Episode 17: Ancient Celts and the Latin Invasion of Gaul

We look at the arrival of Celtic speaking people in Europe, and the invasion of Celtic Gaul by the Romans. Celtic is replaced by Latin in Western Europe, leading to the modern Romance languages. Celtic words in modern English are examined.



Map Prepared by Louis Henwood (Click Map for Larger Image)

34 thoughts on “Episode 17: Ancient Celts and the Latin Invasion of Gaul

  1. Really enjoying the podcast, getting into it a little late but I just finished this episode. Keep up the good work.

  2. Great podcast! You mentioned that the Germans’ name. Something I always wondered about was that compared to other cultures, it seems that the Germans/Germany are called differently depending on who’s talking about them (these are approximations):
    English: Germany (Italian Germania)
    French: Alemagne (something similar in many other languages)
    German: Deutsch (related to the word Dutch)
    Norwegian: Tysk
    Finnish: Saksa (Saxony?)
    Polish: Niemcy (Hungarian Németország)

    • Thanks! In Episode 45, I discussed the origin of words related to Germany in some detail. You might want to check that out. Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast.

    • Hi John,

      I also found the origins of the different names for Germany fascinating. If it’s ok to add my two cents:

      The meaning of the polish name for the german people is “not us”. It’s the same in russian. I think it once reffered to all foreigenrs. Regarding Russia, there was a period of german influence during the reigns of Peter the Great and Catherina the great. Germans where invited in to boost the economy and intelectual life (One of them was Euler). I heard a possible explanation that at that time nemci started to reffer specifically to Germans. Poland was part of russian empire at that time.

      In arabic Germany is Allmania
      In hebrew texts from the middle ages it used to be Ashkenaz. Maybe from Skandia

  3. Your podcast is fantastic! I was wondering if your research led you to any conclusive (or relatively conclusive) evidence that London’s etymology is Celtic? From some formal study of the ancient Celts, I recall that a popular consensus is that London derives from “Londinium.”

    • Hi Jenna. Yes, the name “London” is derived from the Roman name “Londinium.” I mention the evolving name of the city in various episodes of the podcast as the narrative moves forward (eg., Episode 47 and Episode 60). I should note that the origin of the Roman name is unclear. Some scholars think it was based on a pre-existing Celtic name. Others think it is even older than the Celts. By the way, here is a link to a wikipedia page that discusses some of the theories concerning the ultimate etymology of the name: Etymology of London.

  4. I am greatly enjoying your podcast! I’m not sure how it took me this long to find it, but I’m binge-listening through it now. There is a lot there I feel I know (or knew at one time) on the philological side already, but it’s a nice recap and synthesis of all the bits and pieces I have learned elsewhere over the years. I particularly liked your recap of materials covered in David Anthony’s book. I sailed through the philology and then slogged through the archaeology of that text a few years ago, and I really needed someone to summarize its highlights for me, which you did very nicely.

    In this episode, I was wondering about your statement that the name of the Teutones came from the Celtic (or proto-Celtic) *toutā. I had always understood Teuton (as in Teutonic, Teutones, etc.) to be a Germanic autonym from the proto-Germanic adjective *þiudiskaz, meaning “of one’s people” or “of one’s own people” from *þeudō, meaning people or nation. This also gives rise to the modern German autonym, Deutsch, and Norwegian, Swedish and Danish adjectives tysk, meaning German. And we see the Germanic “people” root in the opening words of Beowulf as þeodcyninga, of the kings of the people.

    Of course, the proto-Celtic *toutā and the proto-Germanic *þeudō are cognate, sharing a common PIE root. But why have you assigned the etymology of the word here to the Celts rather than directly to the Germans or Teutons themselves? Often autonyms have a meaning of “we people” or “of our own people” in the language of the people who apply the term to themselves, which would support the early Germans or Teutones in this case calling themselves Teutones, or “we people” in their own language. Exonyms, in contrast, often have meaning like “foreigner” or “outsider,” which would be inconsistent with the Celts assigning the name Teutones, or “one’s own people,” to an outside, likely Germanic tribe.

