Paleolithic Age- > 8700 BCE
Stone Age- 8700 – 3300 BCE
Mesolithic- 8700 – 4900 BCE
Neolithic- 4900 – 2000 BCE
Bronze Age- 2000 – 750 BCE
Iron Age- 750 – 100 CE
Urnfield Culture- 1300 – 800 BCE
Hallstatt Culture- 800 – 500 BCE
La Tene Culture- 500 – 1 BCE
Roman Occupation- 1 – 410
Anglo-Saxon/Western European Arrival- Began approx. 400
Early medieval- 400 – 800
Viking Occupation- 793 – 1066
Medieval- 800 – 1500
Post-medieval- 1500 – 1800
Celtic Revival- Began approx. 1800
Stone Age/Bronze Age/Urnfield/Beaker Culture ( < 1200 BCE)
A mysterious group of natives who very little is known about including where they migrated from. Theories range from all directions, including even ancient Egypt. In the British Isles, the stone age man is thought to be responsible for ancient standing stones, dolmens and burial chambers. While standing stones and other monuments may predate what is thought to be an established Celtic culture, genetic studies reveal that the population of the British Isles has been relatively stable for the last 6,000 – 8,000 years which would mean the Celts could have been either direct descendants of the builders or they successfully intermingled with them, and possibly took up their use. The Urnfield cultures in central Europe specifically is where the first Celtic language and culture is proposed to have originated. Some genetic studies have revealed that the Celts share ancestry with the Basque people and from there they can be traced back to Paleolithic times. The earliest attested examples of the Celtic language are that of the Lepontic inscriptions near present day Switzerland beginning in 6th century BCE. The inscriptions appear on monuments, coins and pots among other objects.
Hallstatt Culture (1200 – 500 BCE)
This was the next descendent group from Celtic culture originating in Central Europe near present day Austria. They were named Hallstatt after the town where a large artifact site was discovered, containing some 1,300 burials. The artifacts found there have a distinct style. They were not hugely different than neighboring agricultural communities aside from their artwork and culture. For the time period, their knowledge of craftsmanship was unprecedented, exquisite and painstakingly detailed. Their range included areas near southern Germany, to western Hungary, eastern Austria and down through France. By the late 5th century, territories were expanded and the style changed.
La Tene Culture (500 – 1 BCE)
The next evolution of Celtic culture is named La Tene based on a district in Switzerland where another large cache of distinct artifacts were found. Their style changed from more rigid lined patterns to swirly, circular patterns. Around this time, the Celtic culture was thought to have expanded to the British Isles where many other La Tene artifacts have been found. They undoubtedly encountered the native Stone age cultures and it’s unclear to what extent they destroyed or mingled with them but again, genetic evidence suggests the latter. Power and belief structure was still very localized but this was the “hay day” of Celtic culture. Celtic language at this time is mostly attested through inscriptions in shrines and place names throughout ancient Gaul in Europe.
