Brigantia iron age Celtic re-enactment society

A Guide to Celtic History

1000 Bronze age Urnfield culture exists across Europe.
800 Iron age Celtic culture appears across Europe, and begins to expand. Following a major archaeological find in Austria in 1876, this culture is labelled HALLSTATT.
600 The Massiliote Periplus is written in the Greek port of Massilia (Marseille), describing two distant islands, IERNE (Ireland) and ALBION (England).
550 The Hochdorf Prince and the Princess of Vix are buried in Southern Germany. Meanwhile in Southern Britain, hundreds of hillforts are being built, including DANEBURY RING in Hampshire.
500 Celtic culture is endemic throughout Britain, France, Western Spain, South Germany, North Italy and a broad belt stretching East to the Black Sea, including a beachead in Central Turkey (the Galatians).There is trade between the Celts and the Etruscans. The Greek Hecateus describes the KELTOI. A new culture evolves. Following a major archaeological find in Switzerland in 1858 this culture is labelled LA TENE.
450 Herodotus describes the Celts in Western Spain, and around the source of the Danube.
400 Celts cross the Alps and invade Italy
390 Celts sack Rome. Their leader Brennus exacts a huge bounty of gold with the words "Vae Victis" (woe to the defeated). This is the peak of the Celtic empire.
368 Gaulish mercenaries fight in the army of Syracuse.
335 Celts from the Adriatic meet Alexander the Great, who is impressed.
325 The voyage of the Massilian Pytheas, who describes the PRETANIC islands (Britain).
279 A Celtic tribe from Turkey, the Galatae or GALATIANS, sack the temple of Apollo at Delphi.
The Dying Gaul

