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Writings on the Celts have been placed in two categories, archaeological and historical perspectives and literature, lore, art and mythology. Some of the readings fall in both categories and will be found in both lists.

Archaeological and Historical Perspectives

At one time or another, Celtic-speaking people inhabited much of northern and central Europe and parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Since they left few written records, the information we have about them is scattered and sparse, and many attempts to reconstruct their life, beliefs, or thoughts are highly speculative. Below are some of the best or most interesting attempts.

Collingridge, Vanessa. Boudica: The Life of Britainís Legendary Warrior Queen. Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2007. ISBN 1585679127

Boudica was a pagan British tribal chieftess who took on the Romans and beat them—for awhile. Collingridge uses history and archaeology to search for the real Boudica. She also traces the historical figure through Englandís history: how her reputation has changed over the centuries, and what she means to England today. (LC)

Delaney, Frank (writer and narrator). The Celts: Rich Tradition and Ancient Myths. BBC Video, 1986.

This is the collection of a 6-show series that was aired on the BBC in 1986. It begins in Hallstatt, Austria, at the Celtic salt-miner settlement of 2500 years ago and leads us through the archaeological finds that show the spread of the Celtic empire from Ireland to Hungary, through the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the void left behind in the Celtic lands when the Roman army withdrew. The first show alone is worth seeing for a view of the Hallstatt and Hochdorf, Germany remains, and the autopsy of Lindow Man. Even the most well-read Celtophile will be further enlightened by actually seeing with their own eyes these finds and places previously only imagined from description. The third show on Celtic spirituality is especially interesting and well-presented, giving a relatively balanced view of Druids and insight into the Celtic mythology and religious practices as they evolved from Paganism to Christianity.

Interviews with some of the leading Celtic scholars of today, such as Anne Ross, Pronsias Mac Cana, and Barry Cunliffe are interspersed throughout the video, and the haunting music of Enya is an appropriate backdrop. A highly recommended overview, presented with humor and sensitivity. (DT 2002)

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2002. ISBN 1841194689

This book provides a good introduction to the subject. Ellis, a recognized authority on the ancient Celts, gives a thorough overview of the Druids and their place in Celtic society. He also includes a chapter on the modern Druid revival. His writing style is accessible and engaging. (If you like mysteries, you can learn a lot about early Irish society from the Sister Fidelma series, which Ellis writes under the pen name of Peter Tremayne.) (LC)

_______. Celtic Women: Women in Celtic Society and Literature. London: Constable and Company Ltd, 1995.

Read this in tandem with with Jean Markale’s Women of the Celts (below). While he does not footnote his sources, Ellis has written a fairly scholarly, but accessible, book on women in Celtic society using archaeological, anthropological, literary and folklore sources. (SR)

Green, Miranda. The Celtic World. London: Routledge, 1995.

A more up-to-date compendium of archaeological and anthropological materials on the Celts. (SR)

_______. The Druid World. New York: Thames and Hudson LTD, 1997.

A compendium of archaeological and anthropological materials on the Druids. Green frequently cautions her readers about the limitations of the sources we have, but very occasionally writes as if speculation based on these limited sources are established facts. (SR)

_______. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. New York: Thames and Hudson LTD, 1997.

An A–Z of known Celtic deities and Celtic symbols. (SR)

Harbison, Peter. Pre Christian Ireland From the 1st Settlers to the Early Celts. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988 ISBN 0-500-02110-4.

This is one of the first full scale surveys of early Irish prehistory fit for general public consumption. This is not a book for beginners, but can be used as a reference to archaeological finds in Ireland. Even though it’s 10 years old, it still has a lot of vital information on major sites in Ireland. (DT)

James, Simon. The World of the Celts. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1993.

This is one of the first overviews of the Celts that I ever bought and it still remains a favorite. The text is well written and well researched but the illustrations are better! If you want an inexpensive but well written book on the Celts, this is a good place to start. (DT)

Markale, Jean. Women of the Celts. Rochester. VT: Inner Traditions, 1972, 1975 (trans).

Markale’s work as an historian is often criticized, but his ideas are interesting from an esoteric view point and are worth the effort exploring. This English translation is far more easy to read than than the translations of some of his other books. This particular book focuses on Arthurian women especially and the roles of women in Celtic societies. (SR)

________. The Celts: Uncovering the Mythic and Historic Origins of Western Culture. Rochester. VT: Inner Traditions, 1976, 1978 (trans).

This should be read with a pinch (or two or three) of salt as history, but again, very thought-provoking ideas from the magical/esoteric point of view. (SR)

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley Rees. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Although somewhat dated, this is still a often-cited and well-respected text on Celtic culture and its origins. The authors attempt to understand Celtic mentalities through the Celts’ Indo-European roots. (SR)

Wells, Peter S. The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999; reprint, 2001.

Wells compares the archaeological evidence with contemporary written Roman accounts to show a more complete and more complex picture of how conquered people in the area Wells describes as "temperate Europe," adapted to the influences of their conquerors and also how they changed the culture and society of their conquerors. Wells also looks at how Roman provincial society changed and was changed by the peoples who lived beyond the frontiers of the Empire.

