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Ancient Celts [Paperback]

Barry Cunliffe
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 1999
The archetypal 'barbarians from the north', the Celts were feared for their ferocity in battle and admired as skilled craftsmen. For two and half thousand years the Celts have continued to fascinate all who have come into contact with them. "The Ancient Celts" presents an absorbing account of the tribes whose origins and identity still provoke heated debate. Exploring the archaeological reality of the Iron Age inhabitants of barbarian Europe, Professor Cunliffe traces the emergence of chiefdoms, patterns of expansion and migration, and the development of Celtic ethnicity and identity.

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Ancient Celts + Druids: A Very Short Introduction
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Product Description

Review

'SUBSTANTIAL AND AUTHORITATIVE'The Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Barry Cunliffe is Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford. He contributed a new introductory chapter to the New Edition of Nora Chadwick's classic The Celts.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
WITHOUT the descriptions and speculations of Greek and Roman writers, our understanding of the Iron Age communities of central and western Europe-the traditional homeland of the Celts-would be very different. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The treasures of a lost society April 14 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
An informative and comprehensive overview of the history of Celtic Eurasia. Cunliffe's status as a leading scholar in this field is well deserved. This volume exhibits the result of many years of work. The wealth and breadth, in both time and space, of the material preclude Cunliffe engaging in flowery rhetoric or idle speculations. Using archaeology as the basis for his presentation, he provides both textual and graphic information. The result is a thorough examination of the development and movements of the Celtic peoples. Their impact on the geopolitics of Europe is great, he reminds us. Place names, artistic styles, and numerous practical elements, many of which have been downplayed or ignored during the Christian centuries, remain as a legacy of their presence and influence.
Given the paucity of Celtic written records, Cunliffe begins with a early archaeological efforts and snippets of Greco-Roman observations. What the Celts thought of themselves must remain a mystery. Those observing them found a warrior society, highly sophisticated in that realm from both aggressive and defensive standpoints. Highly mobile, the Celts established societies from Western Asia to the British Isles. In their settlements, which became increasingly organized and administered over the centuries, they laid the foundations of many modern communities. Cunliffe's accounts of these settlements, particularly those in the Iberian peninsula is likely to offer fresh information for many students.
Cunliffe gives us overviews of the "barbarian" migrations and their impact on European society. The most important result of Celtic movements, of course, was the counter expansion of Rome. Celtic domination of the trans-Alpine region drew Rome into Europe proper.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Detailed and Informative June 15 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Let me start by saying I am nowhere near an expert on this subject. I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the Celts. Although I found this book to be a bit academic for my liking it was obviously scrupulously researched. My biggest complaint was the use of archaic names for ancient geographical locations without providing an approximate modern reference point; the same holds true for the mention of many long extinct cultural groups. The numerous maps which were included did not to my mind provide much clarification, plus they were all clustered together at the end of the book which made it cumbersome to keep flipping back and forth. Perhaps it was the author's intent to target a more scholarly audience which would explain my frustration with the content; hence, the 4 stars.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid introductory work May 24 2001
Format:Paperback
I have grown to appreciate this book over the past five years. Although I do not use it myself much anymore, I do assign it to my Archaeology 1 tutorial students. It's an easier read than 'The European Iron Age' (John Collis), and I prefer the layout and illlustrations of 'The Ancient Celts' to 'Exploring the World of the Celts' (Simon James).
I would very much recommend this as a first text for those who are interested in the archaeology of the Celts. It's very well-written, and the illustrations are highly evocative.
However, as with any single-author account covering such a wide geographic area over such a span of time, there are disagreements over some aspects of Cunliffe's interpretations. Because of this, I would suggest that 'The Ancient Celts' is probably best read in conjuntion with either of the two books mentioned above.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A lot of information about Celt Dec 18 2011
By gabio
Format:Paperback
This book cover all the aspect of the Celtic society from the beginning, the expansion, the Roman period up to the later days with the remaining celtic societies ( ireland, breton, etc) However this book is not so easy to read, there's a lot of place names and period name that you need to process and to learn if you're a beginner with celtic history. The writting is very academic witch make the reading a bit tougher. But I would still recommend this book to anybody who wants to learn more about this quite incredible society which expand from the tip of Scotland to the far east.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
