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Ancient tribe Celts - Ancestry and origin

Who were or are the Celts?

The Celts were not a unified people, but a group of peoples related in language, religion, mythology as well as art and culture, but not necessarily in genetic terms. The main classification of the Celtic peoples distinguishes between mainland Celts and island Celts. In addition to this division, the ancient Celts were also divided into larger tribal groups or tribal confederations as well as into smaller sub-tribes (Gaue) and clientele tribes.
There are Greek and Roman reports about the Celts, which mostly dealt with the outer appearance and customs of the "Celts". In such reports, they are usually treated as an ethnic unit, which they probably never formed. Moreover, it is questionable whether in the description of foreign peoples a strict distinction was always made between individual language groups, which in turn did not always conform to ethnic groups.


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Where were the origin and settlement area of the Celts?

The populations mentioned by the ancient Greeks Keltoi and by the Romans Celtae can be identified as ethnically different from their neighbours since the 8th century BC.

It is possible that a culturally and linguistically separate complex had already developed from the Indo-Germanic "primitive people" around 2000 B.C., or at the latest around 1500 B.C.

The material legacy of typical Celtic influence has been archaeologically documented since about 750 BC. The oldest stage of Celtic cultural development is called the Hallstatt culture after the main site of discovery (ca. 750- ca. 400 BC). The heartland of Celtic population groups during the Hallstatt period was the Alpine region and the northern Alpine foreland. The distribution area extended as far as eastern France, southern Germany and western Hungary.

In the following phase of the Celtic culture, which is called La Tene culture after the main finding place (ca. 400 B.C. until around the birth of Christ), the Celtic settlement area expands by migration far to Western Europe (up to the Iberian Peninsula), to the British Isles, to Central Europe, to Northern Italy, to Southeastern Europe up to Asia Minor (Galatians).

From the 2nd half of the 3rd century B.C. onwards, large fortified settlements, so-called oppida, were again founded from the east and south, also in the area of the Alpine foothills up to the northern edge of the German low mountain ranges. The Celtic oppida culture flourished from the end of the 2nd to the late 1st century B.C., reaching the level of advanced civilization due to its social and economic differentiation, highly developed craftsmanship and artistry, and long-distance trade.

The Celtic tribes reached their greatest expansion around 200 BC. In the northwest of their settlement areas, i.e. in the broadest sense in the area of the northern low mountain ranges on the right bank of the Rhine, the Celtic culture gradually disappeared during the 1st century BC, probably as a result of the advance of Germanic tribes to the south.

Around the birth of Christ the Celts were the most widespread population in Europe. In the process of geographical expansion, numerous regional groups distinguished themselves with special local cultural and linguistic development.



Who were the Celts in France (Gauls)?

In ancient times, the Gauls were the most populous of the mainland Celtic ethnic groups.

In the 6th and 5th centuries BC only the eastern part of Gaul was inhabited by mainland Celts. Only in the course of the 4th and 3rd century BC did they extend their settlement area almost over the entire territory of France up to the Atlantic Ocean. In the 2nd century B.C. the oldest cities (oppida) north of the Alps in the settlement area of the Gauls emerged.

In the 2nd century BC the Gauls came into contact with the Romans. Southern Gaul became a Roman province as Gallia Narbonensis between 125 and 118 BC. The incorporation of northern Gaul (Gallia Comata) into the Roman Empire also took place with the campaigns of Caesar between 58 and 51 BC. Gaul was divided into three provinces: Belgica in the northeast, Celtica in the center and Aquitania in the southwest.

Belgica was an area with mixed Celtic-Germanic population. According to ancient sources it is not always clear which of the mentioned tribes cultivated Celtic and which Germanic cultural traditions. Many phenomena of cultural and linguistic fusion can also be expected.

The population in the Celtica was Celtic. The vast majority of Gauls lived here.

The province of Aquitania owed its name to the Aquitaine people living there, of whom Caesar already knew that they differed clearly from the neighbouring Gauls.

Over time, the Gallic population acculturated itself to Roman ways of life and assimilated linguistically as well, namely to spoken Latin (vulgar Latin). In the 1st century AD, all Gauls were granted Roman citizenship.

The former presence of the Gallic population, its culture and language in France has left lasting traces. The Gaul Asterix became the prototype for the inflexibility and love of freedom of the ancient Celtic population of France.



How did the assimilation of the Celts occur?

The Celts in the West,... Central and Southeastern Europe assimilated to the majority population of the regions where they settled, even during late antiquity.

