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Uncovering one of Europe's greatest civilizations For centuries the Celts held sway in Europe. Even after their conquest by the Romans, their culture remained vigorous, ensuring that much of it endured to feed an endless fascination with Celtic history and myths, artwork and treasures.Peter Berresford Ellis, a foremost authority on the Celtic peoples and their culture, Uncovering one of Europe's greatest civilizations For centuries the Celts held sway in Europe. Even after their conquest by the Romans, their culture remained vigorous, ensuring that much of it endured to feed an endless fascination with Celtic history and myths, artwork and treasures.Peter Berresford Ellis, a foremost authority on the Celtic peoples and their culture, presents an invigorating overview of their world. With his gift for making the scholarly accessible, he discusses the Celts' mysterious origins and early history, and investigates their rich and complex society. His use of recently uncovered finds brings fascinating insights into Celtic kings and chieftains, architecture, arts, medicine, religion, myths and legends, making this essential reading for any search for Europe's ancient past. "[A] vivid and enlightening representation of a fascinating civilization. Anyone interested in the ancient world will find in it an informative and enjoyable adjustment of many assumptions about the Celts." David Rankin, The Times Higher Education Supplement "This book must become the standard introduction for anyone interested in Europe's ancient Celtic civilisation." Contemporary Review


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Uncovering one of Europe's greatest civilizations For centuries the Celts held sway in Europe. Even after their conquest by the Romans, their culture remained vigorous, ensuring that much of it endured to feed an endless fascination with Celtic history and myths, artwork and treasures.Peter Berresford Ellis, a foremost authority on the Celtic peoples and their culture, Uncovering one of Europe's greatest civilizations For centuries the Celts held sway in Europe. Even after their conquest by the Romans, their culture remained vigorous, ensuring that much of it endured to feed an endless fascination with Celtic history and myths, artwork and treasures.Peter Berresford Ellis, a foremost authority on the Celtic peoples and their culture, presents an invigorating overview of their world. With his gift for making the scholarly accessible, he discusses the Celts' mysterious origins and early history, and investigates their rich and complex society. His use of recently uncovered finds brings fascinating insights into Celtic kings and chieftains, architecture, arts, medicine, religion, myths and legends, making this essential reading for any search for Europe's ancient past. "[A] vivid and enlightening representation of a fascinating civilization. Anyone interested in the ancient world will find in it an informative and enjoyable adjustment of many assumptions about the Celts." David Rankin, The Times Higher Education Supplement "This book must become the standard introduction for anyone interested in Europe's ancient Celtic civilisation." Contemporary Review

30 review for The Celts: A History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎

    This book provides an overview of the world of the Celts, it is divided into 15 chapters including origins, kings and chieftains, druids, warriors, women, farmers, cosmology, art and architecture, religion, myths and legends etc. While I liked the author’s interesting links to their Indo-European roots, I'd like to warn the reader that this book is very heavy on the linguistic aspect. Especially in the first half of the book, the Celtic roots of words are used as evidence for pretty much anything This book provides an overview of the world of the Celts, it is divided into 15 chapters including origins, kings and chieftains, druids, warriors, women, farmers, cosmology, art and architecture, religion, myths and legends etc. While I liked the author’s interesting links to their Indo-European roots, I'd like to warn the reader that this book is very heavy on the linguistic aspect. Especially in the first half of the book, the Celtic roots of words are used as evidence for pretty much anything. I would have liked more emphasis on the evidence from the archaeological finds rather than on the etymology of terms. For this reason, I preferred the second half of the book and in particular the interesting chapter on religion, which explains the belief that the soul dwelt in the human head (with the consequent Celtic practice of human decapitation) and the origin of Halloween (the night when the Otherworld would become visible to this world). Sadly missing is a timeline of important events, dates and the different periods (Hallstatt, La Tène, etc), which I found odd given the book’s title. I read this book as an introduction to the Celts and in the end, my curiosity has been piqued, it made me want to learn more about these fascinating people and culture. An interesting fact that will stick with me: “Divorce was permitted for a variety of reasons, and men and women had equal rights to divorce each other. One reason a woman could divorce in Irish law was if her husband snored.” I can understand that.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Travelin