GALATIANS are defeated by Greeks at the battle of Pergamon in Turkey. The Greeks celebrate by casting THE DYING GAUL in bronze and carving the Pergamon reliefs.
225 Celts (including GAESATAE) are defeated by Romans at the battle of Telamon in Italy (8,000 captured, 25,000 killed). Romans celebrate by copying The Dying Gaul in marble, and Polybius writes about it. From now on its mostly all down hill.
218 Celts ally with Carthage in the second Punic war.
150 Posidonius the Greek visits Gaul and describes druids. All his writings are later lost.
125 Rome conquers Southern Gaul.
105 Cimbri and Teutones defeat Romans at Arausio (Orange) in Gaul.
The Arch at Orange
Romans destroy Cimbri and Teutones at Campi Raurii (60,000 captured, 120,000 killed). Romans celebrate by carving the triumphal arch at Orange.
100 Danebury is abandoned, reason unknown.
60 Diodorus the Sicilian writes about the Celts.
58 Julius Caesar invades Gaul. He attacks 368,000 emigrating Helvetii (the entire Swiss Celtic tribe including women and children) at Toulon-sur-Arroux, killing 238,000 of them (his own estimates).
54 The quisling Celtic chief Dumnorix is murdered by Genocide Julius.
53 Numerous failed uprisings. ACCO leads a revolt amongst the Senones and Carnutes tribes and is caught, flogged and executed before Roman troops, but Ambiorix escapes never to be seen again.
52 VercingetorixVERCINGETORIX, son of Celtillus of the royal house of the Averni, rallies Gaullish forces and attacks Julius Caesar. Caesar lays seige to him in Avaricum, killing 40,000 Gauls, but Vercingetorix and 800 men escape to GERGOVIA. Caesar attacks, but is routed. Now there was a battle. Finally Caesar traps Vercingetorix at THE SEIGE OF ALESIA. Vercingetorix surrenders and is taken prisoner. This is the end of resistance in Gaul, which becomes a Roman province (but Britain is still free). Caesar cashes in by writing the best seller DE BELLO GALLICO (The Gallic Wars).
45 Vercingetorix is paraded through Rome, then executed.
44 Julius Caesar is stabbed to death by his friends in the toilets behind a theatre. HAH !
30 Strabo (quoting the lost chronicles of Posidonius) and Livy write about the Celts. Meanwhile in Ireland (according to the Annals of Tigernach) Conor Mac Nessa is King of Ulster. Legends told centuries later by bards and written down centuries later still by monks will describe his champion CUCHULAINN - the Hound of Ulster.
9 3 entire Roman legions (15,000 soldiers) led by Varus are wiped out to a man in the TEUTOBERG FOREST by natives led by Herman the German. Although a Roman expeditionary force later retrieves the lost legions' standard (this is the scene at the beginning of Ridley Scott's Gladiator) Varus' crushing defeat ends Roman expansion in this area.
10 Cunobelin (or Cunobelinus, Shakespeare's "Cymbeline") is chief of the Catuvellaunii and King of the Britons in Colchester.
43 Under CARADOC (also known as Caratacus, son of Cunobelin) the Catuvellaunii tribe begin to conquer their neighbours. The quisling Verica of the Atrebates invites Rome to cross the channel and do something about it. The Roman emperor Claudius (the one with the stutter) invades Britain by elephant and four legions led by Aulus Plautius, and after three days of combat defeats Caradoc at THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER MEDWAY in Kent. Caradoc escapes and starts a guerilla war.
50 Caradoc is driven North and seeks sanctuary with Queen CARTIMANDUA of the Brigantes tribe. She arrests him and hands him over to Rome. He and his family are dragged in chains before Claudius and the senate where he makes such an impressive speech that his life is spared and he is given a farm. Also around this time the Roman poet Lucan visits Gaul and writes his poem "Pharsalia" in which he slanders the druids. Shortly after this Claudius declares all druids outlawed and to be executed on sight.
59 Suetonius Paulinus leads 2 legions into North-West Wales, attacking the druid stronghold on Mona (Anglesey).
60 Presutagus, King of the Iceni tribe around Suffolk, dies. His widow BOUDICCA is refused Roman recognition as queen, is flogged, and her daughters raped. She leads a rebellion, sacking the Claudian temple at Camulodonum (Romanised Colchester), then slaughtering the entire Roman populations of Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans), and a few legions here and there. Paullinus is forced to abandon the slaughter of the druids on Anglesey and leading the 14th and 20th legions faces her near Lichfield. With an army of 10,000 Paullinus defeats Boudicca's army of 100,000 killing 80,000 of them (according to Tacitus, his son-in-law), but Boudicca escapes never to be seen again. Paullinus conducts a punitive reign of terror across Britain. All resistance is crushed, and Britain becomes a Roman province (but Ireland and Scotland are still free). Meanwhile in Turkey, St Paul the Apostle is writing his epistle to the Galatians.
82 The military governor of Britain, Julius Agricola, reaches the Mull of Kintyre and decides not to invade Ireland.
84 Agricola presses North to face the last free British Celtic Army. He defeats Calgacus and 30,000 Caledonian warriors at Mons Graupius (according to Tacitus). However, this is as far North as Rome gets, and the rest of Scotland remains free.
122 Hadrian's Wall is built to keep out the Picts.
The last Roman legions leave Britain for good as their sordid empire collapses.
427 Loegaire crowned first king of Tara in Ireland.
432 St Patrick arrives in Pagan Celtic Ireland. Elsewhere on the island, the last free Celtic warriors are performing feats that will inspire hero-myths that will last millenia, inspired themselves by hero-myths older still.
650 The first scraps of ancient Irish legends, passed on verbally by bards for centuries, are finally written down on a calf skin belonging to the early Christian monk St Ciaran.
1105 Maelmuiri transcribes St Ciaran's work in the monastery of Clonmacnoise as THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW, the oldest surviving copy of THE TAIN BO CUAILNGE (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), the hero-myths of CUCHULAINN and the warriors of the Red Branch of Ulster. Elsewhere the Book of Leinster is also being written, covering events prior to the cattle raid.
1375 The Yellow Book of Lecan is written down, adding more detail.
1450 The Books of Lecan (not yellow, presumably) and Lismore are made.
1857 A shallow part of Lake Neuchatel (La Tene) in Switzerland is found to be full of ancient Celtic artefacts dating from the 6th century BC.
1876 An ancient salt mine dating from the 9th century BC is excavated in Hallstatt, Austria.
1890 William Butler Yeats writes "The Rose", a collection of poems based on ancient Irish legend, including "Fergus and the Druid".
1898 In an atmosphere of Celtic revivalism, Lady Eleanor Hull writes "The Cuchulainn Saga".
1916 The Easter Rising in Dublin.
1958 T.G.E. Powell writes "The Celts".
1990 BRIGANTIA, the iron-age Celtic re-enactment society, is formed.
1994 Brigantia take part in the making of the first accurate video of BOUDICCA for WH Smith, and appear on Barrymore.

Iron-Age Celtic Religion

The Druids

The iron age Celts of Europe and Britain were considered superstitious and inclined to magic even by the pagan Greeks and Romans (who were pretty superstitious themselves). Their priests were mysterious characters known as druids, and although we have found hundreds of images of Celtic warriors all over Europe and Britain, we have never found an image of a druid and we will probably never know what they looked like. To learn more about them, visit Lugodoc's Guide to Druids.

The only descriptions we have of the druids come from ancient Greek and Roman chroniclers who met them. Pliny described men wearing white robes gathering sacred misletoe with golden sickles, but Tacitus described women in black robes cursing the Roman soldiers at The Siege Of Anglesey. Early Greeks said they were great philosophers, but Julius Caesar said they were priveleged noblemen who performed human sacrifice.