The mainland Celtic languages are extinct throughout. Celtiberian was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula, which, like Gallic and Lepontine, disappeared in the course of Romanisation. In Asia Minor, the poorly documented Gallic language was still found in ancient times.



What is the history of the Celts in Germany?

The Germanic tribes spread increasingly from their original language area to the south and west of Central Europe until the 1st century BC. In doing so they displaced the Celts and their language as far as the rivers Rhine and Danube, which now formed the border streams to Celtic Gaul and also to Celtic Rhaetia.

After the conquest of the northern pre-alpine region and Gaul by the Romans under Caesar (in Gaul) and under Augustus (in Raetia), large parts of the Celtic culture initially continued to live in Gaul, to which today's Saarland and the areas on the left bank of the Rhine in Rhineland-Palatinate belonged, and south of the Danube in the now Roman provinces of Raetia, Noricum and Pannonia, as well as in a transitional zone between Roman and Germanic influence, which extended from the Taunus and the lower Lahn through northern Hesse to northern Bavaria.

In the areas conquered by the Romans, Celtic and Roman cultural elements merged after the turn of time with increasing Romanisation to form the relatively independent Gallo-Roman culture in the west and the Noric-Pannonian culture in the east. Individual elements of the Celtic culture continued to live there until Late Antiquity.

With the onset of invasions by Germanic tribes into the northern Alpine provinces of the Roman Empire from the beginning of the 3rd century AD, Germanic influences east of the Rhine and south of the Danube increasingly displaced the Gallo-Roman and Norse-Pannonian cultures.

Early medieval sources indicate that a Celtic dialect may have been spoken by a part of the population in the area around Trier as late as the 5th century, in Normandy perhaps even until the 9th century.

Between the Middle Rhine and the Alps, numerous place, terrain and water names that are still in common use today can be traced back to Celtic names and bear witness to a certain degree of the adoption of Celtic cultural and linguistic elements by newly emerging population groups during and after the migration period. However, to conclude from this that a Celtic population in these regions has continued to exist to this day would probably be overstating the case.



How did the decline of the Celts occur?

On the continent, all Celtic languages disappeared in the first centuries after Christ, especially under the dominating influence of Latin of the Roman Empire and the spread of the Germanic languages.

The assimilation processes among the regional Celtic ethnic groups, which have lasted for centuries, have had the effect that only a fraction of the total Celtic population has preserved the Celtic language heritage. Of the total of people of Celtic descent, only about 2.7 million speak Celtic languages.

According to the numerical strength of their linguistic communities, the Celtic languages stand in the following order: Irish (1,095,000 in the Republic of Ireland, of which 56,500 are primary speakers; 142,000 people with knowledge of Irish in Northern Ireland), Breton (850,000), Kymri (580,000) and Scottish Gaelic 68,400.



Who were the Galatians in Asia Minor?

The Celtic tribal union that crossed the Hellespont in 278 B.C. and settled in Asia Minor was called the Galatians (Galatae).

The Galatians had been called into the country by the king of Bithynia. The king assigned the Celtic tribes residences in an area that lay in the borderland between Bithynia and the Seleucid Empire, in the disputed no-man's-land of both states. This area has since been called Galatia.

The political power of the Galatians was broken in 189 BC after the Romans defeated the allied Seleucid Galatian army. One part of the Galatians was taken away as slaves, the other part remained in its settlement area, but from then on did not take any military or political influence.

The Galatians had adopted much of the culture of their environment after only a few generations and had partially assimilated linguistically. Nevertheless, for the apostle Paul the Galatians as a people were still a reality ("Epistle to the Galatians" in the New Testament). As late as the 4th century A.D., Saint Jerome reports that the Galatians spoke in a similar way as the Treverians in Trier.



What was the history of the Celts in the British Isles?

In ancient times, the British Isles and large parts of continental Europe were predominantly Celtic. When migratory movements came to a virtual standstill, only the people of the most northwestern regions had been able to preserve their Celtic culture and language from the influence of the immigrants. Thus the Romans and later the Anglo-Saxons in Britain displaced the British languages and culture.



What is Breton?

Only on the peninsula in the northwest of France did the mainland Celtic possibly survive until the end of Roman times. The Breton spoken there is not a continuation of the mainland Celtic language. But when island Celtic populations fled across the English Channel in the 5th century AD from the Angles and Saxons invading Britain, the native Celtic language was probably still spoken in that region. The area received its name after the Celtic refugees: Brittany. The speaking habits of the remaining mainland Celtic population quickly adapted to the language of the immigrants.



