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The common perception that comes to mind when one is to think of the Celts is that of a large, hairy barbarian

with long hair, a beard, smothered with blue paint, and covered with animal pelts. Much of this perception comes from contemporaneous Roman authors, who

declared the Celts to be hot-tempered warriors with a great thirst for wine. However, by time of Caesar most of the Celtic world was already under Roman control, only Northern Gallia, Galatia, and Britannia standing out as notable exceptions. In our modern eye, it seems that this event, the annexation and pacification of Gaul seems to be the coup de grace to Cetlic civilization, incorporated into the Roman Republic, but in actuality, the perception of Celtic peoples by the Romans seems to have changed little from before to after this event. The outside perception of who the Celts were seems to have changed little over time, even to this very day, paralleled by the increasing loss of cultural identity, no longer being Celts and instead becoming Romans. In order to discuss any alteration of opinion towards the Celtic peoples, it is first important to define exactly what it is that this means. From Professor ODonnells lectures we can attribute that, the modern concept of the Celts equates three categories of evidence: (first) people called Keltoi by the Greeks, (second) the ancient Celtic languages, and (third) the Hallstatt and La Tene archaeological cultures. The Celts had many commonalities in culture, religion, and practices, but the most defining characteristic is that of a common language. Celtic is an Indo-European language which has a number of sub-families within it, namely HispanoCeltic, Gallic, Lepontic, Goidelic, and Brythonic, the latter two having sub-classifications as well. (James 10) It was not known until the seventeenth century that the peoples of Ireland and Britain were even related to those in modern-day France, much less those who had lived much further off. Indeed, the Gauls at the time had considered the Britons to be crude, who in turn considered the Goidelic peoples of Ireland to be primitive.

In fact, the name by which we refer to these people, the Celts, is derivative from the Greek term Keltoi, which was the Greek term for the people living in the northern Mediterranean. Another term that they utilized was Galatai, which is derived from the Greek gala, or milk. It is likely that the Mediterranean Hellenes were very taken by the fair

complexion of the comparatively northern Celts. The Romanized versions of these names are Celtae and Galli respectively, from which we get the modern terms of Celt and Gaul. Henceforth, Celt will refer to any and all Celtic peoples, whereas Gaul will refer to those living in modern France and northern Italy, with terms such as Celtiberian and Galatian referring to specific peoples and/or locations. To further the understanding of who is being referred to, it is important to note which areas the Celtic people inhabited, as to understand the scope of their influence and whom the contemporaneous authors would be referring to. Herodotus stated in his Histories that, The Danube traverses the whole of Europe, rising among the Celts [who] dwell beyond the Pillars of Hercules [and] who are the westernmost of all nations inhabiting Europe. (Herodotus 4,49 and 2,33) The most obvious area is that of Gaul, divided up by Roman authors into Gallia Cisaplina in Northern Italy, and then Gallia Narbonensis, Aquitania, Celtica (Lugdenensis), and Belgica. The next most notable area would be the entirety of the British Isles, and then most all of Spain, excepting the easternmost coast. However, this is not nearly all, for they inhabited southern Germany and Bohemia, and stretched all the way to the Euxine Pontus and nearly to Macedonia. In fact, in 279BC a sizable migration of Celts swept into Greece and were barely turned away from looting the temple of Delphi, soon moving into Anatolia were they founded the exonymically named Kingdom of Galatia. On top of this, Celtic warriors were prized as

Mercenaries and were imported by many to be used as mercenaries, including but not limited to the Carthaginians, Antigonids, Bithynians, and both the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires. There is little in the way of surviving Latin literature in regards to the Celts just prior to the pacification of Gallia Celtica and Belgica by Caesar, but one such surviving example is from Cicero, who in his Pro Fonteio stated that, All Gaul is filled with traders, is full of Roman citizens. No Gaul does any business without the aid of a Roman citizen; not a single sesterce in Gaul ever changes hands without being entered in the account books of Roman citizens. (Cicero 33) Published in 72/73BC, some fifteen to twenty years before Caesars expedition in Gaul, Cicero seems to make the implication that the whole region was already Romanized, and indeed it likely was. Independently of Roman development but perhaps aided by Greek settlement and trade, the Gauls developed large population centers and had innumerable mines, from which one may infer a great deal of wealth. For instance, Diodorus Siculus mentions a particular

community in Britain in his Bibliotheka Historia, which, are especially hospitable to strangers and have adopted a civilized manner of life because of their intercourse with merchants and other peoples they work tin into pieces the size of knucklebones and convey it to an island where it is transported through Gaul to the Mediterranean world. (Diodorus 5.22.1-4) This also led to the importation of many products, particularly luxury goods and wine, for which the Celts highly enjoyed. Diodorus Siculus even stated that The Gauls are exceedingly addicted to the use of wine and since they partake of this drink without moderation they fall into a stupor or a state of madness. Consequently many of the Italian traders receive for it an incredible price; for in exchange for a jar of wine they receive a slave. (Diodorus 5.26.2-3) While this portrays them as reckless and drunkards, two things must be taken into consideration; first that their native brew consists of fermented beer which was not made for its taste, and