72 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The treasures of a lost society April 14 2003
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An informative and comprehensive overview of the history of Celtic Eurasia. Cunliffe's status as a leading scholar in this field is well deserved. This volume exhibits the result of many years of work. The wealth and breadth, in both time and space, of the material preclude Cunliffe engaging in flowery rhetoric or idle speculations. Using archaeology as the basis for his presentation, he provides both textual and graphic information. The result is a thorough examination of the development and movements of the Celtic peoples. Their impact on the geopolitics of Europe is great, he reminds us. Place names, artistic styles, and numerous practical elements, many of which have been downplayed or ignored during the Christian centuries, remain as a legacy of their presence and influence.
Given the paucity of Celtic written records, Cunliffe begins with a early archaeological efforts and snippets of Greco-Roman observations. What the Celts thought of themselves must remain a mystery. Those observing them found a warrior society, highly sophisticated in that realm from both aggressive and defensive standpoints. Highly mobile, the Celts established societies from Western Asia to the British Isles. In their settlements, which became increasingly organized and administered over the centuries, they laid the foundations of many modern communities. Cunliffe's accounts of these settlements, particularly those in the Iberian peninsula is likely to offer fresh information for many students.
Cunliffe gives us overviews of the "barbarian" migrations and their impact on European society. The most important result of Celtic movements, of course, was the counter expansion of Rome. Celtic domination of the trans-Alpine region drew Rome into Europe proper. Rome's choice of land routes for armies instead of sea routes for trade meant occupation or dominance of Celtic holdings. These counterforces had far-reaching results in all areas of European life. Even religion, which was normally viewed tolerantly by Rome, came under assault when the Celtic Druids became the force organizing resistance to Roman rule. Cunliffe traces these interactions with a scholar's precision, relating it all in a crisp narration.
The author's long career in this field has provided him with a storehouse of resources. Aside from the fine bibliographic essay, he enhances the main text with excellent maps, illustrations and photographs, many in colour. These cultural images impart a graphic sense of how misleading the term "barbarian" is applied to these people. Their rich heritage, eroded by Rome and virtually eliminated by Christianity is revived by Cunliffe's superb recounting of their world. This book is valuable at many levels and well worth the investment. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Detailed and Informative June 15 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Let me start by saying I am nowhere near an expert on this subject. I read this book because I wanted to learn more about the Celts. Although I found this book to be a bit academic for my liking it was obviously scrupulously researched. My biggest complaint was the use of archaic names for ancient geographical locations without providing an approximate modern reference point; the same holds true for the mention of many long extinct cultural groups. The numerous maps which were included did not to my mind provide much clarification, plus they were all clustered together at the end of the book which made it cumbersome to keep flipping back and forth. Perhaps it was the author's intent to target a more scholarly audience which would explain my frustration with the content; hence, the 4 stars.
40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid introductory work May 24 2001
By The Blind Archaeologist - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have grown to appreciate this book over the past five years. Although I do not use it myself much anymore, I do assign it to my Archaeology 1 tutorial students. It's an easier read than 'The European Iron Age' (John Collis), and I prefer the layout and illlustrations of 'The Ancient Celts' to 'Exploring the World of the Celts' (Simon James).
I would very much recommend this as a first text for those who are interested in the archaeology of the Celts. It's very well-written, and the illustrations are highly evocative.
However, as with any single-author account covering such a wide geographic area over such a span of time, there are disagreements over some aspects of Cunliffe's interpretations. Because of this, I would suggest that 'The Ancient Celts' is probably best read in conjuntion with either of the two books mentioned above.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stop Right Here! Dec 13 2005
By Mouldy Pilgrim - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are wondering what to read about the Celts, with little previous exposure to the subject, then you only need to know one thing: "The Ancient Celts" by Barry Cunliffe. In fact, forget about this review and just buy it now, it is that good. I am not joking! Go. Now. Why are you still reading???

Since you persist, you will find "The Ancient Celts" to be a thorough going introduction to most aspects of Celtic research and history. Cunliffe gives a broad overview of previous Celtic study, the sources and the different influences and prejudices that have wormed their way into the sources and works through history. This provides an excellent back-drop to Cunliffe's own book, and puts it into an historical context of scholarship.

