Celtic Daily Life.
Social Organization and Education.
Tomb of a Celtic Prince.
Time and Faith.
The Gundestrup Cauldron.
Ireland - the Last Celtic Outpost.
Sources and links.
|Some people have designated the Celts the Indians of Europe, and the comparison is perhaps not so far fetched. Through the centuries they have been exposed to reckless subjugation, persecutions and regular political homicides, for instance by Oliver Cromwell's "final solution" for Ireland, and the ill-famed eradication of natives in the Scottish Highlands. It all started off with Julius Cesar's massacres of the Gauls on the Mainland in the mid 50's BC. Their language was - until quite recently - forbidden by law, and during the Victorian age their mother tongue literally was beaten out of their children. By various efforts of assimilation, politicians have done their very best to eradicate their cultural identity.||
The Celts appear on the historical arena for the first time ca. 600 BC in the
encounter with the Greeks, and later (400 BC) with the Romans. The People are described
by contemporary historians, and the descriptions are of course colored by the fact that
they constituted a barrier or threat to the "civilized" Empire builders of the day.
They were regarded as uncultivated barbarians and portrayed in a disparaging fashion.
The Greeks called them Keltoi, and the Romans
Celtae. The designation is probably a derivation
of the Celtic word - ceilt - meaning secret, hidden, covered. The word for the Scottish
national costume - kilt - is derived from the
The Greek geographer and historian Strabo (63 BC - 21 AD) characterize them in the following manner in his work "Geographia" :
"The whole race is fanatically fond of warfare. They are vociferous and act on impulse. When they are upset, they immediately gather together in groups in the open, to urge on to warfare, without the slightest preparation or reflection. They are therefore quite easily deceived and overpowered."
Gradually both Greeks and Romans would get better aquatinted with the war making skills of the Celts, but the very first encounters had peaceful intentions. When the Greeks established the trading colony of Massalia ca. 600 BC (corresponding to today's Marseilles), they opened up to the exchange of merchandise with peoples inhabiting the central parts of Europe. For the first time this part of Europe got aquatinted with the olive tree and the grape vine. Wine soon became a popular merchandise among the Celtic tribes. The historian Diodorus from Sicily (ca. 100 BC) relates :
"The Gauls are strongly addicted to the use of wine. They fill themselves up with the wine brought into their lands by our merchants. They drink it unmixed, and as they drink without moderation, they soon fall unconscious to the ground or become mad. Many merchants sees the Gauls' love of wine as a blessing for themselves. For they transport the wine on the navigable rivers - and on wagons through the inland, and they obtain an incredible price for it - for a jar of wine they receive a slave in exchange".
In exchange the Celts probably traded furs, amber, tin and salt, scarce products in the Mediterranean countries. The Greeks not only spread their goods to this part of Europe, but their culture as well. Among other things the Celts got aquatinted with the written alphabet. The Celts did not have any tradition for writing, but on the other hand they had a living oral tradition, maintained for centuries by scholars like the druids and bards. Learning things by heart, and relating from memory, was a virtue in the Celtic world.
The Greeks had already for some time been trading tin with the British Isles (Kassiterides = tin islands). Tin was a much sought after metal, needed in bronze alloys. The seafarer Pythias from Massalia travelled to Cornwall in the 4th century BC, and reported how the miners extracted tin here. He named the country the Pretanian Islands, because the inhabitants named themselves Pretani. This was perceived and pronounced by the Romans as Bretani, which in turn gave name to the Roman province of Britannia. Pretani was possibly the name used by the whole population at the time, but later it was used more specifically about the people named Cruithni by the Irish or Picti in Latin (all three names have the same origin and means "painted people" or "people with pictures"). Through history the British have been known to decorate their bodies with patterns and pictures (the maritime tattoo-tradition).
Who were these Celts ? From where did they originate ? Apart from the colourful and more or less prejudiced contemporary narratives of the Greeks and Romans, together with the writings of Irish monks in the 7th and 8th century AD, we must rely on the laboriously acquired knowledge from the scientific branches of archaelogy and linguistics. Archaeologists engage in uncovering remnants of earlier settlements and analyzing the contents of graves, while linguists engage in tracing common language elements back through history.
Archaelogists usually name these tribes from the east and north the Battleaxe-people,
due to the characteristic axe-handle holes in axe-finds of copper and stone from this era.