secondly that the Gauls were huge traders in slaves, and to them an amphora of was likely to actually be more valuable than a paltry human slave. This was written concurrently with the campaign in Gaul, but Dionysus of Halincarnassus in his Roman Antiquities writes slightly later, a Greek under Augustus rule. However, he gives a similar perception of Celtic drunkenness in his reasoning for why a Celtic host under Brennus was riled to enter Italy and cause great grievances to Rome itself. The story starts that a man is banished to Gaul, and takes with him many skins of wine. The Gauls at that time had no knowledge of wine [but drank instead] a foul-smelling liquor made from barley rotted in water. (Dionysus 13.16) He then goes on to state that the stranger convinces them to invade Italy, just so that they may procure olives and wine. There seems to be little change in opinion to this regard. If one must look for other sources in order to ascertain this position, namely the Hellenic authors of the time, selected from 146BC when Greece was officially made part of the Roman Republic, notably an instances where Diodorus Siculus has detailed the sacking of Rome by Celts led by Brennus. Interestingly, given the proliferation of the name Brennus or one similar is used by Classical sources for Celtic leaders, it is likely that this is not actually a name but rather a transliteration of a title meaning king or chieftain into Greek and Latin. Diodorus arguably seems to place blame on the Romans for the initiation of hostilities, as that Roman envoys sent to spy on the Celts took up arms against them, siding with their enemies. When the Celts

demanded the aggressors, the Romans initially offered money, then caved in, but later changed their minds yet again and brought unprovoked hostilities against the Celts. This is the pretext to the Celtic attack on Rome in 390. He also states much earlier in the work that one of the major tribes of the Celts in Gaul, the Aedui, themselves with many client states beneath them, were, standing on terms of kingship and friendship with the Romans, a relationship which has

endured from ancient times down to our own day. (Diodorus 5.25.1) Even in matters as grave as the sacking of Rome, Diodorus, who was born in Sicily under Roman rule, seems to treat the Celts with at least a modicum of respect. It should also be kept in mind that, Since the Romans did not subscribe to the modern ideas of race, they tended to treat individuals of different national and ethnic origins, even people of colour, as they would anyone else of the same social status. (Ward 50) However, most reference from the classical world about the Celts seems to revolve around one conflict with them or another, and Polybius is no exception to this, making particular note of their conflict with the Romans that arose in the midst of the Second Punic War against Carthage. In a preface to this actual event, he explains in his Histories that the Gauls in conflicts prior to the Second Punic war decide to cut their losses and, [retire] quite safely from the Roman territory, but then goes on to explain that upon returning home they fought amongst each other over the plunder and decimated their own forces. He continues, This is quite a common event among the Gauls, when they have appropriated their neighbour's property, chiefly owing to their inordinate drinking and surfeiting. (Polybius 19) Again is mentioned the Celts love for drink. Soon thereafter he makes mention of their barbarity, that, When Manius sent legates to Gaul to treat for the return of the prisoners, they were treacherously slain. (Polybius 19) However, he does stipulate one benefit from this conflict, that when they soon thereafter entered conflict with Pyrrhus of Epirus, they had become accustomed to be cut up by Gauls, they could neither undergo nor expect any more terrible experience. (Polybius 20) Polybius paints a picture that the Celts should be debased, but also makes mention to their courage and expertise in war, as well as the sheer terror they inspired in the Romans. After the onset of the Second Punic War, the Romans had heard that a massive force of Gauls was

preparing to make their way down into Italy. They had, at times march[ed] to the frontier, as if the enemy had already invaded their territory, while as a fact the Celts had not yet budged from their own. (Polybius 22) This had worried the Romans so much that they ceased their interests in Spain the middle of the war, allowing Carthage to take much of it without resistance. When the Gauls do invade, they demonstrate tactical acumen by lighting their campfires but having only a few men remain at the camp such that the Romans believe most of them had fled, leading them into an ambush. Later, when confronted with two armies, King Anerostes expressed the opinion, that having captured so much booty they should not give battle again nor risk the fortune of the whole enterprise, but return home in safety. (Polybius 26) Again the Celts show that they would be happy with merely booty, that they are not mindlessly wonton for the heat of battle. Unfortunately for the Celts, the Romans were able to entrap them, but, were terrified by the fine order of the Celtic host and the dreadful din, for there were innumerable horn-blowers and trumpeters, and, as the whole army were shouting their war-cries at the same time, there was such a tumult of sound that it seemed that not only the trumpets and the soldiers but all the country round had got a voice and caught up the cry. This in general frightened them, but also the Gaesetae, whose name roughly translates into spearmen, ge itself meaning spear or javelin. It is alleged that they received this name for the great distance and accuracy with which they were able to throw their javelins. Polybius continues, Very terrifying too were the appearance and the gestures of the naked warriors in front, all in the prime of life, and finely built men, and all in the leading companies richly adorned with gold torques and armlets. The sight of them indeed dismayed the Romans. (Polybius 29) They went into battle naked as the embodiment of the Greek ideal, that all they should need to protect themselves is their own skill

