Did the Celts Have a Written Language?

Of all the ancient and older civilizations, the Celts are the ones that people most often overlook and know little about. However, they were a fascinating group of people – and are likely the reason people still have red hair today. But how did they communicate; did they have a written language?

The Celts had multiple written languages, but they weren’t all exclusively theirs. They borrowed from Latin and Greek alphabets. The only language that belonged solely to the Celts was the Ogham written script. It appeared in the 4th to 6th centuries CE.

Ogham is really more of a primitive Irish language than a Celtic one, but even so, people consider it a Celtic language. This article will focus on the three languages most commonly associated with the Celts: Old Italic, Gaulish, and Ogham. It will also discuss what the Celts wrote about and whether or not any of their writings survive to the present day. 

Celtic language
What language did the Celts write in? See below

What Language Did the Celts Write In?

The Celts wrote primarily in Gaulish and Old Italic languages, both of which were bastardizations of the Latin, Greek, and (later) Roman alphabets. Later Irish and Celtic people also wrote in the newly created language, Ogham, otherwise known as the Celtic tree alphabet. 

In order to understand the different written languages of the Celts, it’s first essential to understand precisely who the Celts were. 

Who Exactly Were the Celts?

Sometimes, people lazily categorize the Celtic people as “early Irish” or “early Scottish.” While early Irish and Scottish people may have been Celtic, they were only a tiny fraction of a much larger group. Instead, scholars use the collective term “Celtic” to describe a wide range of people. [3]

A Celt could be anyone from one of the tribes of people who inhabited central, western, and southeast Europe up into parts of Asia during the Iron Age, which spanned from 1200 BC to about 550 BC. Some Celtic groups survived beyond that time, though. 

Even today, Wales is still considered a “Celtic country.”

Because Celts lived in such diverse regions, including England, Ireland, Spain, Wales, and even Turkey, they weren’t necessarily a specific race. Instead, they were tribe-based people who lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle. They shared a language and similar beliefs concerning religion and cultural traditions. 

Furthermore, the widespread locations of the Celts also meant that they used a few different alphabets and languages. The following sections will discuss the three most used of those languages.


Gaulish was probably the most widely spoken language of the Celts. [2] All Celtic tribes from Gaul spoke it as their native tongue, and Gaul comprised what is now the following regions: 

  • Switzerland
  • Northern Italy
  • Belgium
  • Luxembourg
  • France
  • Parts of Germany
  • Parts of the Netherlands

However, Celtic people living in central Europe, Anatolia, and the Balkans also spoke Gaulish. It was primarily a spoken language, but eventually, the Celts turned it into a written one. 

It began using the Greek alphabet but eventually transitioned into Old Italic and Latin. However, Gaulish coins were emblazoned with Greek script until about 50 BC, even after the shift. 

Old Italic

As mentioned above, even the Gaulish Celts incorporated Old Italic in their written language. However, Celts in other areas across Europe and Asia – those who didn’t speak Gaulish – also used Old Italic to write. Primarily, Celts in Italy used this language. 

Old Italic pulled its alphabet and language from a variety of different scripts, including: 

  • Latin
  • Messapic
  • Umbrian
  • Etruscan
  • Faliscan
  • Oscan [3]

Some versions of Old Italic even pulled from the Phoenician alphabet.


Though many considered Ogham the only language that the Celts invented themselves, it’s more of an Early and Old Irish language than a truly Celtic one. While later Celts in Ireland likely used Ogham to write, early Celts and Celts in other locations outside of Ireland (or Irish-settled countries) almost certainly didn’t use it. 

Even so, it’s readily associated with the Celtic people, and any article about Celtic language that didn’t mention it would be remiss. 

Ogham consisted of 20 letters. People sometimes call it “the Celtic tree alphabet” because many of the letters are the Celtic names of different trees. As Britannica points out, “The Ogham alphabet was restricted to the Celtic population of the British Isles” and wasn’t nearly as widespread as the Celtic people themselves were. [4]

Interestingly enough, even though it was restricted to the smallest group of Celts, it’s the language most widely associated with them today. 

Celtic cross
What Did the Celtic People Write About? See below

What Did the Celtic People Write About?

The Celts are so closely associated with Ogham because today, over 375 surviving Ogham inscriptions are carved into stone monuments all over Ireland and into parts of Western Britain. Most of these inscriptions seem to be people’s names or family genealogies. 

However, that’s not all the Celtic people wrote about. Surviving fragments of Gaulish and Old Italic documents prove that the Celts wrote about the same kinds of things everyone else did. 

The Celtic people wrote dedications or prayers to their gods, calendars, epithets, statements of ownership (deeds, bills of sale), accounts and ledgers, and more. They also kept track of their family lineage and perhaps even wrote curse tablets. 

Curse tablets were stone tablets inscribed with literal curses – bad things that the Celts wanted their gods to deliver upon their enemies. 

Did writings from the Celts survive? See below

Did Writings from the Celts Survive?

Fragments of the Celts’ writings survive to the present day, and the nearly 400 stone monuments bearing Celtic names and lineages still stand as a testament to the Celts’ use of the Ogham language. 

Unfortunately, not many of the Celt’s fictional writings, biographies, histories, or stories about their gods still exist, if they ever did at all. Much of what scholars and historians know about the Celts comes not from their writings but from the writings of Greeks and Romans, who considered the Celts barbarians. [5]

Scholars today don’t even know what the Celts called themselves, and all of the surviving Greek and Roman manuscripts about the Celts paint them in a similar light as Christian accounts of the Vikings. They are highly biased and don’t give historians an accurate picture of what the daily life of a Celt actually entailed. 


The Celts had a few different written languages, though Ogham was the only one explicitly created by them. 

[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source

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