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Southern Netherlands, Celts or Teutons?

What can you expect here?

  • A report about the lecture "Southern Netherlands, Celts or Teutons?" (Jan, 25th 1997):
    • The linguistic vision
    • The archeological vision
    • A meaningful addition to the discussion
    • Opinions of others
  • A report about the lecture "The Celts in the Netherlands" by Mrs. Diepenveen (University of Amsterdam) on April, 3rd 1998 :
    • Who were they?
    • Where did they live?
    • When did they live?
    • Were there ever Celts in the Netherlands?


  • On February 26, 2005 a meeting took place with the subject: "Research about the metal ages in 2004" (Bronze and Iron age) of well-known archeologists in the Royal Library, Brussels, Belgium. Research in 2003 has been leading to an extra theme: "New Chariot Burials from Britain: Same as the Continent or very different?"

    Southern Netherlands, Celts or Teutons?

    The Celts are coming, how about you?
    With this slogan a lecture was held in "De Brakke Grond" (Amsterdam) from January 17th until March 1st 1997.
    It was accompanied with an exhibition about the Celtic-Belgian culture and findings: pottery, urns, swords and coins.
    But one could also see (±1950 - 1970) Belgian schoolclass-plates (view images below), on which one could watch the scenes about the "ancient Belgians".

    Even cartoons about the Celts (Asterix), a pre-plough "eergetouw" and a maquette from a Celtic village were present.
    The exhibition supported a series of scientific discussions, in which aspects of the life of the Celts / Teutons (language, trades, coins) were the main topics.
    The most important discussion was about "Celts in the Netherlands?" (Jan 25th 1997), where I hoped to find an answer on the question:
    "Were there Celts / Gauls or Teutons in the Netherlands in the era before / during Caesar?"
    It appeared that one could answer that question from a linguistic and archeologic point of view.

    Definition of "Celts":
    various tribes that speak a Celtic language, which is very different of the ancient Germanic.
    Of course there haven't been found any writings in the Low countries before (and after!) the appearence of the Romans in Belgium and the Netherlands.
    Just a few post-Roman rune inscriptions. Still, some geographic names and names of leaders / tribes are known.
    Because there are so few names known, I'll name them all *) :

    • Novio Magus: Nijmegen (Novio = new?) magus = plain
    • Eburoni: 'who is protected by the yew-tree', they were a tribe that was spread over nortwest Belgium and the Dutch southwest Eburos = yew = pine tree with poisonous seeds and eatable berries.
    • Menapii: tribe in Zeeland and northern Flanders
    • Carvion: the town "Herwen" between Nijmegen and Doetinchem
    • Texuandri: tribe in Noord-Brabant (after the Eburoni disappeared)
    • Ambiorix: leader of the Eburoni, who lived ± 54 B.C.E., when the Romans came to the Netherlands. He won as the leader of the Belgae a battle against them...

    Julius Caesar wrote in his 'Bello Gallico' that the Eburoni and Texuandri were not Celts.
    But he wrote also, that he slaughtered the Eburoni in 50 B.C.E., about which the archaeologists haven't found evidence (yet?).

    (Beautiful Celtic artifacts)
    The characteristics of Celts are:

    1. pottery which has striking edges ('French fashion', 'Marne') after 500 B.C.E.
    2. glass bracelets in different colours (after 2nd century B.C.E. in the -Dutch- eastern river area was perhaps even an industry)
    3. coins: not currency but gifts / taxes (the Eburoni made coins to give them as taxes to another tribe, the Adwati)
    4. sling bullets from baked loam (Oss, Weert)
    5. temples: square or multi-angular wooden enclosure, sometimes surrounding a small wooden temple (Empel)
    6. stilistic art: figurative images from , e.g., horses and man
    7. extremely good developed techniques from iron and non-ferrous forgery: gold, silver, bronze, enamel
    8. fortifications: 'oppida'
    9. no political unity, much reciprocal battles
    10. druïds
    11. natural religion, focussed on the elements (water, fire, air)

