The Celts

Celts is a term used to describe the Ancient Britons who migrated to the British Isles and Ireland during and just after the Iron Age. There is academic debate over the precise origin of the Celtic tribes and their relationship with other peoples of the isles. Theories that were first put forward in the 19th century suggest that there, broadly speaking, were three periods of Celtic expansion and migration. These date from the 9th century BC to the 1st century BC. The different Celtic tribes in the British Isles and Ireland had similar languages, pagan beliefs and shared similar tastes in fashion. The Celts fought not only the invading Romans but also other inhabitants of the islands. Picts and Scots to the north, in modern-day Scotland and later, the Saxons and Vikings. Celtic culture continued throughout the medieval era in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and some parts of England, Cornwall for example. Finds from Ancient and Medieval Celtic sites combined with written evidence from at first the Romans and then the Celtic Christian Church provides us with lots of evidence about the Celtic people. 

Newark and Sedgeford Torcs held by the British Museum.
Newark and Sedgeford Torcs held by the British Museum. Click on the image for copyright notice.

The Celts

Below is a list of our pages and selected sources relating to Celtic History.

Source: St. Gildas. On the Ruin of Britain. Gildas’ critique of the state that Britain was in during his lifetime (early 6th century). It also contains a narrative of Roman and Anglo-Saxon Invasions and Celtic responses to these.

Source: Nennius, Historia Brittonum (A History of the Britons). Highly influential if a rather dubious history of the British Isles. Noted for being the first text to describe the 12 Arthurian Battles.

Source: The Annals of Wales (Annales Cambriae) – a chronology of Welsh History spanning the 5th to 10th centuries. Best known for its reference to King Arthur.

Source: Gerald of Wales, The discovery of the tomb of King Arthur.

Source: St. Patrick’s Confession. St. Patrick was born in Roman-occupied Britain. He was captured and sold into Slavery. As a Slave, he was taken to Ireland where he became known as a man of God. This source is one of two letters known to have been written by St. Patrick.

Source: Statute of the Synod of Bishops (Ireland). A set of rules for the clergy and Christians on their behaviour and interaction with Pagans.

Source: The Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh. Battle in Ireland recounted in ballads and texts.

Source: The Beltane Blessing. This blessing illustrates the importance of festivals and rituals in Celtic Culture. A modern version of Beltane is still performed in the Celtic world.

Source: Tacitus on the Rebellion of the Iceni. A Roman account of the rebellion of the Celtic tribe, The Iceni. This is a well known and really useful source on Boudicca’s Rebellion. The source is also of use when teaching Roman Britain.

Source: On Highlands and Lowlands, author and date disputed.

Source: Tacitus on the Roman Invasion of Anglesey. The last stand of the Druids as the Romans prepared to sweep into Anglesey and destroy them. Tacitus describes the fearsome sight that greeted the Legions as they prepared for their assault.

Link: The British Museum. Celtic History. History section from the 2015/16 exhibition on the Celts.

Do you want to find other Primary Sources for use in your lessons, or for research purposes? Visit our Primary Sources page to see which areas we currently have a range of sources for.

Primary History

Knowledge Rich History Resources

The Celts

The Romans

The Saxons

The Vikings