Celt (kĕlt, sĕlt) or Kelt (kĕlt). 1 One who speaks a Celtic language or who derives ancestry from an area where a Celtic language was spoken; i.e., one from Ireland, the Scottish Hebrides and Highlands, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, or Brittany. 2 A member of a group of peoples first found in SW Germany and E France early in the 2d millennium BC, but perhaps much older than that. The Celts were a group of tribes speaking Indo-European dialects. Armed with iron weapons and mounted on horses, they spread rapidly over Europe, crossing into the British Isles, moving S over France, Italy, and Spain, fighting the Macedonians, and penetrating into Asia Minor, where they raided Hellenistic centers. The Celts introduced the newly developed iron industries. Their wealth from trade and from raiding helped to maintain their dominance over Central Europe during the Iron Age. The La Tène culture developed among the Celts. Greek influences that stimulated Celtic culture included the introduction of the chariot and of writing. Art flourished in richly ornamented styles. The Celts lived in semifortified villages, with a tribal organization that became increasingly hierarchical as wealth was acquired. Priests, nobles, artisans, and peasants were clearly distinguished, and the powers of the chief became kinglike. The Celts believed in a demonic universe and relied on the ministry of the druids. Much Western European folklore is derived from the Celts. By the 4th cent. BC they could no longer withstand the encroaching Germanic tribes, and they lost most of their holdings in the north and in W Germany. From that time on, Celtic history becomes confused with that of the many unsettled tribes in Europe. Celtic language and culture were variously dispersed among peoples of little historical identity, and until the 20th cent. historians obscured the very important differences among these groups by naming them all Celts. Further confusion has resulted from the designation of the Celts as a racial group. To the Greeks and Romans, the Celts were tall, muscular, and light-skinned, but it is believed that these were qualities of the Celt warriors rather than Celts in general. The term Celtic is actually a cultural one, unrelated to physical heredity. It implies a cultural tradition maintained through many centuries of common history in the same general area. See also Iron Age.

See N. Chadwick, The Celts (1970); D. Adam, The Edge of Glory: Prayers in the Celtic Tradition (1988); A. McBain, Celtic Mythology and Religions (1988).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Celts: Selected full-text books and articles

The Celts: A Very Short Introduction By Barry Cunliffe Oxford University Press, 2003
The Celts By Sabatino Moscati; Otto Hermann Frey; Venceslas Kruta; Barry Raftery; Miklós Szabó Rizzoli, 1991
New Directions in Celtic Studies By Amy Hale; Philip Payton University of Exeter Press, 2000
The Book of Kells By Edward Sullivan Studio Publications, 1952 (5th edition)
The Druids: Priests of the Ancient Celts By Paul R. Lonigan Greenwood Press, 1996
The Ancient Celts By Barry Cunliffe Oxford University Press, 1997
Kings of Celtic Scotland By Benjamin T. Hudson Greenwood Press, 1994
Representing Ireland: Gender, Class, Nationality By Susan Shaw Sailer University Press of Florida, 1997
Librarian's tip: Includes "Studying a New Science: Yeats, Irishness, and the East"
The Identity of the Scottish Nation: An Historic Quest By William Ferguson Edinburgh University Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: Includes "The Dawn of Enlightenment"
Beowulf and Celtic Tradition By Martin Puhvel Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1979
Librarian's tip: Includes "Review of the Case for Celtic Influence in Beowulf"
The Wild Irish Girl: A National Tale By Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan; Kathryn Kirkpatrick Oxford University Press, 1999
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