    The final update: I've been meaning to add the last few excerpts I'd underlined, but yet another inaccuracy reared its head, like a teenager at the bit. My edition, "copyright 1998, 2003", but copyright the author 1988, seems to make no mention of discoveries from 1996 (mentioned in my The Cut Throat Celts, copyright 1997), of Romans in Hibernia. The argument can be made, and has been, that there is difference between Romans invading vs. Romans merely visiting early Ireland, but, given that this The final update: I've been meaning to add the last few excerpts I'd underlined, but yet another inaccuracy reared its head, like a teenager at the bit. My edition, "copyright 1998, 2003", but copyright the author 1988, seems to make no mention of discoveries from 1996 (mentioned in my The Cut Throat Celts, copyright 1997), of Romans in Hibernia. The argument can be made, and has been, that there is difference between Romans invading vs. Romans merely visiting early Ireland, but, given that this book mentions Roman historical records, a discussion, at the very least of those 1996 discoveries would give the book more credit. It may also be worth mentioning that this book is from the same publisher of A Brief History of Infinity: The Quest to Think the Unthinkable, which has substantially worse problems of clarity and/or organization. -- Livy, or Henri Hubert, "he" stated that Celtic expansion happened because the Celtic heartland had become overpopulated. -- "the search for the magic cauldron of plenty...turned in the search for the Holy Grail" -- "There are at least 25 identified Arthurian tales in Irish from the medieval period." -- Fionn Mac Cumhail was always more popular as an Irish hero than Arthur. -- Among several magic cauldrons was the cauldron of rebirth, "whereby the dead are put in and come out alive." -- Kings of Thrace had Celtic names up to 192 BC. -- Celts who crossed into Asia Minor settled in the central plain of today's Turkey, making their capital at Ankara -- Celtic mercenaries often joined groups fighting Rome, but turned down large sums from Rome itself. -- Celtic warriors for Ptolemy tried to take Egypt for themselves but were starved to death on an island in the Nile. -- Viridomarus challenged Marcellus to single combat, in the Celtic style, and Marcellus not only accepted, but beat Viridomarus, whereby the Celtic army crumbled. -- Celts of the Po Valley, unlike some mountain cousins, were not warlike. -- Hannibal's army was over 50% Celtic in the Po Valley. -- Flaminius had a Celtic chieftain who surrendered himself, slaughtered along with his family, to entertain his boyfriend. -- Mithridates died at the hands of a Celt. -- Celts and Dacians in today's Romania defeated the Romans, although some people believe the tribes Cimbri and Teutones, were Germans, not Celts -- There appears to be no evidence of large-scale Celtic migration (to Ireland?) Rather, Celts appear to have fled to to Ireland from at least 5th century BC Semi-final excerpts, from pg 120 onwards, before I foist this on some new victim bound by duty. Keep in mind that many facts may be accurate, but their analysis is suspect, as hinted at by a subtle contradiction in sequencing discussed in the comment section. Update from pg 120 to end. -- 4th century play to look up, by a Gaul, "Querolus", about a Celtic astrologer. -- From the 11th century, Arabic cosmology displaced Ptolemy in europe. -- Ellis wonders in passing whether ancient Celts were "a sea-going people." -- Refers to a curragh as a "river vessel". To the degree that he is right, one of my ancestors is said to have drowned in the Atlantic using something similar. -- "Early Irish texts speak of their ancestors arriving from the Iberian peninsula" -- "Severed human heads abound" in Celtic coins. -- "Celts used cross motifs as solar symbols, including the swastika-style cross which evolved into Brigit's cross" -- Smiths were ranked with the "high intellectual caste of society." -- Depiction of Celtic deity Cernunnos from AD 14-37 found beneath the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. -- "Celts believed their origins lay with mother goddess, Danu, who fell from heaven and whose waters created the Danube. From there sprang he pantheon of gods known as The Children of Dau" -- "Most of the major Celtic deities were in the form of a triune of gods and goddesses -- three aspects, three names, three faces, or three heads, very common to the Indo-European tradition" -- A Gaulish Celt, Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, in his great work "De Trinitate" defined the concept of the Holy Trinity for the first time. -- "Nuada, ruler of the gods in Ireland, surrendered his rule to Lugh, master of all crafts and skills." -- "The famous decapitation game in 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' has its origins in Celtic myth." -- "The Celts celebrated birth with mourning for the death in the Otherworld, and regarded death with joy for birth in the Otherworld" -- One Irish name for the Otherworld to the West, Hy-Breasail, Bresal's Island was considered so real that the first Portuguese explorer thought he'd discovered it and named it Brazil. -- "The notion of Truth as the highest principle and sustaining power of creation pervaded all early Irish literature [Professor Miles Dillon]" -- Celtic Christian theologian Pelagius argued against pre-ordained original sin without free will, as prescribed by Augustine of Hippo. The argument of Pelagius ultimately prevailed, although Pelagius is still considered a heretic and Augustine a saint. -- Christian clerics, "eager to denigrate pagan beliefs of their ancestors", never describe a tradition of human sacrifice. -- "Ireland was the only Celtic land to escape Roman conquest." -- "The old gods and goddesses are defeated and are forced to retreat underground, becoming 'sidhe' or 'people of the hills', known in folklore as 'fairies' -- "The great god of arts and crafts, Lugh, was demoted to 'Lugh chronain (stooping Lugh), Anglicised as 'leprechaun'". -- Legends -- Cycle of the Kings: Flaithius, "obviously a goddess of sovereignty...appeared as an ugly hag, with black skin and green teeth, demanding that Niall of the Nine Hostages and his companions have intercourse with her. Only Niall does so, whereupon she turns into a beautiful goddess" -- Fenian Cycle too. -- "This vibrant mythology is based on 150 stories, while a further 450 remain unedited and untranslated." -- "Irish mythology seems to share a curious Mediterranean warmth with its fellow Indo-European cultures. The brooding blackness that permeates Nordic myth is not there." -- "Death is never the conqueror...the Celts were one of the first cultures in Europe to evolve a doctrine of the immortality of the soul" -- Interesting story of "Hanes Taliesin", a 6th century poet sometimes conflated with Merlin. -- "only complete Celtic mythological texts are from insular Celts, not as much from Continental or Gaulish Celts." -- Livy may have been a Celt whose histories were influenced by Celtic oral tales. Here begins a first update which contains underlines not already in my GR updates, probably from page 162 onwards. Some of my comments in the review below may not be fair, since the shotgun organization went everywhere, often, while seldom hitting me. 1) Ellis, following the line of thought of one book he cites several times, spends a lot of time matching Sanskrit writings and practices with ancient Irish ones. This is most intriguing to me when he suggests that the intellectual castes and the leadership position of the Druids are based on the intellectual hierarchy in the Hindu Vedas. -- Words in the Vedic laws of Manu are very similar (in written form) to the Celtic Brehon laws. -- "Hindus and Celts worshipped sacred rivers and made votive offerings there." The Vedic myth of the mother goddess Danu may have become "Danuvius ... the first great Celtic sacred river", or more simply, the Danube. -- "Celts have been painted as warlike, flamboyant, given to excess in alcohol and food and hardly more than high-spirited children." -- "Only the Greeks, with the exception of those Greeks in Roman employment, tended to be unbiased commentators on the Celtic world." -- "The earliest Celtic inscriptions occur in the Etruscan alphabet...none have so far been interpreted." -- In the Christian era, "Irish took its place as Europe's third oldest literary language, after Greek and Latin" -- [Benignus wrote] that "Patrick, in his missionary zeal, burnt 180 books of the Druids" -- "Irish Christian sources are all fairly clear that books existed in Ireland before the coming of Christianity" -- "The oldest surviving medical books in Irish date from the early 14th century and constitute the largest collection of medical manuscript literature, prior to 1800, in any one language." -- West was the direction of the Celtic Otherworld. "The phrase 'To go west' was a euphemism for death in English. -- Only one Celtic area has never matched the princely burials of the Continent, and that is Ireland. -- The Romans ritually slaughtered up to 50 Celtic leaders at a time to celebrate various Roman triumphs. Ellis uses this as an example that Romans were as equally prone to human sacrifice as the Celts. -- Caractus, the over-king of southern Britian, was taken by the Romans and somehow saved his family's life with his eloquence. -- The two houses of the Ui Neill dynasty -- for now, a Prince in Portugal and a Marques in Spain -- can trace their lines back to Nial of the Nine Hostages, from AD 379-405. -- "Many of the early Celtic (Christian) saints where Druids or children of Druids. The new religion became "the Celtic Church" -- "Generally, the Celts were not interested in central authority and discipline...In modern times these attibutes are seen as laudable. In ancient times, they were the reason for the downfall of the Celtic peoples." I've been browsing 3 books about the Celts, wildly different and some blending quite favourably into the imaginary. Dozens of underlines later in this particular bad compromise between fete and encyclopedia, I am slightly indifferent to its factual basis and utterly bored finding or reviewing what worked. To be honest, modern Ireland often has men who are more encyclopedic than colourful, which may explain why the oral tradition didn't produce a memorable history by the time the Christian era arrived. That's admitting, by Ellis's estimates, that some 2/3 of the ancient literature has never even been translated. Ellis made one really strange organizational decision, probably predicated on his need to show that Celts were highly cultured, not the crazed warriors of Roman history, which appears to be the main pre-Christian history available. Ellis put the detailed history of Celtic wars, kings, and tribes at the end of the book. Then, possibly because the Romans were the ones finishing the stories, he stops short, absolutely every single time, of completing the stories, always as the really interesting details are starting. The chapters preceding this have no similar sense of order. Tribes and eras hundreds of years apart are lumped together as "Celtic" if Ellis wants to show that they were good at one time or another at, say, farming. It may also be a mistake to dwell almost entirely on the pre-Christian era. Christianity seems to have defined modern Celts almost as much as the Byzantine Orthodox era made the modern Greeks, not that I am asking for a treatment of theological questions in any way, just accomplishments once the Celts started writing down their own histories. There really are some excellent and intriguing quotes, so I'll put them here soon, so none of us has to carry the whole book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Myke Cole

