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Over fifteen hundred years a Series of Cultures came


One can read numerous versions of history in any library, so history of the British Isles is not the primary intent here.

We will look in context at events in history that combined to shape the rich cultures of the people in the islands today. Since I am Irish +, and since this is my page, the main thrust of this page will feature events that shaped the cultures of Ireland.

According to anthropological digs, ancient Neolithic peoples came to the islands around 7,000 BC. Those peoples left no written history, but they were known by the ancient Greeks BC. Thousands of conflicting stories tell of the first peoples to conquer the first natives, some say ancient Spanish, some say ancient Greeks.

Certain peoples of the islands have been named in history by Greek, Spanish and other foreign names. Before the Romans came, most of those stories were little more than myth. It is a given that Celts came a thousand years before Christ and left the broadest contributions to the islands diverse cultures.

The Romans always kept very good records of everything they did. It can safely be assumed that the most accurate records date to the Roman invasion in 54 BC.


Came The Celts

It seems quite normal to me to identify with an ancient Celtic warrior society that so terrified Rome in 400BC that the Emperor bribed them with 1,000 lbs. of gold.

The Celts ("Kelts") left no written records of their passing, but they other people throughout Europe who wrote of experiences with the barbarian cultures they met.

Historians of the fledgling Roman Empire recorded the first encounter with Celts around 400 BC. A previously unknown tribe of barbarians settled the Po Valley of northern Italy.

The native Etruscans sent a plea to Rome for help. The Emperor heard about the invaders and dispatched envoys to interview their Chiefs. The Roman envoys told the Celt Chiefs that they were unknown to Rome and asked them what they were doing in the Po Valley.

The Celts acknowledged that they were new to Rome, but Rome was not new to them. "We know the Romans are courageous people because the Etruscans had asked them for help. Since the Romans had offered an embassy instead of arms, they would not reject an offer of peace in exchange for farmland.

The Roman envoy asked the Chief whether it was right to demand land from it's owners on pain of war. The Chief defiantly retorted, "Our rights lay in our arms. All things belong to the brave."

The envoys decided to help the Etruscans with a show of force. One envoy named "Quintas Fabius" drew his sword and killed a Celtic Chief. The Celts dispatched envoys to Rome to demand that the entire Fabius family be handed over to them.

Roman Livy said:

Roman law would not permit Roman citizens to be turned over to their enemies as justice would have required. The Roman Senate, passed adjudication of the matter over to the Assembly, which like a supreme court, was the highest legal authority.

The guilty envoys who should have been punished were instead promoted to the rank of Roman Tribunes with consular powers. Tribunes were the highest ranking officers in the Roman Military. It was a decision that Rome would soon regret.

The Celtic Chiefs took the promotion as an insult and marched south to Rome. On the way they destroyed several Roman divisions, then besieged Rome for seven months. Further negotiations produced a peace treaty that provided for the Celts to receive one thousand pounds of gold to leave Rome in peace.

Roman Pliny said:

It was difficult for Rome to muster that much gold in all the country. While gold was being weighed, one Roman claimed that the Celts were cheating with faulty weights. The Celt Chief, Brennus, added the weight of his sword to the gold and growled those famous words." vae victis,", "Woe to the vanquished."

Roman Diodorus said:

Their countenance was terrifying, very tall in stature, with rippling muscles under white skin. Their hair is blond, artificially bleached with lime, then combed back to their foreheads. They look like wood-demons, hair thick and shaggy like a horse's mane. Some are clean-shaven, but others, those of high rank, shave their cheeks, but leave a moustache that covers the whole mouth.

Their dress is astonishing: they wear brightly colored and embroidered shirts, with trousers called "bracae" and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a heavy brooch. Cloaks are striped or checkered in design, stripes close together and displayed in numerous bright colors.

In battle they wear bronze helmets with figures drawn on them, even horns, which made them appear even taller. Some covered their breasts with chain mail armor. Others used the weapons nature gave them: they go naked into battle, sounding discordant horns and shouting in chorus with their deep voices, while beating their swords rhythmically against their shields.

After the battle was over, the barbarians severed the heads of the vanquished and mounted them over the doors of their houses. They preserved the heads of legion officers in cedar oil and stored them carefully in wooden boxes."


We do not know if that particular tribe went to the British Isles, but we know that the first Celts to arrive in Britain spoke a dialect similar to "Italic", a very early version of Latin, and similar to the language spoke by the sackers of Rome.

Though historians disagree, it seems that Celts started crossing the channel about 1,000 to 2500 BC. Each wave was identified by language groups, p-Celts, q-Celts, etc. Some researchers think the Celts introduced up to six dialects to Britain, only three of which survived.

The first Celts in the British Isles spoke "Goidelic" and were classified q-Celts. "Goidelic" was similar to the language spoken by the Celtic tribes that attacked Rome in 400 BC. The label "q-Celtic" was based upon the linguistic differences between "Goidelic" and "Italic." The "Goidelic" alphabet contains no "p" and the "Italic" alphabet substitutes an "a" wherever "an" is found in "Geodelic".

The second wave of Celts spoke "Brythonic" and were known as "p-Celts". The "Goidelic" dialect took hold first and was the catalyst to consolidate the first of three Gaelic languages to arrive in Britain. "Brythonic" split into the two British dialects, Welsh and Cornish. A third Celtic language, "Breton" is still spoken in some parts of Brittany.

