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A Brief History of the Celts [Paperback]

Peter Berresford Ellis
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Nov 2003 A Brief History of
For centuries, the Celts held sway in Europe. Even after their conquest by the Romans, their culture remained vigorous, ensuring that much of it endured to feed an endless fascination with Celtic history and myths, artwork and treasures. A foremost authority on the Celtic peoples and their culture, Peter Berresford Ellis presents an invigoration overview of their world. With his gift for making the scholarly accessible, he discusses the Celts' mysterious origins and early history and investigates their rich and complex society. His use of recently uncovered finds brings fascinating insights into Celtic kings and chieftains, architecture and arts, medicine and religions, myths and legends, making this essential reading for any search for Europe's ancient past.

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A Brief History of the Celts + A Brief History of the Vikings + A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons
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Product details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson Publishing; Rev. pbk. ed edition (1 Nov 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841197904
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841197906
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 189,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Peter Berresford Ellis, is regarded as one of the pre-eminent Celtic scholars and has published many books on the subject. He is a Fellow of three Royal Societies in historical and antiquarian fields and the recipient of many awards and honours for his work. He is also, under the pseudonym Peter Tremayne he is the author of the bestselling Sister Fidelma murder mysteries set in Ireland in the 7th Century.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun - but hardly objective! 24 Aug 2010
Format:Paperback
This is a fun and fascinating read but it does seem the Celts can do no wrong as far as Peter Berrisford Ellis is concerned! His partisan approach makes you wonder if what you're reading can really be relied on.

There are times when the author gets his facts wrong, too. The idea of the savage Anglo-Saxons driving out or wiping out the Celtic indigenous population of Britain has been shown to be false by modern DNA evidence. In fact, even the English today have predominantly pre-Roman genes, showing that the invading Anglo-Saxon and Viking minorities settled and interbred with the locals rather than simply slaughtering them all. No doubt the Anglo-Saxon invasions were a brutal affair, but the idea that England underwent some kind of ethnic cleansing has been disproven. It's none too impressive that Ellis represents this old myth as an indisputable fact!

He also claims there are only 18 million Celts left in Europe. Considering they once stretched right across Europe, that is very hard to accept. By what mechanism could ancient cultures have utterly annihilated such a vast population? Is it not more likely that the Celts' descendants still exist all over Europe?

Admittedly, Ellis does decide to define 'Celt' mainly as someone who speaks a Celtic language. Indeed, he uses this argument to dismiss any debate over whether the Celts were really the single ethno-cultural group that we imagine. But at the end of the book he completely contradicts his own definition by claiming there are 18 million Celts left, only 2.5 million of whom speak Celtic languages.

Well, if we define Celt as a speaker of a Celtic language, there are only 2.5 million left!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
While I have great respect for the author on this subject and even met him once and know his enthusiasm for this area, I was a bit disappointed in some areas of the book. The most notable was that when talking about the Celtic aristocracy, warrior class and "druids" he discussed in a fair amount of detail the lives of individuals in these classes. When he comes to talk about the farmers - he does not talk about them at all but only about farming methods! This is very odd as this class would have made up a very large proportion of the population. Even more perplexing is that at no point does he mention slaves in this book. Slavery - or "the unfree" as they were known, formed a significant section Celtic society, as it did most if not all cultures at the time. It is not as if there is no evidence for them - there is plenty and we only need look at the ancient Irish Brehon laws to see frequent mention of slaves. This is all the more strange especially when Celtic Ireland's most famous slave was St Patrick, who became Ireland's national saint.

This could be due to sloppy writing, but I very much doubt this as the author is very knowledgeable about the whole area of Celtic studies. This can only make me feel that he has deliberately not mentioned slaves in Celtic society. This is very strange; Slavery was very common throughout different cultures at the time and not to mention them at all gives a very incomplete description of Celtic society. Additionally not to mention the experience of being of the farming strata and only talking about farming techniques is inexcusable.

It is unfortunate that I have to bring this up as the author is very knowledgeable in the area of Celtic studies.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When reading this book it feels as if Peter Berresford Ellis has been there and then, has met those kings and warriors and civilisation builders, has observed those men of art and craft and science, talked to them, asked questions, and then come back to our time to give us a stunning account. Not only that, but all the sources and sites and findings are cited along the way, so that we actually do the journey with him through time and space.

This book doesn't put the Celts in a Pantheon of mysticism and doesn't it bring them down to tribal societies. It shows you all along the pages what a prodigious civilisation they were.

It's not a big book but if there's anything you still don't know about the Celts after reading it, you've probably missed a page.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life among the "barbarians" 26 Mar 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
In the Western world no libel has endured with greater persistence than the one of "barbarian" levied against the Celts. The ancient Greeks applied the term "Keltai" to the peoples living north of their peninsula. They described them as "barbarians" which originally meant "outsider" or "foreigner". The meaning of "barbarian" changed over the centuries, especially when the Roman Empire's expansion was checked by these ancient people and Caesar became a propagandist in his campaigns against them. He admired their courage and fighting abilities, but disparaged nearly every other aspect of their culture. And his depiction persisted for centuries.
In an outstanding brief overview, Ellis provides a corrective to that portrayal. We learn the Celts have Indo-European roots reaching into deep time. We also learn all those centuries allowed the Celts to achieve high cultural attainments in society, urban development and the arts. Oh, yes. They also successfully defeated nearly every force sent against them. Only a long war of attrition plus a few renegade leaders turned defectors ultimately led to Rome's overrunning them. Which didn't destroy their culture. It took the Christians to achieve that.
In describing Celtic society, Ellis frequently reminds us that these "first Europeans" had no written records. In large part, this lack was due to the prohibition of religious matters being set down in writing. Their leading intellectual class, the Druids, who had a far larger role than chanting in oak forests, maintained a detailed oral tradition.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars and it has some useful information in it
I read this out of curiosity as it is now somewhat dated, and it has some useful information in it, but the author did not understand what has been going on in the field of Celtic... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Prof J. R. Collis
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
A fantastic product, exactly what you wish for. Its defiantly worth all the money you buy it for, you couldn't find it cheaper anywhere else!
Published 4 months ago by mrs m j selsby
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief History of the Celts.
Everything you wanted to know about the Celts but we're afraid to ask. An excellent book and very informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it and like to go back an reread chapters.
Published 5 months ago by J A HEERY
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful Celtic Overview
This is a very helpful introduction to the world of the ancient Celts. It is clearly written and easily read. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Ariadne
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief History of the Celts
So much information packed into a little book! There's not much that the Author doesn't know about the Celts. Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2011 by Linda Gibson
5.0 out of 5 stars An understanding of Celtic culture that as yet no Anglo historian has...
I can't believe the review by Invotis, below. It's the first book on the Celts he has read, yet interprets world-renouned Celtic historian Ellis' account as Partisan and belittles... Read more
Published on 30 Jan 2008 by Celtic Cymro
4.0 out of 5 stars Celts forever!!!
This book was the first book on Celts I've come across and read. It is a good introduction into the topic for somebody who has a very little previous knowledge of the Celtic... Read more
Published on 14 Jun 2004 by "invotis"
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