THE CELTIC EMPIRE by Peter Berresford Ellis


The First Millennium of Celtic History, 1000 B.C.-A.D. 51
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Apparently frustrated by the lingering impression that the ancient Celts were nothing more than barbaric losers of an endless stream of battles with the Roman legions, Ellis attempts to rewrite a thousand years of history (through a.d. 51) from their point of view.

Strangely, though, this revised version doesn’t read much differently from the grammar-school standard. Proceeding country by country, Ellis (Celt and Roman, 1998, etc.) details how the Celts eventually lost to the Romans in Italy, Spain, France, Turkey, North Africa, and Britain. Because almost all the contemporary written sources are Greek or Roman—the Celts, for religious reasons according to the author, didn’t write down their own history until the fourth century (a.d.)—he doesn’t have much new material to work with. Instead, he offers a highly optimistic retelling of a number of old Roman war stories with the Celts cast as heroes and the Romans as oppressors—in other words, a scholarly Asterix comic book, minus the humor. A similarly indulgent anachronism emerges as well, with the Celts constantly being identified trouble for trouble with the modern Irish, while the imperial Romans none-too-subtly take on the complexion of the imperial English. For all that, Ellis makes his point, albeit somewhat fustily. Thinking of the myriad tribes with unpronounceable names who dot Roman histories as the representatives of a single people, which they surely were, fundamentally restructures the way one thinks about the Mediterranean world in the pre-Imperial period. In the end, Ellis manages not only to provide a perfectly adequate history of the Celts but also valuable insight into the Roman conflicts with the Carthaginians, Greeks, and Germanic tribes.

Worthwhile, if not precisely inspired.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7867-0933-2
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2001


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