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Celts

Indo-European ethnolinguistic group of tribal societies in Iron Age Europe

Top 10 Celts related articles

Distribution of Celtic peoples over time, in the traditional view:
Kneeling Youthful Gaul, Roman copy of a Hellenistic sculpture of a young Celt, Louvre.

The Celts (/kɛlts, sɛlts/, see pronunciation of Celt for different usages) are[1] a collection of Indo-European peoples[2] in parts of Europe and Anatolia identified by their use of the Celtic languages and other cultural similarities.[3][4][5][6] The history of pre-Celtic Europe and the relationship between ethnicity, language and culture in the Celtic world is unclear and controversial.[7] In particular, there is dispute over the ways in which the Iron Age inhabitants of Britain and Ireland should be regarded as Celts.[6][7][8][9] According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, Proto-Celtic, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC.[10]

The reverse side of a British bronze mirror, with spiral and trumpet motifs typical of La Tène Celtic art in Britain

According to another theory proposed in the 19th century, the first people to adopt Celtic cultural traits were those of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture in central Europe (c. 800–450 BC), named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria.[10][11] Therefor, this area is sometimes called the "Celtic homeland". By or during the later La Tène period (c. 450 BC to the Roman conquest), named after the La Tène site in Switzerland, this Celtic culture was supposed to have spread by trans-cultural diffusion or migration to most of central Europe, France and the Low Countries (Gauls), the British Isles (Insular Celts), the Iberian Peninsula (Celtiberians, Celtici, Lusitanians and Gallaeci) and northern Italy (Golasecca culture and Cisalpine Gauls).[12] Following the Celtic settlement of Southeast Europe, Celtic culture reached as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians) in modern Turkey.[13]

The earliest undisputed examples of Celtic language are the Lepontic inscriptions from the 6th century BC.[14] Continental Celtic languages are attested almost exclusively through inscriptions and place-names. Insular Celtic languages are attested from the 4th century in Ogham inscriptions, although they were clearly being spoken much earlier. Celtic literary tradition begins with Old Irish texts around the 8th century AD. Coherent texts of Early Irish literature, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge ("Cattle Raid of Cooley"), survive in 12th-century recensions.

By the 5th century AD, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and migrating Germanic tribes, Celtic culture had mostly become restricted to Ireland, western and northern Britain, and Brittany. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the Celtic-speaking communities in these Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity. They had a common linguistic, religious and artistic heritage that distinguished them from surrounding cultures.[15]

Insular Celtic culture diversified into that of the Gaels (Irish, Scots and Manx) and the Celtic Britons (Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons) of the medieval and modern periods.[3][16][17] A modern Celtic identity was constructed as part of the Romanticist Celtic Revival in Britain, Ireland, and other European territories such as Galicia.[18] Today, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton are still spoken in parts of their former territories, while Cornish and Manx are undergoing a revival.

Celts Intro articles: 50

Names and terminology

Celtic stele from Galicia, 2nd century: "APANA·AMBO(-) /
LLI·F(ilia)·CELTICA /
SUPERTAM(arica) /
(castello) MAIOBRI /
AN
(norum)·XXV·
H
(ic)·S(ita)·E(st) /
APANUS·FR(ater)·
F
(aciendum)·C(uravit)"

The first recorded use of the name of Celts – as Κελτοί (Keltoi) in Greek – to refer to an ethnic group was by Hecataeus of Miletus, the Greek geographer, in 517 BC,[19] when writing about a people living near Massilia (modern Marseille).[20] In the fifth century BC, Herodotus referred to Keltoi living around the head of the Danube and also in the far west of Europe.[21] The etymology of the term Keltoi is unclear. Possible roots include Indo-European *kʲel 'to hide' (present also in Old Irish ceilid), IE *kʲel 'to heat' or *kel 'to impel'.[22] Several authors have supposed it to be Celtic in origin, while others view it as a name coined by Greeks. Linguist Patrizia De Bernardo Stempel falls in the latter group, and suggests the meaning "the tall ones".[23]