Classical Roman view of the Celtic migrations…
“Now that we have spoken at sufficient length about the Celts we shall turn our history to the Celtiberians who are their neighbours. In ancient times these two peoples, namely, the Iberians and the Celts, kept warring among themselves over the land, but when later they arranged their differences and settled upon the land altogether, and when they went further and agreed to intermarriage with each other, because of such intermixture the two peoples received the appellation given above. And since it was two powerful nations that united and the land of theirs was fertile, it came to pass that the Celtiberians advanced far in fame and were subdued by the Romans with difficulty and only after they had faced them in battle over a long period. And this people, it would appear, provide for warfare not only excellent cavalry but also foot-soldiers who excel in prowess and endurance. They wear rough black cloaks, the wool of which resembles the hair of goats.” -Diodorus Siculus (Greek, 90 – 20 BCE)
“The Celts, who make up one of the three divisions of Gaul, were under the domination of the Bituriges and this tribe supplied the Celtic nation with a king. Ambigatus was then the man and his talents… had brought him great distinction; for Gaul under his sway grew so rich in corn and so populous, that it seemed hardly possibly to govern so great a multitude. The king, now old, wishing to relieve his kingdom of a burdensome throng, announced that he meant to send Bellovesus and Segovesus, his sister’s two sons, two enterprising young men, to find such homes as the gods might assign to them by augury; and promised them that they should head as large a number of emigrants as they themselves desired, so that no tribe, might be able to prevent their settlement. Whereupon to Segovesus were by lot assigned the Hercynian highlands, but to Bellovesus the gods proposed a far pleasanter road, into Italy. Taking with him the surplus population, Bituriges, Arverni, Senones, Aedui, Ambarri, Carnutes, Aulerci, he set out with a vast host, some mounted, some on foot.” -Titus Livius (Roman, 59 BCE – 15 CE)
“When the Gauls had grown so numerous that they were no longer able to live off of the produce their homeland, they sent out three hundred thousand men, like a sacred spring, to seek new settlements. Some of these adventurers settled in Italy, and took and burnt the city of Rome; others penetrated into the remotest parts of Illyricum under the direction of a flight of birds (for the Gauls are more skilled in augury than other nations) making their way amidst great slaughter of the barbarous nations, and fixed their abode in Pannonia. They were a savage, bold, and warlike nation, and were the first after Hercules (to whom that undertaking procured great admiration for his valour, and a belief in his immortality), to pass the unconquered heights of the Alps, and places uninhabitable from excess of cold.” -Marcus Justinus (Roman, 4th century)
Roman Occupation (1- 410)
The Romans and Celts have a long history with one another spanning over hundreds of years. One of their first major battles was the Battle of Allia in 390 BCE. The Romans suffered a crushing blow during that battle and in many more instances where the Celts were concerned. These battles and competition among cultures would embed fear in the minds of Romans for lifetimes to come. Around 58 BCE, Roman emperor Julius Caesar had it in his mind to go on a series of Gaulish attacks, it’s speculated primarily for their gold. The Celts had created the first coinage in Europe and were immensely rich at this point with huge cache’s of gold and valuable trade goods. Ancient Celtic gold mines have been discovered in France confirming this. He attacked Gaulish tribes one by one from 58 BCE through 50 BCE. During the Battle of Alesia, the Romans won a complete take over of all of Gaul, those tribes that were in present day France through Belgium and acquired an enormous amount of slaves and his much sought after gold. In 55 BCE, Caesar took 30,000 soldiers and crossed the sea to Great Britain to attack more Gaulish tribes. They won a few battles but Caesar changed his mind and went back home feeling that Great Britain wasn’t worth the effort. Nearly a hundred years later in 43 CE, Emperor Claudius sent an army to Great Britain and this time they conquered the entire southern half all the way up to present day Scotland which was soon deemed “untamable”. They described the inhabitants there simply as “The Picts” which meant painted people. They were never defeated by the Romans on their own soil. The Romans built Hadrian’s wall at this time to keep them at bay and establish a well marked territory. Over the course of these battles between the Celts and Romans, the Celts certainly outnumbered them, but simply did not have the central government and ability to organize quick enough to put up a significant fight. The Celts that remained in Great Britain either became slaves or maintained the right to keep their kingdoms by paying taxes towards the Romans. In 313 CE, Emperor Constantine became a Christian and issued a law that promoted tolerance of all religions within the empire. Christianity henceforth began to increase in popularity and was transmitted more readily and easily to Britain. Their relationship over the years remained a mixed bag of distrust but also appreciation for the Roman army’s protection. The natives also appreciated increased literature and writing skills taught by the Roman Christian clergy. Finally in 410 CE, Emperor Honorius decided the Roman legions were needed elsewhere and left Great Britain entirely. Celtic language at this time is mostly attested through inscriptions in shrines and place names as well as Ogham inscriptions throughout the British Isles.
