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The Ancient Celts

The Ancient Celts
Author: Barry Cunliffe
ISBN 13: 9780140254228
ISBN 10: 140254226
Edition: unknown
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: 2000-03-01
Format: Paperback
Pages: 360
List Price: $23.00

Fierce warriors and skilled craftsmen, the Celts were famous throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, the archetypal barbarians from the north, feared by both Greeks and Romans. And though this ancient thousand-year-old civilization was crushed by the military campaigns of Julius Caesar, the Celts remain an object of fascination to this day. Now, in The Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe, one of the world's leading authorities on European prehistory, explores the true nature of the Celtic identity and presents the first thorough and up-to-date account of a people whose origins still provoke heated debate.
Drawing on a wealth of recent archaeological findings, Cunliffe reveals how this loose band of nomads evolved from migratory barbarians into adroit traders and artists, inhabiting virtually every corner of Europe north of the Po. Beginning in the Hungarian plains of 1300 B.C., where the first hints of Celtic culture can be traced, the book shows how this fierce people slowly grew into one of Europe's most feared powers, constantly raiding and threatening the empires of both Greece and the Rome. Cunliffe demonstrates how the unprecedented Celtic diaspora gave way to the development of a number of mature, urban societies scattered throughout the continent. The book pays ample tribute to Celtic economic prowess, revealing how the civilization shrewdly took advantage of Europes tin, cooper, and gold resources to become both a respected trading partner with Rome and a nation of skilled artisans who forged some of the greatest weaponry of pre-antiquity. The book also describes the Celtss pantheistic religious traditions, with detailed accounts of weapon burials, human sacrifices, and the meditative powers of the Druids, and it concludes with a look at the influences of the Celtic mystique on the modern world, revealing how the concept of the Celt has been used many times by nations in search for an identity.
From the Victorians glorification of Boudicca, to linguistic influences in Ireland and Britain, to the common bond of Celtic ancestry that virtually every European shares, this comprehensive history demystifies the world of the Celts as never before. A fascinating history blending insightful narrative with vivid detail, and boasting over 200 illustrations—including 24 color plates—and 30 maps, The Ancient Celts is an indispensable guide to this age-old, intriguing culture.


From 1300 BC to 400 AD, a group of peoples known variously as Celts or Gauls figures prominently in the history of the development of the Greco-Roman world. Cunliffe, Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University, presents a carefully detailed study of these people long colorfully chronicled in song and story. The strengths of this beautiful text are immediately obvious. Not only are there profuse and varied examples of Celtic art, often in color, but each illustration is annotated in detail. The maps in the text are plentiful and well explained; there is, in addition, a section of maps and chronological tables at the end of the book. The prose is extremely well written and well organized; each chapter is clear in its purpose and place in the overall work. The drawback is that The Ancient Celts could be somewhat difficult for the reader not already familiar with the field of archeology. The first six chapters are especially fascinating as they trace the many Celtic groups as they spread out across Europe, reaching Iberia and the Ireland in the west and as far as Asia Minor to the east. These chapters, however, abound with archeological terminology and theoretical concepts. Based not only on archeological finds but the commentaries of Roman writers, the later chapters on the Celtic communities, religious systems and finally Celts in retreat before the Romans and surviving on the Atlantic periphery of Europe are more descriptive and accessible. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1997, Penguin, 324p, 24cm, $21.95. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Patricia A. Moore; Brookline, MA, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)