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What is the difference between the Celts and the Gauls?

The word “Celts” was written down for the first time by Greek authors who later also used the word “Galatians”.

The Romans called these people “Gauls”, and this word was used to describe a specific area, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the Cévennes and the Rhine: “Gaul”.

So the Celts, the Galatians and the Gauls were all part of the same Celtic civilisation.

The Celts often have to put up with certain stereotypes

here are just a few of many examples…

A long way removed from the living standards of the Greeks and Romans

“The Celts were dirty, wild, ignorant, quarrelsome, mediocre warriors, spineless and undisciplined”.

It has long been assumed that the Celts didn’t produce or leave behind large stone buildings, they didn’t have their own alphabet, or a unified empire.

From Antiquity to the modern day, Mediterranean civilisations (Egypt, Greece, Rome) were seen as the models, and all others were referred to as “Barbarians”. Written sources, from the Renaissance to the modern day, often exaggerated or misinterpreted the unflattering image that sometimes biased and uninformed Ancient Greek and Roman writers portrayed.

This misunderstanding is largely based on ignorance: it is indeed difficult to study Celtic culture, as knowledge of it was based on oral lore rather than written texts, and their buildings, made of wood and earth, did not leave many traces.
However, all you need to do is look at the objects that they left behind, to understand that the opposite is true. The example of this openwork bronze, designed using a compass, reveals a far more complex and interesting world.

Building menhirs

It’s true that megaliths were around in Celtic times, but the Celts weren’t the ones who built them.

It was Strabo, an Ancient Greek geographer, who wrote about the presence of “large stones” and “Druid monuments” in the forests of Gaul. This was why, from Antiquity onwards, the Neolithic megaliths (“menhirs” and “dolmens”, dating back to between 6000 and 2000 BC) were associated with Celtic rituals that actually predated them by several centuries.

This conflation probably continues to this day, as dolmens and menhirs are mainly seen in Brittany and England, areas we often associate with the Celts.

Wild boar on the menu

The Celts were first and foremost farmers and livestock breeders. They bred the same animals that we do: cows, pigs, goats, sheep, horses, poultry and dogs. Hunting was just an added extra, even a sport, and game rarely appeared on a Gallic menu, much to Obelix’s disappointment! However, wild boar played a very important part in the Celtic imagination, symbolising strength and a fighting spirit.

Their legacy

Their legacy can be found in a number of different aspects of our day-to-day lives, such as:

In the French language,

with common words like “chemin” (path), “char” (chariot), “mouton” (sheep, or mutton), “ardoise” (slate), “alouette”, (lark) etc., as well as many names for plants and animals.

In toponymy and hydronymy, in other words, the names of places and rivers…

so for example Paris, Reims, Milan and many more owe their names to the Celtic language, not to mention the names of many of our villages, which might come as a surprise to us;

In technical creations…

such as casks, soap, sieves, mattresses and hooded jackets. The Celts were also behind the propagation and application of new techniques and tools associated with the iron industry in our regions. This is also why this period was called the “Iron Age” Many iron objects that we still use today come from this era.

Myths and legends…

including Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Merlin, Melusine, Tristan and Isolde.

In All Saints’ Day, the Day of the Dead and Halloween…

the first two were the result of the Christian adoption of the Celtic festival of Samhain, or Samonios, and Halloween was the later American version of this.

In European art…

Celtic motifs, whether real, stylised or imaginary, particularly interlacing designs, had a long-lasting influence on artists from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The Gallic rooster

By an ironic twist of history, this is a play on words that associates this animal with the Celts. “Gallus” is actually Latin for both rooster and Gaul.