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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars

on 22 October 2016
Bought this book for a first year Celtic Civ course, it has a lot of info, but is sort of mixed around and can be hard to follow.
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on 24 March 2015
An excellent overview of the current knowledge on the Celts even though it is now some 20 years old. Although this book predates the recent evidence suggesting an Atlantic seaboard origin rather than the conventional wisdom of a central European origin, this volume provides indispensible background. Highly recommended.
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on 12 June 2017
A clear and concise exposition of the notion of Celtic- ness, origins, development, various social and other lines drawn and explained. Great read.
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on 22 July 2008
Barry Cunliffe was Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford from 1972 until he retired recently. He has spent at least thirty years conducting excavations at numerous Iron Age sites throughout Europe, especially in England and Brittany.

In this book he collects his decades worth of research about the Celts, in order to explain these mysterious peoples to the layperson. I have read several books about the Celts, and I found this book both refreshing and thought provoking. All too often, nationalists and others hijack Celtic scholarship with their own agendas, leading to all sorts of confusion. It is worth noting that the word 'Celt' itself has been a subject of controversy for many years, with scholars such as Dr. Simon James and Dr. John Collis wanting to do away with the term altogether - or at the very least to limit its use.
At the heart of this matter is a confusion about identity. James and Collis stress the diversity of the Iron Age peoples, and they argue that it is misleading to push a single homogeneous identity on a varied group of peoples. With this in mind, make sure that this book is not the only work you read on the Celts, as there are different perspectives on the matter.

Cunliffe tends to take a rather neutral approach to the Celts. He argues against those old fashioned statements about waves of Celtic invasion that Victorian archaeologists stressed. Then again, unlike Collis and James, he doesn't want to do away with the term Celt just yet. He notes that many archaeologists avoid the historical record and rely entirely on archaeology. He points out that this is not a wise choice, as it is the historical record, even if it is biased, that gives us the flesh on the bones of archaeology. A good archaeologist should be willing to approach the historical record and analyse it critically rather than avoid the ancient accounts altogether.

With these ideas in mind, Cunliffe discusses the Celts. He traces their origins at Hallstatt in 1300 BC, as well as the growth of these powerful Hallstatt kingdoms and their connections with the Mediterranean and Aegean Worlds. At the centre of this book is the idea that Celtic culture was shaped by trade and the spread of ideas though trade routes among diverse groups of people. Various technologies and language dialects, as well as styles of art were spread through different 'zones' in Europe, based on rivers and seaways. Trade was central to the spread of Celtic language and culture in Western Europe and not migration, invasion and conquest as originally believed. These ideas are covered in the early chapters, and they tend to be rather complex, with ideas, tribal names and locations coming thick and fast, which means you'll constantly flicking to the maps at the back of the book to understand what Cunliffe's talking about.

That said, the Celts certainly did invade and conquer. Cunliffe discusses Celtic migrations to Eastern Europe, through Greece to Anatolia, as well as the settlements in northern Italy. Here he discusses the Roman's conquest of Cisalpine Gaul, Brennus and his sacking of Delphi, as well as Galatian mercenaries in Seleucid and Egyptian employ.

Cunliffe discusses other aspects of Celtic life; from religion and deities; to warfare and warriors; and Celtic Art and Technology. He also takes an individual look at Celtic settlements in Iberia, Eastern Europe, the 'Atlantic facade', and the highly developed Celtic lands in Gaul. The book ends with the collapse of Celtic culture at the hands of the Romans, and the survival of Celtic languages through the Dark Ages.

Barry Cunliffe is a brilliant scholar and a good writer, although I found that sometimes he repeated himself (especially when discussing the Galatians) and early sections of the book were rather dry, although it got better as the book progressed. I enjoyed this book as it gave me an interesting new perspective on an old subject. It might be difficult to get into at first, but if you stick with it you will be awarded. Just make sure you supplement the reading of this book with other titles on the Celts, as this book is by no means the only perspective on the subject.

