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Who were the Celts?. Who were the Celts?. Before going any further it is important to explain what is meant by the term ‘Celtic’.

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Who were the celts1
Who were the Celts?

Before going any further it is important to explain what is meant by the term ‘Celtic’.

The story of the Celts begins around 750BC. At this time they lived around Hallstatt in Austria and became wealthy and powerful from Hallstatt’s profitable salt and copper mines, they also traded in iron.

They had a reputation for being fierce warriors who mainly travelled on horse-back. They were feared and respected. The Celts were made up of lots of different tribes, not just one big kingdom. They gradually started to move to other parts of Europe, this is called migration.


The celts migrate
The Celts migrate

The years 400 to 200BC are a time of movement.

Celts move northwards to Germany and southwards to Italy. Some also invade Hungary, then head south into Greece. Another group of Celts settled in Turkey. At the same time, other Celtic peoples moved into south-western France, Spain, Portugal, Britain and Ireland.


Celts vs romans
Celts Vs Romans

These migrations brought the Celts face to face with the Roman army – the strongest fighting force in Europe. For the next 200 years, Romans and Celts were at war. By around 60AD, Celtic power was completely destroyed. Only in remote areas such as Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Galicia and Brittany did Celtic traditions survive. Surviving Celtic parts of the world are shown on the map opposite.


The making of scotland
The making of Scotland

The Romans were in Scotland from around 80AD and during this time there are many battles between them and the various Celtic tribes, particularly the Picts.

The Romans leave Scotland in 410AD probably because the army was needed elsewhere in the Roman Empire. By this time four main kingdoms emerged: the Picts, the Scots, the Angles & the Britons.


Celtic scotland
Celtic Scotland

Have you ever wondered why Scotland is called Scotland? Well the story which follows may surprise you.

Scotland was anything but a united nation, nor was it even called Scotland. The Romans referred to the area north of Hadrian’s wall as Caledonia and it was made up of many warring Celtic tribes.

Hadrian’s wall was built by the Romans possibly to keep the Celts at bay.


Caledonia or scotland
Caledonia or Scotland

Even after the Romans leave we still have fighting between these kingdoms.It’s not until AD843 that things start to take shape. Two kingdoms unite. The Scots of Dalriada and the Picts unite to form what became known as Alba under King Kenneth McAlpin. Marriage between tribes probably had a lot to with this:


A nation is born
A Nation is Born

So Scotland starts to form. It usually comes as a surprise to hear that Scotland gets its name from a tribe from Ireland. Yes, the Scots were from Ireland!

Marriage between men & women in different kingdoms may have been one reason why unification took place.

However, there was an even bigger reason- the arrival of Christianity played a major part in the shaping of our nation.

We will see later how the spread of Christianity helped make Scotland a nation


Celtic religion
Celtic religion

When Christians first arrive in Scotland they are faced with different Celtic tribes practicing pagan religions. The Celts worshipped gods who protected the tribe and gave strength in war, and goddesses who protected homes and brought fertility. The gods were associated with the sky and the goddesses with the earth. Gods and spirits controlled the elements and natural forces, such as water and thunder, and they were given different names in different parts of the Celtic world. Both gods and goddesses were worshipped close to water and in groves of trees. Rich offerings were left for them. The Celts believed that terrible things would happen if they did not make sacrifices of their most valuable possessions, including living things, to the gods. Their priests were called the druids.


There is no direct record of druids in Scotland, but it is assumed that some kind of learned men or women did exist to mediate between people and gods by conducting ceremonies. There is little surviving evidence of how the dead were treated since burials are seldom found in Scotland in this period. Sacred places included mountains, woodlands and rocks. Water was always important and pools and wells were special sites. Sacrifices of animals, objects or even people were made to the gods in these special places.


Christianity makes an impact
Christianity makes an impact assumed that some kind of learned men or women did exist to mediate between people and gods by conducting ceremonies. There is little surviving evidence of how the dead were treated since burials are seldom found in Scotland in this period. Sacred places included mountains, woodlands and rocks. Water was always important and pools and wells were special sites. Sacrifices of animals, objects or even people were made to the gods in these special places.

So this is what the Christians were up against. Bringing Christianity to the Celts would not be easy as the Celts had strong beliefs already – beliefs that were very different.

Nonetheless, we will now see that Christianity did gradually become accepted by the Celts. This was thanks to the efforts of some of the Celtic Christian missionaries such as Ninian and Cuthbert. We will look at them later.

Now read the information sheet on the Celts and complete the two activities which follow.