Welcome back dear readers!  I present to you the second half of my little journey into exploring the ancient Celts and their way of life.

A Taste for Luxury

ART AND APPRECIATION The Celtic penchant for finely worked metal is evident in a harness plaque.

“Rich Celtic tombs filled with luxurious goods and fine Greek pottery and bronzes show the importance of trade in the Iron Age. Celts settled along trade routes, trading their own metals and metalwork, salt and salted meat, cloth, furs and animal skins and grain. They also acted as middlemen in the trade across Europe.

Trade Routes

The Celts depended on Europe’s river system for conducting trade, but archaeological remains also indicate the use of roadways. Wooden trackways were constructed across bogs in Ireland and Germany, and archaeologists believe the Celts made them as part of a roadway system for their wheeled wagons to carry trade goods across the continent.

The wagons could cover 18 miles a day and traders could halt for the night at regular stopping places.

Ships at Sea

A replica of an ancient Celtic long ship on the Clyde in Glasgow. Photograph: Murdo Macleod.

The sea offered another route for Celts, especially those trading in the gold from Wales and Ireland, and tin, hunting dogs and slaves from Britain. Celtic ships, built of oak able to withstand the Atlantic Ocean, were so sturdily constructed that Roman ships had trouble sinking them through their usual tactic of ramming.

Wine for the Feast

An Attic black-figure amphora with Dionysus, circa 6th century BCE. This is attributed to the Priam Painter, active in Athens at that time.

Vast numbers of amphorae, or wine storage jars, found in the ruins of Celtic settlements display the Celts’ love for Italian and Greek wines, which they served at feasts. Greek amphorae and Italian barrels holding wine were transported by road and sea. Wine was so important and valuable that it was even buried with the wealthy so they could enjoy it at feast in the afterlife – the residue of wine was found in a bronze krater at the burial of the princess of Vix.

GREEK TRADE The Hallstatt Celts traded widely with Ancient Greece. Pottery, such as this amphora, was particularly desired. Greek historians were the first to write about the Keltoi. Roman historians later called them Gauls.







Stater coin of the Parisii tribe, 100-50 BCE.


Coins were created in Lydia possibly as early as 640 BCE, and coinage spread quickly to Greece and into Europe, as it made trading so much simpler. Many Celtic tribes minted coins in their regional centers, mostly in gold and silver. Celts began by copying Macedonian and Greek coins, including the Greek inscriptions. Their coins showed riders on horseback and wild-haired charioteers. Gradually the Celts reduced these images to a series of dots and squiggles, so that the horse was only just recognizable in this typically Celtic abstract style.

The Metalsmith’s Art

A horse on an ornamental bronze axe (hatchet), from Hallstatt, Austria. Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

The Celts were masters of metalwork – their skills far exceeded those of the Greeks and Romans. Metalsmiths decorated nearly everything, from the simplest cloak pin to swords. In the Hallstatt period, life-like images of people and animals were feature, but during the La Tène period decoration became increasingly abstracted.


Iron Age, 50 BCE - AD 50 From Desborough, Northamptonshire, England

A Hidden Face

Several beautifully decorated bronze Celtic mirrors have survived. One surface is polished to a high sheen, and the mirror was suspended by a hole in the handle when not in use. When the mirror found at Holcombe in England is turned upside down, a scary little face appears that cannot be seen when the mirror is held right way up – hidden faces were a favorite trick of the Celtic artists.

The decoration on the back of the mirror and pattern is very complex: a clover-leaf pattern is symmetrically repeated on the left- and right-hand side of the mirror. The pattern may have been laid out using a compass.

Recent archaeologists have suggested that mirrors should be seen as symbols of female status and power, making as significant a statement for women as swords did for men. [1]




The Basse Yütz flagons, which are very similar but not quite identical, are dated to around 500 BCE and demonstrate many metalsmithing techniques. The body of each flagon was hammered into shape from a flat sheet of bronze. The ducks and the animals were made by casting. The animals’ bodies are decorated with incising and punching. Coral and enamel inlay and color to the neck and base.

A Metalsmith’s Hoard

Gold torcs (neck rings) represent some of the finest work of Celtic artists. The magnificent Snettisham torc was plowed up in a field in Norfolk, England in 1950. It weighs 38 ounces and was made of eight twisted wires, each with eight stands, soldered into two hollow, decorated rings. A metalsmith buried the torc for safety with the rest of his stock – finished pieces, broken pieces and some scrap metal – but never retrieved.

The Great Torque, from Snettisham, Norfolk. Made of eight 'ropes' twisted together, each 'rope' has eight strands of gold

The Snettisham torc was made from electrum, an alloy of three parts gold to two parts silver.  Silver was more valuable than gold because it was rarer, and was thus used more sparingly.


Vix torc

Many artifacts have survived in excellent condition because they were found buried in graves or tombs: gold torcs from Ireland and Hallstatt (above) and a horned helmet (below) are examples.

