The Celtic ring fort
  • Europe /
  • Germany /
  • Trier

A journey back in time through forests and Celtic remains

Who were the Celts?
Heritage place of interest.
(by Dbachmann, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeologists and linguists agree, by a large majority, in identifying the Celts with the people who were the bearers of the “La Tène” culture, which developed between present-day southern Germany, eastern France and northern Switzerland. Starting in the 8th-7th century BCE, this population expanded by penetrating the Iberian Peninsula’s hinterland and reaching present-day France’s Atlantic coast. The Celts are mentioned by Greek-speaking historians as ‘Keltòi’ by the Milesian Hecataeus and Herodotus, or ‘Kéltai’ by Aristotle and Plutarch, from which the Latin “Celtae” is derived. The term Celts was probably an ethnonym for a single tribe in the area of the Greek colony of Marseilles, the first place where the Greeks came into contact with the Celtic people; later, this term was applied by extension to all related peoples. This noun probably comes from the Indo-European root ‘kelh’ (to strike) in the same way as the Middle Irish ‘cellach’ (conflict, dispute).

The Celts reached their height between the second half of the 4th and the first half of the 3rd century BCE; at that time, the Celtic language and culture constituted the most widespread and characteristic element of the whole of Europe. The expansion covered a vast and unbroken area from the British Isles to northern Italy and from the Iberian Peninsula to the Danube basin.

United by their ethnic and cultural origins by sharing the same Indo-European linguistic background and religious outlook, they always remained politically fragmented. Among the various groups of Celtic peoples were the Britons, Gauls, Pannonians, Celtiberians and Galatians, who settled respectively in the British Isles, Gaul, Pannonia, Iberia and Anatolia.

Bearers of original and articulate culture, they were subjected from the 2nd century BCE onwards to increasing political, military and cultural pressure from two other Indo-European groups: the Germans from the north, and the Romans, from the south.

The various peoples constituted a cultural and linguistic, but not a political unit; within them, ancient sources already identified several main groups of tribes. Among them was a particularly warlike one settled in these very lands and to the north, which did not accept the rule of Rome: the Treveri.


1. Who were the Celts?

2. The Treveri

3. The Fort

4. Dusk of the Celts