Comparisons of archaeological findings with written contemporary records reveal that acculturation of the newly dominant culture was a complex process. In some places, indigenous populations resisted Romanization for decades; in others, Roman customs and material culture were readily adapted; while in yet other places the population blended native and Roman to varying degrees. Often status played a roll as well: elite members of the native society often adopted Roman practices while lower-status individuals might cling to their native traditions. Wells also looks at more modern and better documented situations of conquest and colonization as possible models of interpreting the archaeological and historical evidence.

The writing style is sometimes quite dry and repetitive (Wells never lets us forget the limitations of the evidence at hand or the complexities of cultural changes). I would have like to have seen proper footnotes or end notes, but the bibliographic essay does lead the reader to more detailed sources. I would also have found it useful to have more illustrations comparing the various styles of pottery, jewelry and other artifacts he discusses in the text.
The Barbarians Speak does allow us to begin to see the Roman conquest from the perspective of the natives rather than that of the Romans. I would recommend this to any one who has a serious interest in the study of the Celts and Germans in the time of the Roman conquest of northern and western Europe. (SR)

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Literature, Lore, Art and Mythology

“Pan”-Celtic

Readings that discuss more than one Celtic culture have been placed in the “Pan”-Celtic section. Discussions that are specific to Ireland and Scotland and to Britain (Wales, Cornwall, Romano-Celtic Britain, pre-Roman Britain) are under the appropriate heading.

O’Driscoll, Robert (ed.). The Celtic Consciousness. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1981 ISBN 0-8076-1136-0.

This collection of 55 essays by leading authorities on the Celtic world gives a great overview of Celtic art, folklore, music, archaeology and myths. (DT).

Markale, Jean. Women of the Celts. Rochester. VT: Inner Traditions, 1972, 1975 (trans).

Markale’s work as an historian is often criticized, but his ideas are interesting from an esoteric view point and are worth the effort exploring. This English translation is far easier to read than the translations of some of his other books. This particular book focuses on Arthurian women especially and the roles of women in Celtic societies. (SR)

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley Rees. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Although dated, this is still a often-cited text on Celtic culture and its origins. The authors attempt to understand Celtic mentalities through the Celts Indo-European roots. (SR)

Britain

Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein. Cardiff: University of Wales, 1961.

This is one of the most useful books on Welsh literary tradition, folklore, and mythology and a sad reminder of what has been lost over time. The Triads were lists of three connected items (such as characters who all did a certain acts or had a certain characteristic) and, in this case, believed to have been mnemonic devices for bards and storytellers. An example is “The Three Futile Battles of the Island of Britain.”

One of them was the Battle of Goddeu: It was brought about by the cause of the bitch, together with the roebuck and the plover; The second was the Action of Arfderydd, which was brought about by the cause of the lark’s nest;And the third was the worst: that was Camlan, which was brought about because of a quarrel between Gwenhwyfar and Gwenhwyfach. That is why those were called futile: because they were brought about by such a barren cause as that.

The first part of the book is a lengthy discussion of the Medieval manuscripts on which they were written, the forms of the language used and the probable dating of the manuscripts. The second part has each triad in its original Welsh followed by an English translation with notes. There are also several appendices to this section containing related Welsh literature. The third part is a dictionary of personal names found in the triads and what was known about them at the time of writing. Invaluable to students of Welsh mythology or Arthurian legends. (SR)

Ford, Patrick (ed. and trans.). The Mabinogi, and Other Medieval Welsh Tales. N.P.: University of California Press, 1983.

A well-respected compilation of Welsh medieval literature translated into English. It includes the the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, “Culhwch and Olwen,” “Dream of Rhonabwy,” “Lludd and Llevelys” and some of the Gwion Bach/Taliesin literature, along with excellent commentaries. This was the first translation of the Mabinogi I read, and its still one of my favorites. (SR)

Gantz, Jeffrey (trans.) The Mabinogion. NP: Viking Penguin, 1977.

Another well-respected compilation of Welsh medieval literature translated into English. It includes the the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, “Culhwch and Olwen,” “Dream of Rhonabwy,” “Lludd and Llevelys” and the three Welsh Arthurian Romances (but not the Gwion Bach/Taliesin materials). Gantz's translations are somewhat more formal in tone than Patrick Ford’s. Both the Ford translations and the Gantz translation are valuable to the study of Welsh literature and legend. (SR)

Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. London: Constable and Company, LTD, 1992 reprint of 1967 edition.

This is an encyclopedic account of what was known about Pagan Celtic Britain in 1962 and is quite useful if you ignore Dr. Ross’s opinions about the “primitiveness” of Celtic religion. Of course, more anthropological and archaeological studies have since been done since then, so the book is somewhat dated. (SR)

Ireland and Scotland

Gantz, Jeffrey. Early Irish Myths and Sagas. London: Penguin Books, 1981 ISBN 0-14-044397-5.

This is a wonderful easy to read translation of Irish myths and legends. One of the first I used in learning about the mythology of the Irish Celts, it is still a favorite. (DT)

Kinsella, Thomas. The Tain. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1969 ISBN 0-19-281090-1.

This is a tried and true translation of the Tain bo Cuailnge. (DT)