This Celtic horned helmet was found in the River Thames (near Waterloo Bridge), and dates from 150-50 BCE, during which time this area may have fallen within Cantii territory.

Journey to the Next Life

Careful preparation of burials for everyone from the most humble to the wealthiest Celtic is testimony to the belief in a life after death. Bronze funerary carts found in some Celtic graves show a Goddess directing the process leading the soul of the person into the next life.

“Poulnabrone Portal Tomb (dolmen) in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland ” (Photo credit: Jason Sturner 72)

HERE TO ETERNITY The portal tomb (above) with its large slab roof was especially prevalent in Ireland. Most people were buried with their prized belongings, such as this ceramic urn (above).


A ceramic urn found in the funeral mound of Lann-Tinikei at Plomeur, Morbihan, on the south coast of Brittany. Musee de Antiquities Nationales, Germain-en-Laye, France. Located in: Musee des Antiquites Nationales.

Ceramic urn discovered in a funeral mound at Plomeur, Morbihan, in Brittany. Decorated with juxtaposed stamped geometric shapes based on metal originals the pottery typifies the transitional period during the fifth century B.C. from the Hallstatt to the La Tene. Used as cremation urns they have been found in tumulus burial places, but mainly in flat grave cemeteries which often also hold standing stones carved into geometric shapes.

The Feast of Samhain Held in Ireland around November 1 each year, at the beginning of winter, the feast of Samhain celebrated the summer’s end. The Irish Celts believed that this was a time of chaos, when the division between the gods and mortals, and between the living and the dead broke down – those in the spirit world could then interfere with the living. This ancient Celtic feast is the origin of celebrating Halloween.

Horses and Wagons

Wagons were placed in graves to provide transport to the next life, although the horses were too valuable to be buried. Three sets of elaborate bronze horse-trappings could be put into a grave – one set for the owner’s riding horse and two for the draft horses that would pull the wagon

One of the most important and best documented excavations of a Celtic burial mound belongs to "The Prince of Hochdorf." At some time around 550 BC, a Celtic noble was buried under a mound in what is now Eberdingen-Hochdorf (Baden-Württemberg) Deutschland/Germany.

Rich burials, like those of the Hochdorf prince and the Mont Lassois (Vix) princess show the elaborate preparation of the burial of high-ranking Celts. Both include all the elaborate preparation of the burial of high-ranking Celts. Both include all the equipment for the feasts the Celts loved and must have looked forward to in the next life.

The Afterlife

Classical writers and the Irish poets recorded many ideas about the afterlife, including the concept of soul passing from one body to another, or of the soul continuing to control a person’s body after death. Celts thought they could enjoy a land of peace and harmony after death, though warriors could still enjoy the combat they loved on earth. Ancient records also make mention of a dangerous place where the dead might have to defeat terrifying monsters.

Phiale (offering plate) found at the princess of Vix tomb

ROYAL ACCESSORIES Found in the tomb of a princess, who lived in Vix, France, in the late 6th century BCE, were a phiale (left) made from silver and gold and a chariot (reconstruction below), in which the princess was laid for burial. At Himlingoje, Denmark, a woman was buried with precious possessions (click here).

Reconstruction of a Chariot Found at the Tomb of a Princess of Vix

Gifts to the Gods

Celtic God Cernunnos, holding and wearing torcs

Celtic religion is something of a mystery, but it is known that Celts worshipped both Gods and Goddesses and that their religion was based on nature. The Celts rarely built stone temples for their gods, as the Greeks and Romans did. Instead, they visited simple shrines in remote places, such as in clearings in the woods, and near lakes, rivers and springs, for worship and to make offerings.

Three Mothers

The Morrigan: Badb, Macha and Anu

Celts worshipped three mother Goddesses who are associated with war – Morrigan, Macha and Badb, who were known The Morrigna (the great queens). They were also Goddesses of the earth and fertility. The number three represented strength, and is common in art and beliefs.  The Goddess Brighid was another Triple Goddess worshipped by the Celts.

from "Celtic Gods Celtic Goddesses" by R.J.Stewart, artwork Miranda Gray.

GODDESS OF THE RIVER SEINE A bronze figurine of the Goddess Sequana in flowing robes on a boat with its prow shaped like the head of a duck.

GODDESS OF THE RIVER SEINE A bronze figurine of the Goddess Sequana in flowing robes on a boat with its prow shaped like the head of a duck.

At the Source of the Seine

The Goddess Sequana presided over a healing shrine at the source of the Seine in France. Pilgrims made offerings to the Goddess and stayed to be healed. Their gifts, or votives, often represented the part of the body to be healed – such as limbs, eyes, breasts and models or carvings of internal organs.

Discovered in 1937, this bronze figure of the goddess Sequana, riding a duck-shaped barge, may have graced a temple built in Roman times at the source of the Seine River, where sick pilgrims journeyed in search of cures. The statue is some eighteen inches high.