“During the short part of summer which remained, Caesar, although in these countries, as all Gaul lies toward the north, the winters are early, nevertheless resolved to proceed into Britain, because he discovered that in almost all the wars with the Gauls assistance had been furnished to our enemy from that country; and even if the time of year should be insufficient for carrying on the war, yet he thought it would be of great service to him if he only entered the island, and saw into the character of the people, and got knowledge of their localities, harbors, and landing-places, all which were for the most part unknown to the Gauls. For neither does any one except merchants generally go over there, nor even to them was any portion of it known, except the sea-coast and those parts which are opposite to Gaul. Therefore, after having called up to him the merchants from all parts, he could learn neither what was the size of the island, nor what or how numerous were the nations which inhabited it, nor what system of war they followed, nor what customs they used, nor what harbors were convenient for a great number of large ships.” -Julius Caesar (Roman, 100 – 44 BCE)
“But he also mingled among the citizens of the city many natives, and since these surpassed the others in multitude, it came to pass that the inhabitants as a whole were barbarized. The Celts up to the present time hold this city in honour, looking upon it as the heart and mother-city of all Celtica. And for the entire period from the days of Heracles this city remained free and was never sacked until our own time; but at last Gaius Caesar, who had been pronounced a god because of the magnitude of his deeds, took it by storm and made it and the other Celts subjects of the Romans.” -Diodorus Siculus (Greek, 90 – 20 BCE)
“[On Roman rule in Britain…]Agricola gave private encouragement and official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and private mansions… he trained the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts and expressed a preference for British natural ability over the trained skill of the Gauls. The result was that in place of distaste for the Latin language came a passion to command it… and so the Britons were gradually led on to the amenities that make vice agreeable, arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. They spoke of such novelties as ‘civilization’ when really they are only a feature of enslavement” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120)
“[During the Roman occupation]The teachings of Christ, the true sun, came to this island stiff with frost and cold in a far distant corner of the earth remote from the visible sun. He spread, not only from the temporal firmament, but from the highest arc of heaven beyond all times, his bright gleam to the whole world in the final days, as we know, of Tiberius Caesar. At that time Christianity was spread without any hindrance, because the emperor, contrary to the will of the senate, threatened with death informers against the soldiers of Christ.” -Gildas (Scottish, 482 -570)
“Then Cerialis assembled the Treviri and Lingones, and thus addressed them: “I am no orator, and have always supported Rome’s reputation for bravery by force of arms. But as you attach great importance to mere words, and judge of good and evil according to the utterances of agitators rather than in the light of their real nature, I have made up my mind to point out a few things. Now that the fighting is over, you may get more help from hearing these facts than we shall from stating them. The occupation of your land and that of the other Gauls by Roman generals and emperors was not prompted by self-interest, but happened at the invitation of your forefathers, whose quarrels had exhausted them to the point of collapse, while the Germans summoned to the rescue had imposed their yoke on friend and foe alike. The nature of our German campaigns is not entirely unknown — the many battles against the Cimbri and Teutoni, the strenuous exertions of our armies, and the final upshot. We planted ourselves on the Rhine not to protect Italy but to stop a second Ariovistus dominating Gaul. Do you imagine that Civilis, the Batavians and the tribes east of the Rhine care any more for you than their ancestors did for your fathers and grandfathers? It is always the same motive that impels the Germans to invade the Gallic provinces — their lust, greed and roving spirit. What they have really wanted is to abandon their marshes and deserts, and gain control of this rich soil and of yourselves. But “liberty” and other fine phrases serve as their pretexts. Indeed, no one has ever aimed at enslaving others and making himself their master without