Early Modern Celtic Warfaring

Mathew Glozier


Whenever the need arose and a war broke out … they all joined the battle.1

The whole race is war-mad, high-spirited and quick to battle.2


Caesar’s self-serving memoir of his Gallic wars (58-51 B.C.) reveals much about the ancient Celtic attitude towards war. Fighting was a key component of the life of the Celtic elite, but also pervaded the culture at all levels. The legends of other Celtic lands give a similar impression of small war bands, great heroes and large set-piece battles – much as Caesar himself described them in Gaul.

From about the early fifth century B.C. in central Europe to its high-point in the third century B.C. the Celts came to dominate much of Europe, from Spain to Asia Minor. Their growth and expansion was not synonymous with war; trade and industry played a large part in their cultural primacy by the 200s B.C. However, war was the key to opposing the expansion of others, including Romans and the Germanic tribes. In the British Isles, Rome’s influence contained Celtic culture within Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and fifth century Christianisation challenged some Celtic practices.

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