A Brief History Of The Ancient Celts And Their Geographic Expansion

The Celts were an important Indo-European population who inhabited large parts of both continental and insular Europe throughout much of the Ancient Age. Their geographic distribution spanned as such from the British archipelago to Galicia (in northern Iberia) and even Transylvania (situated in present-day Romania), at the crossroads of Central and Eastern Europe.

A Celtic knot, symbol of ancient Celtic art. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

The Celts spoke a variety of languages which linguists label as ‘Celtic’, some of which survived to these days (most notably the ones still in use in parts of the United Kingdom and Ireland). All these languages can trace their ancestral root in Proto-Celtic, an old language spoken by the Celtic tribes within the geographic areal of the Urnfield culture (dating to 1,200 BCE) which covered the vast majority of Central Europe. Several hundred years later, the Hallstatt culture saw the continental expansion of many Celtic tribes from what is now Austria to other larger areas of Central, Eastern, and Western Europe.

The picturesque Austrian village of Hallstatt in Upper Austria (Oberösterreich), the core of the namesake culture of the Celts which occurred during the European Bronze Age. Image source: Commons Wikimedia

Subsequently, during the La Tène period (which took place during late Antiquity), the Celtic tribes of mainland Europe are known to have travelled far to the northwest to the point where they sailed across the Channel and settled Britain and Ireland in the process. By and during the time of the downfall of the Roman Empire, the following major Celtic tribes can be distinguished:

  • Insular Celts (residing in the British Isles);
  • Gauls (residing in much of contemporary France and the Low Countries, i.e. the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg);
  • Celtiberians, Celtici, Lusitanians, Gallaeci (residing in the Iberian peninsula, in much of present-day Spain and Portugal);
  • Galatians (settling in Anatalio, present-day Turkey).

Below you can also check a series of BBC documentaries on the ancient history of the Celts in both mainland and insular Europe:

Episode 1

Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Another great series with Alice Roberts – Episode 1
Another great series with Alice Roberts – Episode 2
Another great series with Alice Roberts – Episode 3
Documentation sources and external links:

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