Note: Contains maps, diagrams, charts, chronological timelines, and hundreds of photographs (in black and white and colour).
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HALL OF FAMEon 8 January 2005
An informative and comprehensive overview of the history of Celtic Eurasia. Cunliffe's status as a leading scholar in this field is well deserved. This volume exhibits the result of many years of work. The wealth and breadth, in both time and space, of the material preclude Cunliffe engaging in flowery rhetoric or idle speculations. Using archaeology as the basis for his presentation, he provides both textual and graphic information. The result is a thorough examination of the development and movements of the Celtic peoples. Their impact on the geopolitics of Europe is great, he reminds us. Place names, artistic styles, and numerous practical elements, many of which have been downplayed or ignored during the Christian centuries, remain as a legacy of their presence and influence.
Given the paucity of Celtic written records, Cunliffe begins with a early archaeological efforts and snippets of Greco-Roman observations. What the Celts thought of themselves must remain a mystery. Those observing them found a warrior society, highly sophisticated in that realm from both aggressive and defensive standpoints. Highly mobile, the Celts established societies from Western Asia to the British Isles. In their settlements, which became increasingly organized and administered over the centuries, they laid the foundations of many modern communities. Cunliffe's accounts of these settlements, particularly those in the Iberian peninsula is likely to offer fresh information for many students.
Cunliffe gives us overviews of the "barbarian" migrations and their impact on European society. The most important result of Celtic movements, of course, was the counter expansion of Rome. Celtic domination of the trans-Alpine region drew Rome into Europe proper. Rome's choice of land routes for armies instead of sea routes for trade meant occupation or dominance of Celtic holdings. These counterforces had far-reaching results in all areas of European life. Even religion, which was normally viewed tolerantly by Rome, came under assault when the Celtic Druids became the force organizing resistance to Roman rule. Cunliffe traces these interactions with a scholar's precision, relating it all in a crisp narration.
The author's long career in this field has provided him with a storehouse of resources. Aside from the fine bibliographic essay, he enhances the main text with excellent maps, illustrations and photographs, many in colour. These cultural images impart a graphic sense of how misleading the term "barbarian" is applied to these people. Their rich heritage, eroded by Rome and virtually eliminated by Christianity is revived by Cunliffe's superb recounting of their world. This book is valuable at many levels and well worth the investment. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 19 November 2001
Cunliffe's 'The Ancient Celts' is better than many things that are written about the Celts, but then that's not very hard. This book is fine as an introduction for someone that's never read anything about the Celts before, but it should also not be the only thing that one reads about them.
For a much, much better overview try John Collis' 'The European Iron Age.' It's a far more informative account and it focuses on the archaeological evidence in a reasoned, scientific manner. It has fewer glossy pictures and is more technical, but it is also very rewarding.
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on 21 October 2015
Firstly, Mr Cunliffe's enthusiasm for his subject is clear... and he was able to awaken a similar enthusiasm in me. Secondly, it is also absolutely clear that Barry has been working on this subject for a very long time and has amassed a great deal of knowledge.
Thirdly, he knows how to pass on that knowledge to the general reader successfully and enjoyably.

Finally, in a number of the books that I have bought in the last few years, I have noticed that the quality of pictures, photographs, graphs, tables, reproductions of paintings, etc. is poor. I've found this even in books in which the quality of such illustrations is essential to the "message" of the book. I am mentioning this so that I can highlight that, in complete contrast, in Barry Cunliffe's book, the quality of the illustrations in general and the graphs, tables, maps and photographs of beautiful artifacts, in particular, is absolutely outstanding.
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on 8 October 2014
Prof Cunliffe has produced a beautiful syncresis of archaeological, linguistic, historical and literary elements in order to create a book which is a good introduction to Celtic Studies. Writing style is clear and concise and the narrative never gets bogged down in technical details, always offering readers the opportunity of continuing where he leaves off by providing good bibliographic information as well as the odd tantalising (and deliberate) loose end. His 'Celtic from the West' (edited) series are much more dense and academic but offer some brilliant new avenues of study for those looking for the most up to date opinions on the subject...
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on 2 March 2013
Excellent definitive work; little or nothing omitted, good and relevant pictures, good indexing and divisions. Very nice book, highly recommended for scholars and general readers.
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on 29 April 2013
I bought this for my husband and he is delighted. It is a very thorough book from a highly regarded author.
I haven't tackled it myself but my husband strongly recommends.
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