Who were the Celts?

Keltoi – Celts: this is what the population north of the Alps was called for the first time in Greek written sources about 500 BC. Unfortunately they have not left any literary tradition of their own, but on the basis of similar archaeological finds and remains they can be localised from the 7th/6th century in an area stretching from eastern France to Bohemia, from northern Switzerland to the River Main, although they probably didn’t see themselves as a unified people nor have a common language.

The Celts were an agrarian society, but one that was open to influence from the south such as iron-working technology (from the 8th century BC), the potter’s wheel (late 6th century BC), as well as coinage (from about the 3rd century BC), innovations which they also implemented in their own style and developed further. From the late 4th century BC, at the latest, the entire ancient world south of the Alps was to get to know the Celts more closely. Thanks to Celtic emigrants, adventurers and mercenaries, their traces can be found over an extensive area from the Atlantic coast far across the Alps to Greece and even modern Turkey.

From the 3rd century BC large, town-like settlements were established, known as “oppida”. Gaius Julius Caesar came into contact with them during the Gallic War from 58 to 51/50 BC. During the Roman expansion in the 1st century BC, the typical Celtic remains and finds gradually disappeared; the population here gradually adapted to the customs of the new rulers. In the southeast of the British Isles a few objects in the style of the continental Celts are to be found, but since even ancient authors did not describe the Britons as Celts, their inclusion among them is very questionable.