The Celts were a group of tribes from centred Europe that spread over much of Europe between 500 and 200 B.C. They were known as skilled warriors, and they showed little interest in forming a state of their own. Eventually, they were absorbed into the Roman empire.

The Celtic homeland was central Europe, the region that today is Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and France. The Celts had inhabited this region from about 700 B.C., but they did not remain there. The Celts living in what is now modern France were known as Gauls, and by 400 B.C.,they had invaded northern Italy and ousted the Etruscans from the region north of the Apennines. In 387 B.C., a band of Celts sacked* Rome, and a century later, they raided Delphi in Greece. By 250 B.C., the Celts had spread from the British Isles to Spain and Asia Minor (the peninsula that is now the nation of Turkey). Through a combination of trading and raiding, the Celts accumulated great wealth and power.

Although the Celts migrated far from their original homeland, they continued to speak their ancestral language. Celtic tribes living in different regions shared the same customs, art forms, and religious beliefs, including the idea that people possessed immortal souls. Celtic religious leaders called Druids—some of whom may have been women—occupied an important place in society.

The Romans were impressed by the physical appearance of the Celts, whom they described as tall and pale-skinned, with blond or red hair that was sometimes bleached and treated with a special soap to make it stand out straight. The men wore gold collars, called torques, around their necks and dressed in fitted pants and hooded woolen capes. Romans began wearing these practical garments, and the words bracae (breeches), mantellwn (mantle), and cappa (cape) entered the Latin language.

* sack to rob a captured city

Despite their exceptional fighting skills, the Celts failed to unite into a strong state. Finally, they were either overcome by other Germanic peoples or conquered by Rome. Their culture survived, however, in Scotland, Ireland, and the Brittany region of western France. Languages based on the original Celtic tongue are still spoken in these regions.

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