Did The Celts Come To Armorica ?

Bust of a Gaul found in the celtic oppidum of Paule

Bust of a Gallic Bard found in the celtic oppidum of Paule in Finistère (2OO BC). Note the torc characteristic of Celtic attire. The Gallic lyre is also proof of a certain societal development. Brittany Museum Collections (Rennes).

Around 500 BC the Carthaginian explorer Himilcon, sailing along the Atlantic coasts, found a country whose name he reported as Oestrymnis. This may be the first historical account of the Armorican peninsula.

Around 300 BC the Greek seafarer Pytheas reported a few place names of the peninsula. Some of them, such as Uxisama, presumably the island of Ouessant, are considered of Celtic origin.

Historians start distinguishing the Celts from the other peoples of Europe between the 8th and the first century BC by social organisation, religion, dress, methods of warfare, but mainly by language. The Celtic expansion in Europe succeeded because two technologies ensured their military supremacy: the use of iron and horsemanship. The peninsula was penetrated later than the rest of Western Europe – between 500 and 300 BC.

The first Celtic wave, called Hallstatt culture (800-500 BC), spread throughout Europe, but did not reach the Armorican peninsula. The second wave, called La Tene culture, more sophisticated than the Hallstatt one, went further eastwards and westwards, and established in Brittany. The La Tene Celts imposed their arms, their pottery, their arts and their language.

It was during this period of contact between Celtic and pre-Celtic peoples[1] that appeared the original custom of cremating the dead and putting the ashes in pots. The Urnfield Culture, as it is named, appeared in the peninsula when it disappeared everywhere else on the continent.

The Western areas of the peninsula, which are today Celtic-speaking, were the last zones of the continent to be Celticized.

[1] But was it a confrontation of people or cultures? The answer is not so simple …

This article is a chapter from History of Brittany that is available in digital form on Kindle

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