The History of Great Britain. The Celts in the British Isles (6th-3d B.C.) Part 3

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The Celtic Symbols

The History of Great Britain. The Celts in the British Isles. Part 3

At that time Britain was known only as a faraway land wrapped in mists and mystery. It was covered with thick forests, which grew in those parts that were not mountainous. These islands attract­ed many people who were moving west under the pressure of the growing population in the Continent, especially near the Rhine (what is now France and Germany).

Between the sixth and the third century B.C, the British Isles were invaded by Celtic tribes. This period is often reffered to as the Iron Age.

1. The Language

The first Celts were known as the Gaels [geɪlz]. Two centuries later came the Brytons who settled in the southern lands and pushed the Gaels [geɪlz] to Wales, Scotland and Ireland and probably gave the name to the whole country. There became two dialects: the Gaelic, which was spoken in Caledinia (modern Scotland and Ireland), and the Brythonic, which was spoken in England and Wales.

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2. The Celtic Clan Society

The Celts merged with the Picts and the Scots, as a result the Celtic language and the clan structure, which was typical of their society, spread over the British Isles. Clans (large family groups) were united into tribes and were the main units for farming. The Celts had brought with them new skills based on the working of iron. Before that the oak and ash woods and thickets of bushes had made it impossible to cultivate the land only with the help of stone or soft bronze axes but the introduction of the iron axe opened up new possibilities. The thick woods were cleared away and more land was cultivated.

The Celts had a patriarchal clan society based on common ownership of land. But after some time the clan and tribe chiefs started to accumulate wealth and then used their military force to rob other tribes and thus the social differentiation started to develop. Fortresses, which were tribal centres, were built on the hills and towns began to appear. The first towns were Verulamium, Camulodunum and Londinium.

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3. The Celtic Warriors

The Celts were good warriors. They were famous for their war-chariots, dashing and menacing to everything in their way. The destructive force of a chariot was based on the well-trained horses, the wheels fixed with sharp knives or swords, which rotated with full speed. One man stood to drive and two others did the fighting.

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4. The Druids

The Celts were pagans. Their religion was based on the worship of the Sun, the Moon, the Serpent and some other Gods and Goddesses. Their priests were called Druids. Their superior knowledge was taken for magic power and their superior dwellings filled people with a belief of some supernatural assistance in their construction. The druids held awe-inspiring vigils and terrible night rites in their open-air temples, situated in the dark woods. These rites in Sacred Groves were based on the bloody sacrifice of animals and sometimes human beings.  All these rituals enhanced the Druids’ power over the masses.

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5. The Celtic Culture

The Celtic CrossThe Celts were skilful artists known for their sophisticated designs, which were found in their elaborate jewellery, decorated crosses and manuscripts. They perfected their skills mostly in bronze work, each piece of it was full of the subtle artisticism of the Celtic spirit.

On the right you can see a Celtic cross made of gold. It was found in Nothern Scotland.


  1. В.С. Кузнецова «England. History, Geography, Culture» (учебник для вузов), 1976
  2. Michael Vaughan-Rees, Steve Bateman «In Britain»
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