Into the Water

Celts saw water as a transition between this world and the next. In the 1st century BCE, Celtic people at Llyn Cerrig Bach in Wales threw swords, spears, shields, chariot and horse harness fittings, trumpets, cauldrons and ironworkers’ tools into the water as an offering to the Gods. Some items had never been used.

The people might have been seeking protection against the advance of the Roman armies, or giving the Gods their spoils of war.


Janus Stone, Boa Island, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland

The Janus Stone is regarded as one of the most enigmatic and remarkable stone figures in Ireland.  It is called a Janus-figure because it has two faces, reminding some of the Roman two-headed deity Janus, however, it is not a representation of Janus. It is thought to represent a Celtic deity and could represent a Celtic goddess as readily as a god, especially given the name of the island.

In Celtic culture, heads were very important because they were thought to contain a person’s spirit after their death. Severed heads were taken in triumph after battles. [2]

Cult of the Skulls Celts cut off the heads of enemies they had slain in battle and attached them to the necks of their horses. They believed the soul resided in the head and that the head of the enemy had magical powers – taking the head gave the warrior control over their enemy. They also nailed heads to their houses and gave them to temples as part of the spoils of war.

Celts Against Rome

By the 1st century BCE the Romans had most of Gaul under control. But in 58 BCE the Celtic Helvetii tribe attempted to migrate out of Switzerland, under pressure from the tribes of the north. As the Helvetii confronted Caesar’s forces, some Celts started to rebel under the leadership of Vercingetorix.

Although the Roman army was far more sophisticated, its Celtic opponents, such as the heroic Vercingetorix, had a reputation for fierceness on the battlefield.

"Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar", 1899, by Lionel Noel Royer

Vercingetorix’s rebellion ended in defeat because, despite the number and skill of his warriors, he couldn’t outdo battle-hardened Caesar. This young chief of the Averni was chosen to lead a confederation of Celtic tribes against Rome. Forced by Caesar to retreat into the town of Alesia, he eventually surrendered in 52 BCE, ans was taken back to Rome and executed six years later. Celtic culture gradually disappeared, and Europe – but not the British Isles – was gradually Romanized.

In 58 BCE Julius Caesar was appointed to the governorship of Gaul. He had six strong Roman legions under his command, and he saw an opportunity to achieve great glory and acquire more power in Rome. Caesar was known for his speed and decisiveness in war and strategic brilliance as a general.

MILITARY TRIUMPHS Julius Caesar inspired his soldiers in battle. Here he leads his army into Great Britain (55-54 BCE).

Caesar’s Books To publicize his victories and glorify himself, Caesar wrote about his campaigns of 58 to 51 BCE. His book – de bello gallico or The Gallic War – recorded many details of Celtic society, not just war, in Gaul at the time. Caesar admired the strength and abilities of the Celtic warriors and said that “A united Gaul forming a single nation animated by the same spirit can defy the universe.”

Celts in Battle

The physical appearance of the Celtic warriors was intimidating for the Ancient Greeks who whose average height was shorter comparing to the Celts.

The ancient Greek writer Strabo said the Celts had noting on their side in war except their own strength and courage, and that they were easily outwitted. The tribes were evenly matched fighting each other and often contained combat to avoid a full-scale war. In battle their main tactic was to create fear and pandemonium among their opponents. However, the Celts were no match for the disciplined Roman army of experienced and strategic generals like Caesar.

The Noise of Battle

Celtic warrior weapons were the usual: swords spears hammers and axes as well as bow and arrows, long bows and booby traps.

Celtic warriors not only looked frightening; they also made a tremendous noise on the battlefield, yelling and beating their wooden shields to intimidate the enemies. Celts used the carnyx to add to the racket. Dozens of these trumpets – twice the height of the man carrying it, and with an animals’ head on top – made terrifying blasts.

Still to this day people with Celtic heritage are a very proud people as a whole and attempt to incorporate that what little information we have available into their daily spiritual lives. Various Neopagan groups claim association with Celtic polytheism. These groups range from the Reconstructionists, who work to practice ancient Celtic religion with as much accuracy as possible; to new age, eclectic groups who take some of their inspiration from Celtic mythology and iconography, the most notable of which is Neo-druidry.

And with that, this concludes our journey.  This was a very broad overview on a very large and in depth subject.  I hope that you’ve found some interesting information in this two part blog that would spark further research and investigation on your own.  At the bottom of this blog, I’ve included some links to some very good pages (in my opinion) that are packed full of detailed information.” (Excerpt from “The Celts – How the Barbarians Tamed Europe ” – Ancient Civilizations, by International Masters Publishers, pp. 10-19)

Suggested Links:

The Ancient Celts
Celtic Art
Celtic Culture
Celtic History: The Ancient Celtic Warriors of Europe
History of the Goddess Worshipers
The Lives of Ancient Celtic Women
The Power of Women in Celtic Society: Female Druids
The Religion of the Celts
Why Wicca Is Not Celtic