The Celts lived during the Iron Age from 600BC-43AD. The invasion of the Romans in 43AD marked the end of the Iron Age. The Iron Age is so named from the fact that people first used iron to make weapons and tools. Previously, they would have used bronze.
There were three main branches of Celts:
- Brythonic (also called Britons) – who lived around modern Cornwall and Wales.
- Gaelic (also called Gaels) – who were based in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
- Gaulic (also called Gauls) – who lived across modern day France, Belgium, Switzerland and northern Italy.
Many Celts in Wales lived in hilltop enclosures or hillforts, defended by one or more banks or ditches. Within the enclosure, people lived within round houses. The Iron Age Celts were mainly farmers who grew wheat and barley and also kept, sheep, cattle and pigs. There were however specialist craftsmen who worked in clay, metal and wood.
The Celts loved personal finery and ostentatious display. Archaeologists have found beautiful jewellery such as torc necklaces, razor blades for shaving, combs and hair accessories.
They were a war like people and warriors would have been equipped with a shield, spear and a sword. They fought on foot or from their horse drawn chariots.
Celtic priests were called Druids. The Celts believed that they understood nature and the world around them so well that they could predict the future from it. Druids also acted as judges in Celtic society and even doctors. They also knew about the healing properties of plants. Celts believed that there were gods for every part of life and that the druids were the ones who understood how to speak to them and interpret what they wanted.
Today all that remains of the places where the Celts lived are the banks and ditches of the hillforts.
Celtic saints are an integral part of the history, culture and psyche of Wales. The patron saint of Wales is St David. The origins of Christianity in Wales date from the Roman period. As Christianity evolved and changed during the early medieval period from 400-1100AD the role of saints often originally monastic founders, increased. The fifth and the sixth centuries are sometimes called the Age of the Saints and the origin of some sites can be firmly dated to this period.
Sites such as Bardsey or Enlli in Welsh, St Davids , Pennant Melangell , Holywell and Llantwit Major founded in remote places, became focal points of pilgrimages which commemorated these early saints. The Celtic saints, like all saints of the first millennium were not canonised but became recognised as saints for their devotion to preaching and prayer.
Welsh (Cymraeg) is the oldest language in Britain dating back possibly 4,000 years.
The majority of European languages, including Welsh, evolved from a language now called Indo-European, which developed into nine different language groups, one of which was Celtic. In turn, Celtic developed its own family of languages.
Before the coming of the Roman Empire, Celtic languages were spoken across Europe. Present day place names indicate the extent of their influence: the town of Bala in Turkey and the city of London in England both have names with Celtic origins, as do the rivers Danube, Rhone and Rhine.
The Celtic languages that survived are those that migrated from mainland Europe to the western islands of Britain and Ireland. Labelled Insular to differentiate them from the Continental European languages, the versions of Celtic on these western islands developed into two branches.
In Ireland, Goidelic - or Q-Celtic, thanks to its characteristic kw sound - became the dominant language and gave rise to Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx. Most historians date the arrival of the Celtic language in Britain to around 600BC. This version of Celtic was to evolve into Brittonic (or Brythonic), which in turn gave rise to Welsh, Cornish and Breton.
Today, according to the 2001 Census, 20.8% of people in Wales can speak Welsh. This means that approximately 582,362 people aged 3 and above speak the language. Welsh is mainly spoken in the West and North West of Wales, in counties such as Gwynedd, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. Although the percentage of Welsh speakers is generally higher in the West, more and more people all around Wales are taking up learning Welsh and are sending their children to Welsh medium schools.