The Battleaxe People were probably the first to speak an
Indo-European language (Proto-Indo-European). They were also probably the first Europeans
that posessed knowledge of the wheel. Their burial customs - where the dead were buried in
earthen mounds or cairns (kurgans, tumuli) - was maintained in many parts of Europe up to
the Age of the Great Migrations (400 - 600 AD) and Merovingan time (600 - 800 AD).
About the same time another culture appeared in the Iberian peninsula (todays Portugal),
and gradually spread to the north and east. This culture has been named the
Bell Beaker-Culture by the archaelogists, due to the
characteristic bell-shaped form of their pottery. In this area there were rich supplies
of copper, so the people here had developed an advanced metallurgic technique, which they
brought with them in their migration to the northeast.
Some time after 2000 BC these two cultures melted together in Central Europe. They
melted together the metals tin and copper - and so the
bronze age of Europe had begun. Archaelogists name this
new culture the Unetice-Culture, after a village in
Czechia where the first settlements were uncovered. This area is perfectly situated for
trading and contact with outside cultures. The Uneticians lived a simple life in small
villages protected by timber palisades and surrounded with farmland. Probably the
metal-workers enjoyed a special status, and were excused from agricultural and military
duties. The tribal structure consisted of chieftains and warriors making important decisions,
and who were responsible for fortifying the palisades. This class-divided society existed
for a long time, and spread to all of Europe.
Around 1250 BC traces of change in the archaelogical material indicate the development
of a Celtic-speaking branch of Indo-European. The so-called
Urnefelt-Culture is considered a continuation of the
Unetice-Culture. The most striking change is the introduction of a new burial practice -
The cinerary urns were placed in special graveyards. Most linguists are of the opinion
that these people must have spoken an early form of Celtic - proto Celtic.
Main Entry: cinerarium
The main expansion of Celtic society from their original homelands of Central Europe
took place in the last Millenium BC. Knowledge of the extraction and use of a new metal -
iron - had arrived to the area, and European Iron Age had
startet. The common name to this cultural stage is the Hallstatt
Culture (ca.750 BC - 400 BC), named after a village in Austria, where archaelogists
discovered remnants of old settlements. The people living here had extracted salt from the
mountains from ca. 1000 BC - 50 BC (Salzkammergut, Salzburg).
The next step in the cultural development is named
after a village by the Lake Neûchatel in western Switzerland, and is by researchers
reckoned to be the first distinctive Celtic culture. The finds from this area are
characterized by an exceptionally rich ornamentation of
This Celtic craftmanship also carries distinguishing features of Greek, Skythian and
Archaelogists usually name these tribes from the east and north the Battleaxe-people, due to the characteristic axe-handle holes in axe-finds of copper and stone from this era. The Battleaxe People were probably the first to speak an Indo-European language (Proto-Indo-European). They were also probably the first Europeans that posessed knowledge of the wheel. Their burial customs - where the dead were buried in earthen mounds or cairns (kurgans, tumuli) - was maintained in many parts of Europe up to the Age of the Great Migrations (400 - 600 AD) and Merovingan time (600 - 800 AD).
About the same time another culture appeared in the Iberian peninsula (todays Portugal), and gradually spread to the north and east. This culture has been named the Bell Beaker-Culture by the archaelogists, due to the characteristic bell-shaped form of their pottery. In this area there were rich supplies of copper, so the people here had developed an advanced metallurgic technique, which they brought with them in their migration to the northeast.
Some time after 2000 BC these two cultures melted together in Central Europe. They melted together the metals tin and copper - and so the bronze age of Europe had begun. Archaelogists name this new culture the Unetice-Culture, after a village in Czechia where the first settlements were uncovered. This area is perfectly situated for trading and contact with outside cultures. The Uneticians lived a simple life in small villages protected by timber palisades and surrounded with farmland. Probably the metal-workers enjoyed a special status, and were excused from agricultural and military duties. The tribal structure consisted of chieftains and warriors making important decisions, and who were responsible for fortifying the palisades. This class-divided society existed for a long time, and spread to all of Europe.
Around 1250 BC traces of change in the archaelogical material indicate the development of a Celtic-speaking branch of Indo-European. The so-called Urnefelt-Culture is considered a continuation of the Unetice-Culture. The most striking change is the introduction of a new burial practice - cremation. The cinerary urns were placed in special graveyards. Most linguists are of the opinion that these people must have spoken an early form of Celtic - proto Celtic.