using this very same language. Throughout the whole of Gaul there were always despots and wars until you passed under our control. We ourselves, despite many provocations, imposed upon you by right of conquest only such additional burdens as were necessary for preserving peace. Stability between nations cannot be maintained without armies, nor armies without pay, nor pay without taxation. Everything else is shared equally between us. You often command our legions in person, and in person govern these and other provinces. There is no question of segregation or exclusion. Again, those emperors who are well spoken of benefit you as much as they do us, though you live far away, whereas tyrants wreak their will upon such as are nearest to them. You adopt an attitude of resignation towards natural disasters like bad harvests or excessive rainfall: in the same way you must put up with spending and avarice on the part of your masters. There will be faults as long as there are men. But the picture is not one of uninterrupted gloom. From time to time there are intervals of relief by way of compensation. You are surely not going to tell me that you expect a milder regime when Tutor and Classicus are your rulers, or that less taxation than now will be required to provide the armies to defend you from the Germans and Britons? For if the Romans are expelled — which Heaven forbid! — what else will result but world-wide war in which each nation’s hand will be turned against its neighbour? The good luck and good discipline of eight hundred years secured the erection of this imperial fabric, whose destruction must involve its destroyers in the same downfall. But yours will be the most dangerous situation, for you have the riches and resources which are the main causes of war. At present, victors and vanquished enjoy peace and imperial citizenship on an equal footing, and it is upon these blessings that you must lavish your affection and respect. Learn from your experience of the two alternatives not to choose insubordination and ruin in preference to obedience and security.” -Tacitus (Roman, 55 – 120)
Anglo-Saxon/Western European Arrival (Began approx. 400)
By 400 CE, Anglo-Saxons from Germanic tribes were migrating across continental Europe and started invading Great Britain bringing Christianity and Old English with them. Even though the Anglo-Saxons were a minority in a Celtic world, they managed to essentially take over in just a few hundred years time. Their cultural influence slowly began to take over. They did this by first claiming to be “kings” and of significant importance. Their culture spread by way of elitists and high society first and then trickled down to the peasants. Christian holidays were overlapped onto Pagan ones to make it easier for locals to adjust and adapt verses adopting an entirely new belief system. This happened in a similar fashion in Ireland and Scotland. Ireland was exposed to Christianity in 430 CE by Palladius, a bishop of Britain sent by Pope Celestine. Scotland was the last of the British Isles to be exposed to Christianity around 563 CE through St. Columba who established Iona Abbey on the Isle of Iona. Great Britain experienced a huge cultural and economic boom which aided the proliferation of Christianity. This wealth attracted the Vikings who began attacking coastal settlements by 793 CE and last invaded in 1066 CE.
“The culture engaged in becoming dominant, in this case the culture of the early European Christian Church, had both to make concessions and invent attractions if its aims were to be fulfilled.” -Columbanus (Irish missionary written in a letter to the Pope in 604 CE)
Early Medieval (400 – 800)
Over about a thousand year period, Great Britain established a monarchy government and a political, social, agricultural and economic structure based around Christianity as well as a hierarchy made of wealthy land owners and lords, peasants, indentured servants and slaves. The “Celts” as they were, mostly disappeared except for a minority of folks still attached to their “old ways”. However, this was a dangerous thing. Druids, while previously cherished, were suddenly looked down upon in this new religion. Earth based and pagan religions were cast aside as were their followers. It became a “dirty, poor man’s religion” while it was trendy to be a “good, clean Christian” who could do and say anything, no matter how vile the trespass and ask forgiveness on Sunday. This idealism, paired with the fear mongering and threat of eternal damnation if you did not conform to a highly suspicious people was very successful. Around this time many believe Druidry went completely underground and the term “witch”, meaning “wise one” was coined.