    This is an excellent survey of the Celts from their earliest days through the dawn of Christianity. There is some exploration of modern Celts, but very little, and only to tie off investigative threads. Ellis is a master of his subject, and clearly a Celtophile. The only reason the book isn't 5-stars is because of his naked effort to lionize Celtic legacy. While he does much to rectify the bigoted and ignorant testimony of Greek and Roman historians (pretty much the only textual evidence we have This is an excellent survey of the Celts from their earliest days through the dawn of Christianity. There is some exploration of modern Celts, but very little, and only to tie off investigative threads. Ellis is a master of his subject, and clearly a Celtophile. The only reason the book isn't 5-stars is because of his naked effort to lionize Celtic legacy. While he does much to rectify the bigoted and ignorant testimony of Greek and Roman historians (pretty much the only textual evidence we have), he also raises the suspicion that he will err on the side of cultural hagiography, as indeed he does in his reckoning of Celtic military motivations (i.e. Brennus' sack of Rome), and advances in military technology and doctrine. Every historian brings their specialty to the table, and Ellis is clearly a linguist. Much of the book explores the history of Celtic tradition through language, and this is particularly effective when Ellis uses it as a means to tie Celtic and Indian traditions in a way that gives a lot of support to suppositions of a proto-Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that splintered into the cultures we today reckon as Europeans and Indians. It's well written to the point where the author's enthusiasm for his topic becomes contagious, which makes it an enjoyable read as well as an informative one. Recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Markus

