The origin of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European language family is still disputed, although one of the most popular theory among modern Scholars postulates, that they can be linked to the early Hallstatt Culture, named after the Austrian village and type site Hallstatt, centred around the Alps, predominantly in modern-day Austria, Switzerland, and Southern Germany. From there the early Celts are thought to have gradually spread across Europe and even into Anatolia, where they were known as the Galatians and even made it into the Bible. At the height of Celtic culture, different tribes occupied much of Western Europe, including the British Isles, modern-day France, most of the Benelux, and parts of Spain. Central Europe was inhabited by Celtic tribes as well, including Southern Germany, aforementioned Switzerland, and Austria and Northern Italy. Eastern and especially south-eastern Europe was also home to early Celtic speakers and their cousins in Anatolia have already been mentioned.
Despite their massive expansion in the first millennium BC the Celtic languages today are confined to the north-western fringes of the European Continent, spoken in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Brittany, with the Cornish language making a comeback in the southwestern English region of Cornwall. Interestingly, the native language of Brittany, Breton, is thought to have arrived in the area with migrants from the British Isles during the era of the Anglo-Saxon Invasion of Britain, perhaps fleeing the Germanic newcomers from the continent. The French name of the region, La Bretagne, is in itself a testimony to the origin of the language and probably at least parts of the local population and culture, Bretagne literally meaning Britain ( or perhaps “little” Britain, as opposed to Great Britain or Grand Bretagne).
Another popular theory as to the origin of the ancient Celts suggests, that they formed at least partially from a Bronze Age trading network connecting various people living at the European shores of the Atlantic, which was later on influenced by recently arrived speakers of Proto-Indo-European dialects which can perhaps be called Proto-Celtic. Some of these Atlantic peoples may have been related to the modern Basques, the only non-Indo-European speakers of contemporary western Europe. The debate about the Celtic origins is ongoing, however, and perhaps a solution involving both theories will be proposed in the future.
On this page, you will find articles concerning the history of the early Celtic people, regarding their origins and how they’ve expanded throughout Europe and Asia Minor. More articles, concerning aspects of Celtic mythology, language, and culture may be added in the future.
The Celts belong to the most mysterious of Europe’s inhabitants. Today, Celtic speakers are confined to the far northwest of the continent, in the past, however, much of Continental Europe spoke Celtic. Where did they come from and how did they manage to cover such a vast area?Keep reading
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