Viking Occupation- (793 – 1066)
While the Vikings appeared near the end of any well established Druid culture, they no doubt had a profound effect on the British Isles moving forward into the future. In Scotland, the famous Iona Abbey was attacked by Vikings when they first appeared in 794 CE. They subsequently took control over a good portion of the north of Scotland, Orkney and the Herbrides Islands for many lifetimes. In Ireland the first attack took place on the island of Rathlin in Northern Ireland. The Vikings would send fleets of all sizes large and small attacking villages on the coastlines of Ireland for years to come. They established their own colonies, trade routes and ports in places like Cork, Limerick and most notably, Dublin. While most Irish, Scottish and British folks undoubtedly hated the Vikings, many became accustomed to their presence and in some cases they became allies and even married and started families with one another. Eventually, many assimilated into British Isle culture becoming almost indistinguishable. Some areas of Scotland have still retained nearly 25% Nordic DNA. The last battle between the Vikings and the Irish was the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 that took place near Dublin. The High King of Ireland Brian Boru went up against a Norse-Irish alliance comprising of Mael Morda Mac Murchad of Leinster, Sigurd of Orkney, Brodir of Man and Sigtrygg Silkbeard of Dublin. The battle lasted from sunrise to sunset with a death toll of approx. 10,000. The Irish came out victorious with most of the losses being those of the Viking alliance. Although, sadly, Brian himself as well as his son and grandson were slain. Brian’s family was temporarily unseated, and there was no undisputed High King of Ireland until the late 12th century. Brian would go down in history as a national hero that freed the island from foreign domination. The last battle between the Vikings and the British took place in 1066 CE known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge. A fleet of 300 dragon ships bearing some 9,000 armed Vikings made its way to England’s shores for the last time led by the feared and renowned Viking leader King Harald III Sigurdsson of Norway, aka Harald Hardrada “The Hard Ruler”. The English gained early momentum by a surprise attack. After a long and gruesome battle, the Vikings surrendered and left with a mere dozen longships, just enough to carry the survivors. Hardrada’s young son, Olaf as well as two young earls, Paul and Erlend Thorfinnsson of Orkney were allowed to sail home, provided they swore never to invade England again. It was said that for nearly a century after the battle, the bleached bones of the dead could still be seen littering the fields near Stamford Bridge. Celtic language at this time is mostly attested to the Old Irish texts such as the Brehon Laws and mythological tales. The Celtic language on the mainland of Europe had mostly disappeared by the 6th century CE.
Medieval/Post-Medieval (800 – 1800)
During this time frame, there was quite the internal war in Christianity between the Catholics and Protestants and many of those dramas played out, particularly in Britain. There was much religious, social, moral, economic and political upheaval across Europe in general. One particular traumatic event was the Bubonic Plague which lasted from 1347 through 1351 and may have killed as many as 200 million people. Also, from 1590 through 1700, an estimated 40,000 – 50,000 people were burned at the stake throughout the entirety of Europe accused of practicing witchcraft. Hundreds of thousands more were tortured and harassed by Christian establishments. Anyone could be accused of being a witch and when it was one person’s word against the other, the wealthy were highly at an advantage. If you didn’t like someone, all you need do is call them a witch. It was a dangerous time to be unique or intelligent. If you were knowledgeable about medicine or any number of subjects, a little quirky, a little crass… “You’re a witch!”. Although witch was a gender neutral term, an estimated 75% of those murdered were women, largely due to the patriarchal tendencies of the ruling class. Ireland, Scotland, Wales and remote places like the Isle of Mann still remained for the most part a natural mix of Christianity and what were deemed acceptable Pagan aspects. This is highlighted in books like the Carmina Gadelica written by Alexander Carmichael in the late 17th century containing extensive liturgy that is heavily Christian, but nontheless contains Pagan undertones.
