Why Did the Celts Hate the Romans?


The Celts and the Romans were two of the greatest civilizations in Europe during ancient times. However, their relationship was often hostile. But why exactly did these two groups hate each other so much?

The Celts hated the Romans because the Romans constantly invaded them, took their land, and sometimes enslaved them. Additionally, the Romans would sometimes torture Celts who didn’t fall in line with their rule. Furthermore, the two cultures had very different beliefs, leading to even more strife.

This article will explore why the Celts and Romans fought, how they fought, and whether or not the Romans were ever able to wipe out the Celts entirely. It will also outline some of the most notable differences between the Celts’ and Romans’ cultural and religious beliefs.

Roman Empire
Why did the Celts and Romans fight? See below

Why Did the Celts and Romans Fight?

For years, historians have debated the origins of the Celtic and Roman conflict. While many answers exist, they aren’t all satisfactory. For example, one of the most prominent theories about the conflict involves the invasion of Celtic lands by Caesar-led Roman armies. 

However, the Romans had been fighting with the Celts long before these invasions. Caesar ruled the Roman empire from 46 to 44 B.C. The Celtic and Roman conflict began in 387 BC with the Battle of the Allia – perhaps earlier than that. [1]

Therefore, the truth of why these two nations fought is likely much simpler.

The Celts and the Romans fought because they were fundamentally different people who, at different times, wanted to invade and/or conquer the other’s land. They fought to preserve their territory, resources, and way of life. 

It’s interesting to note that the Celts attacked the Romans at the Battle of the Allia, not the other way around. It was a successful attack, as well. [2]

Under the leadership of the Celtic warlord Brennus, the Gallic Celts attacked Rome on July 18, 387 BC. The Romans weren’t yet the fierce army they would become, and the Celts decimated their ranks. 

Brennus and his men continued through the city, murdering its inhabitants and sacking their homes. Eventually, they killed nearly all the Roman senate.

A small force of Romans banded together at Capitoline Hill and made a final stand. This ended in a months-long siege, and they finally had to give Brennus a thousand pounds of gold to leave Rome. 

A couple of centuries later, however, the tables would turn. Rome built up its army and became one of the most powerful conquering nations. It set its sights on Greece and Turkey first, then Gaul. They didn’t overtake Gaul quickly or easily, though.

Instead, the war between the two would rage from 121 BC until 51 BC, widely recognized as the year Rome “conquered” Gaul. [3] This victory was one more step in Rome’s drive to invade and conquer as many nations as possible. However, there might also have been an element of revenge for the Romans. 

Either way, the Romans wanted the Celts’ lands. (Eventually, they would go on to invade Britain, too.) They wanted the Celts’ resources, and they wanted Celtic slaves. Part of this desire was because the Romans hated the Celtic’s “barbaric” way of life and tried to end it. 

Fundamental Differences Between Celts and Romans

Everything about the Celts and Romans was different, from the gods they worshiped to their clothes and how they styled their hair. The Romans considered the Celts wild, savage, and uncivilized. That was part of the justification for their desire to subjugate them. 

The following sections will outline some of the most significant differences.

Religious Beliefs

At the height of the Celtic/Roman conflict, there was no Christianity. Therefore, the Romans were still polytheistic. However, they had well-defined religious beliefs and a distinct pantheon of gods that they worshiped and sacrificed to in specific, state-approved ways. 

Conversely, the Celts worshiped nature gods – wild gods of earth and sky and water. It upset the Romans because they didn’t understand it. 

Modern depiction of Roman soldiers

Thoughts on War and Conflict

Eventually, the Romans became a well-known conquering nation. However, they didn’t necessarily revel in fighting or celebrate mighty warriors like the Celts.

The Celts prided themselves on their victories. They even performed human sacrifices as offerings (or in thanks) to their gods when they needed to win (or had won) a victory. [4]

Their fighting styles were very different, too. The Romans wore their battle armor and fought in well-disciplined ranks. The Celts often fought naked in a wild, undisciplined manner. [5] They were ferocious and often animalistic in their battle styles. Many scholars believe that even Celtic women fought.

Other Differences

Celts and Romans even dressed differently and styled their hair in different ways. Romans were known for their open, flowing clothing; Celts preferred clothes that fit more tightly. 

The Romans kept their hair neat, though some did wear it long and pulled it into buns or braids. The Celts often let their hair grow long and wild and used lime water to lighten it and form it into wild spikes and perhaps even mohawks. [6]

Finally, the Romans had elaborate cities, homes, and temples. The Celts kept things simple; they thrived in nature and spent much of their time there, though they, too, had homes and cities.

Roman Coliseum
How did the Celts and Romans fight? See below

How Did the Celts and Romans Fight?

The Celts primarily fought in an undisciplined manner. When on the offensive, they preferred quick and unexpected raids. They often fought naked and on horseback or in chariots. They’d usually abandon their chariots in the heat of battle and fight on foot with swords, spears, and shields.

In contrast to the Celtic fighting style, the Romans were extremely well-disciplined. They usually attacked the Celts in three ranks, using the traditional hoplite phalanx formation. One rank of soldiers fought with pila, throwing them at the Celts under cover of the archers and artillery.

The archers shot continuously, laying down “cover fire” for those on the front lines. Those, in turn, would remain protected behind their shields and stab through the gaps at their Celtic enemies.

Finally, the cavalry hung back and attacked the flanks. They also caught anyone trying to flee and killed or captured them for later enslavement.

Did the Romans Wipe Out the Celts?

The Romans didn’t completely wipe out the Celts by themselves, but they did play an integral part in the Celts’ downfall. Attacks by the Huns and Slavs also contributed to the end of the Celtic tribes. The Romans did the most damage to them, though.

Conclusion

The Celts and Romans hated each other for many reasons and were very different. Their differences contributed to their animosity.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source
[6] Source

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