History: European Essays & Paper Examples

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Essay On The Celts Term Paper

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Georg Ramsauer lived in a small village called Hallstatt, in Austria. This village was located near a lake named Salzkammergut, which means "the place of good salt," also near the region's capitol, Salzburg, "the salt town." The salt from these mountains was used to preserve the food in most of Old Europe. Ramsauer was the director of the salt mines. He'd heard tales of his worker's ancestors, and was fascinated by them. Hoping to find some remnant of these earlier people, he began exploring the areas around Hallstatt, and in 1846, his explorations finally led him to an astounding archaeological discovery--a huge prehistoric cemetary, with over 2,500 gravesites. The Academy of Sciences in Vienna sent a team to examine the site, and after years of exhausting work, it was determined that these graves, dating as old as 800 B.C., were the first people in a race that at one time reigned over the entire European world, deemed "Keltoi" by the Greeks; or, as they are known more commonly, the Celts. The Celtic culture originated in a time when the people of what is now Europe had just grown out of their nomadic stage and were settling down at one spot, either a single home or an entire village. The Celts of the Hallstatt Era were rather advanced, compared to other people of this time. They were using iron to make tools and other things, something most European people hadn't even begun to do, and they were becoming skilled with it. Judging by the elaborateness of some of those burial sites, as opposed to the simpleness of the majority of graves, it seems that the Hallstatt people were a hierarchial society, with a lower class slaving in the salt mines, while the higher classes reaped the benefits of trading their salt with other tribes. They had no written record, as writing was very scarce in the world in 800 B.C. Due to this, little else is known about the Hallstatt Celts. The Hallstatt Era lasted until approximately 700 B.C., and for the next century it advanced into another distinctive era, the La Tene Era. Remnants of these people were found when the Thielle River and Lake Neuchatel, in Switzerland, were shallow due to a drought. The water became so low that in an area where the river dumps into the lake, blackened, waterlogged timbers were seen poking from its depths. La Tene means "the shallows" in their native language. After further investigation, these timbers turned out to be the remains of a village that once rested in that spot, and many artifacts were unearthed in the banks along the river and lake. Though the designs and styles of these artifacts proved them to be from the same race as the people of Hallstatt, they were of such greater quality and sophistication that they were deemed the beginning of a new era. Though both eras lasted for about the same time, there was a vast difference between the Hallstatt and La Tene. During the Hallstatt Era, there was very little growth in the Celtic culture, only a refinement of existing things, such as farming methods, ironworking, and artwork. However, the La Tene people were a rapidly growing society, and it was during this time that almost ninety percent of the advancements of the Celts took place. They perfected their ironworking skills and moved on to other areas, became more precise with their artwork, invented new methods of more productive farming, established their system of society and living in general, carved their place in the world. The Celts had spread to almost every area of Europe, forever influencing the cultures of many races. They had wealth, power, respect and style. They were at the height of their existence during this time, around 400 B.C. One example of this is the elaborate burials, demonstrated by the grave of a chieftan in Hochdorf. He was placed in a tomb with many items they thought were necessary for the afterlife, including a large cauldron decorated with three lions, made by Greek slaves, several drinking flasks, meat, berries, nuts and other foods, and a large cart that, according to the priests, would be used to carry him on his journey to the Afterlife. The pagan priests of the Celts, the Druids, were the most educated of all the Celtic people, but their barbaric methods of worship and sacrifice would turn most people's stomachs. To ensure a good harvest, or good fortune in battle, or whatever they were praying for, the Druids would perform rituals involving human and animal sacrifice, forcing dozens of men, women, children and animals in large wicker baskets, piling them up, and burning them alive. Or, in another popular ritual, they would build a large wooden object in the shape of a man and place the people inside to be lit on fire. There were many such rituals, and almost all of them involved the burning of live humans and animals. Even the cold-hearted Romans were disgusted at this. The Druids performed one of these ceremonies to ensure that the Celts would do well in an upcoming battle with the Romans, and hold their position as a feared and respected race. However, it was at this time that the current civilization of the Celts would be changed permanently, and for the worst. In 390 B.C. they had their first encounter in battle with the Romans. The Celts were fond of fighting, and went vigorously into battle. In the account of one Greek philosopher, Strabo, the Celts wore large bronze helmets, decorated with horns or animal designs, which added to their ferocious appearance. They went savagely into battle, some using breastplates of strong chain mail armor, though most went completely naked. The Celts were victorious in this first encounter, and another in which