“[Of the Travels of the Gaels] Gaelic scholars give the following account of the adventures of their leaders in ancient times. There was a certain [Scythian] nobleman who had been banished out of the kingdom of Scythia who was in exile in Egypt. After the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea and [the Pharaoh] Forann was drowned along with his army, the Egyptians who survived banished this nobleman, because he was the son-in-law of Forann who had drowned. Afterwards these Scythians went on a long journey: they went into Africa, to the altars of the Philistines, to the wells of Salmara, between the Rusicadum and the Azariea Mountains, across the River Malvam, through the Mediterranean to the pillars of Hercules, beyond Tyrrhenian Sea to Spain. They inhabited Spain until thousand and two years had passed since Forann was drowned in the Red Sea. Then the sons of Míl went to Ireland in thirty boats, with thirty couples in each boat. The king, Donn, was drowned at Taigh Duinn [the house of Donn]. Until that time Ireland was ruled by three goddesses named Fotla, Banba, and Éire. The sons of Míl, however, conquered them in three battles and afterwards took the kingdom. The two sons of Míl started arguing hotly between each other about the kingdom until their judge Amergin of the white knee, also the son of Míl, settled the dispute. He was also their poet. This is the settlement which he made: Ireland was to be divided into two halves; Éber took the northern half and Éremon took the southern half. Their descendants still live in this island. The Britons took possession of this island [Britain] in the third age of the world, but the Gaels took possession of Ireland in the fourth age of the world. At this same time the Picts [Cruithnig] took the northern region of Britain. The Dál Riata came in the sixth age and took possession of Pictish territory and at that same time the Saxons conquered part of the island from the Britons.”
-Lebor Bretnach (Irish, 10th century CE)
Celtic Revival (Began approx. 1800)
Around 1800, mostly as the result of modernization, a renewed interest in Celtic ancestral religion and culture came about. The threat of being called a witch had mostly passed and people were free to explore the occult and archaic history of their past. Likely due to political tensions as well, particularly between Scotland, Ireland and Britain, there was a renewed sense of cultural pride. Artists and writers began drawing intense inspiration from their ancestral past to create new works. This is also popularly known as the Irish Literary Revival. This is around the time that a modern and more united “Celtic identity” was constructed. As mentioned before, the past was often over romanticized which effected the authenticity of much of the literature written at this time. The Celtic Revival continues up to the present with more and more people every year turning their weary hearts and minds to Druidry and the simplicity of their ancestor’s appreciation for nature and quest for wisdom.
“Those who keep watch beside the western shore
Have taken their banners home; the happy land of Gaul
Rejoices in their absence; the fair Garonne river
Through peaceful meadows glides onward to the sea.
And where the river broadens, neath the cape
Her quiet harbour sleeps. No outstretched arm
Except in mock combat now hurls the lance.
No skillful warrior of the Seine river directs
The chariot scythed against his country’s foe.
Now rest the Belgians, and the Arvernian nation
That boasts of our kinship by descent from Troy;
And those brave rebels whose undaunted hands
Were dipped in Cotta’s blood, and those who wear
Sarmatian clothing. Batavia’s warriors fierce
No longer listen for the trumpet’s call,
Nor those who dwell where Rhone’s swift eddies sweep
Saone to the ocean; nor the mountain nations
Who dwell about its source. You, too, o Treves,
Rejoice that the war has left your bounds.
Ligurian nations, now shorn, in ancient days
First of the long-haired nations, on whose necks
Once flowed the auburn locks in pride supreme;
And those who pacify with blood accursed
Savage Teutates, Esus’ horrid shrines,
And Taranis’ altars, cruel as were those
Loved by Diana, goddess of the north;
All these now rest in peace. And you, o Bards,
Whose martial rhymes preserve from ancient times
The fame of valorous deeds done in battle,
Pour forth in safety more abundant song.
While you, o druids, when the war was done,
To strange mysteries and hateful rites returned:
To you alone is given the heavenly gods
To know or not to know; your dwelling places are
Secluded groves and far remote forests.
If what you druids sing is true, the souls of men
Do not seek the silent habitation of Erebus [the Greek Underworld]
Or the pale realm of Dis [the Roman Underworld], but the breath of life
Still commands these bodies in another region –
Death lies in between life on this side and the next.
The peoples beneath the Northern Star are happy
In their false belief, for they have no fear
Of that which frights all others: they with hands
And hearts undaunted rush upon the foe
And scorn to spare the life that shall return.”
-Marcus Lucanus (Roman poet, 39 – 65 CE)
Writer and Herbalist
A founding member of Discover Druidry, Isla is a writer, photographer and avid gardener. She wrote the Celtic Druidry Handbook: An Evidence Based Guide.