Druids were considered as members of the learned class among the ancient Celts. They seem to have frequented oak forests and acted as priests, teachers and judges. The earliest known records of the Druids come from the 3rd century BC.
Julius Caesar is the principal source of information about the Druids. According to him, there were two groups of men in Gaul that were held in honor, the Druids and the noblemen (equites). They judged all public and private quarrels and decreed penalties. One Druid was made the chief and upon his death, another was appointed. If several were equal in merit, the Druids voted, although they sometimes resorted to armed violence. Once a year the Druids assembled at a sacred place in the territory of the Carnutes, which was believed to be the center of Gaul, and legal disputes were submitted there to the judgment of the Druids.
Caesar also recorded that the Druids abstained from warfare and paid no tribute. Many joined the order either voluntarily, or were sent by their families in response to the desire for the privileges. They studied ancient verse, natural philosophy, astronomy and the lore of the gods, some spending as much as twenty years in training.
Although Caesar is the chief authority we have about the Druids, his description of their yearly assembly and election of an arch-Druid that he recorded were confirmed by an Irish saga. Other records of his were confirmed by a stoic philosopher named Poseidonius.
In the early period, Druidic rites were held in clearings in the forest. Sacred buildings were used only later under Roman influence. The Druids were suppressed in Gaul by the Romans under Tiberius who reigned in 14–37 AD, and probably in Britain some time later. In Ireland they lost their priestly functions after the coming of Christianity and survived as poets, historians and judges. Many scholars believe that the Hindu Brahman in the East and the Celtic Druid in the West were lateral survivals of an ancient Indo-European priesthood.
Although Celtic bands probably had penetrated into northern Italy from earlier times, the year 400 BC is generally accepted as the approximate date for the beginning of the great invasion of migrating Celtic tribes whose names Insubres, Boii, Senones, and Lingones were recorded by later Latin historians. In 385 BC, they resided in Rome and bands wandered about the whole peninsula and reached Sicily. The Celtic territory south of the Alps where they settled came to be known as Cisalpine Gaul (Gallia Cisalpina), and its warlike inhabitants remained menacing to Rome until their defeat at Telamon in 225 BC.
Dates associated with the Celts in their movement into the Balkans are 335 BC, when Alexander the Great received delegations of Celts living near the Adriatic, and 279 BC when Celts lived in Delphi in Greece. In the following year, three Celtic tribes crossed the Bosporus into Anatolia and created widespread havoc. They had settled in parts of Phrygia by 276 BC but continued raiding until overtaken by Attalus I of Pergamum in about 230. In the mean time, Rome established supremacy over the whole of Cisalpine Gaul by the year 192. They conquered territory in 194 BC beyond the western Alps in Provence.
The final episodes of Celtic independence were enacted in Transalpine comprising the whole territory from the Rhine River and the Alps westward to the Atlantic. The threat was twofold: Germanic tribes pressing westward toward and across the Rhine, and the Roman arms in the south were poised for further annexations. The Germanic onslaught was first felt in Bohemia, the land of the Boii, and in a Celtic kingdom in the eastern Alps, Noricum. The German assailants were a people generally thought to have originated in Jutland (Denmark) known as the Cimbri.
A Roman army sent to the relief of Noricum in 113 BC was defeated, and thereafter the Cimbri, now joined by the Teutoni, ravaged widely in Transalpine Gaul, overcoming all Gaulish and Roman resistance. Upon entering Italy, the German marauders were finally routed by Roman armies in 102 and 101 BC. During this period, many Celtic tribes formerly living east of the Rhine, were forced to seek refuge west of the Rhine.
These migrations, as well as further German threats, gave Julius Caesar the opportunity in 58 BC to begin the campaigns that led to the Roman acquisition of the whole of Gaul. The only direct historical source for the identification of islanders with the Celts is Caesar’s report of the migration of Belgic tribes to Britain. The inhabitants of both islands were regarded by the Romans as closely related to the Gauls. The Celtic settlement of Britain and Ireland is deduced mainly from archaeological and linguistic considerations.
Their social system was threefold: king, warrior aristocracy and freemen farmers. The druids, who were occupied with magico-religious duties, were recruited from families of the warrior class but ranked higher. As in other Indo-European systems, the family was patriarchal. The Celts greatly prized music and many forms of oral literary composition. The basic economy of the Celts was mixed farming. Owing to the wide variations in terrain and climate, raising cattle was more important than cereal cultivation in some regions. Hill forts provided places of refuge, but warfare was generally open and consisted of single challenges and combats as much as of general fighting.
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