Okay trivia and history buffs, listen up. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about the Celts and probably should before reading my books:
- Say it with me: Celtic. It’s pronounced “kell-tic” with a hard “c” like the word “call.” Only the Boston basketball team says it “sell-tic.” You would insult a Celt by saying it wrong. And you don’t want to cross the Celts. They’re a temperamental bunch.
- The Celts founded Austria. Although we normally think of the Celts as living in Britain and Ireland, before they were forced west by barbarian tribes, they founded or at least influenced some of the most advanced cultures of central Europe, including Austria and parts of modern-day France, Germany and Spain. (My mom and maternal line are from Vienna, so I’m proud to call myself an ancient Celt.)
- Celtic women were very independent. They enjoyed equal (and in some times and places, higher) status to men. They were educated, fought in battle, served as Druid priestesses and even as Queens. Oh, and they wore makeup, just not as much as the Egyptians. More on Celtic women in a future blog post.
- Marriage was complicated. There were as many as 10 kinds of legal marriage including polygamy, rape, and marriage by kidnapping. Divorce was not only legal, but common. But there were no illegitimate children or orphans because the tribe cared for all children. More in a future post.
- They invented many things. Chain mail armor, horseshoes, organized farming and crop rotation, mechanical harvesters and rotating flour mills (technology that would be lost for hundreds of years after the Anglo-Saxons conquered them), fertilizer (the natural kind), the iron plough share, iron rimmed wheels, and according to the Greeks, soap!
- Blonde hair and blue eyes were common. I always thought only Nordic and Germanic people were fair colored, but my research says otherwise. Blonde and red-gold hair were common among the Celts, as were blue eyes and pale, “milk-like” skin. The Celts also were very tall for their time, a fact that many Roman historians remarked upon.
- They wore pants. Seriously. We think of tunics and kilts (that was a Pictish thing, not Celtic). Both men and women wore trousers when in battle. Men wore them at other times as well, but every day dress for a woman was usually a bell-shaped tunic secured by a belt. (Sorry guys, bodices didn’t come for another several hundred years.)
- Being fat was a punishable crime. The Celts would not like modern America. As a warrior race, they were obsessed with physical prowess. Being fat (sometimes measured by belt size) was a disgrace and could be punished by a heavy fine.
- They were an artistic people. The Celts were talented metalworkers. They made intricate jewelry of bronze and gold, wore brightly colored and patterned clothes, embroidered and decorated everything they could, and invented the spiraling, knot-like pattern we associate with them today.
- The Celts owned slaves. We tend not to think about that, but slaves were a part of their class system (more in a future blog post), as in many other conquering societies. Slaves were the only class (at least of women) who wore their hair short, as a sign of their bondage.
Not nearly as backwards of a group as you thought, huh? And this is just a taste. More info to come in future posts.
Who Were the Celts? by Kevin Duffy
Daily Life of the Pagan Celts by Joan Alcock
So which fact surprised you the most or was your favorite? Let me know in the comments and I’ll see what else I can tell you about it.
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I’ve heard of tunics and trews.
I thought being fat was only punishable among chieftains and the Fianna, though?
The sources where fat as a crime was mentioned (and they are few) didn’t go into any detail. It was just a general explanation. Do you have any sources that might get specific? I’d love to learn more on this topic.
I only have one book that I can think of and it was fiction. I can’t remember the title (or the author), except it involved Ireland, a female Druid and the Fianna. (That’s also the the book in which I learned about patronymics.) I know that narrows it down not at all, so I’m sorry. 🙁 (I no longer own it, as you may have guessed.)
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It’s not only the US basketball team that uses the /s/ pronunciation of Celtic. It;’s also the correct pronunciation of Celtic (or Glasgow Celtic), one of the two main football clubs in Glasgow.
Thanks, Alastair. I didn’t know that!
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