They measured time in Lunar months, and in order to bring the lunar and solar years into agreement would add an extra month to the year every three or four years. They considered the waxing half of the lunar month to be auspicious for beginning new undertakings, and the waning half to be unlucky.

These priests were immensely powerful, almost as powerful as the kings they served, and besides conducting all public ritual they would also learn and speak law and judge legal disputes. It was their job to record the history of the tribe and its heroes by composing and memorising epic poems, and they did all this from memory - they were forbidden to write anything down. It was said that druids began their training at the age of five, and would take twenty years to learn the basic epic poems and canons of law. It was said that a druid could stand between two Celtic armies on the verge of battle and order them not to fight. It was also their responsibility to choose kings, sometimes by means of magic.

After the Roman emperor Claudius ordered their destruction after AD 50 they disappeared, but some say that they cast off their robes and became poor minstrels and wandering story-tellers, hiding in plain sight and passing on the ancient wisdom hidden in fairy tales and stories of ancient heroes. To learn more about these ancient myths, visit Lugodoc's Guide to Celtic Mythology.

The Four main Festivals of the Celtic year

The druids seem to have had little interest in solstices and equinoxes, instead presiding at great feasts held four times during the year - Imbolc, Beltayne, Lughnasad and Samhain.

February 1st
May 1st
August 1st
November 1st
Because the Celts considered that their day began at sunset (and not at midnight like we do today) they would begin their feasts at sundown on the evening before the holy day. So, for example, the celebration of Samhain would begin at sunset on October 31st.


... has strong associations with fertility and birth, and any farmer will tell you that it coincides with the lambing season and the time when ewes come into milk.

The festival is also associated with the Goddess Brigid. In her different aspects, she has power in the areas of healing, ironworking, and poetry. Poets regarded her as the root of literary insiration and her intervention was frequently sought by mothers in childbirth. In Ireland she was much revered by the 'Filidh' or Sages, who recognized her gift of prophecy. The cult of Brigid is thought to be connected with the worship of the British Goddess Brigantia, who also gave her name to the northern tribe of the Brigantes, and of course to Brigantia - the Iron Age Celtic re-enactment society.


The Goddess Brigid


... is the most well known of the great Celtic festivals (also known as May Day), and is coinsidered to be the start of Summer and the opening of the pasture to livestock. The name comes from 'Bel-tinne' (The fires of Bel), this suggests that the festical is associated with the God Belenus. The latter is a Gaulish sun God, worshipped under many different guises througout the Ancient world. The Romans likened him to Apollo, and classical authors linked him with shines in Provence, Burgundy and northern Italy.


Image thought to be of
The God Belenus

His memory also survives in a host of proper names, among them 'Cymbeline' (or Cunobelin, hound of Belenus) immortalised by Shakepeare in a play of the same name. Billingsgate in London also derives its name from this source. Beltayne is a fire festival, which is marked with bonfires on hilltops and at other sacred places. In Ireland, it was customary to drive cattle between two Bel fires, to gain protection from disease.


... is a summer festival and appears to be linked to the gathering in of the harvest. This connection is maintained in the Christian feast of lammas (Loaf Mass) which superseded it.

The Pagan festival owes its origins to Lugh, a sun God whose name means 'The Shining One'. According to legend, he established a series of funeral games in honour of his foster mother, an agricultural Goddess called Tailtu, who had died after clearing the forest of Breg. These games were held regularly, along the lines of the early Greek olympics. Lugh was worshipped by many Celtic peoples in Gaul, for example he was known as Lugus and gave his name to Lyon (Lugdunum).

Stone head from the Isle of Anglesey said to represent
The Divine Hero Lug

He was also credited with many powers. In Irish tradition, he was revered both as a formidable warrior and a master magician. Lugh helped the Danaan craft Gods to forge their magic weapons in their battle against the Fomor, and much later aided his half-mortal son Cu-Chulainn in his struggles against the Connacht forces. Later, his craftsman's role became more emphasized and he was known as Lugh Chromain ('Little stooping Lugh') or, in its anglicized form, the prototype of the Leprechaun.


... is an important fire festival which marks the begining of the Celtic new year. Old fires are extinguished and are then ceremonially relit from a sacred flame offered by the Druids.

A panel taken from the Gundestrup Cauldron

Because this festival lies between the old and the new year it was thought that it was an inbetween-time, when spirits could move through the gap between the years and therefore also between their world and ours. Therefore Samhain is also the festival of the dead. At the end of the year the souls of the departed returned to the land of the living and warmed themselves at the hearths of their former homes. Less friendly spirits were also released and had to expelled or appeased with sacrifice. Today Samhain survives as Halloween, observed on the evening of  October 31st.


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