Main Entry: cinerarium
The main expansion of Celtic society from their original homelands of Central Europe took place in the last Millenium BC. Knowledge of the extraction and use of a new metal - iron - had arrived to the area, and European Iron Age had startet. The common name to this cultural stage is the Hallstatt Culture (ca.750 BC - 400 BC), named after a village in Austria, where archaelogists discovered remnants of old settlements. The people living here had extracted salt from the mountains from ca. 1000 BC - 50 BC (Salzkammergut, Salzburg).
The next step in the cultural development is named La Tène, after a village by the Lake Neûchatel in western Switzerland, and is by researchers reckoned to be the first distinctive Celtic culture. The finds from this area are characterized by an exceptionally rich ornamentation of weapons, utensils, jewelery, etc. This Celtic craftmanship also carries distinguishing features of Greek, Skythian and Etruscian influence.
Another group of Celts migrated eastward along the Danube towards the Black Sea, and settled in Transylvania (Rumania). When Alexander the Great started on his raids of conquest (ca. 335 BC), he first had to curb turmoil occurring among some tribes north of Macedonia. These were the Scordisai and several other Celtic tribes. It was during a party of reconciliation with these tribes that Alexander asked what they feared the most of all things in the world, and they answered with the famous words : "The only thing we really fear is that the sky will fall down on us". Alexander had expected them to answer that they feared him most of all, so they diplomatically added : "But we judge the friendship of a man like you higher than anything else."
When Alexander died in 323 BC, his enormous empire fell apart. It was finally split between three of his generals. At the same time the Celts began moving south into Illyria (Illyrian refugees were granted asylum in Macedonia), and founded a Celtic kingdom in Thrakia (Bulgaria) in the year 297 BC. They moved further south into Greece, and sacked the Temple of Delphi of inconceivable treasures before they withdrew.
At this time in history, Asia Minor was a patchwork of different peoples and states, all of which had been subjugated by Alexander, but which, by now were beginning to claim their independence back. One of these states was Bithynia in the northwestern corner of Asia Minor. In the year 278 BC there was a struggle for succession to the throne in the country between the brothers Zipoetes and Nikomedes. Nikomedes sought support from the Macedonian king Antigonos Gonatas, who recruited 3 Celtic tribes - the Tolistoboians, the Tectosagians and the Trocmanians, altogether 20,000 men. They swiftly secured victory for Nikomedes. After this there was nothing more the Celts in Bithynia could do, so they started collecting taxes (galatika = Celtic tax) from the Greek city-states along the coast. Finally they were subdued by the Syrian king Antiochos, who used elephants in his attack against the Celts.
Along the coast of Phrygia - another of the many states in Asia Minor - a new kingdom
was established in the year 281 BC - Pergamon. They made an agreement with the Celts.
They were allowed to settle in the interior parts of Phrygia if they promised to live in
peace. This country was later to be known as Galatia, and
the three tribes claimed their own part; the Tolistoboians settled in the upper part of
the river Sangarios, the Tectosagians east of these, and the Trocmanians further east,
around the city of Ancyra (today's Ancara). The Celts however did not keep their promise
for long, and they managed to beat Antiochos in a battle near Ephesos in 265 BC, before
they continued ravaging along the coast of Asia Minor. Finally they were subjugated by the
strong king Attalos of Pergamon. Little by little however, they adjusted, keeping up their
traditional farming practices for many centuries. The language was Celtic until 600 AD.
A Christian missionary - St. Jerome - travelling through Asia Minor at the time, said the
language reminded him of an accent spoken in Treveri, a Celtic tribe in the Rhinelands.
Q-Celtic (Goidelic or Gaelic) is considered by linguists to be the older of the two languages, P-Celtic (Brythonic or Cymrian) developing at a later stage. The arguments for this opinion are that P-Celtic has undergone a great deal linguistic simplifications compared to Q-Celtic. P-Celtic simplified itself in its case endings and in the loss of the neuter gender and dual member. Differences occurred also in the matter of initial mutation and aspiration. The original Indo-European qu (kw)-sound is transformed to a p-sound. The word for "son" becomes "mac" in Gaelic, while in Brythonic it becomes "map" (Cornwall), "ap" (Wales) and "mab" (Bretagne). The word for "head" in Irish and Scottish Gaelic is "ceann", but in Bretagne it is "penn" and in Wales and Cornwall "pen".