For the Celts themselves, the book presents broad overviews of different aspects of Celtic society, culture, art and so on. This is necessarily brief and focuses on those Celtic peoples who are amply attested to. For those others who dwelt more on the fringes of Celtic territory, Cunliffe is rightly more cautious in the few conclusions he draws. Despite this, the treatment is reasonably detailed and will certainly give you enough to go further should you wish to do so.

This might sound a bit puerile, but another bonus for me was the ample supply of photos, pictures and diagrams that helped put a more visual facet on the text. One might think that this is a pretty banal comment, but I found it a real boon to be able to see the artifacts that Cunliffe refered to, and appreciate them for myself. The Celtic art was a classic example of this.

For those with little geographical knowledge of Europe, I have only one quibble about the book: the paucity of maps. Cunliffe uses a few geographical features, like rivers, which are less than famous. A map or two would have been fantastic for placing events in their proper location. This is just a small point which does nothing to detract from the book in its entirety.

While there are other authors out there, I would agree that Cunliffe has achieved possibly the best introduction available on the Celts. If you have not already got it ordered, I suggest you do so now. It is a great book and you won't regret the purchase.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Interesting Book, Serving to Build a Good Foundational Knowledge of Our Celtic Heritage. Nov. 26 2005
By Michael Chesbro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For anyone wanting an understanding of the Celtic people, Cunliffe's "The Ancient Celts" is an excellent introduction, as well as a fine review for those with a foundation in Celtic history. Cunliffe gives us a picture of the Ancient Celts from 1300 BC forward. The Celts had a most fascinating and expansive culture, dominating much of Europe up until the time of the Roman conquests. Following the Roman conquests of Europe and the Celtic lands, Celtic society faced the onslaught of Christianity which crushed some of the Celtic culture and absorbed other parts thereof. Still the spirit of the Celts survives even today... for those that know where to seek it.

As a student of Celtic Theology, I found Cunliffe's chapter on `Religious Systems' to be most interesting, but as Irish scholar Proinsias MacCana has described it Celtic religious beliefs are a "fertile chaos". There is a wide array of material reflecting the beliefs of the Celts, all of which offers us insight into their spirit and none of which fully explains it. Still, Cunliffe has done an admirable job in his explanation thereof in "The Ancient Celts".

Caesar (in "Commentaries on the Gallic War") writes that the Celts were extremely superstitious. This may be the case, but I feel that what Caesar calls superstition is nothing more than the `faith of the Celts'. One never sees superstition in one's own religion, only in the belief and practices of others.

Within the Celtic society religion was mediated by the Druids. These were the Celtic priests, but much more than mere teachers of religion, the Druids were the keepers of knowledge of the Celtic people. Also within this religious class were the `Faithi' or the seers ~ those who were inspired by the Gods to understand the `otherworld'.

Today the Celtic religious festivals survive in the forms of Samain (Halloween), Imbolc, and Lugnasad to name but a few. These and other rites were officiated at by the Druids.

I believe that the `path of the Druid' and an oneness with nature is an essential element for those who would learn the way of the Celts.

Although we tend to think of the Celtics as being centralized in the British Isles, it is important to note that the Celts established settlements across Europe into even Western Asia. Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that the Celts served to slow and curtail the expansion of Rome.

Cunliffe's "The Ancient Celts" reveals the Celtic people to be of a poetic / warrior society which contributed greatly to the development of the soul of the European nations of today. Even today in television advertisement (for travel to Ireland) we see Ireland being described as a land of warrior-poets.

In a warrior society the way of the warrior contributes to the development of religion and religion contributes to the morality of the warrior. This combination of warrior ethos and religious faith make for greater equality within the society itself.

Cunliffe states: "Women clearly occupied a more significant position in Celtic society than they did in the Greco-Roman world..." Women in the Celtic Society have had a good deal of input into the development and working of that society, and this shapes the society in ways that are simply not present in a purely male-dominated society (i.e. Arab-Muslim society).

It is also interesting to note that although Celtic society may have been overshadowed by both the Romans and later by the Christian Church there is still a strong Celtic influence in modern society.

Overall, I found Cunliffe's "The Ancient Celts" to be a very interesting book, serving to build a good foundational knowledge of our Celtic heritage.
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