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← The rise and fall of the Celtic warriors - Philip Freeman

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Showing Revision 3 created 07/13/2020 by lauren mcalpine .

  1. One summer evening in 335 BCE,
    Alexander the Great
  2. was resting by the Danube River after
    a day of fighting the Scythian tribes
  3. when a band of strangers
    approached his camp.
  4. Alexander had never seen anything
    like these tall,
  5. fierce-looking warriors with huge
    golden neck rings and colorful cloaks—
  6. so he invited them to feast with him.
  7. They proudly said they were Keltoi
    or Celts who came from the far-away Alps.
  8. Alexander asked what they feared
    the most in the world,
  9. hoping they would say him.
  10. They laughed and said they feared
    nothing at all.
  11. This is one of the earliest stories
    about the ancient Celts.

  12. While we don’t know
    where the first Celts came from,
  13. by Alexander’s time
    they had spread across Europe
  14. from Asia Minor in the east to Spain
  15. and the Atlantic islands of Britain
    and Ireland in the west.
  16. The Celts were never one unified empire,
    and they didn’t build cities or monuments.
  17. Instead, they were hundreds of independent
    tribes who spoke the same language.
  18. Each had its own warrior-king
    and religious center.
  19. The tribes fought each other
  20. as enthusiastically as they fought
    their enemies.
  21. Few armies could stand up to them.

  22. Somewhat unusually for the time,
    the Celts believed in reincarnation—
  23. that they would be reborn on Earth
    to live and feast and fight again,
  24. which may have contributed
    to their fearlessness in battle.
  25. Some of them fought naked,
    scoffing at their enemies’ armor.
  26. The greatest trophy a Celtic warrior
    could possess
  27. was the severed head of a foe.
  28. They preserved these heads
    in jars of cedar oil
  29. and showed them to guests
    who visited their homes.
  30. Celtic warriors were so valued
    in the ancient world
  31. that foreign kings often hired
    them as mercenary soldiers
  32. to serve in their armies.
  33. But the Celts were much more
    than just warriors.

  34. Among them were many skilled craftsmen,
    artists, and great poets called bards.
  35. The bards sang of the brave deeds
    of their ancestors
  36. and praised the accomplishments
    of warrior kings—
  37. and composed biting satires
    about cowardly or selfish leaders.
  38. The Celts worshipped many gods,

  39. and priests known as druids
    oversaw this worship.
  40. Anyone could become a druid,
  41. but the training required many years
    of study and memorization—
  42. the druids were not allowed to record
    any of their teachings in writing.
  43. Druids supervised religious practices
    and sacrifices to the gods,
  44. but they were also teachers, healers,
    judges, and scientists.
  45. They were so respected that they could
    step between warring tribes
  46. in the middle of a battle
    and call an end to the fighting.
  47. No Celt would dare to harm a druid,
    or question their decisions.
  48. In the 2nd century BCE, the Romans
    began to encroach on Celtic territory,

  49. conquering the tribes of northern Italy.
  50. Rather than unite against the Roman
    legions in response to this defeat,
  51. the Celts maintained
    their tribal divisions.
  52. The tribes of Spain fell soon after.
  53. In the 1st century BCE, Julius Caesar
    marched his armies across France,
  54. using bribery, threats, and lies
    to turn tribes against each other.
  55. Only in the closing days of this great war
  56. did the Celts unite
    against their common enemy
  57. under the leadership
    of king Vercingetorix,
  58. but it was too late.
  59. Countless warriors and their families
    died or were enslaved
  60. as the Romans conquered France.
  61. Protected by the surrounding waters,

  62. the Celtic tribes of Britain and Ireland
    were the last holdouts.
  63. When the Romans finally invaded Britain,
  64. the queen Boudicca united her tribe
    in a revolt after her husband was killed.
  65. She almost succeeded in driving
    the Roman legions out of Britain
  66. before dying as she led a final battle
    against the enemy.
  67. By the end of the 1st century CE,
    Ireland alone, far out at sea,

  68. remained unconquered by Rome.
  69. There, the ways of the ancient Celts
    survived untouched by the outside world
  70. long after Rome itself lay in ruins.