In the 1st century BC, Julius Caesar reported that the people known to the Romans as Gauls (Latin: Galli) called themselves Celts,[24] which suggests that even if the name Keltoi was bestowed by the Greeks, it had been adopted to some extent as a collective name by the tribes of Gaul. The geographer Strabo, writing about Gaul towards the end of the first century BC, refers to the "race which is now called both Gallic and Galatic," though he also uses the term Celtica as a synonym for Gaul, which is separated from Iberia by the Pyrenees. Yet he reports Celtic peoples in Iberia, and also uses the ethnic names Celtiberi and Celtici for peoples there, as distinct from Lusitani and Iberi.[25] Pliny the Elder cited the use of Celtici in Lusitania as a tribal surname,[26] which epigraphic findings have confirmed.[27][28]

Latin Gallus (pl. Galli) might stem from a Celtic ethnic or tribal name originally, perhaps one borrowed into Latin during the Celtic expansions into Italy during the early fifth century BC. Its root may be the Proto-Celtic *galno, meaning "power, strength", hence Old Irish gal "boldness, ferocity" and Welsh gallu "to be able, power". The tribal names of Gallaeci and the Greek Γαλάται (Galatai, Latinized Galatae; see the region Galatia in Anatolia) most probably have the same origin.[29] The suffix -atai might be an Ancient Greek inflection.[30] Classical writers did not apply the terms Κελτοί (Keltoi) or Celtae to the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland,[6][7][8] which has led to some scholars preferring not to use the term for the Iron Age inhabitants of those islands.[6][7][8][9]

Celt is a modern English word, first attested in 1707, in the writing of Edward Lhuyd, whose work, along with that of other late 17th-century scholars, brought academic attention to the languages and history of the early Celtic inhabitants of Great Britain.[31] The English form Gaul (first recorded in the 17th century) and Gaulish come from the French Gaule and Gaulois, a borrowing from Frankish *Walholant, "Roman land" (see Gaul: Name), the root of which is Proto-Germanic *walha-, "foreigner, Roman, Celt", whence the English word Welsh (Old English wælisċ < *walhiska-), South German welsch, meaning "Celtic speaker", "French speaker" or "Italian speaker" in different contexts, and Old Norse valskr, pl. valir, "Gaulish, French"). Proto-Germanic *walha is derived ultimately from the name of the Volcae,[32] a Celtic tribe who lived first in the south of Germany and in central Europe and then migrated to Gaul.[33] This means that English Gaul, despite its superficial similarity, is not actually derived from Latin Gallia (which should have produced **Jaille in French), though it does refer to the same ancient region.

Celtic refers to a family of languages and, more generally, means "of the Celts" or "in the style of the Celts". Several archaeological cultures are considered Celtic in nature, based on unique sets of artefacts. The link between language and artefact is aided by the presence of inscriptions.[34] The relatively modern idea of an identifiable Celtic cultural identity or "Celticity" generally focuses on similarities among languages, works of art, and classical texts,[35] and sometimes also among material artefacts, social organisation, homeland and mythology.[36] Earlier theories held that these similarities suggest a common racial origin for the various Celtic peoples, but more recent theories hold that they reflect a common cultural and language heritage more than a genetic one. Celtic cultures seem to have been widely diverse, with the use of a Celtic language being the main thing they had in common.[6]

Today, the term Celtic generally refers to the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany, also known as the Celtic nations. These are the regions where four Celtic languages are still spoken to some extent as mother tongues. The four are Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton; plus two recent revivals, Cornish (one of the Brittonic languages) and Manx (one of the Goidelic languages). There are also attempts to reconstruct Cumbric, a Brittonic language from North West England and South West Scotland. Celtic regions of Continental Europe are those whose residents claim a Celtic heritage, but where no Celtic language has survived; these areas include the western Iberian Peninsula, i.e. Portugal and north-central Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile and León, Extremadura).[37]

