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The Iron Age.

( What has gone before. )

1500 BCE. Iron is Smelted in Armenia.

1400 BCE. The Hittites beat the Iron into something useful.

1200 BCE. Iron is now so useful we call this the start of the “Iron Age”

700 BCE. The Greeks call the tribes of Central Europe the “Keltoi” or “Celts”.

( What we called them is not recorded. )

450 BCE. The British finally catch up with everybody else and join the “Iron Age”.

 

( For more details and less flippancy see the Chronology. )

The Celtic World

Central Europe stretching from Ireland to Hungary, Portugal to Turkey was, in the Pre-Roman Iron Age, the home to a mixture of independent tribes referring to themselves as Celtae. The Greeks knew them as “Keltoi” and the Romans would call them “Gauls”.

These days We know them as the Celts and the Iron Age was the height of their  glory.

Areas shown in red are the original homelands of the Celtic tribes.
Celtic Life at Castell Henllys. Iron Age Living History.

Far too many times I have heard it said that the Romans brought civilisation to Britain. I believe this does a huge injustice to our “Celtic” ancestors.

A trip to any museum with an Iron Age collection will reveal art and artefacts of stunning quality and beauty. Fabulous jewellery and metalwork were the status symbols of their age and are a challenge even for modern craftsmen to reproduce.

Celtic Roundhouses at St. Faggins  Lorraine Botting

Today much of the literary information that remains to us about the Celts is based on the Roman accounts dealing with them as an enemy. The Celts themselves kept no written records relying instead on an oral tradition kept by highly educated druids and bards. It is not surprising that when the Romans wanted to strengthen their control of Britain it was the druids who they most heavily persecuted.

After condemning the rites and sacrifices of the druids as cruel and depraved, the Romans, (never adverse to a bit of cruelty and depravity themselves) set about the deliberate and systematic extermination of the druids and their main religious sites.

The Iron Age Celtic culture was crushed underfoot sometimes with force and other times with a simple bit of bribery and corruption. The closest comparison I can bring to mind is the way the American West was won, or lost depending upon your point of view. 

So what do we know about the Celts?

According to the Roman writers they were colourfully dressed, wearing bright colours in stripes and checks. They wore fine jewellery and ornamented their clothing with gold. The Romans also described them as war-mad and high spirited but also hospitable and generous.

The impression we get is of a passionate people that displayed their wealth and status with clothing and portable possessions.

There are accounts of them collecting the heads of their fallen foes and keeping them as valued trophies, this is supported by archaeology and it is likely this was a method of robbing their enemy of their power, as seen in many primitive cultures.

Making a small iron age celtic fishing gorge from antler.  Lorraine Botting
Debbie tablet weaving to make decorative braids for iron age costume

Burials included grave goods for an afterlife and writers of the time recorded that the Druids believed the soul and the universe to be indestructible. Possibly it was this soul that resided in the heads they collected.

There is another source of information about these Iron Age peoples that should not be ignored, although it should be treated with care. 

Storytelling in the Northern World is a practice dating back at least as far as the oral tradition of the Druids. With careful attention we can learn much about the lives led by our ancestors from some of the old Irish and Welsh myths that survive to us now.

The people in these old tales are just as warlike, boastful and quick tempered as the Romans described them but also appreciative of wisdom, art and beauty.

As with most ancient societies, and many modern ones, food was the glue that held everything together. A chief and his warband provided protection to the farmers that produced the food. The farmers paid for this protection with the food that they produced.  The chief was then able to maintained his warband with regular feasting.

Slightly on the side of this arrangement were artisans, the skilled classes. Craftsmen producing objects of great beauty and value,  also the Druids and Bards. These people were maintained by the chief as they added to his prestige and provided the essential gifts needed to reward his followers.

 

Celtic Ironworking  Lorraine Botting
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Lore-and-Saga Living history services and resources for schools, museums and heritage sites. Viking and Roman in school sessions and craft demonstrations. teachers notes and worksheets. Vikings, Saxons, Romans, national curriculum, invaders and settlers, key stage 2, history, teachers information, living history interpreter, in school sessions, storytelling, Roman resources, educational presentations, Viking lore, runes, Roman lore, Viking saga, living history interpretation, Viking resources, Odin, Viking crafts demonstrations, Roman cookery display, Viking silverwork, Roman games, chronology, Viking games, Roman school visits, Viking runes, national curriculum history key stage two, Viking school visits
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