    Is there a particular reference that argues for attributing the etymology of the word Teutones to a proto-Celtic source rather than a proto-Germanic source (in which the proto-Celtic and proto-Germanic are themselves cognate)?

    Thanks! I am really looking forward to the many episodes still ahead!

    • Hi Jacob,

      Thanks for the comments. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. With respect to your question, I think you have identified the basic issue with the etymology of “Teutonic.” There are very similar Celtic and Germanic roots, and there appears to be some disagreement as to the ultimate source of “Teutonic.” It had been about 4 years since I prepared this episode, so I don’t have all of my specific resources in front of me, but the Celtic root is advocated by Kevin Duffy in his book “Who Were the Celts?” (p. 127). I should also note that Peter Beresford Ellis is less decisive in his book, “The Celts: A History.” Ellis notes that it is uncertain if the Teutons were Celtic or Germanic, but he notes that they bore Celtic names and their weapons were they type used by the Celts (p. 214).

      By the way, the Oxford English Dictionary offers the following note concerning the origin of the word “Teutonic”:

      “Late Roman writers reckoned the ‘Teutons’ among the peoples of Germanic, and ‘Teutonicus’ became a common poetic equivalent for ‘Germanicus.’ It is now however held by many that they were not a Germanic people. But, before 900, German writers in Latin began to follow Latin poetic precedent by using ‘Theutonica lingua’ instead of the barbarian or non-classical ‘Theotisca’ to render the native ‘tiutisch,’ ‘tiutsch’ . . . as a designation of their vulgar tongue in contrast to Latin, as if this German adj. were identical with the ancient ethnic name. In 1200 ‘lingua Teutonica’ was similarly used, and thenceforth ‘Teutonicus’ became a usual L. rendering of ‘Deutsch’ or ‘German.’ . . .”

      In reviewing my wording of the issue in the episode, I was probably too definitive in saying that “Teutonic” has a Celtic origin, because there is some debate about the issue. But the larger point I was trying to make is that there isn’t always a clear distinction between Celtic tribes and Germanic tribes in this period of European history.

      I hope that answers your question.

  5. I’m loving this podcast! Just breezed your first few episodes up to this point after listening to your interview with Zack on the When Diplomacy Fails podcast. Wow I should have listened to Zack a long time ago when he told us to give you a listen. I’m especially enjoying the blend of language and history. I feel like I can geek out on just enough linguistics before I zone out, then we shift into history stuff. Back and forth with nice concise story arcs. I also like that I can get through one episode in one sitting. Oh and the maps on the web site are excellent! Thanks so much for helping out this very visually learner. Everything you’ve done here has helped me to connect the dots between multiple history podcasts, and it’s great to revisit parts of history I’ve already heard about but this time from a new perspective.

    From your accent you sound like a North Carolina native. At least you sound like a bunch of folks I work with who are based in Charlotte. It’s great to get this little bit of southern flavor in my day without it having to be “work related”.

    Thanks again for creating this wonderful podcast.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast. And yes, I am originally from eastern North Carolina, though my accent has evolved a bit over the decades as I have lived in different parts of the state.

      • Much like Holly M above, I enjoy your accent. I have lived in Dallas-Fort Worth for more than 30 years (was born in Georgia to parents from Texas) and have always been self-conscious about my Texas accent. So I commend my fellow Southerner, Kevin, for taking the many questions you receive about your accent in stride.

        Keep up the great work.

      • Hi Kevin, I’m a new listener, but following this thread I wanted to pop in and say that it’s a pleasure to hear a fellow North Carolinian, I feel like I’m sitting back in class at Catawba College and not in my living room in Reims, France.

        I’m enjoying your podcast immensely, thank you so much for your thorough and interesting work!

        • Thanks! I grew up in eastern NC, I lived most of my adult life in the Triangle, and now I live in the NC mountains. So I’m very familiar with the various accents of this state. I guess mine is a bit of a blend by this point. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast.

  6. Kevin,

    This podcast is thrilling me at every turn. Thanks for your thorough methods and intellectual passion!

    My question is focused on the Druids you discuss early in the episode. As spiritual and moral teachers rooted to the earth and with some legal authority over their fellow tribesmen, wouldn’t they have been similar to pagan shamans and priests in many other cultures throughout Europe at the time? I was surprised to hear them described as totally unique and without parallel.