It was the Scottish historian George Buchanan (1506-1582) who first discovered the relationship between the Gaelic language spoken in Ireland and Scotland, and the language spoken by the old Gauls in Central Europe. His assumption was confirmed a century later by the Welsh linguist Edvard Lhwyd (1660-1709). In the following centuries the linguistic classification "Celtic" was expanded as a term to comprise a whole people and a distinctive culture. However the Celts had far from any unitary ethnical identity, although many of the Celtic-speaking tribes had common traits and customs.
The 18th century's desire for romantic glorification of the past, together with the search for historical identity, was especially predominant in Scotland. The kilt was an invention from this period. It was "invented" by the English industrialist Thomas Rawlinson in 1730 as a kind of uniform for his Scottish workers. Ironically it was not the Scots themselves, but a predominantly British aristocracy, that made the kilt famous, The Scots themselves preferred trousers (like their ancestors the Celts).
Today the Celtic language predominates in Wales (Cymru), where approximately 1 million people speak the tongue (Cymrian) daily. In Scotland (Alba) ca. 50 000 people speak Scottish Gaelic. In Ireland (Èriu) there are around 10,000 people speaking Irish daily. In Bretagne (Breizh) in France Bretonian (tb - Brezhoneg) is spoken by 300,000 people daily. In addition to these living languages, Manx is spoken by a few hundred enthusiasts in the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, and in Cornwall, enthusiasts are trying to re-create the old tongue from old records and recordings. In Galicia in Spain, an area dominated by Celts, the tongue has unfortunately been long since extinct.
Celtic Daily Life.
In contemporary writings, the Celts are described as a people fond of warfare. They loved to feast, drink and brag. Unfortunately, this is the picture that has been conveyed to history, and the picture that has fastened in ordinary peoples' consciousness. Celtic daily life was however a lot more abundant and manifold. The Celts attended their farms and acres with great skill and diligence, and they worshipped their Gods in sacred forest glades guided by sacrificing priests (druids). In their heyday, they took an active share in shaping and giving direction to European culture. It was the Celts who first introduced iron to the areas north of the Alps. It was also the Celts who invented the iron plough, the scythe, and even the very first reaper. They made farming more efficient by introducing the rotation of crops. They refined and improved their grain strains by selective breeding, and their agricultural products were widely appreciated for their quality. Their beef cattle were likewise refined through generations of breeding, and was a very popular commodity and sought after delicacy among the fastidious Romans.
We can also be thankful to the Celts for various transportation enterprises, like brick-laying and expansion of the road system in Central Europe - and improvement of the wheel. Earlier civilizations had constructed the wheel from several pieces of wood. The Celts constructed the wheel from one piece only, on to which they forged an iron-tyre. The tyre was shrunk to the wooden rim when still hot by means of a technique long since forgotten, and had to be re-invented recently. The Celts also were skilful craftsmen, and employed their skills in building boats and fortifications.
Although the Celts were feared by their enemies, they were far from uncultivated barbarians. The Greek – Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus (400 AD) wrote :
Plinius relates that soap was inventet by the Celts, and that they took baths regularly. The Romans in fact adopted their famous bathing culture from the Gauls. The women used cosmetics, and admired themselves in beautifully decorated bronze mirrors. The men usually appeared smoothly shaved, apart from the characteristic drooping moustaches. It was a virtue keeping one's body in shape. Fat men were sacked from the army. Both sexes were strict with their clothing. The toga-bearing Mediterraneans were especially impressed by the Celtic trousers, a fashion later adopted by the Romans as part of the uniform for the military cavalry - cavalry mostly recruited from Celtic tribes. Knee-long tunikas of linen were used by both sexes, as were the colourful woollen cloaks, worn over the shoulders. Celtic leather goods were also very popular by the Romans, especially the Gallic boots. Richly decorated textile fragments and metal works shows an advanced level of craftmanship. Diodorus describes the Celts being of high stature and fair-haired, with loud voices and intense piercing eyes. The women are just as big and strong as the men, and just as quick-tempered. Tacitus relates that the Caledonians in Scotland are easily recognized by their red hair, while the Silurians in Wales were tanned with dark curly hair. Strabo mentions that both sexes are equally concerned about their appearances and in wearing loads of jewellery. This is confirmed by the archaelogical material found in graves ( heavy torques of gold, broches, rings and bracelets).
Social Organization and Education.
