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Literary Sources

I. List of Sources
II. Discussions

I. List of sources

As discussed in the section on Celtic ethnic and cultural identity, the surviving ancient sources on the "Celts," both Greek and Latin, were written well after the late Hallstatt and early La Tène periods discussed here. The authors all come from cultural backgrounds very different from that of the "Celts." Each has his own reasons for writing about the "Celts," none of which includes leaving an accurate and objective ethnographic description for the use of modern historians. Studies of the ancient "Celts" cannot but refer to the classical sources, since there is no early Celtic literature preserved at all; their temporal, geographic and cultural distance from their subject, as well as the exigencies of their respective genres, suggest we exercise due caution in applying their observations to the earlier period.

The following list indicates the general periods during with the authors were writing, and translations used.

5th century BCE: Herodotos, Histories, (various)

2nd century BCE: Polybius, Rise of the Roman Empire, (trans. W.R. Paton)

135-50 BCE: Poseidonios, Histories, (quoted in Athenaeus)

early 1st century BCE: Diodoros Siculus, The Library of History, (trans. C. H. Oldfather)

1st century BCE: Caesar, The Gallic War, (trans. C. Hammond)

64 BCE - ca. AD 23: Strabo, Geography, (trans. H.L. Jones)

59 BCE - AD 17: Livy, History of Rome from its Foundation, (trans.A. de Sélincourt)

AD 98: Tacitus, Germania, (trans. H. Mattingly, S.A. Handford rev.)

1st - early 2nd century AD: Plutarch, Life of Camillus, (trans. J. Dryden)

ca. AD 200: Athenaus, Deipnosophistai, IV.151 ff., (trans. C.B. Gulick)

II. Discussions

Useful to the student of "Celtic"-Mediterranean interactions are numerous studies of individual authors, among them Tierney (1960) and Alonso-Nùñez (1994) on Poseidonios, or Walbank's 1970 commentary on Polybius.


Dirkzwager presents an extremely detailed study of Gallia Narbonensis in Strabo, while Burkert is informative about Herodotos and the beliefs of the barbarians of his time. Ancient thought about the barbarian "other" and the nature of civilization are the objects of a great deal of attention; approaching them from very different points of view are, e.g., Blundell (1986) on ancient models of civilization, Müller (1972) on ancient ethnography and Nippel (1990) on barbarians in ancient society and law. Dihle (1994) takes a historical approach to the changing relationships of the Greeks to the barbarians within their ken. Essential are Momigliano's studies of ancient historiography, the Greeks and the barbarians.

The ancient authors are invoked by every general history or survey of "Celtic" history, society or art. Specific studies analyzing the sources and their historical implications in Celtic studies include Hachmann (1962) on Celtic identity, Nachtergael (1977) on the "Celts" at Delphi; Rankin (1987) and Cunliffe (1988) on the "Celts" from the classical perspective; and Freeman's 1994 dissertation on early classical sources and Celtic beliefs.

The wealth of material -- ancient sources and modern commentary -- while gratifying, serves also to highlight the great void at the center of all our investigations, the lack of literature by the ancient "Celts" themselves.