What was the history of the Celts in Spain?

Celtiberians

The Celtiberians got their name from the fusion of Celtic and Iberian traditions.

Mainland Celts immigrated to the Pyrenean island in three waves. Oldest traces of Celtic presence in northern Spain date back to the 8th century BC. In the 6th century B.C. there was a high-population immigration from southern France. In the 4th century B.C. further Celtic population groups reached the south. Their migration was directed to the northeast of Spain (with expansion to the southeast), where Celtic and Iberian mixed settlements developed. Here Celts and Iberians lived together in neighbourhoods and also in family associations.

It is unclear whether and to what extent the Celtiberian tribes actually emerged from a mixture between Celts and Iberians or essentially represent one of the two groups. Perhaps it was more a matter of a kind of symbiosis or only of a different neighbourhood, not always peaceful interactions, with some mutual cultural influence. The term "Keltiberer" corresponds to the finding that both Celtic and Iberian elements are recognizable.

The ancient sources mention by name several of the Celtic tribes (with their varying degrees of Iberian material culture) on the Iberian Peninsula. These include the Arevacans of the middle Ebro, the Autrigons of the upper Ebro, the Gallaici - the namesake of the historic landscape of Galicia in north-western Spain - and the Berons and Vaccaes south of the Ebro, the Gauls north of the Ebro. The culture of the Arevakians is comparatively most strongly influenced by the Iberians, those of the Gauls and the Gallaici much less.

Since the 2nd century B.C. the Celtiberians were in constant struggle with the Romans. The Arevakians resisted the Roman expansion pressure the longest. Their political centre, Numantia, was conquered and destroyed by the Romans in 133 BC.

At least the Iberians in the Roman cities gradually became Romanised, Christianised and Roman citizens. In contrast to these assimilated Ibero-Romans (Hispano-Romans), on the less Romanised land some mainly Celtic tribes fought together with the Bagauden and the Suebi against Roman rule as late as the beginning of the 5th century AD.

Gallaici

The Gallaici (or Gallaeci) were a Celtic-speaking people in antiquity, but probably not to be counted among the Celtiberians in the strict sense. They settled in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula and gave their name to a part of this region. Romanisation was initiated, but never completely carried out, as the Romans were mainly interested in the routes to the Gallaecian ore deposits and in the smooth transport of the ore.

The name Gallaecia (roughly the present day Galicia in north-western Spain) was derived from the presumably Celtic tribe of the Callaici, who first appeared in the sources around 139/136 BC; they were warlike opponents of the Romans. In late antiquity there was also a province of this name.

In the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula there is such an area that was influenced by the Celtic culture. This area corresponds approximately to the regions of Galicia, Asturias, northern Portugal, Cantabria and León. In none of these regions there is still a Celtic language, although some place names have a Celtic origin; Celticism today is more likely to be founded on the Celtic consciousness itself, as there was a long tradition of Celticism due to the Celtic tribes that settled in this region. There are therefore similarities between the inhabitants of this area and those of other Celtic nations, both in cultural (music, dances, folklore, festivals, food) and genetic aspects.



Do the Celts still exist today?

In some countries today there are movements that consider themselves Celtic and demand recognition as a Celtic nation. However, a lively Celtic language only exists in some peripheral areas of the six nations.

These six nations of Scotland (Scottish Gaelic), Ireland (Gaelic), Isle of Man (Manx), Wales (Kymrian), Cornwall (Cornish) and Brittany (Breton) are (the only ones) recognised as Celtic by the Celtic League, the Celtic Congress and most other pan-Celtic groups and organisations. Each of the six nations has its own Celtic language, which is the key criterion for the mentioned organizations.

In four of the six nations (Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Wales) there are areas where a Celtic language predominates (in Ireland, for example, these are called Gaeltachtaí). Mostly these areas are located in the western areas of the countries, in the mountains or on islands. All Celtic languages, with the exception of Welsh, are classified as endangered. The Manx on the Isle of Man became extinct in the 1970s, the Cornish in Cornwall already in the 18th century. Recently, however, there have been efforts to turn Manx and Cornish back into living colloquial languages.

Controversies concern among other things the status of Galicia and Asturias as Celtic nations. The general consensus within the organisation is that they are not Celtic nations, as the Celtic language is no longer alive there.

However, at the Festival Interceltique, Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria are counted among the (hence nine) Celtic nations. There are also Welsh and Scottish Gaelic speaking immigrant minorities in the province of Chubut in Argentine Patagonia and on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada.

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