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June 8, 2004 > Who Were The Celts?

Who Were The Celts?

Visit these Ancient People at Ardenwood on Saturday, June 12th

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

From the 2nd millennium BC to the 1st century BC, the Celts spread over much of Western, Eastern and Central Europe, as well as Asia Minor. They were an Indo-European people, made up of various tribes bound together by common speech, customs, and religion. Their government was based on a feudal system with each tribe being headed by a king/chief and divided by class into Druids (priests), warrior nobles, and commoners/freemen and slaves. Most notably, there was a great degree of democracy within the society. Both men and women were treated equally and important decisions were made at tribal gatherings in which women had an equal voice. Rulers were subject to removal at these gatherings if found unsatisfactory - succession was not necessarily hereditary. While politics existed in Celtic societies, the absence of any large-scale political unity amongst the tribes made them vulnerable to their enemies, contributing substantially to the extinction of their way of life.

The Celts had a penchant for invasion and often sought out new territories to conquer. In the 4th century BC, the Celts invaded the Greco-Roman world, conquering northern Italy, sacking Rome and conquering Macedonia and Thessaly. They plundered Rome in 390 inciting the Romans to dub them Galli or Gaul, which can be translated as "barbarian". The Celts sacked Delphi in 279 and then invaded Asia Minor, where they were known as Galatians. The Romans conquered the Cisalpine Gauls of northern Italy in the 2nd century BC. Julius Caesar subdued Transalpine Gaul (modern France and the Rhineland) in the 1st century BC and most of Britain came under Roman rule in the 1st century ad. In the same period, the Celts of central Europe became fragmented under the domination of the Germanic peoples.

In medieval and modern times, the Celtic tradition and languages survived in Brittany (Western France), Cornwall, Galicia (North Western Spain), Galatia (Central Turkey), Wales, the Scottish Highlands, Isle of Man and Ireland, and to a lesser extent in the Norse/Celtic culture of Iceland. The word "Celt" is derived from Keltoi, the name given to the Celts by Herodotus and other Greek writers.

Artifacts from this period suggest that the Celts were the first peoples of Europe to actively use and work with iron. It has been said that the use of iron was influential in the proliferation of art during the period. Celtic art is considered the first great contribution to European art made by non-Mediterranean peoples. Its roots go back to the artisans of the Urnfield culture and the Hallstatt culture (8th-6th BC) at the beginning of the Iron Age.

Although ancient Persian, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art and the nomads of the Eurasia influenced Celtic art, it developed distinctive characteristics of its own. These are evident in the major artifacts seen today-weapons, vessels, and jewelry in bronze, gold, electrum and occasionally silver. The Celtic style is marked by a preference for stylized plant motifs, usually of Greek origin, and fantastic animals, derived from the Scythians and other steppe peoples. In Celtic images, the human figure tends to play a secondary role.

The rich Celtic language was poetic, mystical and impassioned. With this language, the Celts created their legends, their visions and their epic tales that they have passed down the centuries to present times. The Celtic language survives today chiefly in the two variants of Welsh and Irish (Scottish) Gaelic.

Today the people who call themselves Celts, or still strongly identify with Celtic history, can be found in Brittany France, Cornwall, Galicia Spain, Galatia Turkey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. These areas have strong Celtic elements to there culture with some of them still speaking Celtic languages while others claim strong Celtic cultural roots. The Celtic culture has become popular among non-Celts with festivals attended by those interested in the ancient art, music and culture.

Another area rich in Celtic tradition - at least for one day each year - is Ardenwood Historic Farm. On this day, the land is transported back to the days of skillful artisans and savage barbarians. Tribal customs and mystical legends intermingle to create tribal bonds of amazing strength, passion and loyalty which can only be experienced by visiting this transitory encampment at Ardenwood on this magical day. Mark the date of Saturday, June 12th and come to this ancient land where tales of yore come alive. Watch mighty warriors test their strength and do battle. Hear the wail of bagpipes and listen to ancient songs while embracing the bold spirit and rhythms of the Celts. Listen to the past whisper its secrets at the Celtic Festival!

6th Annual Celtic Festival
Saturday, June 12
10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Ardenwood Historic Farm
34600 Ardenwood Blvd., Fremont
(510) 796-0663

Admission: Adults $8.50; Seniors (62+) $5.50; Child (4-17) $5.00; Under 3 Free
Free Parking
No Dogs, Please

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