    The Celts By Peter Beresford Ellis This ‘Brief History of the Celts’ is an introduction and a tiny piece of a mosaic to knowledge and understanding of the Celtic Civilisation. It is the door handle to open the door to further reading. We have a few pages on each subject: the origins, the (absent) literature, the kings and chieftains, the druids, the Celtic warriors, the women, the farmers, the physicians, cosmology, the roadbuilders, the architecture, artists and craftsmen, religion, myths and legen The Celts By Peter Beresford Ellis This ‘Brief History of the Celts’ is an introduction and a tiny piece of a mosaic to knowledge and understanding of the Celtic Civilisation. It is the door handle to open the door to further reading. We have a few pages on each subject: the origins, the (absent) literature, the kings and chieftains, the druids, the Celtic warriors, the women, the farmers, the physicians, cosmology, the roadbuilders, the architecture, artists and craftsmen, religion, myths and legends and history. However, the author's enthusiasm and love of the Celts compensate for the shortness of this book. He is eagerly trying to correct all the wrong and false perceptions of a culture that was created mainly by superficial and jealous propaganda by the Roman Ceasars and historical writers. Notably, Julius Caesar has mentioned the Celts in his Gallic War and other writings as savage barbarians without any technical knowledge, or agriculture feeding only on meat and clothing themselves in hides of beasts. The reality was entirely different as we shall read. The author provides a geographical and historical map of the expansion of the Celts during the first millennium BC. The original Celtic homeland was situated in Central Europe in what is modern Eastern France and Western Germany. From there the Celts migrated to North England and Ireland, the South West to Spain, to the South to Northern Italy and South East as far as Greece and Galatia (today’s Turkey). During this migration over time different Celtic cultures have been defined by archaeology: Hallstatt Culture La Téne Culture Cisalpine Gaul Transalpine Gaul To the Celts, warfare was a matter of honour which could begin and end with single combat. Generally, the Celts were not interested in central authority and discipline. They thought and acted as individuals and were natural anarchists. (this behaviour could make the reader think of a modern European Nation) In ancient times these attributes were the reason for the downfall of the Celtic people. As so often while reading one book, we meet old acquaintances like the beautiful poem by W.B.Yeats of “Oisin” who rode off to the Otherworld on a magical horse with Niamh, daughter of the sea god, and stayed there for 300 years. On the Celtic legends, we learn of a group of stories ‘The Fenian Cycle.’ These are sometimes known as the “OssianicCycle”. This work is now on my reading shelf. To the modern popular mind, the most famous Celtic mythological figure is “Arthur”. He was undoubtedly a historical person, living during the late fifth and early sixth century. Over the next few centuries, the Celts embellished his story with earlier mythological themes, giving him a special circle of warriors, who later became the Knights of the Round Table. May reader friends now select one of a variety of reasons to read this book and choose related works for further readings.

  5. 5 out of 5

    CJ - It's only a Paper Moon

    Informative as always. Especially loved the chapters on women, religion and ancient history. Good book to pick up if you are interested in Celtic History. Ellis' voice is informative and interesting and knowledgeable. Please note that is a Cultural Anthropological book and even to pare it down further, a Socially Cultural book. If you want something dry, based purely on fact and numbers then this book is not one you want to pick up. Also not recommended for those interested in only Insular Celti Informative as always. Especially loved the chapters on women, religion and ancient history. Good book to pick up if you are interested in Celtic History. Ellis' voice is informative and interesting and knowledgeable. Please note that is a Cultural Anthropological book and even to pare it down further, a Socially Cultural book. If you want something dry, based purely on fact and numbers then this book is not one you want to pick up. Also not recommended for those interested in only Insular Celtic History.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Sort of dry. I learned a lot, but it's like digesting pig iron. The author crams a lot of information into a short book (just over 200 pages). I often found my eyes glazing over as I re-read paragraphs filled with names I have no idea how to pronounce. Each chapter focuses on some aspect of Celtic civilization, so that makes things easier. And the chapters are short. But it's probably a story that needs to be told in a much longer book, and written with greater style.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kate Robinson

    I found myself surprisingly enthralled with this book. Despite the fact that it is littered with impossible to pronounce names, it is an entertaining portrait of a tribe of people that it turns out I knew nothing about. Certain chapters were more interesting than others, but on the whole well worth the read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kendra

