The Early Days of Celtic Britain

There is one common thread running through all of Rome’s dealings with its neighbors over the centuries. Rome always had an interest in ancient peoples and their culture. This has been on display throughout history with the Romans’ constant borrowing from across the globe. Early Roman interest in Celtic Britain is both understandable and necessary. Before the deposition of Trajan and a new Rome eager to join in the British Isles’ cultural life, Rome had made several attempts to gain control over its neighbors.

The Beginning

At the beginning of the 1st century BCE, Pliny the Younger wrote about an ancient Roman festival dedicated to the goddess Artemis. She was the goddess of healing and it was believed that she might visit Britain to help recover a powerful ally in battle. As luck would have it, her visit resulted in the Romans capturing Britain and incorporating its people into the fold of Rome. It was only a matter of time before Artemis became a prominent symbol in Roman culture. Early Christians were quick to proclaim her as the goddess of healing during the early days of the Empire.

  • There is no evidence that Celtic people had any contact with Christianity before the arrival of Rome.
  • There is some speculation that this is so, but there is no concrete evidence. Early Celtic coins show Celtic knots and symbols, but these do not match anything described in the Bible or by Early Roman writers.

It is therefore unlikely that Early Celtic Christianity was a Christian religion at all.

Druid Religious Group

What does seem clear is that Rome’s earliest concern with Celtic affairs was to ensure that its citizens maintained cordial relations with the Druids of Ireland. The Roman government sent envoys to Ireland to smooth over the disagreements between the two tribes. One of these representatives was a man called Cornus who would eventually become the first Barda, or priest who administered Christianity to the Druids. It is believed that he was dispatched by Trajan to protect the rights of Christians against the Druid religious group.

Having crushed the Druidry and made sure of Rome’s own survival, the Romans turned their attention to Ireland. The first mission of this new province was to establish a monastery on the Colhniskund Island which was an island south of Scotland. The monastery that they built was very similar to the modern day St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. It was destroyed in the 6th century during a Viking attack, but the ruins can still be seen. The monastery is open to the public today.

Early Irish History

Early Irish history records mention that the island of Ireland was under Roman control for much of the fifth century. In the first half of the 7th century, however, it was already under the dominance of the British. It has been suggested that the Brits never really wanted to takeover the country as they did with the other provinces. Instead, it was an act of desperation that prompted them to ally themselves with the Irish. The Irish were grateful and even helped to defeat the Danes at the Battle of Ales.

The British Soldiers

The British soldiers brought much goodwill to the new Celtic Britain and they remained in control of the country till the eighth century. After that period, however, the Irish began their rule over the whole island. The Irish were fierce fighters and many of them became prominent leaders. Some of the most famous of these fighters are Robert Joyce, James Braid, Colm MacRaghn, Conchobar Mac Nessa, and even Donalbain Mac Nessa. The most important contribution by the British to the island’s development came from King William. He granted a charter to the island that allowed for the establishment of a national church.

The church was established in the seventh century by an English Bishop, named Columba, who was the brother of the English King Edward.

  • He gathered together a group of settlers, called the clergy, and they founded a settlement.
  • It was here that the Celtic Christian faith began. The first converts were from Wales.

After a few years, most of the Welsh population began to convert to the Celtic religion as well, making the island a true home of Celtic Britain.

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