Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race

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The National Museum in Dublin contains many superb examples of Irish decorative art in gold, bronze, [pg 31] and enamels, and the “strong Celtic tinge” of which Mr. Romilly Allen speaks is as clearly observable there as in the relics of Hallstatt or La Tène.

Everything, then, speaks of a community of culture, an identity of race-character, existing over the vast territory known to the ancient world as “Celtica.”

Celts and Germans

But, as we have said before, this territory was by no means inhabited by the Celt alone. In particular we have to ask, who and where were the Germans, the Teuto-Gothic tribes, who eventually took the place of the Celts as the great Northern menace to classical civilisation?

They are mentioned by Pytheas, the eminent Greek traveller and geographer, about 300 B.C., but they play no part in history till, under the name of Cimbri and Teutones, they descended on Italy to be vanquished by Marius at the close of the second century. The ancient Greek geographers prior to Pytheas know nothing of them, and assign all the territories now known as Germanic to various Celtic tribes.

The explanation given by de Jubainville, and based by him on various philological considerations, is that the Germans were a subject people, comparable to those “un-free tribes” who existed in Gaul and in ancient Ireland. They lived under the Celtic dominion, and had no independent political existence. De Jubainville finds that all the words connected with law and government and war which are common both to the Celtic and Teutonic languages were borrowed by the latter from the former. Chief among them are the words represented by the modern German Reich, empire, Amt, office, and the Gothic reiks, a king, all of which are of unquestioned Celtic origin. De Jubainville also numbers among loan words from Celtic [pg 32] the words Bann, an order; Frei, free; Geisel, a hostage; Erbe, an inheritance; Werth, value; Weih, sacred; Magus, a slave (Gothic); Wini, a wife (Old High German); Skalks, Schalk, a slave (Gothic); Hathu, battle (Old German); Helith, Held, a hero, from the same root as the word Celt; Heer, an army (Celtic choris); Sieg, victory; Beute, booty; Burg, a castle; and many others.

The etymological history of some of these words is interesting. Amt, for instance, that word of so much significance in modern German administration, goes back to an ancient Celtic ambhactos, which is compounded of the words ambi, about, and actos, a past participle derived from the Celtic root AG, meaning to act. Now ambi descends from the primitive Indo-European mbhi, where the initial m is a kind of vowel, afterwards represented in Sanscrit by a. This m vowel became n in those Germanic words which derive directly from the primitive Indo-European tongue. But the word which is now represented by amt appears in its earliest Germanic form as ambaht, thus making plain its descent from the Celtic ambhactos.

Again, the word frei is found in its earliest Germanic form as frijo-s, which comes from the primitive Indo-European prijo-s. The word here does not, however, mean free; it means beloved (Sanscrit priya-s). In the Celtic language, however, we find prijos dropping its initial p—a difficulty in pronouncing this letter was a marked feature in ancient Celtic; it changed j, according to a regular rule, into dd, and appears in modern Welsh as rhydd=free. The Indo-European meaning persists in the Germanic languages in the name of the love-goddess, Freia, and in the word Freund, friend, Friede, peace. The sense borne by the word in the sphere of civil right is traceable to a Celtic origin, [pg 33] and in that sense appears to have been a loan from Celtic.