    For such a small book (221 pages), and considering it had to skim through so much, it was chock-full of information. The author did a really good job of giving information about assorted Celtic tribes from all over Europe, rather then focusing on a specific area, such as Ireland. He compared and contrasted some of the major tribes, and then went in to some very interesting descriptions on what the Celts did, that the Romans end up being known for. Not a difficult or tedious read, rather enjoyabl For such a small book (221 pages), and considering it had to skim through so much, it was chock-full of information. The author did a really good job of giving information about assorted Celtic tribes from all over Europe, rather then focusing on a specific area, such as Ireland. He compared and contrasted some of the major tribes, and then went in to some very interesting descriptions on what the Celts did, that the Romans end up being known for. Not a difficult or tedious read, rather enjoyable, and totally fascinating!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Olimpia

    It is a thoroughly researched book and a great introduction to the world of the Celts, who, at least here in Italy, are overlooked when learning history. It's good to get a different point of view that isn't the one of the Roma or the the Greek or their descendents. At the same time, I could have done without this point being repeated oer and over, because it was clear from the impressive narration iself. I'd suggest reading it if you want to discover more about the origins of extended European c It is a thoroughly researched book and a great introduction to the world of the Celts, who, at least here in Italy, are overlooked when learning history. It's good to get a different point of view that isn't the one of the Roma or the the Greek or their descendents. At the same time, I could have done without this point being repeated oer and over, because it was clear from the impressive narration iself. I'd suggest reading it if you want to discover more about the origins of extended European culture and history.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nan

    A fascinating look at an ancient, influential, but overlooked European group that is ancestral to most Americans. Ellis is obviously a celtophile, attributing so much of what are considered Roman advances to ideas lifted from the long-fought and eventually conquered Celts. I gave this book to my son, who's in love with the Romans, knowing that it would add to his understanding of them.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lilaia Moreli

    With plans to write a historical novel that deals partly with the Celts of the Iron Age, I had to make a serious research into the Celtic society and study its structures and the way it functioned. Ellis's A Brief History of the Celts provided me with a good and solid material for a start. The writing is clear, precise and easily understood, making the book accessible for anybody who wishes to become familiar with the topic. Ellis offers details and cites many sources, thus making his work relia With plans to write a historical novel that deals partly with the Celts of the Iron Age, I had to make a serious research into the Celtic society and study its structures and the way it functioned. Ellis's A Brief History of the Celts provided me with a good and solid material for a start. The writing is clear, precise and easily understood, making the book accessible for anybody who wishes to become familiar with the topic. Ellis offers details and cites many sources, thus making his work reliable. But he doesn't get lost in them and that's positive because it makes the book informative and not heavy and dry. He focuses his efforts on deconstructing the biased myths the Romans perpetuated, shedding light on the true identity of the Celtic peoples. The Celts were not child-like savages fond of blood and war as the Romans had painted them. They had created a vast civilization with their own beliefs, philosophy and religion that extended all over Europe and not only. What made a great impression on me was the fact that the various Celtic tribes had built an incredible net of communication between them in both Europe and Asia. Something that indicates the close bonds they shared as well as the fact that they were conscious of their nationality and common ancestry. Ellis gives us a glimpse into the various aspects of their world such as their warriors, their philosophy, their intellectual caste of the Druids, the position of women, their cosmology and their literary tradition. We have only scratched the surface so far. Our knowledge of this civilization grows day by day. What we have discovered until now is stunning, but it's only the tip. The future surely has a lot more to unearth before our eyes.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Unfortunately I let a good deal of time laps between reading this book and writing the review, so this book is not fresh in my mind, but I recall that this was a very eye-opening look at the Celts, who seem to get little attention paid to them in popular culture except as a stand-in for modern Irish people (or Irish-Americans), which seems like a disservice. The chapter on Celtic women was super interesting, and brought to my attention the story of Boudica, one of the great revenge fulfillment st Unfortunately I let a good deal of time laps between reading this book and writing the review, so this book is not fresh in my mind, but I recall that this was a very eye-opening look at the Celts, who seem to get little attention paid to them in popular culture except as a stand-in for modern Irish people (or Irish-Americans), which seems like a disservice. The chapter on Celtic women was super interesting, and brought to my attention the story of Boudica, one of the great revenge fulfillment stories in history. Looking forward to a film adaptation of her story of waging a brutal war against the Romans after her daughters were raped and their kingdom stripped from them, a la Death Wish, Braveheart or Gladiator. Another thing that stuck with me was the idea that people seem to think that the Celts were illiterate, when in fact they had a religious proscription on writing down their teachings (e.g. philosophy, religion, history), but were actually fully capable of writing things down. It's an interesting belief, but also a sad one, because it means there's a lot less documentary evidence of Celtic belief (and indeed Celtic languages) than one would hope. I think this has piqued my interest in Celtic society, and I'm very interested to read more books of a similarly high quality, if they are available.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Edward Rathke

