One of my most popular posts of all time is A Celtic Primer (Top 10 Fun Facts). Since that one was such a hit, I thought I’d give an encore. This post, like it’s predecessor, focuses on the British Celts before the coming of Rome. (I’ve listed the source at the end of each one, just in case you want to learn more.)
The term Celts, as commonly used, is a misnomer – The Celts were not a single race, but a people defined by their language, which dates back to the eighth – sixth century BC. Q Celtic is a version where the “qu” sound is pronounced as “k” but written as “c.” P Celtic replaced the “qu” sound with a “p.” This may have been brought to Britain during the Neolithic period. and is the basis of the native language of the Britons. (Alcock, Daily)
The Celts spoke multiple languages. Most British Celts were bilingual within a generation of the 43 AD Roman conquest, speaking their native dialect at home and Latin for business. It’s also believed that the Druids knew Greek. (Southern)
Female slaves were an actual unit of measure. A female slave was called a cumal in Medieval Irish law. A cumal is a unit of measure equivalent to 3 oz of silver or 8-10 cows. (Wyatt)
Sheep are more interesting than you think. The early Celts kept a type of sheep called Soay (see right, they still exist) that shed their wool naturally (who knew?), though shearing, which took place in May, produced a softer wool. They were plucked by hand until the Iron Age invention of the shears. (Alcock, Daily and Life, Lawrence)
Names held great importance. The Celts believed that to name a thing was to give it power. A Celt had two names: a personal name and that of his/her father, which is like having a first and last name. (Lawrence) For example, I would be Nicole, daughter of Richard. (Many times the father’s name included a characteristic like “the bold” or “the brave.”)
Beware their women drivers… The early Celts fought in chariots with a pair of small horses (which had their tails and manes plaited to avoid tangling in the reins). Each chariot had three people: a driver, archer and spearman. Boudicca is famous for this method of fighting. (Moffat)
I can see how this Wolfhound could do a man in… (By Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) (Druck ca. 1920) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Dogs were more than pets. The Celts used wolfhounds, which some say were the world’s tallest dogs, in war and hunting. In war, they could not only brutally attack the enemy, but once the enemy threw their spears at them, they (the enemy) were rendered defenseless. (Duffy)
Barter wasn’t their only method of payment. The use of coins may have come about in Britain as a result of trade with Greece. We know coins of the Belgae came to Britain before they started making their own. The first British minted coins were in 100-70 BC. (Alcock, Daily andCunliffe)
The Celts could float your boat. Traditional Celtic boats were hollowed out logs or coracles, leather or skin stretched over a light wood frame. There is reason to believe that the British Celts may have modeled larger vessels after the Veneiti of Gaul, who had a large fleet of ships they used to trade with Britain. These had flatter bottoms to sail in shallow water, high bows and sterns to sail in rough seas and gales, and sails made of raw hides or leather. (Lawrence and Alcock, Daily)
Cooking happened even before the cauldron. One early method is the potboil, in which stones were heated and placed in a trough of water, which has been proven to cook food just as well as heating over a central cauldron (which came later). Fish could be wrapped in river clay, left to dry, put in a shallow pit filled with hot firewood and left to bake. (J Alcock, Daily)
Alcock, Joan. Daily life of the Pagan Celts —– Life in Roman Britain. Cunliffe, Barry. Iron Age Communities in Britain. Duffy, Kevin. Who Were the Celts? Lawrence, Richard Russel. Roman Britain.
Moffat, Alistair. The Borders.
Southern, Patricia. Roman Britain: New History 55 BC – 450 AD Wyatt, David. Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain
Do you have questions about the Celts? If so, leave them in the comments or hit me up by email and I’ll see if I can answer them.