with sword and shield. Polybius states that their lack of clothing was their own downfall, but the Gaesetae were just as well armoured as the majority of the rest of the Celtic warband, so it is more likely faulty reasoning. It is interesting to note here some specific references to the arms of the Celts mentioned here. The Gaesetae, as well as their Boii and Insubres employers in this battle, though being almost cut to pieces, they held their ground, equal to their foes in courage, and inferior only, as a force and individually, in their arms. (Polybius 30) It is certainly true that while most all of the Roman army at this time the lorica hamata, a chain-mail hauberk derived from the original Celtic invention, most of the Celts had only a wooden shield similar to that used by the Romans, with few having more armour than that. However, it is interesting to note that Polybius explains that, from the way their swords are made only the first cut takes effect; after this they at once assume the shape of a strigil, being so much bent both length-wise and side-wise that unless the men are given leisure to rest them on the ground and set them straight with the foot, the second blow is quite ineffectual. (Polybius 33) The Celts were some of the earliest ironworkers in Europe, so one would be led to assume that they would have mastered the art of ironwork, and by many accounts they were highly skilled in such, and Polybius may perhaps just be exaggerating slight bends in the blade upon striking metal. However, one should also take into consideration the work done by the archaeologist David Sim, where he has discovered that a great deal of Roman iron was purified to a degree that is of the same quality of modern steel, thought not to have been invented until the nineteenth century. By comparison, any other iron blade would seem of incredibly poor quality. There are three extant versions of the sack of Rome by Brennus in 389BC, one of which written before the Gallic Wars, another written by Dionysus of Halicarnassus in his Roman

Antiquities under the reign of Augustus. All three versions have different parts to the story told, or told in different ways, but the overall perception of the Celts remain the same, and interestingly that in none of them are they truly portrayed as primitive savages, described moreso as one would have described another Italian people, very generalized. However, all three make mention of the story where they attempt to scale the cliffs leading up to the citadel, and would not have been detected if it were not for the sacred geese of Juno, causing all manner of clamor. Livy too told of Brennus and the sack of Rome, but seems to give them the same treatment as he does many of Romes enemies in Ab Urbe Condita, to make them noble and worthy foes, for had Rome been forced into hostilities against anything less? In fact, the initial meeting between them seems to have the stereotypical roles reversed, Livy even prefacing it with that it was, A peaceable enough mission, had it not contained envoys of a violent temper, more like Gauls than Romans. (Livy 5.36) In the Gallic response to the terms set forth by the Roman envoys, they gave the addendum, if territory is refused us we shall fight, whilst you are still here, that you may report to those at home how far the Gauls surpass all other men in courage." (Livy 5.36) This phrase, that Gauls surpass all other men in courage, is used time and again in literature used to reference them. If nothing else, this is the constant on the perception of the Celts. There is mention made by Livy to the envoys fighting against the Gauls, but he makes no mention of the Romans initially trying to give money in reparations to them, but instead shifts immediately to the engaging of hostilities. The Gauls, upon hearing that theyd been spurned, were said to have, Burn[ed] with rage-as a nation they cannot control their passions-they seized their standards and hurriedly set out on their march. (Livy 5.37) Again here there is the reference to unbridled passion of the Celts, which is also mentioned upon the actual razing of

Rome, where, one of the patricians roused the passion of a Gaul, who began to stroke his beard -which in those days was universally worn long-by smiting him on the head with his ivory staff. (Livy 5.41) It should be noted that very few Celts traditionally wore beards, instead usually wearing only a mustache or no facial hair at all, so it is likely that the concept of a long flowing beard was very foreign to the warrior. The Celts themselves by in large used a lye-based compound, likely similar to what they would have used to make soap, in order to wash away all unwanted body hair. It also bears mentioning the influx of mention to Celtic religious practices following the pacification of Gaul, for while the Romans were likely tertiarily aware of Druidism and other Celtic religious practices, the incorporation of a large body of Celtic people who previously had no direct contact with the Romans dramatically expanded communication of these effects. Livy ties this religious belief into their general fervor, stating that, they were restrained by religious feelings, for as a nation they are by no means inattentive to the claims of religion. (Livy 5.46) Cicero, still regarding them as inferior, likens the practices of Druids to Augers of Hellenic and Roman religions, explain in his De Divinatione that, Nor is the practice of divination disregarded even among uncivilized tribes [One] claimed to have that knowledge of nature which the Greeks call 'physiologia,' and he used to make predictions, sometimes by means of augury and sometimes by means of conjecture. (Cicero, 1.41) Strabo too makes mention of their religious practices, avowing that, The heads of enemies [were] embalm[ed] in cedar-oil [to] exhibit to strangers, and they would not deign to give them back even for a ransom of an equal weight of gold. But the Romans put a stop to these customs, as well as to all those connected with the sacrifices and divinations that are opposed to our usages. (Strabo 4.4.5)