    I really enjoyed this. I understand that some of the scholarship is already outdated, as this is thirty years old, but I still found it fascinating. The way he connects very distant cultures together is also interesting and definitely presents some facts that just don't have clear answers. Like the similarities between the Vedic texts of India and what we know of early Irish and Welsh religious beliefs. Not that distant cultures don't often have similar ideas, especially when it comes to spiritu I really enjoyed this. I understand that some of the scholarship is already outdated, as this is thirty years old, but I still found it fascinating. The way he connects very distant cultures together is also interesting and definitely presents some facts that just don't have clear answers. Like the similarities between the Vedic texts of India and what we know of early Irish and Welsh religious beliefs. Not that distant cultures don't often have similar ideas, especially when it comes to spirituality, but it still is pretty fascinating. And Ellis's enthusiasm for the subject really makes you feel that just about anything is possible! So, yes, lots to chew on here. How true some of these conjectures are seems to still be hotly debated, but I think the core of what he argues here is reasonable. That being that the Celts were never a homogenous group in the way we may like to think about them, but that they shared linguistic and cultural aspects, and that the Celts were active over a very wide geographical region at different points in prehistory and early known history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julio Gilgorri

    So it turns out I knew next to NOTHING about the Celts and their historical importance. This was pretty amazing, and the writing is clear but entertaining. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who wants a primer on Celtic history!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Regina Lindsey

    Ellis traces the broad history of Celtic migration and influence on Europe from the time they emerge around 6th century B.C. through the dawn of the Christian era. Challenging some of the stereotypes Ellis breaks the society down into its origins, laws, religion, arts and sciences, and roles of its members. While I’m focused right now on a deep study into Irish history the books does a great job of framing the overall impact of the Celts into broader world history, even having a fascinating impa Ellis traces the broad history of Celtic migration and influence on Europe from the time they emerge around 6th century B.C. through the dawn of the Christian era. Challenging some of the stereotypes Ellis breaks the society down into its origins, laws, religion, arts and sciences, and roles of its members. While I’m focused right now on a deep study into Irish history the books does a great job of framing the overall impact of the Celts into broader world history, even having a fascinating impact on Brazil. The two most fascinating aspects of the work is how closely Celtic society and religion parallel India’s history and Hinduism and the origins of the modern day Halloween celebrations. In an earlier read on Irish folktales and mythology I couldn’t help but notice the fairy-tale, happy-ever-after nature of the stories. This is more fully explained in Ellis’ work. Further, while I’ve heard the term Druid before I had very little understanding of the role in their society. If Ellis is to be believed (I will get to that in a moment) they are a fascinating study in their own right. The work verifies earlier reads of the continuity of Celtic/Irish history in the absence of Roman conquest. You can’t help but really appreciate the fullness of its history, with two royal lines able to trace its genealogy 3,000 when combined with oral tradition. The advanced nature of aspects of this society rival the astounding nature of ancient Egyptians with a law that seems based on a great deal of common sense and justice. The medical technology and laws regulating it was incredibly progressive with the Irish language claiming the world’s largest collection of medical texts in any one language prior to 1800. This is a quick and easy read but there are a few flaws. First, Ellis is obviously a Celtophile – to the point where he, at times, comes across as not entirely objective. The best example is in dealing with human sacrifice and barbarity of Celtic war. While the argument of “it’s no different than the Romans” may be valid, his approach comes across as a married couple fighting and trying to one up each other on the wrongs committed. It was a little tiresome. He is also a bit repetitive for my taste and he could be contradictory at times. For instance, on one hand he argues that the Church so highly regarded Celtic tradition it absorbed it into its own practices. But, on the other hand, would argue that written history couldn’t be trusted because of the church’s attempt to slander the traditions. Overall, for someone with limited exposure to Celtic history this is a great place to start.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Maya

    Historians who talked about the Celts can be fit into three categories. The first category includes the Classical writers who wrote to demonize them, and the writers who wrote to show how unsophisticated they are. The second category includes the people who wrote to show what a great society they were and how misunderstood they were and those include both modern and classical writers. And the third and final category is the writers who were somewhat unbiased and these are very few. The author of Historians who talked about the Celts can be fit into three categories. The first category includes the Classical writers who wrote to demonize them, and the writers who wrote to show how unsophisticated they are. The second category includes the people who wrote to show what a great society they were and how misunderstood they were and those include both modern and classical writers. And the third and final category is the writers who were somewhat unbiased and these are very few. The author of this book falls in the second category. Peter Ellis set out in his book to tell us the story of the origins of the Celts and their ancient history. Also to show a thematic survey of the Celtic culture, way of life, and what they left behind. On the first count he didn’t do such a good job but on the second he did an amazing job, but not without bias. Though the book has its problems it also has its good points which out way the problems. It gives details that a lot of other writers ignore, or just don’t feel interested in writing about. Keeping the biases of the author aside and reading the book critically you will be able to get a lot of information out of it that give a whole different image to the Ancient Celts.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carla

    A bit biased for my taste, very dense and hard to read on. If not for my interest in the subject I would have quit. Learned some new theories because with everything celtic most of it is hearsay are really light on hard evidence.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chrissy

