Monday, April 22, 2013

Physical Description and Origins of the Celtic People


Scrutiny reveals the fact that Celtic-speaking peoples are of differing types—short and dark as well as tall and fairer Highlanders or Welshmen, short, broad-headed Bretons, various types of Irishmen. Men with Norse names and Norse aspect "have the Gaelic." But all alike have the same character and temperament, a striking witness to the influence which the character as well as the language of the Celts, whoever they were, made on all with whom they mingled. Ethnologically there may not be a Celtic race, but something was handed down from the days of comparative Celtic purity which welded different social elements into a common type, found often where no Celtic tongue is now spoken. It emerges where we least expect it, and the stolid Anglo-Saxon may suddenly awaken to something in himself due to a forgotten Celtic strain in his ancestry.
Alpine Race

Two main theories of Celtic origins now hold the field:
(1) The Celts are identified with the progenitors of the short, brachycephalic "Alpine race" of Central Europe, existing there in Neolithic times, after their migrations from Africa and Asia. The type is found among the Slavs, in parts of Germany and Scandinavia, and in modern France in the region of Cæsar's "Celtæ," among the Auvergnats, the Bretons, and in Lozère and Jura. Representatives of the type have been {9}found in Belgian and French Neolithic graves.6 Professor Sergi calls this the "Eurasiatic race," and, contrary to general opinion, identifies it with the Aryans, a savage people, inferior to the dolichocephalic Mediterranean race, whose language they Aryanised.7 Professor Keane thinks that they were themselves an Aryanised folk before reaching Europe, who in turn gave their acquired Celtic and Slavic speech to the preceding masses. Later came the Belgæ, Aryans, who acquired the Celtic speech of the people they conquered.8
Broca assumed that the dark, brachycephalic people whom he identified with Cæsar's "Celtæ," differed from the Belgæ, were conquered by them, and acquired the language of their conquerors, hence wrongly called Celtic by philologists. The Belgæ were tall and fair, and overran Gaul, except Aquitaine, mixing generally with the Celtæ, who in Cæsar's time had thus an infusion of Belgic blood.9 But before this conquest, the Celtæ had already mingled with the aboriginal dolichocephalic folk of Gaul, Iberians, or Mediterraneans of Professor Sergi. The latter had apparently remained comparatively pure from admixture in Aquitaine, and are probably the Aquitani of Cæsar.10
But were the short, brachycephalic folk Celts? Cæsar says the people who call themselves "Celtæ" were called Gauls by the Romans, and Gauls, according to classical writers, were tall and fair.11 Hence the Celtæ were not a short, dark race{}and Cæsar himself says that Gauls (including Celtæ) looked with contempt on the short Romans.12 Strabo also says that Celtæ and Belgæ had the same Gaulish appearance, i.e. tall and fair. Cæsar's statement that Aquitani, Galli, and Belgæ differ in language, institutions, and laws is vague and unsupported by evidence, and may mean as to language no more than a difference in dialects. This is also suggested by Strabo's words, Celtæ and Belgæ "differ a little" in language.13 No classical writer describes the Celts as short and dark, but the reverse. Short, dark people would have been called Iberians, without respect to skulls. Classical observers were not craniologists. The short, brachycephalic type is now prominent in France, because it has always been so, eliminating the tall, fair Celtic type. Conquering Celts, fewer in number than the broad and narrow-headed aborigines, intermarried or made less lasting alliances with them. In course of time the type of the more numerous race was bound to prevail. Even in Cæsar's day the latter probably outnumbered the tall and fair Celts, who had, however, Celticised them. But classical writers, who knew the true Celt as tall and fair, saw that type only, just as every one, on first visiting France or Germany, sees his generalised type of Frenchman or German everywhere. Later, he modifies his opinion, but this the classical observers did not do. Cæsar's campaigns must have drained Gaul of many tall and fair Celts. This, with the tendency of dark types to out-number fair types in South and Central Europe, may help to explain the growing prominence of the dark type, though the tall, fair type is far from uncommon.14
(2) The second theory, already anticipated, sees in Gauls and Belgæ a tall, fair Celtic folk, speaking a Celtic language, }and belonging to the race which stretched from Ireland to Asia Minor, from North Germany to the Po, and were masters of Teutonic tribes till they were driven by them from the region between Elbe and Rhine.15 Some Belgic tribes claimed a Germanic ancestry,16 but "German" was a word seldom used with precision, and in this case may not mean Teutonic. The fair hair of this people has made many suppose that they were akin to the Teutons. But fairness is relative, and the dark Romans may have called brown hair fair, while they occasionally distinguished between the "fair" Gauls and fairer Germans. Their institutions and their religions (pace Professor Rh[^y]s) differed, and though they were so long in contact the names of their gods and priests are unlike.17 Their languages, again, though of "Aryan" stock, differ more from each other than does Celtic from Italic, pointing to a long period of Italo-Celtic unity, before Italiotes and Celts separated, and Celts came in contact with Teutons.18 The typical German differs in mental and moral qualities from the typical Celt. Contrast an east country Scot, descendant of Teutonic stock, with a West Highlander, and the difference leaps to the eyes. Celts and Germans of history differ, then, in relative fairness, character, religion, and language.
