When I speak of the ancient Celts, I am referring to the communities of people sharing linguistic and cultural ties who inhabited most of Northern Europe between 800 BCE and 400 CE. The folk of the Urnfield culture which preceded them may also have spoken a variety of Celtic, but they had not yet created the material culture that we identify with the Iron Age Celts. At the height of their expansion (4th-3rd centuries BCE) Celtic communities spread from Ireland to the Near East. Hallstat culture (800-250 BCE), named after a type-site at Hallstatt, Austria, is the name given to the material culture of the early Iron Age Celts. Their range spanned from the Paris basin to valley of Morava in Eastern Europe and from the Alps to the north European plain. During early Hallstat (800-600 BCE) there is little evidence of great distinctions of wealth in burials. A few people are buried with wagons and horse gear, rather more are warriors (both genders) buried with their swords, most people are buried with personal ornaments and pots containing food. Cemeteries are small and associated with small settlements, perhaps one family or a group of related families. Then between 600-450 BCE things begin to change as Mediterranean luxury goods begin to appear. Hilltop forts and a hierarchy of rich graves begins to appear. These aristocratic burials are associated with much larger residences inspired by Greek architectural styles. Archaeologists have suggested that paramount chief burial is accompanied by inhumation in a wooden chamber with wagon and horse trappings as before, but now there would also be a wide range of imported goods including bronze wine drinking vessels, silk, gold, amber, glass and coral. A vassal chief would be similar but the goods are more of local manufacture without the wide range of imports. Sub-chiefs are again similar but less elaborately furnished with totally local manufacture. Below this status wagon burials are not present. This type of burial and the prestige goods economic system it represents was spread from Burgundy to the middle Rhine. The economy was based on conspicuous consumption and potlatch-style distribution of goods. This is an unstable system relying on a continuing stream of imports and exports. Around this core, warrior societies arose whose wealth came from raiding the settled traders. This was an unstable equilibrium which was unbalanced by political changes in the Mediterranean and population growth among the Celtic tribes. After the collapse, the Celtic migrations began (circa 400 BCE). La Tene culture, known for its elaborate artwork, coincides with the last 50 years or so of Hallstat. It its this culture which was carried by the migration. Warrior bands moved southwards and eastwards toward the rich pickings of the cultures they had previously traded with. Rome was attacked in 369 BCE and the thrust continued into Italy. Delphi was attacked in 279 BCE by eastward moving bands who then continued on to Asia minor. Migrations in response to population pressure continued on throughout the next few hundred years, culminating in the aborted migration attempt of the Helvetii mentioned in Caesar's commentaries. A drastic change took place during the eight year war with Caesar's Rome as hundreds of thousands of Celts were killed, sold into slavery or maimed. And then Caesar went home to where, for him, the real politics were and Gaul and Britain were left alone for 15 years. When later Roman emperors began to set up administration of Gaul things changed again. Most of southern and eastern Gaul was brought into the Empire fairly easily because they had already adopted a sedentary lifestyle and trade-based economic system. The borders of Empire remained in flux for some time with the pressure of the so-called Germanic tribes pressing in from the east which finally contributed to the end of Empire in the 5th century CE. There is controversy about how different the...
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