    A very enjoyable read. Ellis presents a great deal of information in a short book without being overwhelming. Pleasantly packaged in a manner that is neither too dry or lacking in dignity. There is a lot to chew on that I had not considered. The sheer scope of the celtic world is simply amazing (while most of us only think in terms of insular celts and Asterix). My only misgivings about the information in the book is that the author gives SO much credit, and SO much defense to the celtic side of is A very enjoyable read. Ellis presents a great deal of information in a short book without being overwhelming. Pleasantly packaged in a manner that is neither too dry or lacking in dignity. There is a lot to chew on that I had not considered. The sheer scope of the celtic world is simply amazing (while most of us only think in terms of insular celts and Asterix). My only misgivings about the information in the book is that the author gives SO much credit, and SO much defense to the celtic side of issues that I (as a pro-celtic leaner) am made suspicious by the very evident pro-celtic bias that it makes me want to take EVERYTHING in the book with a grain of salt. I was put a little in mind of Ensign Chekov "Inwented in Russia". Still a eye opening little book that will wind up multicolored with highlighter.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Abbey

    I found this book very interesting and enjoyable, though it's obvious that Peter Berresford Ellis is a great partisan of the Celts and rather biased. Having said that, it's a very easy to read book and an excellent introduction to the Celts.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sween McDervish

    Very dry in parts but a concise history of the Celts that mostly focusses on the European Celts (the Gauls) rather than on what Ellis calls the 'insular' Celts, i.e. the ones that remain in Ireland, Scotland France and Spain.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    I loved this book! Lots of insights on the impact of the Celts on the early Christians, and the religious beliefs that were evident of the Celts.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    A very good introduction to the Celts, easy to read and gives you a taste of the different members of society. Not really about the movement of the Celts across Europe or the time-line.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Regina Hunter

    One of the best ive read this year.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Janelle Trees

    He's good this Peter Ellis. He knows his stuff. He's got so much to tell. I imagine it caused him almost physical pain to edit this book down to its little size. I could feel him wince, too, when he saw the brilliant bronze Celtic artefacts reduced to low quality black and white illustrations. The illustrations are better than nothing, though. Enough to make you want to go to the museums (Ellis helpfully tells you which ones things are in) and see the real things. Or clamber up a muddy hill to s He's good this Peter Ellis. He knows his stuff. He's got so much to tell. I imagine it caused him almost physical pain to edit this book down to its little size. I could feel him wince, too, when he saw the brilliant bronze Celtic artefacts reduced to low quality black and white illustrations. The illustrations are better than nothing, though. Enough to make you want to go to the museums (Ellis helpfully tells you which ones things are in) and see the real things. Or clamber up a muddy hill to see the ruins for yourself. You can tell the author loves the Celts. I share some of their values and beliefs, too. And they were the underdogs, eventually defeated by the venal Romans everywhere except Britain and Ireland. The enumeration of battles is perhaps overdone for academic completeness -- there is a map at the front of the book that helps. It's all a bit GoT. I was waiting to hear a story about a woman warrior who commanded dragons. The women who led (and the ordinary women who fought along with) the Celts do get some respect here. The early code of morality and law was impressive -- something for much of the world to still aspire to. Even if I am not comfortable with the practice of keeping the heads of mentors and respected enemies. Ireland's history and culture shines here. Painful in his academic caution and thoroughness at times, Ellis nevertheless persuades you that connections between the Vedic scriptures and the worldview of the Druids are worth exploring. 'Indo-European' people means something that deserves further research and understanding. The neglect of ancient Irish literature is also revealed. The upside of this concise, cheap edition was that this book was small enough to pick up at a train station and read on a journey. I feel I learned enough from it to begin to understand how little I know about the subject. It made me want to go to Ireland, too. But also to look for the Celtic cultures all over Europe, from Ancient Rome (which the Celts occupied until they were paid a hundred pounds of gold as ransom) up to Sweden -- 'Helvetica', which the Celtic tribe of the same name retreated to once it became apparent that the Romans were relentless in their destruction of the Celts.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    Since sending off a swab of my gob juice and then being informed that my DNA was of the Celtic strain, this subject has attracted me. How pleased I was by page ten to find my surname among the forty or so Celtic place names surviving in merrie olde England. Next stop Stonehenge for the summer solstice! 'A Brief History of the Celts' may be the title of this authors study, but it is cram packed with interesting information of bronze and iron age peoples of Britain and Ireland, Gaul, Belgica, Celti Since sending off a swab of my gob juice and then being informed that my DNA was of the Celtic strain, this subject has attracted me. How pleased I was by page ten to find my surname among the forty or so Celtic place names surviving in merrie olde England. Next stop Stonehenge for the summer solstice! 'A Brief History of the Celts' may be the title of this authors study, but it is cram packed with interesting information of bronze and iron age peoples of Britain and Ireland, Gaul, Belgica, Celtiberia and a swath all the way east into modern day Turkey. Rather than my people being woad painted druidic illiterate barbarians, I find brain surgeons, natural philosophers, advanced farmers, accurate astronomers, road builders before they all led to Rome, artists and skilled craftsmen. In fact an advanced civilisation. Peter Beresford Ellis is certainly an authority on this subject. He lights up these dark ages with a knowledge of both ancient Greek and Roman writings, modern archaeology, Indo-European cultural and linguistic links as well as the surviving Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Cornish and Breton languages and literature. I have to admit to a struggle with the names from Irish mythology. I remain unconvinced that 'the Anglo Saxons, who eventually carved 'England' out of the former Celtic territory by forcing the indigenous population to migrate in large waves to such places as Brittany, Galicia and Asturias, and to Ireland. Those who did not migrate were simply massacred.' If that is the case surely a study of DNA should produce a dominance of Anglo Saxon ancestry in England and I'm not sure it would, but it would be interesting to find such a study.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Patrick

