The Communities of the Atlantic Façade
THE Celtic language was spoken throughout much or most of western Europe to the very fringes of the Atlantic and survives now in a vital spoken and written form as Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton, and, until recently, Cornish. Over much of this same region distinctive elements of the La Tène material culture are to be found, and there is ample evidence that local craftsmen, working in metal or clay, were thoroughly conversant with the grammar and spirit of Celtic art. For these reasons, then, one may assume that western Europe was an integral part of the wider Celtic world.
But behind this broad linguistic and cultural similarity lay a more complex pattern. In the opening paragraph of the first book of his Commentaries on the Gallic War, Caesar offers a sketch of the ethnic structure of Gaul:
Gaul as a whole consists of three separate parts; one is inhabited by the Belgae, another by the Aquitani, and the third by the people we call Gauls, though in their own language they are called Celts. In language, customs, and laws these three peoples are quite distinct. The Celts are separated from the Aquitani by the river Garonne and from the Belgae by the Marne and the Seine. ( De Bello Gallico 1. 1)
The reference is admirably clear and explicit, and, while it may well contain a degree of oversimplification either through ignorance or to aid the audience, there is no reason not to accept it as a fair summing-up of the situation in the mid-first century BC. The archaeological evidence provides some support for this threefold division, but the broad swath of territory designated 'Celtic' by Caesar can be further divided into Armorican Gaul, occupying the entire Atlantic zone from the Seine to the Garonne, Narbonnaise Gaul, comprising Provence and Languedoc from the Alps to the Pyrenees, and a central zone which subdivides roughly along the Loire Valley into an Arvernian and central eastern region.
Further west, Britain and Ireland pose an altogether different problem. No