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Book Review - The Ancient Celts

The Ancient Celts

Barry Cunliffe

ISBN 0-19-969051-0 Oxford University Press

Drawing heavily from archaeological and written evidence this book paints a picture of what went into forming what we now see as Celtic Culture. Barry Cunliffe is the Professor of Archaeology at Oxford University and the author of a number of books, including The World of the Celts.

Visions of the Celts
This Chapter deals with how the Celts have been viewed through the eyes of other cultures, from the Graeco-Roman, through the 'Celtomania' of the 18th and 19th Centuries, to the modern viewpoints.

The Reality of the Celts
After addressing the views coloured by cultural bias, Cunliffe begins to use a great deal of archaeological evidence to back up some of the classical claims to provide a clearer image of the reality.

Barbarian Empire and the Mediterranean 1300-400 BC
Outlines the factors such as trade with, and the influence of, richer southern cultures that began to define aspects of Celtic Culture.

The Migrations 400-200 BC
Shows the movement that many European peoples underwent during this period of apparent greater mobility, and how this brought them into conflict with the Mediterranean peoples. Also shows how Celtic mercenaries fought in Ptolomic Egypt, and Hannibals Carthaginians as part of this mass movement.

Warfare and Society
Shows how important warfare and the role of the fighting elite was in Celtic Society and its Culture.

The Arts of the Migration Period
With a large collection of colour and B/W photographs this section demonstrates the artistic techniques that spread out and helped to define the areas of celtic influence.

Iberia and the Celtiberians
This is an interesting section, as the Celtiberians are often ignored by modern researchers. Although the Celtiberians had marked differences in such things as art fro the 'standard' La Tene Celtic work, the language and many aspects of society and its structure are purely Celtic.

The Communities of the Atlantic Facade
This Chapter deals with the main group of peoples who are, for the most part, still seen as Celtic. Cunliffe cites classical references coupled with archaeological evidence

The Communities of the Eastern Fringes
On the other side of Europe, Celtic peoples expanded during the Migration Period to form a Celtic Fringe that stretched from Russia to the Mediterranean.

Religious Systems
Details some of the beliefs of the Celts and the role played by Druids within their society.

The Developed Celtic World
Paints a picture of the greatest period of Celtic influence drawing heavily from classical references, backed up by archaeological research.

The Celts in Retreat
Shows the reverse of Celtic influence after its 'Golden Age', and how the Celts eventually became a culture on the fringe of western Europe following the expansion of the Roman Empire.

Celtic Survival
This Chapter deals with the survival of Celtic Cultures at the end of the Roman period and the beginning of the early Middle Ages.

Retrospect
Cunliffe draws the work to a conclusion with a brief summary thatreiterates the main points.

Reviewed by J. Craig Melia - 2000

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