McCartney's Journeys

Celtic Community and Society


Communities

The ancient Greek city of Troy, considered a major metropolis of the time, was only five acres. It was so small that its location was lost for centuries. (1) Celtic communities varied in size. Some were probably smaller than Troy, But some were extremely large.

The hill fort or town called Maiden Castle, in Dorset, England, covered forty-five acres. It was nine times larger than Troy, while the community at Stanwick, England was 850 acres: 170 times larger than Troy. Only part of the town was walled, so part of the acreage was probably devoted to farming. (2)

At Babracte, near Autun, France, the town was only 350 acres, but it was fully walled. Its population has been estimated at three hundred thousand souls. (3)

One of the oldest communities to be excavated is the hill fort at Danebury, Hampshire, England, which is 2500 years old. The Oxford University archaeological team that excavated Danebury said it was "A picture of Celtic society that is every bit as rich as the cultures of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome" (4)

Government

While a loose confederation of Celtic people spread out over most of northern Europe, there was a consistency among them. The languages, religious beliefs and forms of government were the same. A Celt travelling from one city to another would have no trouble understanding the customs and laws of the new area.

The government consisted of a chieftain, an aristocracy, who made up a council, and a tribal assembly. Caesar called the council a "senate" thinking it similar to the Senate of Rome. While the council was aristocratic, membership in the assembly was open to every free-man in the community. In democratic fashion, members were elected to the counsel. (5)

Women enjoyed equal rights with men. They were allowed voices in and membership on the counsel. Some rose to be leaders of the community. The equality extended to the military service, as well, where they fought as fiercely as the men did. (6) Women were allowed to own property in their own right. When they married, any property they owned remained theirs. It did not revert to the husband as it did in most societies of the time.

Obviously, the Celts had great respect for women. Some historians believe that this respect gave rise to the concept of chivalry. Given the chivalrous attitude toward women, Celtic society was still, like most societies of the time, male dominated. (7)

Social

Strangely enough, though fierce warriors, the Celts were a very social people. They welcomed strangers, who were then invited to share food even before they were asked who they were or why they were there. They enjoyed great feasts at which huge quantities of food and drink would be consumed. Usually, the aristocracy would sponsor the feasts as a means of sharing with the rest of the community and to enhance their own importance. (8)

Even though they loved to eat and drink, it was a disgrace punishable by heavy fines to get fat. It was customary to keep fit. One could not be a good fighter if the body was not strong. Regular exercise and hard work were daily requirements.

The Celts traded with the Romans and Greeks for wine, but made their own beer and meade. Today beer is brewed in almost every country worldwide; meade, a honey-based wine, until recently was only distilled in Ireland.


Footnotes

  1. Duffy, Kevin; Who Were The Celts?; Heritage Books, Inc., 1996/Barnes & Noble, 1999 p 41
  2. Duffy; p 41
  3. Duffy; p 41-2
  4. Duffy; p 41
  5. James, Simon; The World of The Celts; Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1993 p 53
  6. Duffy; p 8
  7. James; p 66
  8. James; p 71

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