How Are the Celts Dispersed?
If there are any true Celts today, they are probably living in Ireland, the Highlands of Scotland, Wales, Brittany or the Isle of Man. Only in these most western parts of Europe did the once powerful Celts manage to maintain their language and racial characteristics in the centuries of Roman expansion and the later invasion of Germanic tribes that swept westward across Europe from beyond the river Elbe.
It is mainly in those regions that any distinctive Celtic traces have survived-the Erse, Gaelic, Welsh, Manx and Breton languages, and Celtic traits, folklore and traditions. Elsewhere the individuality of the tribes has been merged with that of their conquerors. Yet even there Celtic traces remain in earthworks, stones and fortifications, in the names of many places that were once their homes and in some of the words in modern European languages.
The Celtic tribes grew from a mixture of prehistoric peoples who settled in western and central Europe, having migrated, perhaps, from beyond the Caspian Sea. By about 400 B.C. they had developed into a warlike race holding vast territories all the way from Ireland to Asia Minor.
It was the advance of the Roman legionaries that sapped their strength and hastened their decline. With the collapse of the Roman Empire they fell a prey to the waves of invaders from the west until even across the sea the Celtic Britons had been enslaved or driven into the remote parts by the Anglo- Saxons. With them disappeared the mysterious religion of the Druids, who held the mistletoe sacred and performed strange ceremonies in the oak forests.
In a sense the Celtic race has been dispersed throughout a large part of the world because they were among the chief ancestors of most Europeans and therefore of North and South Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, south Africans and many others.
The history of pre-Celtic Europe remains very uncertain. According to one theory, the common root of the Celtic languages, a language known as Proto-Celtic, arose in the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC. In addition, according to a theory proposed in the 19th century, the first people to adopt cultural characteristics regarded as Celtic were the people of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture in central Europe (c. 800–450 BC), named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria. Thus this area is sometimes called the ‘Celtic homeland’.
By or during the later La Tène period (c. 450 BC up to the Roman conquest), this Celtic culture was supposed to have expanded by diffusion or migration to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France and The Low Countries (Gauls), Bohemia, Poland and much of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula (Celtiberians, Celtici, Lusitanians and Gallaeci) and northern Italy (Golaseccans and Cisalpine Gauls) and, following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BC, as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians) in modern-day Turkey.
The earliest undisputed direct examples of a Celtic language are the Lepontic inscriptions, beginning in the 6th century BC. Continental Celtic languages are attested almost exclusively through inscriptions and place-names. Insular Celtic is attested beginning around the 4th century AD through Ogham inscriptions, although it was clearly being spoken much earlier. Celtic literary tradition begins with Old Irish texts around the 8th century. Coherent texts of Early Irish literature, such as the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), survive in 12th-century recensions.