Continental Celts are the Celtic-speaking people of mainland Europe and Insular Celts are the Celtic-speaking peoples of the British and Irish islands and their descendants. The Celts of Brittany derive their language from migrating insular Celts, mainly from Wales and Cornwall, and so are grouped accordingly.[38]

Celts Names and terminology articles: 36

Origins

Overview of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.
  The core Hallstatt territory (HaC, 800 BC) is shown in solid yellow.
  The eventual area of Hallstatt influence (by 500 BC, HaD) in light yellow.
  The core territory of the La Tène culture (450 BC) in solid green.
  The eventual area of La Tène influence (by 250 BC) in light green.
The territories of some major Celtic tribes of the late La Tène period are labelled.
The Wandsworth Shield-boss, in the plastic style, found in London
A Gallic warrior statuette, first century BC, Museum of Brittany, Rennes, France

The Celtic languages form a branch of the larger Indo-European family. By the time speakers of Celtic languages entered history around 400 BC, they were already split into several language groups, and spread over much of Western continental Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Ireland and Britain. The Greek historian Ephorus of Cyme in Asia Minor, writing in the 4th century BC, believed that the Celts came from the islands off the mouth of the Rhine and were "driven from their homes by the frequency of wars and the violent rising of the sea".

Hallstatt culture

Some scholars think that the Urnfield culture of western Middle Europe represents an origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European family.[10] This culture was preeminent in central Europe during the late Bronze Age, from circa 1200 BC until 700 BC, itself following the Unetice and Tumulus cultures. The Urnfield period saw a dramatic increase in population in the region, probably due to innovations in technology and agriculture.

The spread of iron-working led to the development of the Hallstatt culture directly from the Urnfield (c. 700 to 500 BC). Proto-Celtic, the latest common ancestor of all known Celtic languages, is considered by this school of thought to have been spoken at the time of the late Urnfield or early Hallstatt cultures, in the early 1st millennium BC.[39][40][41] The spread of the Celtic languages to Iberia, Ireland and Britain would have occurred during the first half of the 1st millennium BC, the earliest chariot burials in Britain dating to c. 500 BC. Other scholars see Celtic languages as covering Britain and Ireland, and parts of the Continent, long before any evidence of "Celtic" culture is found in archaeology. Over the centuries the language(s) developed into the separate Celtiberian, Goidelic and Brittonic languages.

The Hallstatt culture was succeeded by the La Tène culture of central Europe, which was overrun by the Roman Empire, though traces of La Tène style are still to be seen in Gallo-Roman artefacts. In Britain and Ireland La Tène style in art survived precariously to re-emerge in Insular art. Early Irish literature casts light on the flavour and tradition of the heroic warrior elites who dominated Celtic societies. Celtic river-names are found in great numbers around the upper reaches of the Danube and Rhine, which led many Celtic scholars to place the ethnogenesis of the Celts in this area.

Diodorus Siculus and Strabo both suggest that the heartland of the people they called Celts was in southern France. The former says that the Gauls were to the north of the Celts, but that the Romans referred to both as Gauls (in linguistic terms the Gauls were certainly Celts). Before the discoveries at Hallstatt and La Tène, it was generally considered that the Celtic heartland was southern France, see Encyclopædia Britannica for 1813.

