A view from the
‘If the heavens and earth are divided into four parts, the Indians will occupy the land of the east wind, the Ethiopians the regions from which the south wind blows, the Celts the west, and the Scythians the land of the north wind.’ This was the world view of Greek historian Ephorus of Cymae, whose great work Universal History, in thirty books, was written in the first half of the fourth century BC. The original text has long since disappeared but this particular scrap survives as a quotation in Strabo's Geography (1.2.28), compiled nearly three centuries later. Ephorus' understanding of the world was that of any educated Greek – Europe was occupied by two principal peoples: the Scythians in the east, living around the north and west shores of the Black Sea and extending, perhaps, into the Middle Danube region – what is now the Great Hungarian Plain – and the Celts to the west of them. Elsewhere Strabo tells us that Ephorus believed Celtica to be so large that it included most of Iberia as far as Gades (Cadiz). In this he was probably following Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who wrote his History in the fifth century. For him the Celts lived beyond the Pillars of Hercules (the Straits of Gibraltar) bordering on the Cynesii, who were the westernmost inhabitants of Europe occupying what is now southern Portugal.
Herodotus also offers other tantalizing scraps of Celtic geography. He tells us that the Danube rose in the land of the Celts near the city