The Celts were one of the major civilisations of the ancient world, eventually coming to dominate parts of central Europe, modern France and Britain and also expanding into Spain, the Balkans and even Anatolia. They were amongst the most advanced metal workers of the ancient world, and produced advances in weaponary and armour that were later adopted by the Romans. This book focuses on the military history of the Celts, their military technology, and their expansion across Europe and eventual defeat in most of the areas, mainly but not entirely at the hands of the Romans.
One minor quibble is that the many excellent pictures of re-enactors in authentic Celtic armour are poorly captioned. When we are in the middle of a passage explaining the evolution of Celtic armour, its rather frustrating to have a series of pictures that are only labelled as ‘heavy armour’. Later on there are clearer captions, so it should have been possible earlier. The pictures themselves are all of modern re-enactors, which makes them colourful and vibrant, but I would have liked to have seen some examples of actual ancient celtic artifacts,
The phraseology used to describe other cultures does feel a bit old fashioned on occasion – describing the pre-celtic occupiants of modern Frances as an ‘inferior and older level of civilisation’ doesn’t come across well – less technologically advanced, or less warlike would seem fairer. Some of the material on the organisation of early Celtic culture feels a bit like guesswork – comments such as the suggestion that each village community had a ‘prominent leader’ whor acted as a mini-warlord or comments about the character of the average pre-historic Celtic man really do need some justification. The total lack of footnotes also means that we can’t actually check the author’s sources for these suggestions. I’m not convinced by the author’s suggestion that there was a single ‘celtic’ culture that stretched out across vast areas of Europe. In areas where we have better documentation we know that most Celtic societies were tribal, and many of the tribes had their own distinctive culture, within a wider ‘celtic’ world. They took on some of the features of their neighbours, and we know that the celts of northern Gaul had a markedly different culture to those who lived next to the Romans or Greeks further south (something that is even acknowledged here). I would also have liked a rather long section on Celtic warfare and battle tactics – instead we only get two pages, giving a quick overview.
The strongest sections are those looking at Celtic arms and armour, metalwork and technology. Here we get a very clear picture of a technologically advanced culture that produced many innovations later taken over by the Romans and used to expand their empire. It feels very much like this is his main area of interest in this period, something supported by the many pictures from re-enactors. The overall history of the Celts is also good, tracing the movement of various groups of Celts from their probable homeland in central Europe west into Gaul, Spain and Britain and east into the Balkans, Greece and even Anatolia. Some of this is fairly familiar territory (in particular the long conflict with Rome), but the wars in the Balkans and further east are covered well, and are much less familiar.
Overall I found this to be an interesting read, very strong on the technology of Celtic warfare and the overall arc of Celtic history, but a bit thin on the details of individual conflicts.
1 – The Origins of the Celts and the ‘Hallstatt Culture’
2 – The ‘La Tene Culture’ and Early Celtic Expansion
3 – The Celtic Conquest of Italy and the Sack of Rome
4 – The Celtic Expansion in Western and Eastern Europe
5 – The Celtic ‘Great Expedition’ and the Birth of Galatia
6 – The Fall of Cisalpine Gaul and the Invasion of the Cimbri and Teutones
7 – The Roman Conquest of Iberia and Gaul
8 – The Decline of the Eastern Celts and the Conquest of Britain
9 – Celtic Arms and Armour from the La Tene Period
10 – Celtic Warfare and Battle Tactics
Author: Gabriele Esposito
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military