Blood of the Celts

Full Title: Blood of the Celts – The New Ancestral Story

Author: Jean Manco

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Published: 2015

ISBN: 978-0-500-05183-2

Pages: 240 including illustrations, end notes, Appendix, Bibliography, and Index

SynopsisBlood of the Celts brings together genetic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence to address the often-debated question: who were the Celts? What peoples or cultural identities should that term describe? And did they in fact inhabit the British Isles before the Romans arrived? Author Jean Manco challenges existing accounts of the origins of the Celts, providing a new analysis that draws on the latest discoveries as well as ancient history.

In a novel approach, the book opens with a discussion of early medieval Irish and British texts, allowing the Celts to speak in their own words and voices. It then traces their story back in time into prehistory to their deepest origins and their ancestors, before bringing the narrative forward to the present day. Each chapter also has a useful summary in bullet points to aid the reader and highlight the key facts in the story.

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Review: I honestly don’t know if I should be reviewing this book or not. By the end of it I was just skimming the chapters than reading the round up of important points at the end of each chapter.

I will say that the book has an extensive Endnotes section and a very long bibliography which is a good way to get more information of books to read. I also think that the author really tried. They did try to add in the latest research linguistically, archaeologically (like the Tartessian language and the Celtic from the West hypothesis) , and genetically, though I feel like the genetic part was sort of added in at a later date and honestly, their conclusion in the Introduction to the book really negated any need for that part of the book.  “As we shall see, there are three main components to the modern European gene pool. They came from ancient hunter-gatherers, early farmers and a Copper Age people. The modern Irish have a mixture of all three, as do the modern Germans and Italians. Any genetic differences are far too subtle to talk in terms of a Celtic race.” (p.9)

I felt like the author sometimes jumped to conclusions without really explaining their train of thought and the whole book felt at times like a compilation of what other disciplines said about parts of European pre-history without any real tie into to how that effected the Celtic culture.

I’ve had this book for at least a year and finally decided to read it…now I know why I’ve been hesitant to do so…

 

Celts The History and Legacy of One of the Oldest Cultures in Europe

Author: Martin J. Dougherty
Publisher: Amber Books
Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-78274-166-4 (Hardcover)
Pages: 224 including bibliography, index, maps, and pictures (black and white and coloured)

Synopsis:

“They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses… They embalm the heads… [and]… display them with pride to strangers.” – Diodorus Siculus.

Before the Vikings, before the Anglo-Saxons, before the Roman Empire, the Celts dominated central and western Europe. Today we might think of the Celts only inhabiting parts of the far west of Europe – Ireland, Great Britain, France and Spain – but these were the extremities in which their culture lasted longest. In fact, they had originated in Central Europe and settled as far afield as present day Turkey, Poland and Italy. From their emergence as an Iron Age people around 800 BC to the early centuries AD, Celts reveals the truth behind the stories of naked warriors, ritual beheadings, druids, magic and accusations of human sacrifice. The book examines the different tribes, the Hallstatt and La Tène periods, as well as Celtic survival in western Europe, the Gallic Wars, military life, spiritual life, slavery, sexuality and Celtic art. Illustrated with more than 180 colour and black-and-white photographs, maps and artworks, Celts is an expertly written account of a people who have long captured the popular imagination.

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Review: If you’ve ever read Simon James’ book The World of the Celts, or Miranda Green’s The World of the Druids, then you know the kind of book this is. Basically, it is an introductory book. It has a little bit of everything in it. The history of the Celts (snapshot of it anyway), Celtic literature, Celtic Gods and Goddesses (well, some of them) and so on. Hardly ever a page goes by without an illustration, a picture or a map. This would be the kind of book I would recommend to someone who knows nothing about the Celts, and are not really sure they are interested in reading in depth about them.

I do have to say that because of the expertise of the author (he is a professional writer specialising in military history), the military bits are very interesting. I liked the book. Of course I read it in one sitting because there wasn’t anything new in it but it was still good. Of course, it wasn’t perfect either and I sometimes felt like the author was putting together a booklet for a Dungeons and Dragons game (he, the author is also a game designer so maybe that also came through in the writing?). I would recommend this book as a fun introduction to the Celts, but don’t look for anything in depth here.

Celtic Britain and Ireland 200 AD to 800 AD

Full Title: Celtic Britain and Ireland 200 AD to 800 AD – The Myth of the Dark Ages
Authors: Lloyd and Jennifer Laing
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: 1990, reprinted 1991
ISBN: 0-312-04767-3
Pages: 263, including Index and Bibliography.