Atlantic seaboard theory

Myles Dillon and Nora Kershaw Chadwick accepted that "the Celtic settlement of the British Isles" might have to be dated to the Bell Beaker culture concluding that "There is no reason why so early a date for the coming of the Celts should be impossible".[42][43] Martín Almagro Gorbea[44] proposed the origins of the Celts could be traced back to the 3rd millennium BC, also seeking the initial roots in the Beaker period, thus offering the wide dispersion of the Celts throughout western Europe, as well as the variability of the different Celtic peoples, and the existence of ancestral traditions and ancient perspective. Using a multidisciplinary approach, Alberto J. Lorrio and Gonzalo Ruiz Zapatero reviewed and built on Almagro Gorbea's work to present a model for the origin of the Celtic archaeological groups in the Iberian Peninsula (Celtiberian, Vetton, Vaccean, the Castro culture of the northwest, Asturian-Cantabrian and Celtic of the southwest) and proposing a rethinking of the meaning of "Celtic" from a European perspective.[45] More recently, John Koch[46] and Barry Cunliffe[47] have suggested that Celtic origins lie with the Atlantic Bronze Age, roughly contemporaneous with the Hallstatt culture but positioned considerably to the West, extending along the Atlantic coast of Europe.

Stephen Oppenheimer[48] points out that the only written evidence that locates the Keltoi near the source of the Danube (i.e. in the Hallstatt region) is in the Histories of Herodotus. However, Oppenheimer shows that Herodotus seemed to believe the Danube rose near the Pyrenees, which would place the Ancient Celts in a region which is more in agreement with later classical writers and historians (i.e. in Gaul and the Iberian peninsula).

Celtic origins from (Gaul/France)

Celticist Patrick Sims-Williams (2020) argues for an origin of Celtic in a region, neither in central Europe nor the Atlantic, but in between, i.e. within modern France not far from the Alps.[49]

Linguistic evidence

The Proto-Celtic language is usually dated to the Late Bronze Age.[10] The earliest records of a Celtic language are the Lepontic inscriptions of Cisalpine Gaul (Northern Italy), the oldest of which predate the La Tène period. Other early inscriptions, appearing from the early La Tène period in the area of Massilia, are in Gaulish, which was written in the Greek alphabet until the Roman conquest. Celtiberian inscriptions, using their own Iberian script, appear later, after about 200 BC. Evidence of Insular Celtic is available only from about 400 AD, in the form of Primitive Irish Ogham inscriptions.

Besides epigraphical evidence, an important source of information on early Celtic is toponymy.[50]

Genetic evidence

Historically many scholars postulated that there was genetic evidence of a common origin of the European Atlantic populations i.e.: Orkney Islands, Scottish, Irish, British, Bretons, and Iberians (Basques, Galicians).[51]

More recent genetic evidence does not support the notion of a significant genetic link between these populations, beyond the fact that they are all West Eurasians. Sardinian-like Neolithic farmers did populate Britain (and all of Northern Europe) during the Neolithic period, however, recent genetics research has claimed that, between 2400BC and 2000BC, over 90% of British DNA was overturned by a North European population of ultimate Russian Steppe origin as part of an ongoing migration process that brought large amounts of Steppe DNA (including the R1b haplogroup) to North and West Europe.[52] Modern autosomal genetic clustering is testament to this fact, as both modern and Iron Age British and Irish samples cluster genetically very closely with other North European populations, and somewhat limited with Galicians, Basques or those from the south of France.[53][54] Such findings have largely put to rest the theory that there is a significant ancestral genetic link (beyond being Europeans) between the various 'Celtic' peoples in the Atlantic area, instead, they are related in that male lines are brother R1b L151 subclades with the local native maternal line admixture explaining the genetic distance noted.

Archaeological evidence

Reconstruction of a late La Tène period settlement in Altburg near Bundenbach
(first century BC)
Reconstruction of a late La Tène period settlement in Havranok, Slovakia
(second–first century BC)

Before the 19th century, scholars assumed that the original land of the Celts was west of the Rhine, more precisely in Gaul, because it was where Greek and Roman ancient sources, namely Caesar, located the Celts. This view was challenged by the 19th-century historian Marie Henri d'Arbois de Jubainville who placed the land of origin of the Celts east of the Rhine. Jubainville based his arguments on a phrase of Herodotus' that placed the Celts at the source of the Danube, and argued that Herodotus had meant to place the Celtic homeland in southern Germany. The finding of the prehistoric cemetery of Hallstat in 1846 by Johan Ramsauer and the finding of the archaeological site of La Tène by Hansli Kopp in 1857 drew attention to this area.

