Bronze plaque from Ynys Mon, Angelesey ©NMGW

Prehistoric Wales (part two)

The Celts

The evidence suggests that by the first century AD, the language spoken in Wales - and throughout southern Britain - was Brythonic, a Celtic language closely related to the Gaulish of Gaul. Other aspects of British society, its class structure, for example, and the beliefs and practices of its priesthood, are also considered to have had links with Gaul. These considerations, together with the artistic style of the metal objects made in Iron Age Wales and Britain, gave rise to the notion that the inhabitants of Wales in the last centuries of prehistory were members of a Celtic 'nation' which occupied a great swathe of Europe from the Danube Valley to Spain.

A Celtic cross -
A Celtic cross

While there is no certainty about the way in which much of Britain became Celtic-speaking, the fact that it did is of central importance in the history of Wales. Brythonic evolved into Welsh, and the existence of the Welsh language would be, for fifteen hundred years and more, one of the defining features of the experience of the people of Wales.

The druids

Of all the aspects of the culture of the Iron-Age Celts, the one that has attracted the greatest attention is the role of the druids. Interpreting druidism is difficult, for the druids refused to commit anything about their beliefs and rituals to writing, and modern inquirers are obliged to rely on the accounts of the classical authors who have a tendency to concentrate upon the ghoulish, the bizarre and the malign.

The essence of druidism seems to have been a kind of pantheism, and links have been discerned between it and some aspects of Hinduism. The correct performance of ritual was central to the religion, and the prescribed pattern of ceremonies presumably constituted the greater part of the twenty-year training undertaken by an apprentice druid. Human sacrifice was practiced. When the druids of Anglesey were attacked by the Romans in AD 61, their altars, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, 'were drenched with the blood of prisoners'.

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