Pliny the Elder makes multiple mentions to practices performed in Celtic religious rites, in his Natural History asserting that, The Gallic provinces too were pervaded by the magic art, and even down to a period within memory. However, he states that the rites performed by those on Britannia are far more mystical, making it seem as a land of magic, continuing that, the Roman people, for having put an end to those monstrous rites to murder a man was to do an act of the greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh was to secure the highest blessings of health. (Pliny 30.4) Here the implication is made that they engage in human sacrifice and eat the flesh of man, though there is little evidence other than scant writings such as this that cannibalism ever took place. However, human sacrifice was definitely a part of Celtic religious practice, Caesar writing in the Commentarii de Bello Gallico that, unless the life of a man be offered, the mind of the immortal gods will not favor them. It is even believed that there have been sacrifices as, volunteers to be messengers to the gods. (James 97) Strabo, being a geographer rather than a historian, actually gives a different insight into the Celtic peoples, notably that he mentions things other than invasions that the Celts had taken place in. For instance, he describes in his Geography how to lands of Gaul produce a large quantity of a variance of foodstuffs, and that, none of the country is untilled except parts where tilling is precluded by swamps and woods. Yet these parts too are thickly peopled more because of the largeness of the population than because of the industry of the people; for the women are not only prolific, but good nurses as well, while the men are fighters rather than farmers. (Strabo 4.1.2) Here Strabo intends to make a distinction between the Romans and Celts, that the Romans are all famers and the Celts warriors, yet the Roman are still superior in arms. He also continues the theme of their hot-temperedness and ready to go into conflict, stating that, The whole race which is now called both "Gallic" and "Galatic" is war-mad, and


both high-spirited and quick for battle. (Strabo 4.4.2) Yet it is interesting to note that he makes reference to a change in the people, that there are, many things about [the Celts] that do not fit the facts of to-day. The following, also, is a thing peculiar to them, that they endeavour not to grow fat or pot-bellied, and any young man who exceeds the standard measure of the girdle is punished. (Strabo 4.4.6) It is interesting that there is the standard of fitness required for all men which has gone slack in recent years, perhaps due to the increased Romanization of the Celtic peoples. Strabo also makes note of others aggrandizing their accomplishments in Celtiberia, conquering three hundred cities where they have only tamed villages. He emphasizes that, even those who assert that there are more than one thousand cities in Iberia seem to me to be led to do so by calling the big villages cities; for, in the first place, the country is naturally not capable for those who live in villages are wild (and such are most of the Iberians), and even the cities themselves cannot easily tame their inhabitants when these are outnumbered by the folk that live in the forests for the purpose of working mischief upon their neighbours. (Strabo 3.4.13) There is one important note to take from this, and the reason why it took so long to tame the Iberian peninsula, that the peoples living there, just like those in Germania, where still much less socially developed and resorted to guerilla warfare. After all, it is much harder to pacify a forest than a house. For this exact reason the Gauls were so easily pacified, that they had already undergone a long period of parallel development to the Greeks and Romans, augmented by trade relations with them. They already lived in cities, traded, and had craftsmen and arts. They were easily integrated into Roman civilization because they were already civilized.


James, Simon. The World of the Celts. London: Thames & Hudson, 1993 Ward, Allen M., Fritz M. Heichelheim, and Cedric A. Yeo. A History of the Roman People. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2003. Print.

Amor, Kristen. "Forging Into History." Minerva 7 Aug. 2011. Web. 8 Nov. 2011. <>. O'Donnell, Charles J. "Was the Atlantic Zone the Celtic Homelan." University of Wales. University of Edinburgh. 2008. Web. 8 Nov. 2011. <>.

Caesar, Julius. Comentarii de Bello Gallico Cicero. De Divinatione Dionysus of Halicarnassus. Roman Antiquities Herodotus. Histories Livy. Ab Urbe Condita Pliny the Elder. Natural History Polybius. The Histories Siculus, Diodorus. Bibliotheka Historia Strabo. Geography