The concept that the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures could be seen not just as chronological periods but as "Culture Groups", entities composed of people of the same ethnicity and language, had started to grow by the end of the 19th century. At the beginning of the 20th century the belief that these "Culture Groups" could be thought of in racial or ethnic terms was strongly held by Gordon Childe whose theory was influenced by the writings of Gustaf Kossinna.[55] As the 20th century progressed, the racial ethnic interpretation of La Tène culture became much more strongly rooted, and any findings of La Tène culture and flat inhumation cemeteries were directly associated with the Celts and the Celtic language.[56] The Iron Age Hallstatt (c. 800–475 BC) and La Tène (c. 500–50 BC) cultures are typically associated with Proto-Celtic and Celtic culture.[57]

Expansion of the Celtic culture in the third century BC according to Francisco Villar[58]

In various academic disciplines the Celts were considered a Central European Iron Age phenomenon, through the cultures of Hallstatt and La Tène. However, archaeological finds from the Halstatt and La Tène culture were rare in the Iberian Peninsula, in southwestern France, northern and western Britain, southern Ireland and Galatia[59][60] and did not provide enough evidence for a cultural scenario comparable to that of Central Europe. It is considered equally difficult to maintain that the origin of the Peninsular Celts can be linked to the preceding Urnfield culture. This has resulted in a more recent approach that introduces a 'proto-Celtic' substratum and a process of Celticisation, having its initial roots in the Bronze Age Bell Beaker culture.[61]

The La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age (from 450 BC to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC) in eastern France, Switzerland, Austria, southwest Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It developed out of the Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under the impetus of considerable Mediterranean influence from Greek, and later Etruscan civilisations. A shift of settlement centres took place in the 4th century.

The western La Tène culture corresponds to historical Celtic Gaul. Whether this means that the whole of La Tène culture can be attributed to a unified Celtic people is difficult to assess; archaeologists have repeatedly concluded that language, material culture, and political affiliation do not necessarily run parallel. Frey notes that in the 5th century, "burial customs in the Celtic world were not uniform; rather, localised groups had their own beliefs, which, in consequence, also gave rise to distinct artistic expressions".[62] Thus, while the La Tène culture is certainly associated with the Gauls, the presence of La Tène artefacts may be due to cultural contact and does not imply the permanent presence of Celtic speakers.

Celtic cointype "Divinka" from Divinka in Slovakia.

Historical evidence

Polybius published a history of Rome about 150 BC in which he describes the Gauls of Italy and their conflict with Rome. Pausanias in the 2nd century AD says that the Gauls "originally called Celts", "live on the remotest region of Europe on the coast of an enormous tidal sea". Posidonius described the southern Gauls about 100 BC. Though his original work is lost it was used by later writers such as Strabo. The latter, writing in the early 1st century AD, deals with Britain and Gaul as well as Hispania, Italy and Galatia. Caesar wrote extensively about his Gallic Wars in 58–51 BC. Diodorus Siculus wrote about the Celts of Gaul and Britain in his 1st-century history.

Celts Origins articles: 67

Distribution

Continental Celts

Gaul

The Romans knew the Celts then living in present-day France as Gauls. The territory of these peoples probably included the Low Countries, the Alps and present-day northern Italy. Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars described the 1st-century BC descendants of those Gauls.

Eastern Gaul became the centre of the western La Tène culture. In later Iron Age Gaul, the social organisation resembled that of the Romans, with large towns. From the 3rd century BC the Gauls adopted coinage. Texts with Greek characters from southern Gaul have survived from the 2nd century BC.