    Remarks from Drs. P. v.d. Broeke (Institute for Prehistory, Leiden):
    "There have been noticed resemblances in the Southern Netherlands with the Celtic culture.
    At least the first 5 characteristics (see above) have been recognised.
    Still we must stay cautious before we draw conclusions.
    The Batavians (an immigrated Teutonic tribe) could have imported the sling bullets.
    We also lack evidence for the local production of Celtic items such as glass bracelets, swords and pottery in in the Southern Netherlands. [There have been found ± 7000 fragments of glass bracelets near Nijmegen....ed.]
    On the other side the main part of the Southern Netherlands show strong cultural resemblances with the land north of the Rhine, eg. by the manufacturing of buildings and the life in non-fortified villages. [Prof. N. Roymans described a fortification or something that looked like it in his book "Opgravingen in de Molenakker te Weert", 1995... ed.]
    Also from Caesars books one can conclude that the Southern Netherlands had an ambiguous position."

    Remarks from dr. P. Schrijver (Rijksuniversiteit Leiden): "One can't stop at the question Celtic or Teutonic. There are many indications that there were also other languages spoken in that area at that time than just Celtic, Teutonic or even Indo-European.
    Examples to state that opinion are the words: Friezen, leeuwerik en hoofd." (="Frisians", "lark", "head")

    Prof. N. Roymans already launched the discussion in 1992 by stating: "One may ask if that difference (Celtic or Teutonic) was relevant for the people then. It is doubtful if an inhabitant of the Southern Netherlands could / would describe himself being a Celt or Teuton. [Caesar said one did....ed.] These words are, by the way, Latin and Greek...
    By intensive trading with France, the middle-Rhine area and North-Germany there was a political, economical and cultural influence on the Netherlands."

    Maybe we can better speak of a Gallo-Teutonic culture preceeding the Gallo-Roman culture? For the time being, until newer evidence is found...

    *) !! Almost all the geographic names in the Southern Netherlands have a Teutonic origine !! See map below

    The green dots are Teuton toponyms, the red dots are Celtic

    Lecture "The Celts in the Netherlands"

    By mrs. Diepenveen (Univ. Amsterdam, April, 3rd 1998)
    The lecture started with a great promise. She would try to show the different aspects from the questions:
    Were there ever Celts in the Netherlands?
    Who were they and when and where did they live?

    A) Historical (texts from Greek and Romans, inscriptions)
    According to the Greek writers Herodotus and Hecatus "Keltoi" lived from the Danube until the Pyrenees.
    By that name, "Keltoi", they meant "barbarians", that is, "non-Greeks".
    The Celts conquered Rome (390 B.C.E.) and threatened Delphi (Greece, 279 B.C.E.)
    And both Alexander the Great (335 B.C.E.) and Dionysius from Syracuse (Southern Italy) hired Celtic warriors for their armies. When Alexander the Great asked what they were frightened for their leader answered "...that the heaven will fall upon our heads!"
    Later a Celtic tribe conquered Central Turkey where they continued to live as "Galatae".

    But who were the "Celts"?

    The Greek write about them, especially to emphasize the differences between them and the "civilised" Greek.


    Celts: Greek:
    drink a lot of, pure, wine dilute the wine with water
    will easily trade a slave for a barrel wine think wine is more valuable than slaves
    look savage and furious with chalk in their hair and fight naked with just a torque (neck-ornament) look civilised with their beautiful armour
    are quickly furious with others; they fight easily with their clansmen, even for the best place at the table
    are civilised and behave educated

    vae victii! (Brennus at the surrendering of Rome)

    Caesar noticed (50 B.C.E.) also other cultural facts. There is a lot of superstition, there are druids and prophets who become of importance after an education of 20 years...

    Lucanus (1st century B.C.E.) wrote about their gods. The most important were: Teutates, Taranis, Esus, Lugh, Cernunno(s), Sucellus en Dagda.
    Also threeheaded godesses ("Matronae") were present. In the Netherlands there were also Matronae. In Zealand many statues of the goddess "Nehalennia" have been found. And Nehalennia is a Celtic name.

