The Ancient Celts

by Barry Cunliffe

Paperback, 1999



Call number




Penguin Books Ltd (1999), Paperback


Fierce warriors and skilled craftsmen, the Celts were famous throughout the Ancient Mediterranean World. They were the archetypal barbarians from the north and were feared by both Greeks and Romans. For two and a half thousand years they have continued to fascinate those who have come into contact with them, yet their origins have remained a mystery and even today are the subject of heated debate among historians and archaeologists. Barry Cunliffe's classic study of the ancient Celtic world was first published in 1997. Since then huge advances have taken place in our knowledge: new finds, new ways of using DNA records to understand Celtic origins, new ideas about the proto-urban nature of early chieftains' strongholds, All these developments are part of this fully updated , and completely redesigned edition. Cunliffe explores the archaeological reality of these bold warriors and skilled craftsmen of barbarian Europe who inspired fear in both the Greeks and the Romans. He investigates the texts of the classical writers and contrasts their view of the Celts with current archaeological findings. Tracing the emergence of chiefdoms and the fifth- to third-century migrations as far as Bosnia and the Czech Republic, he assesses the disparity between the traditional story and the most recent historical and archaeological evidence on the Celts. Other aspects of Celtic identity such as the cultural diversity of the tribes, their social and religious systems, art, language and law, are also examined. From the picture that emerges, we are - crucially - able to distinguish between the original Celts, and those tribes which were 'Celtized', giving us an invaluable insight into the true identity of this ancient people.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member gercmbyrne
excellent factual exploration of the celts in ireland, Gb and europe
LibraryThing member Petroglyph
An excellent book on the Celts, with a clear focus on the archaeological data that underly and support the interpretations of how societies evolved and interacted 2,500 years ago. Everything in this book is scrupulously researched but the details never get in the way of lucid writing. Part of that
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is due to the oranisation of the text, which alternates between chronological, thematic and geographical perspectives, but Cunliffe manages to establish and maintain so many connections between the separate sections that the book as a whole never becomes compartmentalized. Scholarly though this work may be, it is very readable and Cunliffe's outstanding selection of supporting illustrations, maps and photographs contributes to that.

What this book is not is an exploration of daily life or on cultural history in the narrow sense. The perspective is decidedly macroscopic, focusing on the interplay between cultures and societies and on the gradual transformation of social institutions and community organization rather than taking a more personal point of view. I feel this is not a bad thing, since it would have diluted an otherwise strict adherence to factual data and the book would have lost a great deal of its focus.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Europe, told from an archeologist's and, which was much more refreshing to me, from a non-Classical perspective. The chapter on Religious systems is another good example of the solidity of this book.

In short, Cunliffe has produced a very informative, high-quality and insightful description of pre-Roman Europe. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
We tend to think of the Celts associated with the margins of Western Europe but they were once the dominate people of northern Europe well into Eastern Europe. Barry Cunliffe is a great guide for this thematic survey. A little academic and broad strokes but a lot to be learned. I listened to the
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audiobook version which is well done, the book is lavishly illustrated so misses a lot of needed context.
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Original publication date

2018 (2nd edition)

Physical description

360 p.; 9.5 inches


0140254226 / 9780140254228
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