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Who were the Celts?

This Roman coin of 48 BC is probably the closest we'll get to knowing what an ancient Celt looked like. We owe a great debt to the anonymous artist who captured the essence of the race in this masterful portrait. Julius Caesar thought the Celts to be brave but headstrong and impetuous and the face on the coin is that of a man with just such qualities. 

Caesar's conquest of Gaul took place in the period 58 to 50 BC. His notes on the Gallic War give us occasional glimpses of the ancient Celtic people and their culture. Roman Gaul comprised France, part of Holland, Belgium and the greater part of Switzerland. These lands, together with Britain had long been settled by warlike Celts, a people from central Europe. Soon after 500 BC, the Celts wandered east and west in their search for fertile farming land. Around 390 BC, the Celts had even invaded Rome and sacked the city. It was to take two hundred years for the Celts to be driven from Italy and by Ceasar's time Rome already controlled southern Gaul. 

The greater part of Gaul was politically unsettled, however, and there was a danger that unruly Celtic tribes would join the Germans to threaten Roman interests. Caesar realised that Rome must act and his brilliant campaigns brought all of Gaul, and ultimately Britain, within the Roman Empire. 

Caesar is respected as a chronicler and his observations on the Gauls represent a valuable record. The notes that follow draw on his Gallic War and other ancient literature together with the evidence afforded by statuary and artefacts. They attempt to answer (very briefly) questions like: 

Where did the Celts originate - how far did they range? 
What sort of society did they have? 
What was their religion? 
What was their language? 
How did they look? 

 John Weston

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