    An inscription of the name "magesanus" has also been found, against the Latin "magusanus"...
    But the Celtic territory was large and in that area there were differences as well as resemblances, as well in language as in belief and culture.
    Gods (male as well as female) were named and related to rivers (rhena-Rine), mountains, woods (arduenna-Ardennes), etc.
    Sanctuaries were square, open air, places with a tree or one or more poles on it with maybe sculls on them. An example is the Temple of Empel near Den Bosch.

    That temple has officially been build in the 1st century C.E., in stone (by Romans and/or Batavians) but (according to the archaeologists) had its origin in the 2nd century B.C.E.!

    She pointed out, that our culture has its roots in the prehistory and one has to see the bigger image, the total impression of that time. And in the same time remain aware that we're looking back with 20th century eyes at cultures where completely different values and cultures ruled. There are differences, but also resemblances (between our time and theirs).

    Celtic holidays, about 500 B.C.E.
    November, 1st: samain / samhain = Celtic newyear, a time of insecurity, the ghosts of the dead wander around (Hallowe'en!)
    February, 1st: imbolc = this day has something to do with the first milk
    May, 1st: beltain / beltane = a new start, young cattle is chased (as a sort of purification) through the smoke of fires, and then cows are put to grass.
    August, 1st: lughnasad = festivity in honour of Lugh, the God of the sun.

    Note: these dates are highly questionable, because for example the month "August" didn't exist back then!

    B) Language
    The source of the Celtic language is Indo-European, which origines lay in Mesopotamia (Iraque).
    The remainings of the Celtic language are present as far as North-Western Europe.
    The theory about the spreading of that language is partly based on archaeological findings [like inscriptions...ed.] But one has to be careful with that, because it's dangerous to link a Celtic sword with Celtic as a language. Maybe the sword arrived at its destiny where there were no Celts at all...
    It's general accepted, that the geographical source of the Celts lays in Central Europe: East France, Swiss (La Tène) and Austria (Hallstatt)

    Celtic characteristics after findings, by era (Hallstatt A and B are in the Netherlands in the Late Bronze Age)
    700 B.C.E. ("Hallstatt C") : 4-wheeled wagon graves, only men, in barrows (Oss, Wijchen)
    600 B.C.E. ("Hallstatt D") : graves around fortifications / oppida in very large barrows, big wooden grave chambers, 4-wheeled wagons, also women. No swords, but daggers. (Heuneburg- S-Germany, "princess of Vix"- France, no examples from the NL...H.)
    450 B.C.E. ("La Tène A") : Marne- Moselle area: good, depictive art, 2- wheeled chariots (Nijmegen)
    350 B.C.E. ("La Tène B") : (not discussed)
    250 B.C.E. ("La Tène C") : ("middle- La Tène") (not discussed)
    150 B.C.E. ("La Tène D") : tools are given as grave-goods 
    (Watch pictures from Celtic Gods, grave goods and culture)

    Remarks by Mrs. Diepenveen:
    -gravegoods were ALWAYS used before there're deposited [sometimes even the gravegoods were worn down... ed.]
    -imported goods were exclusively meant for the preparation and pooring of drinks (wine?) imported from perhaps Roman or Greek settlements. There are many examples from the Netherlands: large bronze buckets / situlae from Oss, Meppen, Overasselt, Rhenen, Baarlo, Ede, etc.
    -the length of the people was about 1.50 m, 1.70 m, until about 1.80 m.
    -all knowledge is based on graves. The Celtic culture was spread all over Europe; so their typical rectangular shields were used all over Europe.

    There are resemblances between the Dutch culture then and the Celts:
    -qua language
    -qua culture
    -qua belief
    "But are these THE Celts? I don't think so" according to mrs Diepenveen.

