The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age

The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age

The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age

The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age

Synopsis

This dramatic history traces the mysterious Celts from their dark origins, including Druids and King Arthur, right across Britain and Europe and looking at their beliefs, cultures and arts as well as their warring and expansion.

The resurgence of Celtic identity in Britain and Europe has revitalized interest in Celtic history. At the same time, developments in genetics and archaeology have led to it becoming an arena of serious controversy. John Hayward explores the changing identity of Europe's Celtic speaking peoples through history, both as they saw themselves and as others saw them. Covering continental Europe, Britain and Ireland, and the present day Celtic global diaspora, this is a vibrant and meticulously researched account.

Excerpt

Few European peoples have proved quite as durable as the Celts. From obscure beginnings in the Bronze Age, the Celts came to dominate the European continent in the Iron Age before their neighbours, the Germans, Dacians and Romans, forced them into a fighting retreat. By the first century AD the Celts were confined to Europe’s Atlantic fringe, yet they outlasted the Romans and the Dacians and survived to play an influential role in the cultural life of early medieval Europe. By the later Middle Ages, Europe’s last autonomous Celtic societies were under constant pressure from the English, Lowland Scots and the French and all had been suppressed by the middle of the eighteenth century. At this point, when their extinction seemed inevitable, European intellectuals began to take a serious interest in Celtic history, language and culture. Romanticised by poets, artists and nationalists, the Celts fired the popular imagination and began a remarkable revival of Celtic identity, which continues to this day.

Much recent academic writing about the Celts has focused on the nature of the Celtic identity: did the ancient Celts really exist, or are they simply a modern construct? Are the modern Celts real Celts or just an invention of the Romantic era? With some reservations, which I explain in the book, I am satisfied that both are real. For those people who do not believe in the ancient Celts, their survival into the modern age is not an issue (the modern Celts are simply an interesting cultural phenomenon). Those people who do believe in the ancient Celts rather take their survival into the modern world for granted, or, if they are romantically or nationalistically inclined, explain it in terms of heroic struggle against the odds. But, when you think about it, the fact that there were still people around in the Romantic era who could rediscover themselves (or reinvent themselves, if you are a sceptic) as Celts is really rather remarkable. After all, where are most of the other peoples of Iron Age Europe? The Etruscans, Iberians, Illyrians, Thracians, Dacians, even the Romans, have all vanished. Rather than looking at Celtic history as a two-millennia-long decline, there is a real story of survival there.

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