Top 5 Facts about Celts

It’s easy to look at Empires such as Rome and think just how good they were! But equally as impressive were the Celts who brought their own charm to the world. Here we look at just 5 facts that make the Celts a formidable people!

1. Headhunters

If I had to choose one thing the Celts are most famous for, it would probably be the fact that they were headhunters. Now I am not talking headhunters as in the business sense of the word…I mean they believed that the greatest prize in battle was their enemy’s head!. This could come from the fact that the Celts had a religion similar to animism, in which they believed that spirits and gods resided in streams, rocks, trees, mistletoe—you get the idea. The human head was no exception, as they believed that a person’s soul lived inside their heads.

To the Celts, having a collection of heads was a sign of great honor and prestige, plus it gave them bragging rights. Thus, they would even go as far as to decorating their saddles and the doors of their houses with the severed heads of their enemies. For a comparison, it’s kind of like owning a lot of expensive cars. We would brag about owning a rare Ferrari or something of the sort, while the Celts would brag about owning the severed head of a very powerful enemy leader.

2.They loved a Good Fight

On top of their far-reaching travels, the Celts loved a fight and would fight for anyone—at a price. Celtic mercenaries were famed for their reputation in combat, and they were known to have been recruited by Ptolemy II, king of Ptolemaic Egypt. The mercenaries were so good that the king feared that they might take over Egypt for themselves, so he had them marooned on a deserted island in the Nile.

The Greeks also met the Celts, who at the time were expanding their territories. This is known as the Gallic Invasion of the Balkans, and the Battle of Delphi was the highlight of this invasion, which resulted in a Celtic defeat. Here, the Greeks were organized and fought together as a team, so they could easily defeat the disorganized Celts, who fought as individuals. Thus, the Celts ended up being pushed out of Delphi in 279 B.C.

3. They Were Filthy Rich!

Here’s a little back story: The year is 58 B.C., and the Romans and Celts are all living peacefully in their respective territories. Now imagine you’re Julius Caesar. Your political career is mediocre so far, you have large amounts of debt, and you need to really prove that you are somebody. What would you do? Why of course, invade the “simple and barbaric” Celts—surely they wouldn’t mind.

The Gallic Wars are often regarded as Julius Caesar’s greatest military victory. This was the beginning of the rapid expansion of the Roman empire, in which Caesar systematically defeated several Celtic tribes to gain control over the area. This Roman victory would decide the fate of the area known as Gaul (modern-day France), which was ruled by several Gallic tribes. This resulted in Caesar earning plenty of glory and praise for his military triumphs. But why did he exactly invade Gaul? According to Caesar himself, he was just pushing back the invading barbaric tribes, but now, historians have learned otherwise.

One of these invading tribes were the Helvetii, which were initially located near the Alps. This tribe were planning to migrate to France under the protection of Caesar, but when he refused, they decided to pass through Gallic territory. Caesar then stated that Rome had to protect the Celts that were already in France, which he “protected” by massacring more than a quarter of a million people of the invading tribes. He continued “protecting” these tribes until they were eventually all wiped out. Gaul ended up falling to the Romans.

What does this have anything to do with the Celts being rich? Simple: First and foremost, Caesar was a politician. He desperately needed cash to pay his debts, and he needed a military conquest to boost his political career. Celtic Gaul would provide him with both, as he knew that the area was rich in gold deposits. Although it was known that the Celts had gold coins and jewelery, up until recently it was only believed that they had acquired them through trade. Turns out that in Gaul alone, there were over 400 Celtic gold mines. Thus, the Celts were extremely wealthy-no wonder why Caesar wanted to get his hands on their mines. Funnily enough, the Romans started to mint their own gold coins after the conquest of Gaul.

4. Women and the Brehon Law

The Brehon Laws were ancient laws of Ireland and are the oldest surviving legal system in Europe, they are said to date to 714 BC, the name comes from the Irish ‘Breitheamh’ a judge. The laws were very sophisticated and complex, the result of modifications made during the many years they had been in use. Particularly noteworthy is the position accorded to women in the Brehon Laws. Women were considered equal to men in all things, they were protected by the law in many ways and could hold office in any profession. There must be many millions of women in the world today, who would envy the freedom of choice afforded to Irish women over two thousand years ago.

5. They weren’t Simpletons!

Celts may have had one thing which was vastly superior over the Romans: a calendar.

Sure the Romans had the Julian calendar, but the Celts had what is known as a Coligny calendar. It was found in Coligny, France (hence the name) back in 1897. Apart from looking awesome, the calendar is made up of a number of mysterious metal pieces decorated with intricate markings, such as lines, holes, numbers, and a couple of Greek, Roman, and Celtic letters. Apart from knowing that it was some kind of calendar, scholars were baffled for over a century. However, in 1989, the calendar was finally deciphered. It was found to be a lunar-solar calendar, which calculated the time of year based on the cycles of the sun and moon. This very accurate calendar was way ahead of its time, as it could accurately predict the position of the sun at any given month in the future. In the above video, the professor who cracked the calendar’s mystery attempts to explain the system (just after the 12-minute mark). You have been warned though, as in the words of the confused presenter, “Calendars are terribly complicated things.”

Perhaps more importantly, this calendar is living proof that the Celts were capable of mathematical and scientific thought. Just to show how accurate this thing was, let’s compare it to the Roman calendar. The contemporary Roman calendar was also considered to be quite accurate for its day, since it erred from the real solar calendar by only 11.5 minutes a year. However, after centuries have passed, even a small inaccuracy adds up over time. The Coligny calendar was so advanced compared to its Roman counterpart that the Romans would be celebrating the beginning of spring in the middle of August, while the Celts’ version still remained true to the real solar calendar. Take that, Romans!

So there you go, 5 great facts about the Celts. For more information, make sure you keep it here and check out our many blogs!

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