Greek traders founded Massalia about 600 BC, with some objects (mostly drinking ceramics) being traded up the Rhone valley. But trade became disrupted soon after 500 BC and re-oriented over the Alps to the Po valley in the Italian peninsula. The Romans arrived in the Rhone valley in the 2nd century BC and encountered a mostly Celtic-speaking Gaul. Rome wanted land communications with its Iberian provinces and fought a major battle with the Saluvii at Entremont in 124–123 BC. Gradually Roman control extended, and the Roman province of Gallia Transalpina developed along the Mediterranean coast.[63][64] The Romans knew the remainder of Gaul as Gallia Comata – "Hairy Gaul".

In 58 BC the Helvetii planned to migrate westward but Julius Caesar forced them back. He then became involved in fighting the various tribes in Gaul, and by 55 BC had overrun most of Gaul. In 52 BC Vercingetorix led a revolt against the Roman occupation but was defeated at the Siege of Alesia and surrendered.

Following the Gallic Wars of 58–51 BC, Caesar's Celtica formed the main part of Roman Gaul, becoming the province of Gallia Lugdunensis. This territory of the Celtic tribes was bounded on the south by the Garonne and on the north by the Seine and the Marne.[65] The Romans attached large swathes of this region to neighboring provinces Belgica and Aquitania, particularly under Augustus.

Place- and personal-name analysis and inscriptions suggest that the Gaulish Celtic language was spoken over most of what is now France.[66][67]

Iberia

Main language areas in Iberia, showing Celtic languages in beige, c. 300 BC

Until the end of the 19th century, traditional scholarship dealing with the Celts did acknowledge their presence in the Iberian Peninsula[68][69] as a material culture relatable to the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures. However, since according to the definition of the Iron Age in the 19th century Celtic populations were supposedly rare in Iberia and did not provide a cultural scenario that could easily be linked to that of Central Europe, the presence of Celtic culture in that region was generally not fully recognised. Modern scholarship, however, has clearly proven that Celtic presence and influences were most substantial in what is today Spain and Portugal (with perhaps the highest settlement saturation in Western Europe), particularly in the central, western and northern regions.[70][71]

In addition to Gauls infiltrating from the north of the Pyrenees, the Roman and Greek sources mention Celtic populations in three parts of the Iberian Peninsula: the eastern part of the Meseta (inhabited by the Celtiberians), the southwest (Celtici, in modern-day Alentejo) and the northwest (Gallaecia and Asturias).[72] A modern scholarly review[73] found several archaeological groups of Celts in Spain:

  • The Celtiberian group in the Upper-Douro Upper-Tagus Upper-Jalón area.[74] Archaeological data suggest a continuity at least from the 6th century BC. In this early period, the Celtiberians inhabited in hill-forts (Castros). Around the end of the 3rd century BC, Celtiberians adopted more urban ways of life. From the 2nd century BC, they minted coins and wrote inscriptions using the Celtiberian script. These inscriptions make the Celtiberian Language the only Hispano-Celtic language classified as Celtic with unanimous agreement.[75] In the late period, before the Roman Conquest, both archaeological evidence and Roman sources suggest that the Celtiberians were expanding into different areas in the Peninsula (e.g. Celtic Baeturia).
  • The Vetton group in the western Meseta, between the Tormes, Douro and Tagus Rivers. They were characterised by the production of Verracos, sculptures of bulls and pigs carved in granite.
  • The Vaccean group in the central Douro valley. They were mentioned by Roman sources already in the 220 BC. Some of their funerary rituals suggest strong influences from their Celtiberian neighbours.
Triskelion and spirals on a Galician torc terminal, Museum of Castro de Santa Tegra, A Guarda
  • The Castro Culture in northwestern Iberia, modern day Galicia and Northern Portugal.[76] Its high degree of continuity, from the Late Bronze Age, makes it difficult to support that the introduction of Celtic elements was due to the same process of Celticization of the western Iberia, from the nucleus area of Celtiberia. Two typical elements are the sauna baths with monumental entrances, and the "Gallaecian Warriors", stone sculptures built in the 1st century AD. A large group of Latin inscriptions contain linguistic features that are clearly Celtic, while others are similar to those found in the non-Celtic Lusitanian language.[75]
  • The Astures and the Cantabri. This area was romanised late, as it was not conquered by Rome until the Cantabrian Wars of 29–19 BC.
  • Celts in the southwest, in the area Strabo called Celtica[77]

