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Were the Celts Vikings?

Were the Celts Vikings?

The Vikings and Celts were two prominent ethnic communities that were highly influential in changing the course of history. Although these terms are used interchangeably, these two groups share their own unique identity. 

While they continue to provoke sentiments in various communities, they are not one and the same. In this article, we will elaborate on the critical differences between the Celts and the Vikings and how they left a lasting impression in the region. 

Who Were the Celts? 

The Celts were a collection of clans that dominated Central Europe from 600 BC to 43 AD. Since they were the prominent groups in the Iron Age, the Celts have also been associated with the discovery of iron in general. 

“Celts” is a modern name used to describe the many tribes in Western Europe at that time. [1] It does not intrinsically refer to a particular group of people. These tribes were spread across different areas of Europe north of the Mediterranean sea. 

Celts in Europe, map.
Celts in Europe
QuartierLatin1968, The Ogre, Dbachmann, Superwikifan; derivative work Augusta 89, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to many historians, it is believed that the name “Celts” was first used by the Greek geographer, Hecataeus of Miletus, in 517 AD describing a nomadic group living in France. [2] 

Today, the word has many underlying meanings: an epithet of pride among the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish descendants. However, in historical terms, it is harder to define Celtic culture due to the largely scattered group. 

Three Main Groups 

Since the Celts lived across a wide area–mainly inhabiting the various regions of Central Europe, the Celtic world is not confined to a single place. As one of the largest ethnic groups in Europe, the Celts were divided into three major groups: 

  • Brythonic (also known as Britons) Celts settled in England 
  • Gaelic Celts that were based in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man 
  • Gaulic Celts lived across modern-day France, Switzerland, Belgium, and northern Italy. 

Due to the different Celtic groups, the cultures and traditions are not homogenous and can often differ based on their origins. Generally, the Celts were farmers who depended on agriculture for their livelihood. 

They were often in conflict with the Romans, who tried to seize control of their lands. In battles, the Celts used swords, spears, and shields to protect themselves from invaders. 

Who Were the Vikings? 

The Vikings were a group of seafaring young men that attempted to build their lives around invading and plundering nearby regions in the European continent. They were originally from Scandinavia (800 AD to the 11th century), which means that these people were of Norse origin. 

Hence, they were ethically called the Norsemen or Danes. The term “Vikings” was usually used to describe an occupation. [3] Although they hailed from the Nordic countries, they would travel to faraway lands like Britain, Russia, and Iceland to raid regions as pirates or traders. 

The Danish Vikings have always had a notorious reputation as the invaders or bounty hunters of the time. They were one of the many Germanic people who presumably came to attack the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the 8th century. 

The landing of Vikings on America.
The landing of Vikings on America
Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth), b. 1876, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vikings and Celts: Similarities and Differences

Similarities

There is no direct relationship between the Celts and Vikings except for the fact that they influenced the ancient Germanic people. Both of these clans occupied the British Isles, although the two groups had made a mark without the other’s involvement. They both occupied the same lands at different times. 

They were both considered “uncivilized” in the local sense as they were barbaric, ruthless, and heathens. Apart from that, there are not many cultural parallels between the two groups. 

Differences 

The Vikings and Celts are both fascinating ethnic groups that eventually became the descendants of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. People often get confused about the origin of the two clans and how they came to be. 

We’ve compiled a list of differences between the two groups to help you narrow down the list. 

Origin and Background 

The Celts came way before the Vikings, around 600 BC. They were mainly Barbarians that were first recorded to occupy lands near the Danube river. Their empire extends from central and eastern France to the Czech Republic. 

Other Celtic groups like the Britons and Gaelic Celts were also found inhabiting North Western Europe. 

On the other hand, Viking settlements were never affixed to the same place. These seafaring pirates hailed from Scandinavia, a subregion in Northern Europe comprising the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. They began lightning raids in 793 AD when they attacked Lindisfarne in England. [4]  

During the first few decades of their raids, the Danish Vikings never settled in one place and engaged in wars. The Vikings never ventured more than a few miles inland and preferred to stay on the coastal lands. 

The Way of Life 

The Celtic people were predominantly immersed in the agricultural practices of the Iron Age. 

The Celts had a structured administration that was focused on building a community, as opposed to the Vikings, who were always on the move. The lives of the Celts were more mundane, focused on tending crops, caring for their dwellings, drinking, and gambling. 

On the other, the Vikings were always looking to expand their territories and raid the areas. While the Celts were defensive barbarians, the Vikings attacked numerous coastal areas for their benefit.

Landing of a Viking fleet at Dublin.
Landing of a Viking fleet at Dublin
James Ward (1851-1924), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Culture and Mythology

When it comes to Celtic culture, mythology forms the backbone. The Celts were known for their art forms, polygenist nature, and linguistic heritage. Celtic mythology and legends are a collection of stories from the ancient Celtic people that were passed down through oral literature. 

On the other hand, the Vikings believed in the Norse mythological framework that was upheld in the Viking age. These religious stories and symbols gave meaning to the Vikings’ lives and influenced the daily activities of the people. 

Although both share their similarities, Viking myths stem from Northern germanic people, whereas Celtic mythology was influenced by the Celts of Central Europe. [5] 

Conclusion 

The Celts and Vikings share similarities but cannot be fused into one group. They had their own traditions, culture, art, and history that were completely independent of each other. 

While they may have influenced each other’s culture at a point in time, they cannot be combined as a single ethnic group existing in Europe.