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ORB Online Encyclopedia

The Medieval Celtic Fringe

A Guide to Online Resources

Section Editor: Christopher A. Snyder, Chair, Department of History and Politics, Marymount University.  Dr. Snyder can be reached at: csnyder@marymount.edu. He is interested in proposals for articles, and in resources that can be linked to this section.

The Medieval Celtic Fringe

Celtic-speaking peoples once ranged across most of northern Europe, from Ireland to the Ukraine, and as far south as the Iberian peninsula and Asia Minor.  But the expansion of both the Romans and the Germanic peoples pushed the Celtic world increasingly into the northwestern fringes of Europe, and after Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the first century BC, the only autonomous Celtic-speakers were those living in the British Isles.  These Celts too were threatened by both Romans and Germans.  The emperor Claudius began the Roman conquest of lowland Britain in AD 43, after which the Britons, like the Gauls, became in varying degrees Romanized.  No sooner did they gain their political independence from Rome, in AD 410, than did they face a serious threat from Germanic-speaking raiders living along the North Sea.  These peoples, including the Angles and the Saxons, first arrived in Britain as mercenaries, and would eventually come to dominate the same lowland regions that the Romans had conquered and give that land a new name--England.

In the early Middle Ages, Celtic-speaking populations survived in an even smaller fringe, which included Ireland (which was never conquered by the Romans), Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Wales and Scotland (whose mountainous regions never became Romanized), as well as Brittany and Galicia, settled by Britons in the fifth and sixth centuries AD.  Celtic languages predominated in these areas throughout the medieval period, a period in which Christianity mixed with indigenous pagan custom to produce a unique and dynamic culture.  The Age of the Saints in the early Celtic churches, which lasted up to the Viking invasions of the ninth century, produced such figures as Patrick, Brigid, David, and Columba.  Less famous Celtic monks and craftsmen from the period gave us such masterpieces as the Ardagh Chalice and the Book of Kells, while Celtic bards and clerks composed the Ulster Cycle, the Mabinogi, and the Arthurian legends.

Below you will find on-line resources to help you explore all of these topics (as well as related topics like Anglo-Saxon and Viking history), with links to examples of both the literary and material culture of the Celtic-speaking peoples in the Middle Ages.

Outline for the Medieval Celtic Fringe:


    • Current Archaeology (British magazine with information about recent finds)

    • British Archaeology (British magazine published by the Council for British Archaeology, with on-line essays and reviews)

    • Images of sites in Britain and Ireland

  • Epigraphy

  • Medieval Ireland

  • Medieval Galicia

  • The Vikings

This page was designed with the assistance of Michael Cleary.

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Page last updated on June 2, 2003.