Tribe identity was strong. To ensure continuity the Celts therefore attached great importance to the upbringing and education of their children. The children lived at home with their parents until they were about 7 years old. Then they were placed in foster-families, usually relatives or close friends. (The Vikings had a similar foster system. Harold the Fairhaired’s son Håkon was fostered by King &AElg;thelsten in Northumbria). The parents had to pay for this. Girls were more expensive than boys. The rearing of a girl cost 8 heifers or 2 milk cows, while a boy cost 6 heifers or 1 1\2 milk cow, even if the girls only stayed with their fosterparents until the age of 14, while the boys stayed until they were 17. In the foster-homes the children learned the skills they would need later in life. For boys from the warrior class it was important to excel in warfare skills. Classical writers mention the widespread homosexual practice in celtic society, especially among groups like the Gaesataerians. The Gaesataerians were a kind of mercenary recruited to different war missions around Europe. This was a very popular "occupation" for young boys. Just like the spatanians in Greece they possessed a very strong "esprit de corps", undoubtedly strengthened by bands of love between boys and older men.
Discovering the Tomb of a Celtic prince.
The man was in his 40s when he died and of very high stature (183 cm) - a head taller than his typical contemporaries. Average life span at the time was around 30 years. Around his neck he wore a gold torque, and his clothes – made from richly patterned cloth with embroidery in Chinese silk - were fastened with intricately made gold brooches. Even his broad leather belt was adorned with a band of gold. He wore a dagger fit in a gold hilt, and around his wrist he wore a gold armband. His shoes were also embellished with strips of gold. Among his personal items were a birch bark hat, iron nail clippers and fishhooks. The most surprising and outstanding item was however the bronze couch on which he lay stretched out. This large bronze sofa was supported by eight foot high cast-metal statues of women. These figurines balance on functional wheels of bronze and iron. Embossed in bronze on the bench back, figures perform a funeral dance, and two horses pull a four-wheeled cart to eternity. Such an item had never been excavated before !
The Celts sent their dead to the Afterworld with huge amounts of food and drink. Placed in the northwest corner of the tomb stood a huge round bronze cauldron - large enough to hold about 400 litres of liquid. Inside it the archaeologists found a pure gold drinking bowl and the dried remains of mead - a honey-based alcoholic drink. Apart from the gold drinking bowl there were plenty of drinking horns hung on the walls surrounding the tomb. Across the burial chamber, opposite the bronze couch, was placed a most remarkable four-wheeled wagon. On top of it plenty of slaughtering and carving tools were stacked, together with bronze plates and platters. The walls of the chamber had been decorated with opulent fabrics. Due to bacteria-killing oxides from the metal artifacts, they had been nicely preserved, and making the grave the richest trove of woven materials and textiles from this period in all Europe.
The word "druide" (druidai, dryadae, druides) may be derivated from the Greek word for "oak" = drus. Dru can also mean "strong", whereas wid can mean "knowledge". Trees and sacred forest glades were important ingredients in the religious life of the Celts. According to Cæsar, the Druids were a well organized brotherhood, representing many tribes. They gathered once a year in hidden forest glades, performing their secret talks and rituals, and to choose a "high priest". The Druids were highly respected in Celtic society, as intellectuals, judges, oracles, astronomers and as links to the Gods. There were however other less distinguished men - the socalled Vates - who Strabo describes as "seers and nature philosophers", and there were also female priests (priestesses).
Cæsar was especially impressed by the demanding training needed to become a Druid. It is expected that the apprentices shall learn a great many verses, laws, legends and magical formulas by heart, and the training could last up to 20 years. The Druids were responsible for maintaining the society’s feeling of identity and continuity. They were the guardians of the tribes laws and traditions, were called upon to mediate in conflicts, and had the power to pass sentence and yield fines and punishments. However the aspect of the Druids activities given the most attention in historical writings is their role as sacrificing priests. The Celts sacrificed both animals and humans, activities described with frightening horror by the Roman historians, and taken as evidence of the barbaric nature of the Celts. The fact is that the Romans were not at all unfamiliar with the practice of human sacrifice themselves.
The most horrifying practice above all was the head cult. The Celts had a strong belief in the potency and the magical power of the human skull. They decapitated their victims and brought their heads back home. The heads were either nailed over the door openings, or placed on stakes around the house of the victor. Some tribes decorated the sculls with gold and used them as drinking mugs, or they placed them in boxes of cedarwood. Sometimes they even fastened the skulls of conquered enemies to their belts, or hung them across their horses’ necks.
Time and faith.