The tall, blonde Teutonic type of the Row graves is dolichocephalic. Was the Celtic type (assuming that Broca's "Celts" were not true Celts) dolicho or brachy? Broca thinks the Belgæ or "Kymri" were dolichocephalic, but all must agree with him that the skulls are too few to generalise from. Celtic iron-age skulls in Britain are dolichocephalic, perhaps a {12}recrudescence of the aboriginal type. Broca's "Kymric" skulls are mesocephalic; this he attributes to crossing with the short round-heads. The evidence is too scanty for generalisation, while the Walloons, perhaps descendants of the Belgæ, have a high index, and some Gauls of classical art are broad-headed.19
Skulls of the British round barrows (early Celtic Bronze Age) are mainly broad, the best specimens showing affinity to Neolithic brachycephalic skulls from Grenelle (though their owners were 5 inches shorter), Selaigneaux, and Borreby.20 Dr. Beddoe thinks that the narrow-skulled Belgæ on the whole reinforced the meso- or brachycephalic round barrow folk in Britain. Dr. Thurnam identifies the latter with the Belgæ (Broca's Kymri), and thinks that Gaulish skulls were round, with beetling brows.21 Professors Ripley and Sergi, disregarding their difference in stature and higher cephalic index, identify them with the short Alpine race (Broca's Celts). This is negatived by Mr. Keane.22 Might not both, however, have originally sprung from a common stock and reached Europe at different times?23
But do a few hundred skulls justify these far-reaching conclusions regarding races enduring for thousands of years? At some very remote period there may have been a Celtic type, as at some further period there may have been an Aryan type. But the Celts, as we know them, must have mingled with the aborigines of Europe and become a mixed race, though preserving and endowing others with their racial and mental characteristics. Some Gauls or Belgæ were dolichocephalic, {13}to judge by their skulls, others were brachycephalic, while their fairness was a relative term. Classical observers probably generalised from the higher classes, of a purer type; they tell us nothing of the people. But the higher classes may have had varying skulls, as well as stature and colour of hair,24 and Irish texts tell of a tall, fair, blue-eyed stock, and a short, dark, dark-eyed stock, in Ireland. Even in those distant ages we must consider the people on whom the Celts impressed their characteristics, as well as the Celts themselves. What happened on the Eurasian steppe, the hypothetical cradle of the "Aryans," whence the Celts came "stepping westwards," seems clear to some, but in truth is a book sealed with seven seals. The men whose Aryan speech was to dominate far and wide may already have possessed different types of skull, and that age was far from "the very beginning."
Thus the Celts before setting out on their Wanderjahre may already have been a mixed race, even if their leaders were of purer stock. But they had the bond of common speech, institutions, and religion, and they formed a common Celtic type in Central and Western Europe. Intermarriage with the already mixed Neolithic folk of Central Europe produced further removal from the unmixed Celtic racial type; but though both reacted on each other as far as language, custom, and belief were concerned, on the whole the Celtic elements predominated in these respects. The Celtic migration into Gaul produced further racial mingling with descendants of the old palæolithic stock, dolichocephalic Iberians and Ligurians, and brachycephalic swarthy folk (Broca's Celts). Thus even the first Celtic arrivals in Britain, the Goidels, were a people of mixed race, though probably relatively purer than the late coming Brythons, the latest of whom had probably mingled with the Teutons. Hence among Celtic-speaking folk or their {14}descendants—short, dark, broad-beaded Bretons, tall, fair or rufous Highlanders, tall chestnut-haired Welshmen or Irishmen, Highlanders of Norse descent, short, dark, narrow-headed Highlanders, Irishmen, and Welshmen—there is a common Celtic facies, the result of old Celtic characteristics powerful enough so to impress themselves on such varied peoples in spite of what they gave to the Celtic incomers. These peoples became Celtic, and Celtic in speech and character they have remained, even where ancestral physical types are reasserting themselves. The folk of a Celtic type, whether pre-Celtic, Celtic, or Norse, have all spoken a Celtic language and exhibit the same old Celtic characteristics—vanity, loquacity, excitability, fickleness, imagination, love of the romantic, fidelity, attachment to family ties, sentimental love of their country, religiosity passing over easily to superstition, and a comparatively high degree of sexual morality. Some of these traits were already noted by classical observers.