they attacked and pillaged Greece as far south as Delphi. They spread rapidly across Europe, conquering lands and instilling fear in the hearts of other nations. The Celts were a brave race, always ready to fight to the death, defending their reputation as a tribe that was not to be contended with. However, this reign over Europe eventually came to a halt. The Celt's downfall was their own fault. Their tribes had no government system, and though they allied in times of crisis, they never formed a single nation. They were spread over a large territory, and usually by the time they would come together to defend each other, it was too late. This was the case in the battle with the Romans at Gaul. The Celts hadn't been in any major battles for almost two and a half centuries, until 59 B.C. The Helvetii tribe was migrating from Germany into Gaul, but the Romans, under the rule of Julius Caesar, were also planning to inhabit this area. Caesar attacked at a town called Armecy, slaughtered most of the Celts, and drove the rest back to Germany. This was the unofficial beginning of many years of battle between the Romans and the Celtic people. In the winter of 57 B.C., Caesar attacked and conquered the Belgae and Nervii tribes, who lived in the area near Gaul. One year later the Romans defeated Normandy and Aquitaine, causing Venetii, another tribe from Britain, to rebel. They were brutally slaughtered. Caesar planned to sail to Britain, but on the way a storm broke out and nearly sank his ship, so he was forced to return home, though this wouldn't be his last attempt to reach Britain. During Caesar's campaign, Celtic culture was slowly diminished as Rome conquered one tribe after another. The Celts resisted against the Romans, and also fought amongst themselves. Some tribes tried to ally with Rome, but for a multitude of reasons, all attempts failed. A Celtic warrior king, Vercingetorix, raised a huge army from many tribes across France, won several small battles against Rome, and severaly damaged Caesar's legions. However, at the battle of Alesia between Caesar and Vercingetorix, in the year 52 B.C., Caesar was victorious, slaughtering almost all of the Celts. Vercingetorix entered the Roman camp and bowed down at Caesar's feet in surrender. The Romans held him captive for six years, finally parading him through the streets of Rome as Caesar's prize and strangling him to death. After this defeat, all the power, glory and fame that had once been the Celt's disappeared. They were no longer feared by every tribe in Europe, as they once had been. Although they lost their prestige through their defeats, they lost things that were more valuable than a reputation; they lost their culture. As the Romans began to take over Celtic territory and mix with the people, Celtic traditions and ways of life began to diminish. Caesar had invaded and conquered Britain shortly after the battle at Alesia, and as the past glory of the Celts began to slowly fade, it appeared that this was a culture that would be lost forever in the great mix of races that now inhabited the once-Celtic areas. However, at some unknown point some Celts had escaped Britain and Europe, and moved to their own island. While the Romans conquered the other Celts, this group flourished and produced their own society, isolated from the effects of other cultures. This island was known as Ireland. In the midst of a world that had destroyed the Celtic culture, Ireland nourished it. Here, the bards played their music and sang the songs of generations long past, castles were constructed for glorious but not all-powerful kings, and thanks to the work of a Roman man named St. Patrick in 432 A.D., Christianity was introduced. Monasteries were erected, and the stories of the Celt's past were finally in written form. Unfortunately, even the seclusion of Ireland couldn't protect the Celtic culture from the rest of the world, and they were attacked again, although this time the invaders weren't Roman. They were the Vikings. In traditional form of the Norsemen, they landed without warning, pillaged the land, murdered the people, and stole valuable items. They attacked monasteries, but the monks barred the doors and stayed at the highest windows, pouring boiling oil on whoever attempted to break in. Wherever the Vikings had a strong enough force, they built towns, usually at seaports. They began to intermingle with the Celtic people, but, after losing so much of their culture to the Romans, the Celts didn't want it to happen again, and they resisted. Finally, after many battles, the Celts defeated the Norsemen at Dublin. The Vikings were no longer a threat to Ireland, but they had done considerable damage to the Irish Celtic culture. The independence that was a Celtic trademark was replaced with new methods of government, and small tribes were growing into villages and towns. Minor migrations into Ireland from other countries also influenced their way of life. The Celts had thrived again in Ireland, if only for a few centuries, but that would be the final time they reached their old glory. Except for a few places along the western coast of Britain, the Celtic culture has vanished. Bibliography 1. Squire, Charles. Celtic Myth and Legend, Poetry and Romance. London: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1905. 2. Herm, Gerard. The Celts. Great Britain: Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd., 1976. 3. Peoples of the Earth. Italy: Robert B. Clarke, 1976. 4. The Druid's Grove. (February 23, 1998) Online. Internet. March 1, 1998. http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~cheri/index.html 5. Celtic and Irish Shtuff. Jan. 6, 1998. Online. Internet. March 1, 1998. http://celtic.stanford.edu/pmurphy/irish.html

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