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Publisher's Summary

Fierce warriors and skilled craftsmen, the Celts were famous throughout the Ancient Mediterranean World. They were the archetypal barbarians from the north and were feared by both Greeks and Romans. For 2,500 years, they have continued to fascinate those who have come into contact with them, yet their origins have remained a mystery and even today are the subject of heated debate among historians and archaeologists.

Barry Cunliffe's classic study of the ancient Celtic world was first published in 1997. Since then, huge advances have taken place in our knowledge: new finds, new ways of using DNA records to understand Celtic origins, new ideas about the proto-urban nature of early chieftains' strongholds. All these developments are part of this fully updated and completely redesigned edition.

Cunliffe explores the archaeological reality of these bold warriors and skilled craftsmen of barbarian Europe who inspired fear in both the Greeks and the Romans. From the picture that emerges, we are crucially able to distinguish between the original Celts and those tribes which were "Celtized", giving us an invaluable insight into the true identity of this ancient people.

©2018 Barry Cunliffe (P)2019 Tantor

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What listeners say about The Ancient Celts, Second Edition

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History of the other part of Europe

There is so much material about the history of Greece & Rome, but once you move north of the Mediterranean, it's largely a dearth. This covers that part of Europe from the Iberian Peninsula/British Isles across to the Black Sea from the Bronze Age down to the Roman period. It gets a bit into the archaeological weeds, but you rather have to given the lack of written sources. It also covers the interactions between the Celts and other groups like the Scythians, Germanic tribes, Greece, & Rome. You have to be attentive, because it is dense. Still, if you're interested in the history of human migration, get this book.

13 people found this helpful

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Missing the foundation and migration from the steppe and the Tuatha Dé Dannan

I was hoping this book was going to touch on the mysterious Tuatha Dé Dannan and the earliest migration from the steppe. I also expected to hear something of the Sami people who occupied Europe before the arrival of the Celts. However the focus as always was on the time of the Roman Empire with an extra couple hundred-years bookending the Greco Roman Empires. It was interesting to hear of there return to the Scythian lands, but a missed opportunity to explain the Celtic graves found deep into China and even Japan. Otherwise a great book with lots of factual detail without the author inserting his opinions.

I really was hoping for more info from 6500BC-2000BC which is hard for a non academic like myself to wrangle from the misleading texts out there.

8 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Dry and academic

if you are really into the details of academic study of ancient cultures, you might like this. if you want to hear stories and descriptions of the life of the Celts, this book is not for you.

5 people found this helpful

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Missing DNA evidence from Max Planck Institute

Wonderfully done, but would love to see it more closely incorporate the latest DNA evidence into the origin story of the population of Europe.

4 people found this helpful

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Not for the casual reader

This volume will become a significant resource for experts studying the early history and archeology of Europe and the British Isles. For the casual somewhat educated reader however it fails to give a clear sense of who the Celts were. Professor Cunliffe mentions in an almost random way every tribe (except the Dothraki 😉), enclave and leader ever to be discovered in a dig or ancient text. Unless one already knew these references those names added little to an overall understanding of the history of the ancient Celts. With so many different populations mentioned it becomes unclear what made the Celts the Celts. With the exception of certain artistic elements of warfare and burial there is no pattern. Other groups had warlike customs, hierarchy and trade in slaves. Of particular concern for this reader was his lack of reference to DNA research. Do the Celts represent one people, a particular people, or are they simply similar tribal societies. Also of concern is his failure to go in detail of his understanding of the Celtic language, its source and development. His suggestion that the language may have spread eastward brings into question its relationship with Proto Indo-European sources.

1 person found this helpful

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Brief History of the Celts

This is an excellent review of the Ancient Celts written from an academic perspective. If you are looking for an emotional discussion that reinforces your favorite social imaginary, then you may not enjoy this book. You should listen to it anyway.

1 person found this helpful

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Interesting but...

It seems there are 2 camps in the Celtic story, either they were everywhere or nowhere, this author is definitely in the everywhere camp, from Asia Minor thru Austria, Germany, France, Spain and England. That's a little hard to credit. His classification is so broad as to be virtually useless, but hey, listen to the book and see what you think.

1 person found this helpful

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A friendly view of early European cultures that can be designated “Celtic”. Encyclopedic. Unfortunately fails to incorporate DNA

The author is a specialist with decades of research under his belt. He shares his vast knowledge and considered insights in a compelling narrative. I often found his point of view - the Celtic peoples were barbarians to the civilized Etruscan-Greco-Roman peoples. Civilized is relative at best and a mere facade at worst. Caesar was no doubt guilty of war crimes, e.g. Slavery was a accepted practice by those on both sides of the civilized line.
I do appreciate the emphasis on commerce as a factor that drove the story and shaped history.
Finally I am struck by the similarities between the Romanization of Europe and the Europeanization of the Americas.
I found Mr. Eller’s narration pleasant but too rapid. I think the story would have been more enjoyable if he hadn’t been in such a rush to get through it.

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Not really up to date

Barry- honestly, the chapter on indoeuropean migrations was very out of date, mentioning the Anatolian vs kurgan theories as somehow equivalent when the recent genetics studies were all in favor of the latter (didn’t get a mention)...For a second edition published in 2019, this was pretty sloppy research...

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Excellent Book

One of the best purchases I've made. The book is quite long but never boring. The writing and audio performance fit well together and the information in the book was very clear.

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  • Richard Nicklin
  • 11-29-19

Excellent, both in content and performance

Fascinating review of both the archeology and the historical sources for a “Celtic” culture. Written with a wry wit and a brisk pace this book cannot fail to inthrall an armchair historian.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. S. Hampton
  • 07-06-21

Quite boring

Well narrated as you might expect from Julian, however the content is quite dry and classical.

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  • Arjayuu
  • 12-30-20

overall excellent but pronunciation annoying

An audio version of a highly regarded text of the Ancient Celts is I think a bit of an odd match. Lacking as it does the copious maps and photographs of the traditional book it is in many ways a poor substitute for the written work. However, listened to in combination with a written copy I found it reinforced the message. The main niggle I had is with the narrator’s pronunciation of place names when he slipped into a foreign accent .... the fact that he didn’t consistently do this made it more annoying.

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  • Mr AA
  • 11-25-20

informative but dense

as a layman I found it pretty dense but very authoritative. A pre existing knowledge of the locations of major European rivers and mountain ranges is useful as they are referred to frequently.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-12-20

Excellent history, somewhat marred by narration

A detailed and very clearly presented history, discussing distribution, migration, war, trade, religion and culture from the earliest known origins of Celtic peoples to the modern Celtic revival. Historical sources are judiciously used, giving each its due allowance for bias. I would have liked more about the everyday life of "ordinary" Celts but that's a personal preference. The narrator was a bit disappointing, reading in a rapid monotone (I had to play it at 90% speed) and apparently without taking much notice of what he was reading so emphasis was often misplaced, sometimes leaving a sentence hard to follow. Occasionally even common words were misread, eg AXes of trade instread of axES of trade. A book well worth having but if there's a third edition then it might benefit from a new narrator.