    First off, the author is pretty biased towards his subject. Now, everything has bias, but Ellis becomes quite the cheerleader. Whatever subject he is talking about, the Celts did it earlier and better (especially compared to the Romans), and it probably goes back to Indo-European times since it has connections with Aryan/Sanskrit culture (apparently, the heart and soul of the I-Es was the Celts and the Aryans). The book itself is not all that great--I mean it's fine if you are just looking for ra First off, the author is pretty biased towards his subject. Now, everything has bias, but Ellis becomes quite the cheerleader. Whatever subject he is talking about, the Celts did it earlier and better (especially compared to the Romans), and it probably goes back to Indo-European times since it has connections with Aryan/Sanskrit culture (apparently, the heart and soul of the I-Es was the Celts and the Aryans). The book itself is not all that great--I mean it's fine if you are just looking for random information about Celtic civilization--since each chapter is about a different aspect of Celtic life (druids, farmers, houses, medicine, etc.) so there's no real continuity throughout. The information is also pretty broadly-based high-level stuff--by which I mean that if you wanted to really know what daily life was like in Celtic society, you'd not get that from this book; you just come away knowing that they had druids, doctors, warriors, houses, and farms (just like every society, except the Celtic versions were better).

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert Gebhardt

    This is a history, and somewhat of a hagiography, of the Celts. Much of the book is spent on negating misconceptions about the Celts which have presumably been accepted as truth. I don't doubt what the book states (I'm certainly not qualified to), but it just seems like it doth protest too much. I also found it odd that the author links the Celts to Ancient Indian practices so much, but hardly ever mentions Ancient Greek or Roman ones (except to show how the Celts influenced them). After all, th This is a history, and somewhat of a hagiography, of the Celts. Much of the book is spent on negating misconceptions about the Celts which have presumably been accepted as truth. I don't doubt what the book states (I'm certainly not qualified to), but it just seems like it doth protest too much. I also found it odd that the author links the Celts to Ancient Indian practices so much, but hardly ever mentions Ancient Greek or Roman ones (except to show how the Celts influenced them). After all, those two cultures are also Indo-European, so there should be just as much in common with them. Regardless, I found this very eye-opening. Much of the book focuses on words and etymology, and it is certainly interesting to see how many of our words have Celtic roots (including Brazil!). It is also always interesting to remember that the Celts were spread throughout Europe and how much of their influence remains (including with place names). I found his hinting that the holy trinity has a celtic origin to be a bit of a stretch though.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jozef Skubin

    Book is exactly what is meant to be "A brief history of the Celts" some will say that is not good idea to squeeze huge era and its civilisation in to short book, but we should take it as an introduction to further reading or studying about Celts or later history. In my case. I choose it as an introduction to the British history, my next book is going to be "An Imperial Possession" by David Mattingly, so I'm going straight to Roman Britain. "The Celts" gave me basic knowledge and idea what was go Book is exactly what is meant to be "A brief history of the Celts" some will say that is not good idea to squeeze huge era and its civilisation in to short book, but we should take it as an introduction to further reading or studying about Celts or later history. In my case. I choose it as an introduction to the British history, my next book is going to be "An Imperial Possession" by David Mattingly, so I'm going straight to Roman Britain. "The Celts" gave me basic knowledge and idea what was going on on island and all Europe before Romans, and also relationship between Celts and Romans. I'm amateur in history, and I find the book understandable enough and very enjoyable to read. You won't find here descriptions of celtics adventures and battles, a bit of fiction is necessary to do this, this is antropological book focusing on discoveries, dates names and places and descriptions of Celts from Romans and Greeks

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Zappia

    The Celts are stereo-typically cast as the wild men of Europe running around naked on the battle field and being anything but civilized. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Celts were probably the first to mine and forge iron weapons and implements, heavily utilized the wheel, built an extensive road network through much of Europe with sophisticated farming techniques and physicians. They easily defeated the early Roman and Greek civilizations. The Celts are also heavily associated with The Celts are stereo-typically cast as the wild men of Europe running around naked on the battle field and being anything but civilized. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Celts were probably the first to mine and forge iron weapons and implements, heavily utilized the wheel, built an extensive road network through much of Europe with sophisticated farming techniques and physicians. They easily defeated the early Roman and Greek civilizations. The Celts are also heavily associated with Scotland, Wales and Ireland, when in fact they controlled vast tracts of Europe from Russia and Turkey to Spain over 2000 years ago. And many place names in Germany and other parts of Central Europe have Celtic origins. This book is a fascinating and very readable history of a civilization that has left its mark on us today.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Donald Scarinci

    A well organized presentation of the History of the Celts. The author cannot shake his notion that the Celts might chase their origin to the pre-ancient Hindu civilization where the Sanscrit language was spoken. Although he does make some compelling analogies, especially when it comes to the Celtic Gods. It is a terrible tragedy that the Druids memorized rather than wrote their history and religion.

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