The origins of the Celtiberians might provide a key to understanding the Celticisation process in the rest of the Peninsula. The process of Celticisation of the southwestern area of the peninsula by the Keltoi and of the northwestern area is, however, not a simple Celtiberian question. Recent investigations about the Callaici[78] and Bracari[79] in northwestern Portugal are providing new approaches to understanding Celtic culture (language, art and religion) in western Iberia.[80]

John T. Koch of Aberystwyth University suggested that Tartessian inscriptions of the 8th century BC might be classified as Celtic. This would mean that Tartessian is the earliest attested trace of Celtic by a margin of more than a century.[81]

Alps and Italy

Map of the Alpine region of the Roman Empire in 14 AD

The Canegrate culture represented the first migratory wave of the proto-Celtic[82][83] population from the northwest part of the Alps that, through the Alpine passes, had already penetrated and settled in the western Po valley between Lake Maggiore and Lake Como (Scamozzina culture). It has also been proposed that a more ancient proto-Celtic presence can be traced back to the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, when North Westwern Italy appears closely linked regarding the production of bronze artefacts, including ornaments, to the western groups of the Tumulus culture.[84] La Tène cultural material appeared over a large area of mainland Italy,[85] the southernmost example being the Celtic helmet from Canosa di Puglia.[86]

Italy is home to Lepontic, the oldest attested Celtic language (from the 6th century BC).[87] Anciently spoken in Switzerland and in Northern-Central Italy, from the Alps to Umbria.[88][89][90][91] According to the Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises, more than 760 Gaulish inscriptions have been found throughout present-day France – with the notable exception of Aquitaine – and in Italy,[92][93] which testifies the importance of Celtic heritage in the peninsula.

In 391 BC, Celts "who had their homes beyond the Alps streamed through the passes in great strength and seized the territory that lay between the Apennine Mountains and the Alps" according to Diodorus Siculus. The Po Valley and the rest of northern Italy (known to the Romans as Cisalpine Gaul) was inhabited by Celtic-speakers who founded cities such as Milan.[94] Later the Roman army was routed at the battle of Allia and Rome was sacked in 390 BC by the Senones.

At the battle of Telamon in 225 BC, a large Celtic army was trapped between two Roman forces and crushed.

The defeat of the combined Samnite, Celtic and Etruscan alliance by the Romans in the Third Samnite War sounded the beginning of the end of the Celtic domination in mainland Europe, but it was not until 192 BC that the Roman armies conquered the last remaining independent Celtic kingdoms in Italy.

Expansion east and south

Celtic tribes in S. E. Europe, first century BC (in purple)

The Celts also expanded down the Danube river and its tributaries. One of the most influential tribes, the Scordisci, had established their capital at Singidunum in the 3rd century BC, which is present-day Belgrade, Serbia. The concentration of hill-forts and cemeteries shows a density of population in the Tisza valley of modern-day Vojvodina, Serbia, Hungary and into Ukraine. Expansion into Romania was however blocked by the Dacians.