    I asked her for her comment on a statement from drs. P.v.d.Broeke (Instituut voor Prehistorie, Leiden):
    Statement (watch lecture above):
    Resemblances with Celtic culture have been found in the Southern Netherlands. Recognised are:

    1. pottery which has striking edges ('French fashion', 'Marne') after 500 B.C.E.
    2. glass bracelets in different colours (after 2nd century B.C.E. in the -Dutch- eastern river area was perhaps even an industry and in Oss 34 fragments in 4 different colours)
    3. coins: not currency but gifts / taxes (the Eburoni made coins to give them as taxes to another tribe, the Adwati- 810 coins have been found near Empel alone- watch image below)
    4. sling bullets from baked loam (Oss, Weert)
    5. temples: square or multi-angular wooden enclosure, sometimes surrounding a small wooden temple (Empel)

    Remarks from Mrs. Diepenveen:
    These "Celtic" findings can't be called "Celtic". Everyone had contact with everyone, it could all have been imported.
    There were also differences with the Celts, like the ways people build houses. And don't forget: "language area" is something else than "culture area".
    Look, for example, at the Frisian dialects in England and Norway. Those "Frisians" don't have the same culture as "our" Frisians.

    And so the lecture ended, unfortunately there was to little time to continue.

    I think it's a pity still a few questions remain unanswered:

    • Did traders import the sling bullets (Oss, Weert, Wijchen, Houten)?
    • Where are the boarders from the -generally accepted- Celtic geographical source as there have been found so much more Celtic graves at the boarders of Central Europe?
    • Why did she emphase "exclusively drinking goods were imported" while she later said "everything could have been imported"?

    It is fine to handle and interprete facts very careful. But personally, my confusion about "Celts in the Netherlands" has just grown by this lecture by the many facts that haven't been explained.
    The last word has definitely not been said yet about this subject and I hope during a coming lecture there will be more time to sought things out.

    Mrs. Diepenveen adviced the following book where she partly based her lecture on: De Kelten, T. Powell, 1980

    I can also recommend:
    1991: The Celts, C. Bompiani
    1988: Atlas of Archaeology, C. Scarre / start of Celtic history, schools of metalworking
    1977: France before the Romans, S. Piggott / The history of man from the paleolithic until Roman Gaul, gallic tribes, Hallstatt, La Tène, very detailed
    1974: The celtic realms, M. Dillon / Gaulish coins, art in gold, bronze, stone
    1934: The rise of the Celts, H. Hubert / timetable La Tène, languages

    And in Dutch:
    1997: De Kelten in Vlaanderen, G. de Mulder / gouden stater Velzeke, Ambiorix, bronzen zwaard
    1995: De Kelten: Europa in de ijzertijd, J. v. Gestel / veenlijken, pre-Romeins (Gallisch) ijzeren gereedschap, Pictii, Hochdorf, kalender Coligny, vondsten, glas, emaille (Bibracte), Alesia (Frankrijk)
    1994: De tempel van Empel, N. Roymans / bronzen zwaardschede, schijven, armbanden, glas, gordelhaak, munten
    1993: Ontdek de wereld van de Kelten, S. James / Alles over de Kelten, ook het Hispano-Keltisch
    1993: Een en al zand, N. Roymans / urnenveld Weert, Someren, fibulae, de tempel van Empel
    1992: De Kelten, F. Delaney / barden, kunst, cultuur, geloof, brons, glas
    1987: Time-Life wereldgeschiedenis: Kelten in Ierland, etnische oorsprong, Heuneburg, cultuur, economie, La Tène, druïden, uiterlijk
    1987: De ijzertijd in Limburg, R. Nouwen / België , Keltische adel, grafheuvel, cistae, versterking Kanne, oorlog met Caesar
    1987: Kroniek van Nederland, A. Aarsbergen / maankalender, Eburonen, Vercingetorix
    1986: De Kelten, F. Delaney / druïden, barden
    1985: De Kelten, V. Kruta / veel munten, gereedschap, spatels, fibulae, techniek, kunst
    1981: Verleden land, J. Bloemers / volledige geschiedenis van Nederland, ook ijzertijd, ijzer, brons, voetpaden, ijzeren "kokerdissel", ijzertijd aardewerken masker, ijzeren bescherming van een eergetouw- punt, ijzeren dolk met bronzen schede (Haps)
    1950: De godsdienst der Kelten, J. Boosten / Keltische amuletten


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