The Religion of the Ancient Celts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 445 pages of information about The Religion of the Ancient Celts.
and Segovesus, with many followers, to found new colonies in Italy and the Hercynian forest.[46] Mythical as this may be, it suggests the hegemony of one tribe or one chief over other tribes and chiefs, for Livy says that the sovereign power rested with the Bituriges who appointed the king of Celticum, viz.  Ambicatus.  Some such unity is necessary to explain Celtic power in the ancient world, and it was made possible by unity of race or at least of the congeries of Celticised peoples, by religious solidarity, and probably by regular gatherings of all the kings or chiefs.  If the Druids were a Celtic priesthood at this time, or already formed a corporation as they did later in Gaul, they must have endeavoured to form and preserve such a unity.  And if it was never so compact as Livy’s words suggest, it must have been regarded as an ideal by the Celts or by their poets, Ambicatus serving as a central figure round which the ideas of empire crystallised.  The hegemony existed in Gaul, where the Arverni and their king claimed power over the other tribes, and where the Romans tried to weaken the Celtic unity by opposing to them the Aedni.[47] In Belgium the hegemony was in the hands of the Suessiones, to whose king Belgic tribes in Britain submitted.[48] In Ireland the “high king” was supreme over other smaller kings, and in Galatia the unity of the tribes was preserved by a council with regular assemblies.[49]

The diffusion of the Ambicatus legend would help to preserve unity by recalling the mythic greatness of the past.  The Boii and Insubri appealed to transalpine Gauls for aid by reminding them of the deeds of their ancestors.[50] Nor would the Druids omit to infuse into their pupils’ minds the sentiment of national greatness.  For this and for other reasons, the Romans, to whom “the sovereignty of all Gaul” was an obnoxious watch-word, endeavoured to suppress them.[51] But the Celts were too widely scattered ever to form a compact empire.[52] The Roman empire extended itself gradually in the consciousness of its power; the cohesion of the Celts in an empire or under one king was made impossible by their migrations and diffusion.  Their unity, such as it was, was broken by the revolt of the Teutonic tribes, and their subjugation was completed by Rome.  The dreams of wide empire remained dreams.  For the Celts, in spite of their vigour, have been a race of dreamers, their conquests in later times, those of the spirit rather than of the mailed fist.  Their superiority has consisted in imparting to others their characteristics; organised unity and a vast empire could never be theirs.


[6] Ripley, Races of Europe; Wilser, L’Anthropologie, xiv. 494; Collignon, ibid. 1-20; Broca, Rev. d’Anthrop. ii. 589 ff.

[7] Sergi, The Mediterranean Race, 241 ff., 263 ff.

[8] Keane, Man, Past and Present, 511 ff., 521, 528.

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The Religion of the Ancient Celts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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