There is no credible historical evidence to indicate that the Celts stormed into Britain the same way the did into Rome. Like those ancient warrior invaders of Rome, those British Celts seemed more interested in farming then fighting.

In several generations they spread to Wales, up Britain into Scotland and across the Irish Sea to Ireland. They pretty well blanketed all of the British Isles. Little is known about whether the Celts settled vacant land, or seized farms from native farmers.

It seems that the Celtic cultures impacted native cultures to a far greater degree than did subsequent invasions by Romans, Anglos, Saxons and Normans. We will review the relative impact upon native cultures at the end of each section.


Came The Romans

By the time the Romans invaded Britain in 54 BC, the Celts were farmers, not warriors. The native Brits and Celts fought bravely, but ineffectually against the superbly organized and disciplined legions of Rome. The Celts were clearly not the fierce warriors who humbled mighty Rome just three hundred years before.

Over the next five hundred years, Pictish Britain resisted Roman rule, rebelled from paying tribute and resisted the best they could. But as Rome grew weaker, the rebels grew stronger. Besieged by invaders at home, Rome finally withdrew it's legions from Britain in order to protect it's own homeland.


Ruins of Roman construction projects are still being found Probably the most famous is Hadrian's wall. Hadrian's wall was built coast to coast in England, just south of the Scots border. It's intended function was to stop "barbarians" in Scotland from raiding border settlements.

Roman social impacts on British culture seems minimal. Unlike the Celts before them, Rome came to collect tribute, not colonize. The artifacts of ancient peoples are found in many places. Artifacts left by the Romans are found in many places. Native and Roman artifacts are rarely found mixed together in the same dig.

It would be easy to conclude that Romans did not live together with the natives. Therefore, Roman influence upon native cultures were minimal. Rome did leave behind contributions to the native culture, Christianity and the first native King.


Come Anglo-Saxons

The first Anglo-Saxons documented in Britain were mercenaries in the Roman army. The Anglo-Saxons were a mixture of Germanic tribes with homelands along Europe’s northern seaboard, from Normandy to Denmark. Those tribes included Frisians, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Franks and a number of lesser known tribes.

The Angles came from south Denmark, Saxons from north Germany; Jutes from Jutland near the mouth of the Rhine; Frisians and Franks from the low countries of western Germany, Austria and Normandy.

When Rome started leaving Britain, the "foderati" (Roman mercenaries) lost their jobs and returned to their tribal homes. But some later returned as settlers. As Roman legions were leaving Britain, Anglo-Saxon tribesmen were mobilizing to invade.

In the sixth and seventh centuries the Anglo-Saxons carved out petty kingdoms for themselves. They battled native Britons and each other to control their lands. By the eighth century the differences between the many tribal cultures had vanished to the point that the people considered themselves as Anglo-Saxon or English.

The nation of England was forged in the crucible of the Roman exodus, arrival of Anglo- Saxon settlers, and Viking invasions. It really became a war between the English and their continental cousins over who would rule England.


Although the Anglo-Saxon tribes found it difficult to cooperate to meet common threats to their security, they are credited with contributing innovations to native cultures that still remain; A Royal family with hereditary links to old Anglo-Saxon Kings, rules of law to govern civil and criminal procedures, records of ownership of land and transfer of land to heirs, the use of surnames to identify families.


Came The Normans

The Vikings in 900 invaded the coast of northern Europe along the coastline of the English Channel. Within a very few generations the Vikings who had settled there became Christians, spoke French, and thought of themselves as Norman.

At first Norman relations with Anglo-Saxon England were uncomplicated, but the ferocious raids of Danish Vikings became an embarrassment to the Normans. That confliction of national policies eventually was resolved by a treaty. The Dukes of Normandy and the King of Britain closed the English Channel to the Viking fleets.

That alliance failed when the Normans supported Edward of the House of Wessex against King Cnut of Denmark to succeed to the English throne. When Edward (the Confessor) returned from exile in Normandy to accept the English crown in 1042, he was pro-Norman. It was those same pro-Norman sympathies that later gave William's claim to the throne credibility.

The Norman dukes’ fear of Scandinavian intervention contributed to William’s alliance with Flanders in 1066. Other victims of Viking raids were the Channel Islands or Iles Normandes. Those personal dependency of Duke William, as were the Counties of Brittany and Maine. All these areas contributed men and ships to the expedition of 1066.

Many Norman warriors, administrators and churchmen had served in England under Edward the Confessor. Some had reorganized English defenses along the Welsh borders in 1055. But their attempts to teach Norman-French cavalry tactics to the English failed.

In 1066 at the battle of Essex, a superior Norman army led by, "William The Conqueror," invaded Britain and killed the Anglo-Saxon King. William placed himself on the throne.

The Norman invasion of England came almost by accident. Later in his old age he expressed regret for killing and English King and having seized the British throne to which he was not by blood entitled.


The Norman influences in England were never really broken. The Royal family of England trace their roots to Normandy and half of the countries located in Europe. Norman influence, while strong in England, is less strong in Ireland and Scotland, which to this day remain more strongly influenced by Celtic cultures

Copyright 1996 - 2002 donkelly