celtic) Highlands and the Scots-speaking (Germanic dialect, close to English) Lowlands. The warlike clans and chieftains of the Highlands were often in conflict with their Lowland neighbours, who thought them cattle-thieving barbarians. This formed the background to their eventual brutal suppression after their (actually luke-warm) support for Catholic Bonnie Prince Charlie's attempt to sieze back the British throne for the Ancient Scottish royal house of Stuart from the Protestant Hannoverians in 1745-6.
  • IRELAND Once the Vikings began to raid in 795, Ireland was permanently occupied, wholly or partly, by foreigners. The Danes were followed by the Anglo-Normans in the twefth century. During the sixteenth century the English imperial grip tightened, and relations were further embittered by the Reformation. Protestant England kept Catholic Ireland under subjection, sometimes incredibly brutal, until after the First World War. 
Source: University of Leicester


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