The Celtic calendar is a moon calendar. However the months does not begin with the new moon (as is the case in most moon calendars), but with the full moon. Thus the Coligny calendar is no "natural" calendar. In a natural calendar every month starts with the observation of the new moon, and observation of the solstice introduces a new year. The Neolithic stone observatories (like Stonehenge) and the old passage-graves (like Maes Howe in Orkney), were built to be able to decide the exact time for solstice and equinox. In the Coligny calendar one has instead made use of a mathematical rule in deciding the New Year (equivalent to the leap-year rule in the Gregorian calendar that is used today), where 30 years are equalized with 371 months. In the Coligny calendar one looses almost 1 1\2 day in 30 years, making it not so mathematically exact as the Gregorian calendar. The Julian calendar, inherited by the Romans from Egypt at the same time, comes out 1\4 day in advance in 30 years, so even that calendar is slightly better. However the Coligny calendar is a step forward compared to a pure sun calendar with 365 days a year, loosing more than 7 days in 30 years.
The Celts reckoned time in nights instead of days (fortnight = 14 days). 15 nights constituted the bright time of the month (increasing moon), while 15 nights constituted the dark time of the month (decreasing moon). The Celtic year was divided into four seasons, each with an introductory festival. The year starts in the autumn with the month Samonios (seed-fall) :
Just as the year starts in the autumn, the day starts at sunset. That is why the celebration of a festival starts the evening before the day of the festival (as Christmas Eve today). The largest festival of the year was the New Years festival, which started the evening before November 1st. It was called Samain (Samhain) and marked the end of the harvest and the coming of winter. Nowadays we celebrate it as All Saints Day or Halloween. On this day order was created from chaos when the world was created. One believed that the spirits of the dead were released this evening, and it was therefore important to prevent the impending danger by massive sacrificial offerings. The next of the year's festivals was Imbolc on the 1st of February. This was the time when the spring-lambs were born and ewes came into milk. The Godess of fertility Brigit or Brigantia was the protector of this festival. The second largest festival in the celtic lands was Mayday or Beltaine (named after the patron God Belenos). It was held in honour of the Druids, but it was also a fertility festival - mainly of newly plantet crops and of cattle just put out to graze on green pastures. On this day the Druids performed their cleansing-rituals. Cattle were driven through the smoke from bonfires.
Day and night were also divided into 8 watches, each lasting 3 hours. In modern welsh they are named :
It is not easy to describe Celtic mythology. In the first place it varied strongly between countries, and even between districts - and over the ages, under the influence of Roman culture. Researchers have registered more than 400 different Gods. In addition worshipping took place on different levels. Every family could have their own private house-gods (like the Romans’ penates and lares) for protection of home and family. The Celts believed in rebirth and reincarnation, supported by several excavations, where the deceased was buried with all his earthly goods, and with food and drink for his journey. Some Gods and Godesses however is found through a major part of the Celtic world :
In contrast to the classical world, the Celts did not imagine their gods in human guise until late in the Iron Age. Hardly any images or statues of their gods are discovered prior to this. The Celtic army commander Brennus, who captured the Delfi-oracle around 390 BC, mocked the God-statues he saw there. Gradually, as celtic culture became influenced by the Romans, a kind of integration took place of the Gods and Godesses of the Celts into the magnifold of Roman divinities. Mars became identified with Lenus, Minerva with Sulis, Merkur with Rosmerta, and so on. (This phenomenon of religious integration can also be clearly seen in India, where Buddha has become one of the hinduic God Shivas reincarnations).
The Gundestrup cauldron.
Ireland – the last Celtic Outpost.
Ireland’s apostle - St. Patrick - christianized the island around 400 AD, and in a short time the irish church flourished into one of the leading educational learning centres of its time. Students from all of Europe flowed to the irish monasteries. Irish monks sought salvation on top of distant cliffs off the coasts of Britain and Ireland, while others wandered around preaching the gospels to celts in southern Ireland, picts in the north, and to german and anglosaxon settlers in Britain. Sadly - the Celtic "Golden Age" suddenly was brought to an abrupt end by the invasions of the Nordic Vikings, who invaded Dublin in 795 AD.
A specific form of writing – Ogham – was also developed during this era. It consisted of simple lines or strokes, and was - like the runic alphabet - easy to carve on stone and tree. Each letter in the Ogham-alphabet is connected with a certain tree or plant, all of which have a specific religious connotation. The alphabet consists of 20 letters and trees :