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the Term "Celt"

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« on: February 18, 2007, 11:51:46 pm »

Pre-Roman Gaul

The early history of the Gauls is predominantly a work in archeology — there being little written information (save perhaps what can be gleaned from coins) concerning the peoples that inhabited these regions — and the relationships between their material culture, genetic relationships (the study of which has been aided, in recent years, through the field of archaeogenetics), and linguistic divisions rarely coincide.

Many cultural traits of the early Celts seem to have been carried northwest up the Danube Valley, although this issue is contested. It seems as if they derived many of their skills (like metal-working), as well as certain facets of their culture, from Balkan peoples. Some scholars think that the Bronze Age Urnfield culture represents an origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European-speaking peoples (see Proto-Celtic). The Urnfield culture was preeminent in central Europe during the late Bronze Age, from ca. 1200 BC until 700 BC. The spread of iron-working led to the development of the Hallstatt culture (ca. 700 to 500 BC) directly from the Urnfield. Proto-Celtic, the latest common ancestor of all known Celtic languages, is considered by some scholars to have been spoken at the time of the late Urnfield or early Hallstatt cultures.

The Hallstatt culture was succeeded by the La Tène culture, which developed out of the Hallstatt culture without any definite cultural break, under the impetus of considerable Mediterranean influence from the Greek, and Etruscan civilizations. The La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age (from 450 BC to the Roman conquest in the 1st century BC) in France, Switzerland, Austria, southwest Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. Farther to the north extended the contemporary Pre-Roman Iron Age culture of Northern Germany and Scandinavia.

 
A map of Gaul in the 1st century BC, showing the relative positions of the Celtic tribes.By the second century BC, Celtic France was called Gaul (Gallia Transalpina) by the Romans. In his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar distinguishes among three ethnic groups in Gaul: the Belgae in the north (in what is present-day Belgium), the Celts in the centre, and the Aquitani in the southwest. While some scholars believe that the Belgae were a mixture of Celtic and Germanic elements, their ethnic affiliations have not been resolved. The Aquitani may have been the ancestors of the Vascons. In addition to the Gauls, there were other peoples living in Gaul, such as the Greeks and Phoenicians who had established outposts such as Massilia (present-day Marseille) along the Mediterranean coast. Also, along the southeastern Mediterranean coast, the Ligures had merged with the Celts to form a Celto-Ligurian culture.

In the second century BC, Mediterranean Gaul had an extensive urban fabric and was prosperous, while the heavily forested Northern Gaul had almost no cities outside of fortified compounds (or oppida) used in times of war. The prosperity of Mediterranean Gaul encouraged Rome to respond to pleas for assistance from the inhabitants of Massilia, who were under attack by a coalition of Ligures and Gauls. The Romans intervened in Gaul in 125 BC, and by 121 BC they had conquered the Mediterranean region called Provincia (later named Gallia Narbonensis). This conquest upset the ascendancy of the Gaulish Arverni tribe.

Further Roman expansion into northern Gaul occurred under Julius Caesar, who conquered regions as far north as present-day Belgium and raided Britannia and Germania during the Gallic Wars (58 BC - 51 BC). The war's turning point was the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which the Romans defeated a confederation of Gallic tribes united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Arverni.

The Gauls that Julius Caesar encountered during his campaigns were not Neolithic barbarians, as the vast wealth accumulated by Caesar during the Gallic Wars can attest. Rather, the Gauls in the last century before Christ ought to be regarded as "half-civilized." As the excavations of the Aeduan "oppidum" of Bibracte reveal, the Gauls were a wealthy people, well-acquainted with the use of gold, as well as silver and bronze, coinage. Furthermore, coins from Gaul have been found in Britain and vice versa, supporting Caesar's claim that trade existed between the two "nations."

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