The Celts, whom the Romans called Celti or Galli, were a tribal society that spoke the Celtic language and originally occupied most of today’s Ireland, Scotland and France. During the time of the rise of the Roman Empire the Celts expanded throughout Europe.

They were distinguished into two main cultures: the Hallstatt (800-450 BC) and La Tene (450 BC up to the Roman conquest). The Celts, driven from their homes by the frequency of wars, expanded over a wide range of regions that included the British Isles (Insular Celts),France (Gallia) and the Low Countries (Gauls), much of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and Northern Italy (Cisalpine Gallia) and following the Gallic invasions of the Balkans (279 BC) as far east as Turkey (central Anatolia, Galatians). 

As early as the 6th Century BC, the Celtic language was widely used and resulted in Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton and Cornish; also in northern France (Britanny) and other European countries as Portugal and Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile and Leon). The Celts lived mostly in the northern area of Europe while the Gauls lived in the southern; the Romans referred to both as Gauls (Galli).

  A battle between Romans and Celts

  A battle between Romans and Celts

On the Alps, the Etruscans fought Celts at Golasecca, near Varese in Lombardy for the trade of salt. During the same century Celts and Romans fought in the Po Valley, then in the area between the Alps and the Appennine mountains, known as Gallia Cisalpina that was inhabited by Celts credited with the founding of a number of cities in North Italy including Milan. Later the Roman army was defeated at the battle of Allia and Rome was sacked in by the Senones, a Celtic tribe, led by Brennus. The battle was fought near the Allia river.
The defeat of the Roman army opened the road for the Gauls to sack Rome (390 BC). During the siege an epidemic broke out as a result of not burying the dead. Brennus and the Romans negotiated an end to the siege, when the Romans agreed to pay one thousand pounds of gold. But to add insult to injury Brennus was using heavier weights than standard for weighing the gold. When the Romans complained, Brennus threw his sword on the scale exclaiming in Latin: “Vae victis” (‘woe to the vanquished!’).
It was in this very moment that Camillus arrived with a Roman army and, after putting his sword on the scale, shouted: “Not gold but steel redeems the native land!” Thus attacking the Gauls, Camillus’ army defeated the enemy. For his bravery Camillus was called by the Romans “The second founder of Rome”
The Gauls continued to occupy a great part of northern Italy, extending as far south as Sena Gallica (Sinigaglia); therefore they were a standing source of danger to Rome.
  Romans and Celts

  Romans and Celts

Julius Caesar wrote extensively about his Gallic Wars in 58-51 BC. The Romans arrived in the RhoneValley in the 2nd Century BC and confronted the Celts led by Vercingetorix, who ended up being defeated at the siege of Alesia in 52 BC. The Battle of Alesia was fought by the Roman’ army commanded by Julius Caesar aided by cavalry commander Mark Antony. Alesia was the major engagement between Gauls and Romans, considered the turning point of the Gallic wars in favor of Rome. The Siege of Alesia was Caesar’s greatest military achievement marking the end of the Celtic dominance in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy.
How did the Celts integrate and assimilate with the local people, with the natives? In the north-eastern part of Italy they adjusted quite well with the Veneti, the Etruscans of the Po Valley, and the people of Emilia and Marcheregions. They adjusted very well because they were very interested in learning the local people’ ways of handling agriculture, sheep and goats rearing and farming, and exchanging traditions that they had acquired from Etruscans and Greeks, happy to learn new farming techniques from the Mediterranean folks.
While the Celtic diet was basically made of milk and meat from hunting, the Etruscan, Greek and Roman’ diet depended mostly on the products of the “Ager”(field, agrarian) of the farms cultivated around the cities. Celts usually consumed meat of pigs and wild boars, while Romans and Greeks for centuries raised sheep and goats and fed on legumes and vegetables.
Another big difference was in the drinking habits. Romans and Greeks enjoyed wine while Celts drank beer. Romans learned quickly how to enjoy pork meat, how to preserve swine meat making prosciutto and process different types of salted meat.
It’s amazing how much the Celtic world and the Roman world learned from each other and how much they benefited from each other’s culture when willing to accept with an open mind different customs and traditions.
The lesson we learn from the past is that today all nations in the world would have a better future if more people realize that living peacefully while learning from each other’s culture and civilization is always a much better choice than fighting or seeking a solution with weapons. Money invested in armaments can be better spent in feeding less privileged people living in under-developed countries.

Receive more stories like this in your inbox