4 The Migrations
400-200 BC

ON 18 July 390 BC the army of Rome was soundly defeated by a horde of Celts on the banks of the River Allia not far from the city. It was a devastating moment for the Romans, as they saw their city ransacked by these little-known northern barbarians. According to tradition, the Consul M. Popillius Laenas had told the citizens before the event: 'These are not civilized people who will become your ally when you have taken their city but wild beasts whose blood we must shed or spill our own.' The attack remained a vivid folk memory in Rome's collective consciousness, and stories about the Celtic migrations from beyond the Alps would have been told to every schoolchild. It is appropriate, therefore, to begin a consideration of the migrations by exploring how they were viewed by Greek and Roman historians writing well after the event.

V Facing: The Battersea
shield, found in the River
Thames at Battersea,
London. The shield facing
of copper alloy sheeting is
elaborately decorated and
enhanced with inset red
glass. The date is uncertain
but probably lies in the first
century BC or early first
century AD, although an
earlier dating is possible.
The shield was probably
ritually deposited. British
Museum, London.

The Graeco-Roman Tradition

The classic Roman view of the Celtic migrations is provided by Livy writing towards the end of the first century BC and deserves to be quoted in full.

The Celts, who make up one of the three divisions of Gaul, were under the domination of the Bituriges and this tribe supplied the Celtic nation with a king. Ambigatus was then the man and his talents . . . had brought him great distinction; for Gaul under his sway grew so rich in corn and so populous, that it seemed hardly possible to govern so great a multitude. The king, now old, wishing to relieve his kingdom of a burdensome throng, announced that he meant to send Bellovesus and Segovesus, his sister's two sons, two enterprising young men, to find such homes as the gods might assign to them by augury; and promised them that they should head as large a number of emigrants as they themselves desired, so that no tribe might be able to prevent their settlement. Whereupon to Segovesus were by lot assigned the Hercynian highlands [the Black Forest and Bohemia], but to Bellovesus the gods proposed a far pleasanter road, into Italy. Taking

-68-

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The Ancient Celts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Colour Plates ix
  • 1 - Visions of the Celts 1
  • 2 - The Reality of the Celts 20
  • 3 - Barbarian Europe and the Mediterranean 39
  • 4 - The Migrations 68
  • 5 - Warfare and Society 91
  • 6 - The Arts of the Migration Period 111
  • 7 - Iberia and the Celtiberians 133
  • 8 - The Communities of the Atlantic FaçAde 145
  • 9 - The Communities of the Eastern Fringes 168
  • 10 - Religious Systems 183
  • 11 - The Developed Celtic World 211
  • 12 - The Celts in Retreat 235
  • 13 - Celtic Survival 258
  • 14 - Retrospect 268
  • A Guide to Further Reading 275
  • Chronological Tables 285
  • Map Section 289
  • Index 317
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