Synopsis: The term ‘Dark Ages’ was coined to describe a period which was seen as a period of anarchy and violence, following the collapse of civilisation. Recent discoveries by archaeologists and historians have, however, radically altered this traditional view of the Dark Ages, and the period is now seen as one of innovation and dynamic social evolution. This book reconsiders a number of traditionally accepted views. It argues, for example, that the debt of the Dark Age Celts to Rome was enormous, even in areas such as Ireland that were never occupied by Roman invaders. It also discusses the traditional chronology suggesting that the date of ‘AD 400’ usually taken as the start of the ‘early Christian period in Britain and Ireland now has comparatively little meaning. Once this conventional framework is removed, it is possible to show how the Celtic world of the Dark Ages took shape under Roman influence in the centuries between about 200 to 800, and looked to Rome even for the immediate inspiration for its art. Such questions as the extent of British (that is, Celtic) survival in pagan Saxon England, and the Celtic and Roman contribution to early England are considered.

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Review: Honestly, I’ve read so many “old/out of date” books lately that I was settling down to another “been there and learned that”. I was pleasantly surprised though. Sure this book did have an element of “been there and learned that” but there are also some “Oh, huh, interesting” and “oh, huh, so that is why people these days assumed it was like that” elements too.

Over all I think that the Laings wrote an easy to read and follow book, telling the reader about a period in Britain and Ireland that the rest of the classical world called the Dark Ages. The book itself was organised very well, and it is very easy to find things that you want to find just by skimming to relevant chapters and sections because they were so clearly labeled, or by going to the Index.

They showed that in Britain and Ireland it was hardly the Dark Ages, and along the way you get to know how some interesting archaeology was done and by whom, and how some antiquarian societies came into being and how they became so much more than just amateur hour.The bibliography was also pretty interesting and extensive.

Two Book Reviews

Title: The Rise of the Celts (The History of Civilisation Series)

Author: Henri Hubert

Publisher: Dorset press

Published: 1934, second edition 1988

Review: This book talked about the history of the Celts, starting from the origins up to the Hallstatt period. It also gave an overview of the history as a whole in the beginning, with linguistic and archeological analysis.

For me this was an interesting read. It too me a while to get through it mainly because it was old and a translation from a French text; so at times it felt awkward and some of the terms used for the time periods were a bit confusing because there were no dates attached to them for reference.

So why did I find this interesting? I liked the parts of the book where the author discussed the current (1934) hypotheses on the origins of the Celts, and I liked comparing how different (or similar) they were to the current hypotheses on the same subject.

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Title: The Greatness and Decline of the Celts (The History of Civilisation Series)

Author: Henri Hubert

Publisher: Constable and Company (first English edition) Routledge (Second edition)

Published: 1934, First English edition 1987, Second edition 2013

Review: This is part two of the series on the Celts. The book picks up where it left off from the previous one and takes us up until the decline of the Celts after the Roman conquests.

For me, part three of this book was where it was all at. It talks about the social and political structure of the Celts. I found the discussion on some concepts like reciprocity totally fascinating. Of course I should say that the author in this part of the book kept talking about the “unity of the Celts”, which was annoying because the author had previously made an effort to differentiate between the continental and insular Celts.

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So would I recommend these books? Yes, with the following caveats. Don’t read them if you are just starting out, they are definitely not for the beginner. Keep in mind that the author favours the hypothesis that says the Celts came from Gaul, and everything is about France. Be prepared to be a little confused on some of the period names.

The Philosopher and the Druid

Full Title: The Philosopher and the Druid – A Journey among the ancient Celts

Author: Philip Freeman

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Published: 2006

Pages: 221 including an index, notes and suggested readings, a pronunciation guide, a glossary of Gaulish words, a timeline and some black and white pictures.

Synopsis:

Early in the first century B.C. a Greek philosopher named Posidonius began an ambitious and dangerous journey into the little-known lands of the Celts. A man of great intellectual curiosity and considerable daring, Posidonius traveled from his home on the island of Rhodes to Rome, the capital of the expanding empire that had begun to dominate the Mediterranean. From there Posidonius planned to investigate for himself the mysterious Celts, reputed to be cannibals and savages. His journey would be one of the great adventures of the ancient world.
Posidonius journeyed deep into the heart of the Celtic lands in Gaul. There he discovered that the Celts were not barbarians but a sophisticated people who studied the stars, composed beautiful poetry, and venerated a priestly caste known as the Druids. Celtic warriors painted their bodies, wore pants, and decapitated their foes. Posidonius was amazed at the Celtic women, who enjoyed greater freedoms than the women of Rome, and was astonished to discover that women could even become Druids.
Posidonius returned home and wrote a book about his travels among the Celts, which became one of the most popular books of ancient times. His work influenced Julius Caesar, who would eventually conquer the people of Gaul and bring the Celts into the Roman Empire, ending forever their ancient way of life. Thanks to Posidonius, who could not have known that he was recording a way of life soon to disappear, we have an objective, eyewitness account of the lives and customs of the ancient Celts.

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Review:

I want to start with what I enjoyed from this book. It was a good refresher, and the writing was very readable and very engaging. I loved that the author wrote this from the perspective of Posidonius. Unfortunately, we don’t really know much about what Posidonius would have done or how he would have done it because his writings only survived in fragments in other people’s writings. What I didn’t like was that it was full of “may have, could have, must have”.

