<<<
>>>

The Religion of the Ancient Celts

Page: 10

The Pictish problem must remain obscure, a welcome puzzle to antiquaries, philologists, and ethnologists. Our knowledge of Pictish religion is too scanty for the interpretation of Celtic religion to be affected by it. But we know that the Picts offered sacrifice before war—a Celtic custom, and had Druids, as also had the Celts.

The earliest Celtic "kingdom" was in the region between the upper waters of the Rhine, the Elbe, and the Danube, where probably in Neolithic times the formation of their Celtic speech as a distinctive language began. Here they first became known to the Greeks, probably as a semi-mythical people, the Hyperboreans—the folk dwelling beyond the Ripoean mountains whence Boreas blew—with whom Hecatæus in the fourth century identifies them. But they were now known as Celts, and their territory as Celtica, while "Galatas" was used as a synonym of "Celtæ," in the third century B.C. The name generally applied by the Romans to the Celts was {19} "Galli" a term finally confined by them to the people of Gaul.45 Successive bands of Celts went forth from this comparatively restricted territory, until the Celtic "empire" for some centuries before 300 B.C. included the British Isles, parts of the Iberian peninsula, Gaul, North Italy, Belgium, Holland, great part of Germany, and Austria. When the German tribes revolted, Celtic bands appeared in Asia Minor, and remained there as the Galatian Celts. Archæological discoveries with a Celtic facies have been made in most of these lands but even more striking is the witness of place-names. Celtic dunon, a fort or castle (the Gaelic dun), is found in compound names from Ireland to Southern Russia. Magos, "a field," is met with in Britain, France, Switzerland, Prussia, Italy, and Austria. River and mountain names familiar in Britain occur on the Continent. The Pennine range of Cumberland has the same name as the Appenines. Rivers named for their inherent divinity, devos, are found in Britain and on the Continent—Dee, Deva, etc.

Besides this linguistic, had the Celts also a political unity over their great "empire," under one head? Such a unity certainly did not prevail from Ireland to the Balkan peninsula, but it prevailed over a large part of the Celtic area. Livy, following Timagenes, who perhaps cited a lost Celtic epos, speaks of king Ambicatus ruling over the Celts from Spain to Germany, and sending his sister's sons, Bellovesus and Segovesus, with many followers, to found new colonies in Italy and the Hercynian forest.46 Mythical as this may be, it suggests the hegemony of one tribe or one chief over other tribes and chiefs, for Livy says that the sovereign power rested with the Bituriges who appointed the king of Celticum, {20} viz. Ambicatus. Some such unity is necessary to explain Celtic power in the ancient world, and it was made possible by unity of race or at least of the congeries of Celticised peoples, by religious solidarity, and probably by regular gatherings of all the kings or chiefs. If the Druids were a Celtic priesthood at this time, or already formed a corporation as they did later in Gaul, they must have endeavoured to form and preserve such a unity. And if it was never so compact as Livy's words suggest, it must have been regarded as an ideal by the Celts or by their poets, Ambicatus serving as a central figure round which the ideas of empire crystallised. The hegemony existed in Gaul, where the Arverni and their king claimed power over the other tribes, and where the Romans tried to weaken the Celtic unity by opposing to them the Aedni.47 In Belgium the hegemony was in the hands of the Suessiones, to whose king Belgic tribes in Britain submitted.48 In Ireland the "high king" was supreme over other smaller kings, and in Galatia the unity of the tribes was preserved by a council with regular assemblies.49


<<<
>>>