The genius of the Celts

Graham Robb, author of a new book on the Celtic peoples, argues that it's high time we challenged the Roman characterisation of the Celts as primitive hooligans with terrible table manners

This detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron – a richly decorated silver vessel thought to date from the second-century BC – depicts a Celtic god or druid surrounded by beasts. (Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the Christmas 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine 

Every film maker and book illustrator knows how to depict an ancient Celt. A typical Celt is supposed to have been a hairy, mud-smeared hooligan dressed in ragged tartan. In a land of trackless forests beyond the edges of the Roman empire, those ignoble barbarians, inspired by bloodthirsty priests known as druids, conducted a futile campaign of resistance against the superior civilisation from the south. Violently nostalgic and rarely sober, they were easily outclassed by the super-efficient Romans.

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