The writer did however, take us on a journey from the beginning of the Celts until their “end”. He talked about the history, the social structure of the Celtic tribes, their warriors and kings, their feasts and their women. I’d consider this a great introductory book or a refresher for the fully versed.

Celtic – A Comparative Study

Author: D.B.Gregor
Publisher: The Oleander Press
Published: 1980
ISBN: 9780900891564

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Synopsis:

“A marvellous book which is both readable and scholarly”

The core of this work is an examination in depth of six Celtic languages: Irish, Gaelic, Manx (all correctly called Gaelic by their speakers), and Welsh, Cornish and Breton (three cousins of the first group). It is the core because the rest of the work grows out of it; and its consequently central position is intended to mark the peak between flowering and decline.

Encapsulating the core is an account of Celtic origins, and the story of its origins, and the story of the formation, vicissitudes, and dissolution of the six regions where different forms of Celtic are or were spoken. The decline in the number of Celtic speakers is traced in detail; its causes are examined one by one; the struggle for survival is described wherever it is being carried on; and finally the question is asked: “What is meant by revival?”

The requiem for Manx in these pages is included because its loss is doubly painful for having happened in our own day. It is time that languages were regarded as part of the ecological scene, and the end of one of them felt as deeply as the extinction of a species.
It is hoped that this work will leave the reader in that frame of mind: willing to halt the further decline of the Celtic languages.

Part of the Oleander Classics series, this 1980 title has been reproduced using the highest-quality modern scanning technology. This is in order to keep important works from the Press’s 50-year history from going out of print. In this way, the invaluable resources provided by this and other books in the series remain available for general readers, academics and other interested parties.

Review:

It took me two days to read this book. That is how much I loved reading it. It was written in 1980 so there has been of course 34 years worth of historic and linguistic discoveries made BUT what was in this book is still for the most part still valid. I loved the fact that the book started out with a historic overview of the regions these languages were spoken to set the scene for the linguistic stuff, and I love that the author included the Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Brittany in there because a lot of the times these three languages and places are overlooked when talking about the Celts. The language comparison that the author does is very easy to follow and he also gives a good example for the comparison in the text he uses for it. The causes of decline (no matter how painful it is to read them) are also presented by the author and they are disunity, loss of status, shortage of reading matter, lack of instructions in school and university, the loss of language in the religious life, immigration, emigration, the impact of newspapers, cinema, television, and radio, and linguicide. Then finally, he talks about the revival of language…

I really loved this book as I said before and I would recommend it, but I would also recommend checking the information in it for the latest in the fields of history and linguistics.

The Shaping of the Celtic World by Patrick Lavin

Author: Patrick Lavin

Publisher: iUniverse

Copyright: 2011

Synopsis: The Shaping of the Celtic World traces the rise and decline of the great Celtic peoples. Ranging from prehistoric to modern times, it undertakes an examination of Celtic civilization, revealing a proud and independent society with its unique history, mythology, pantheon of gods, literature, and artistry. The romance of Celtic mythology is unsurpassed. It introduces us to many intriguing legends, of which the battles between the gods and giants are most alluring.Emerging in the 6th century BC, the Celts conquered and settled the greater part of Europe, laying the foundation for westerncivilization. Their contribution in shaping the modern world cannot be underestimated. As Europe languished in the barbarism of the Dark Ages, the great heritage of Western Europe was endangered of being entirely lost but for the Celtic monks of Ireland and Britain who scribed and illuminated Europes treasury of literature.The book is written for the millions who proudly identify with their Celtic rootsknown today by their ethnic identities as Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Mann, Breton, and Cornish. This concise yet user-friendly guide to ancient European history will be enjoyed by a variety of readers including students, travelers, history enthusiasts, and those interested in their Celtic origins.

Review: For the first time I am not sure how to write a review for a book I’ve read.  The material in the book is basically divided into three parts: history, religion and art.

The information in the historical part is basically correct but very much outdated.  The latest reference in the book is copyrighted to 2006 and that is a book that lists the classical writers’ quotes about the Celts.  His sources go all the way back to the early 1900s.  Good sources…just really OLD.  I do like that he went all the way to Christianity and beyond in terms of history since a lot of other books tend to stop just before Christianity comes to the Celts.

The part on the Celtic religion was very accurate considering he again was using old sources, but we really don’t have much of an update on that front even in new books, at least nothing that would change that information drastically.

In the arts part of the book the author talks about not just material art but also literature and it was actually very interesting in that he brings it all the way up to the 19th century, and not just to the Christian era.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it either.  So what is the problem?  I think what bothered me the most is that I didn’t see the author’s thoughts on the subject matter he was covering.  He isn’t a scholar but rather an enthusiast and I knew that so I was expecting to see that enthusiasm…which I didn’t. I felt like he had a bunch of points by other authors that he had to convey and he did…end of story.