The Serdi were a Celtic tribe[95] inhabiting Thrace. They were located around and founded Serdika (Bulgarian: Сердика, Latin: Ulpia Serdica, Greek: Σαρδῶν πόλις), now Sofia in Bulgaria,[96] which reflects their ethnonym. They would have established themselves in this area during the Celtic migrations at the end of the 4th century BC, though there is no evidence for their existence before the 1st century BC. Serdi are among traditional tribal names reported into the Roman era.[97] They were gradually Thracianized over the centuries but retained their Celtic character in material culture up to a late date. According to other sources they may have been simply of Thracian origin,[98] according to others they may have become of mixed Thraco-Celtic origin. Further south, Celts settled in Thrace (Bulgaria), which they ruled for over a century, and Anatolia, where they settled as the Galatians (see also: Gallic Invasion of Greece). Despite their geographical isolation from the rest of the Celtic world, the Galatians maintained their Celtic language for at least 700 years. St Jerome, who visited Ancyra (modern-day Ankara) in 373 AD, likened their language to that of the Treveri of northern Gaul.

For Venceslas Kruta, Galatia in central Turkey was an area of dense Celtic settlement.

The Boii tribe gave their name to Bohemia, Bologna and possibly Bavaria, and Celtic artefacts and cemeteries have been discovered further east in what is now Poland and Slovakia. A Celtic coin (Biatec) from Bratislava's mint was displayed on the old Slovak 5-crown coin.

As there is no archaeological evidence for large-scale invasions in some of the other areas, one current school of thought holds that Celtic language and culture spread to those areas by contact rather than invasion.[99] However, the Celtic invasions of Italy and the expedition in Greece and western Anatolia, are well documented in Greek and Latin history.

There are records of Celtic mercenaries in Egypt serving the Ptolemies. Thousands were employed in 283–246 BC and they were also in service around 186 BC. They attempted to overthrow Ptolemy II.

Insular Celts

Principal sites in Roman Britain, with indication of tribal territories

All Celtic languages extant today belong to the Insular Celtic languages, derived from the Celtic languages spoken in Iron Age Britain and Ireland.[100] They were separated into a Goidelic and a Brythonic branch from an early period.

Linguists have been arguing for many years whether a Celtic language came to Britain and Ireland and then split or whether there were two separate "invasions". The older view of prehistorians was that the Celtic influence in the British Isles was the result of successive invasions from the European continent by diverse Celtic-speaking peoples over the course of several centuries, accounting for the P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic isogloss. This view has been challenged by the hypothesis that the Celtic languages of the British Isles form a phylogenetic Insular Celtic dialect group.[101]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars commonly dated the "arrival" of Celtic culture in Britain (via an invasion model) to the 6th century BC, corresponding to archaeological evidence of Hallstatt influence and the appearance of chariot burials in what is now England. Some Iron Age migration does seem to have occurred but the nature of the interactions with the indigenous populations of the isles is unknown. According to this model, by about the 6th century (Sub-Roman Britain), most of the inhabitants of the Isles were speaking Celtic languages of either the Goidelic or the Brythonic branch. Since the late 20th century, a new model has emerged (championed by archaeologists such as Barry Cunliffe and Celtic historians such as John T. Koch) which places the emergence of Celtic culture in Britain much earlier, in the Bronze Age, and credits its spread not to invasion, but due to a gradual emergence in situ out of Proto-Indo-European culture (perhaps introduced to the region by the Bell Beaker People, and enabled by an extensive network of contacts that existed between the peoples of Britain and Ireland and those of the Atlantic seaboard.[102][103]

Classical writers did not apply the terms Κελτοί (Keltoi) or "Celtae" to the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland,[6][7][8] leading a number of scholars to question the use of the term Celt to describe the Iron Age inhabitants of those islands.[6][7][8][9] The first historical account of the islands of Britain and Ireland was by Pytheas, a Greek from the city of Massalia, who around 310–306 BC, sailed around what he called the "Pretannikai nesoi", which can be translated as the "Pretannic Isles".[104] In general, classical writers referred to the inhabitants of Britain as Pretannoi or Britanni.[105] Strabo, writing in the Roman era, clearly distinguished between the Celts and Britons.[106]

Celts Distribution articles: 97