    • Hi Avery. Thanks for the comments. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast.

      With respect to the Druids, their specific religious beliefs and practices were well documented by writers in the literate worlds of Rome and Greece. Apparently, many of those writers were fascinated by Druid religious practices. My research indicated that many of their religious customs were considered unique, and those customs distinguished them from other religious leaders in other parts of the pagan world. Unfortunately, my personal knowledge of the Druids is very limited, so I can’t really give you any details. However, both of the following books contain an excellent discussion of some of those practices: “The Celts: A History” by Peter Berresford Ellis and “Who Were The Celts?” by Kevin Duffey.

  7. Greek keltoi is pronounced kelt-ee, not kelt-oy. The -oi is one of the several i-sounds in Greek. The words Gallic and Celtic (pronounced with a k-sound) are cognates!

  8. Hi

    Wondering: What was different in the areas of current days France, England and Spain that were not Romanized: The Basque, Brittany Cornwell etc.

    Were there other places where older languages, Celtic or otuers remain until modern times?

    • My understanding is that Celtic languages are currently spoken in Brittany and parts of the British Isles. I do not think they are currently spoken anywhere else as a living language. The Cornish language was a Celtic language in the southwest corner of Britain, but it died out within the last two or three centuries.

  9. Hey! I loved your part around 09:00 when you say, “There was no unified government among these peoples. Instead it was more like a confederation of independent tribes. But, they had a common material culture, and they had a common religion, and they had a common language, or, at least a common family of languages. And it’s these three things: material objects, religion and language, that allows us to group these people together and call them the Celts.” Im wondering what source(s) referenced this? It’s so interesting and I’d love to read more about it!

    • Hi Shannan,

      Here are a couple of the resources I used for that episode, both of which have discussions about the druids:

      ‘The Celts: A History,’ by Peter Beresford Ellis, and
      ‘Who Were the Celts?,’ by Kevin Duffy.

      I hope that helps.

  10. Hi, Kevin,

    Wonderful, as ever. This is my favorite podcast series.

    When you were talking about the Celts (Keltoi) and then the Gauls, it occurred to me that it could conceivably have been one ancient word that came down and was assigned, respectively, to each of these groups but with a corruption in the sound for one or both. I don’t believe you intimated that in this episode. But now I just checked Wikipedia, and it seems to corroborate my hunch. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Names_of_the_Celts#/Celts,_Celtae

  11. Dear Kevin, your fabulous, informative, interesting podcasts have kept me company through hundreds of miles of walking since the pandemic started. I’m only on Episode 16 as I often listen to them 2 or even 3 times, then veer off to related YouTube videos and lectures, then veer back to you. I’m a professional (now retired) North American archaeologist and I had to be very “provincial” during my work life. But now I’m relearning so many things I had forgotten and learning so much I didn’t know. And reading lots of related books to your podcasts.

    I’m writing to say thank you for doing such a terrific job at explaining such complex topics. I have learned so much. I like how you repeat yourself and the clarity with which you work through the topics in the episode and weave English back into the whole. Truly masterful. You are a brilliant teacher.

    I’m also writing to see if you’d be interested in updating this Celtic episode based on Sir Barry Cunliffe’s research over the last few years on “Celtic From the West”? His thesis makes so much sense and, for one, explains the antiquity of the Celtic language (much older than Hallstatt culture) and Celtic place names throughout the Atlantic coast.

    Thanks again for your incredible efforts to teach us such wonderful things!


    • Hi Giovanna. Thanks for the comments and the suggestion. Over the past few years, I have actually re-recorded Episodes 1-11 for a few different reasons. There was an issue with the sampling rate in some of the early episodes that make them incompatible with some modern streaming players. Anyway, my goal is to continue that process through Episode 20. So when I make my way to this episode, I will certainly look into Cunliffe’s research and determine if any updates are necessary. Thanks again.

      • Excellent! Thank you for your reply, Kevin. To wet your appetite, you can start with some of Barry Cunliffe’s excellent YouTube videos on “Celts from the West,” then dive into his publications. Giovanna

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