The problem with them Celts (eng., ger.) is that we have no written first hand source: Their image is determined by the picture Greek and Roman authors create when confronted with nasty barbarians from the North: Blokes who do not speak a civilized language (hence „barbaros“, the one who makes childish and un-understandable noises like bal-bal-barr-barr-bla-bla), conquer Rome (Gauls (eng., ger.) under Brennus (eng., ger.), 387 (eng., ger.) before Christ) and give one of the most sacred places of the Antike, the oracle of Delphi (eng., ger.), a near miss: Uncivilized and aggressive neighbours one better keeps at a pilum’s distance.
The Celts on the other hand formed a comprehensive culture throughout Europe, from Portugal to Turkey, with one language (as we can assume), one kind of money, one art and style – celtic pieces of art do show a pretty close relationship no matter whether they are produced and found in central France or on the Balcans. It was not one “race” or “nation” (I am aware of the different meanings and use of the word “race” and “Rasse”, it is difficult to translate the German word “Volk” appropriately – believe me, I am a Volkskundler.), not one Staatsvolk, but a set of different tribes.
The research of the last two decennia brought interesting new aspects and our knowledge about the barbarians is expanding. A conferrence was helt some weeks ago about this topic, the DFG (Deutsche Forschungs-Gemeinschaft) had a pretty large project and bundled together different tasks and research activities – namely in Southern Germany – over the last years.
As a result we can see that around 600 b.C. the nasty barbarians where close to establishing a real “Hochkultur”: They had founded cities, formed a kind of stately organisation, there must have been an organized kind of rule within a defined geographical area, all the symptoms that define a high developed culture were there, but they did not take the last step and made it a steady, a lasting development.
What we see from finds is that they had close trade relations with the Mediterranean South, they imported Greek ceramics and food, namely wine (yeah!) and exported weapons, golden artwork, and textiles.
The German Southwest can be seen as the place or origin of the Celtic culture, at least southgerman researchers do like this idea. A string of important early Celtic places can be found: From the Heuneburg (eng., ger.) at the upper Donau near Sigmaringen, the Ipf-mountain (eng., ger.), the Hochdorf grave (eng., ger.), the religious site at the Glauberg in Hassia (eng., ger.) to the Mount Lassois (eng., ger.) in France. At the Ipf we have regular and planful built structures on the mountain and large houses at its basis. The grave at Hochdorf shows the importance of the nearby site, the mountain of Hohenasperg, whose ruler had this remarkable and unique mausoleum. At the Glauberg we find massive walls and – at the current state of knowledge – no traces of living quarters or manors, but it is a very huge religious instalation (Kultanlage) with streets for processions and gravesites for nobility: Fritz-Rudolf Herrmann, the archeologist of the site calls it an “Olympia of the North”. At the Mount Lassois a regular town planning with rectangular streets could be proofen. And there’s the city of Manching (eng., ger.) after all.
We can have a glance at the history of the Heuneburg as an example for the celtic history in its early stage: It’s a “Höhenburg”, a castle or “Burg” built up on a mountain (in the height, auf der Höhe). From 1000 b.C. onwards these structures can be found on both sides of the Donau. Around 600 b.C. most of them are vanishing – but the Heuneburg attracts all the power of the adjacent castles: It surrounds itself with a stonewall and other structures, not with a simple wall made from earth and some wooden pallisades. The wall is whitened, so really not to miss, and they have an entrance constructed in stone – very expensive, very representative. Two generations later the show is over and the castle is empty, nobody knows why.
In the following centuries the centre of the Celtic culture moves North into Hassia, to the Harz: The castles become smaller and smaller and are reduced to only functional shelters for protection – there is a cultural declining.
We do not know enough about them. Their religion? Their use of the new material, iron that is, and its social impact? Their social organisation – who went to war? How lived the average Celt? What we have found are important places of rulers, of nobility and priests. But for the people not in the castles – how was it then? And why did these barbarians not learn to write?
A kind of summary, an overview under consideration of the new finds needs to be written.