How the Celts Came to Britain


Author: Michael A Morse
Publisher: Tempus Publishing
Published: 2005
ISBN: 9780752433394

Synopsis: The narrative of the Celts in Britain has accommodated a number of substantial changes in the last two hundred years. At the beginning of that period the idea that Celts populated pre-Roman Britain was only a strange notion; we know better at present but continue to modify our ideas as scholarship redefines Celtic history and itself. Moore marks the new interdisciplinary nature of study of the Celts, most noticeably in the partnership of linguistics and archeology, and describes how professionals and gifted amateurs started to develop coherence within Celtic studies through analysis of such seemingly diverse subjects as ethnology, monuments, skulls, and art. Distributed in the US by Trafalgar Square Publishing. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR.

Review:To start this review I would like to say I ordered this book when I ordered The Celts by John Collis. The two books are pretty much about the same subject matter. After finishing Collis’s book I was not very hopeful for this one. I began to change my mind a when I realized that the author actually knew the difference between Great Britain, the United Kingdom, Britain and England.

The book is divided into two parts. These two parts define the history of Celtic scholarship in Britain. Each part is associated with the dominant approach to the problem of peopling of the British Isles. The first approach defined the Celts as a linguistic group and it covers the eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. During this time the study of the Celts developed through the study of language. Part two covers the 1840s to the end of the nineteenth century and during this time the study of the Celts was dominated by the study of material remains. It eclipsed the linguists and led to the formation of archaeology. This is the discipline in which modern and popular understanding of the Celts emerged.

The author’s criticism of both the Celtic Scholars, and the deconstructionists (like Collis, Chapman and James) was pretty spot on in the introduction (chapter one) of the book, and it gave me further hope that perhaps he will be fair on the subject matter, which I finally understood, and that is the use of the word Celtic to define the people living in Great Britain. The issue in this book was not the Celts themselves (or the people we now call Celts) but how the term developed and by whom, when and under what circumstances.

The beginning of the introduction of the Celts into debate of the origins of the British began as a reaction to the earlier origin scholarship which said that the Britons (or Welsh) were descendants of Brutus (this was propagated by Geoffrey of Monmouth), or that they were descendants of Japhet in essence giving them a biblical origin.

The book was really interesting and a delight to read. The author doesn’t put you on the offensive while reading what he is writing or asking questions on (which is very much what happened when I was reading the Collis book). He was very balanced in covering the information he wanted covered and he has SO MUCH information there that you have to really think about what he is trying to convey. It really gave me a good grounding in the history of the scholarship of the concept of the Celts. It certainly assessed fairly the problems we face studying the Celts today. It asks pretty good questions of both deconstructionists and Celtic scholars and gives a good history of linguisticts and archaeology as it pertains to the Celts. The final chapter of the book (Epilogue) summed up the book very well, and gave me a lot of food for thought. I especially liked the way that he challenged BOTH the deconstructionists and the Celtic Scholars to prove their points of view by pointing out the gaps in the arguments of each. The book also has a list of Celtic Scholars of the eighteenth and nineteenth century for anyone who wants to go and read these people’s works. There is also a list of secondary sources which is a treasure trove.

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4 thoughts on “How the Celts Came to Britain

  1. Dafydd says:

    This book sounds very interesting. Reading about the origins of Celtic identity in Britain sounds a lot like Professor Barry Cunliffe’s new book, Britain Begins, which is released next month in the United Kingdom. I’ve read an excerpt on amazon, and he too mentions the writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth, and his tall tales about the Trojans waging wars against giants in ancient Britain.

    I’m very happy to see that this author has at least given the subject an impartial view, which makes a change from John Collis’s hostile opinions on the Celts.

    • celticscholar says:

      Yes, I pre-ordered the Barry Cunliffe book at the beginning of this month. I’m VERY excited about it lol.

      • Dafydd says:

        Yes, it does sound exciting and I enjoyed the short excerpt they gave on amazon. It’s definitely going on my reading list. What makes this one sound interesting is how Professor Cunliffe seems to be tackling the historical record this time round, instead of the archaeological one. It’s also reassuring to see Cunliffe continuing to publish books since his retirement as Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford.

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