Learning and Exploring

What I Read: November 2020: The Ancient Celts by Barry Cunliffe

I read 1 book. Yes, 1 book. Or rather, I should say, I finished 1 book because I’d started this book in September or October. I am however, pleased to say that it was both new to me and nonfiction.

The Ancient Celts by Barry Cunliffe. I feel like it was written to British or European peers who also studied the Iron age, etc. Because I didn’t get as much out of it as the size would indicate. I also felt like there needed to be more maps, the maps needed to be labelled in more detail, and they needed to be in the book near the sections referencing them. I did appreciate the addressing of the Celtic myth and romanticism, something I know I’ve fallen into thanks to Sutcliff novels and my ignorance (she, I don’t believe ever referenced anything as being Celtic, good for her).

There seem to be two main things. One is a broadly European language family that existed in ancient times then died out in continental Europe in ancient times and maintained a hold increasingly smaller and weaker in the British Isles and Ireland up into the present). Someone in the 18th century decided to name this group Celtic.

The 2nd is the group of peoples in broadly central and lower Western Europe whom the Greeks and Romans termed Celts. Archaeology studies this group with reference to (obviously) biased Classical literature.

Where I understand some of the error falls is when people presume that because the Insular peoples spoke the same language family as the people the Romans called Celts, they were also Celts. But I don’t think anyone called them Celts. I think I thought as did many that Celtic peoples from mainland Europe took over the Isles and that is how the language and some aspects of the culture spread, but I think that what he was saying is that there isn’t evidence that there was such an invasion. That it was people already there who adopted the language and culture (to a certain extent) from mainland Europe and then held onto it longer.

Also, he was talking about the uncertainty of what exactly differentiated Germanic speaking peoples from Celtic speaking peoples. Just the language and some culture? Or ethnicity.

I read for the Ancient Britains, but I learned about Ancient Europe. Now, I wonder about the other, later barbarian invasions, the ones who sacked Rome and turned Gaul to France. Do we know for certain they came from somewhere else or did we assume they did?

I love history. And you do have to love history and be prepared to research further to read this book. The author also wrote some more recent books for A Very Short Introduction which I also have on my shelves, and I’ve looked up some notable Celtic scholars to read as well.

4 Comments

    • Livia Rose

      Well, I think this one is for history people who love boring stuff, I’m thinking Celts: A Very Short Introduction is probably a better start. I don’t exactly know how to recommend history to non-born history people, because, like being a cat person, I think I was born with it. And I find dusty stuff interesting. I think starting at middle grade history books is a great place.

  • Elizabeth

    I love that you are so fascinated by the Celts, Ireland, history all the things really. It’s so interesting, and I’ve been curious about how the Celts have been romanticized. I don’t really know anything about them so it’s something I’ve been curious to look into.

    • Livia Rose

      I’m thinking The Celts: A Very Short Introduction (which I’m reading next) is probably a better place to start for beginners than this book.

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