How did Celtic society work?

It is not easy to understand Celtic society. We have no writings from the Celts that predate the Middle Ages. Yet it was possible to ascertain what it was like in Celtic society. How did the social hierarchy work within Celtic society? What was the relationship between men and women among the Celts? How was the power distributed? How did it go during a war? What do people know about the education of the children?

Family, tribe, people

According to written sources, the family is the basis of Celtic society. The families are united in different tribes or clans and several of these tribes form a people. The most important families formed the aristocracy.
Individuals, families and clans are connected through a whole series of alliances and agreements.
Festivals played a major role in the life of the communities because they strengthened social ties. It was also a way to get together and show their social rank and prestige. Stories of heroic deeds were also told whether attempts were made to settle disputes. Celtic peoples chose to remain independent and maintain their autonomy, but sometimes they joined forces with other tribes when this helped their political situation. They also united in war situations.

Women and children

Respect for women

Women received the same respect as men. Some women even had a high status in society. They were allowed to own goods, to practice a profession and often had domestic staff. Yet it was often the man who possessed power within the family.

The education of the children

As far as the children are concerned, so far little information was found. What people do know is that boys who were not yet able to handle weapons were not allowed to show themselves in the audience next to their father. In some tribes, the prince decided that the boy should not be raised by their immediate family until adolescence. The children were taught everything by a foster family from another tribe. Often these were friends of their parents. The type of upbringing depended on the place in society. A farmer's son naturally received a different education than a son of an aristocrat. The children got what they needed in their daily lives. When the children were sufficiently trained and brought up, they returned to their original parents.

Social hierarchy

Celtic society was organized hierarchically. There were perhaps three classes. They had the priest class, the class of the warriors, and the production class.
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The job of the druid
The priest class consisted of druids, some of whom were responsible for religious practices. Others took care of the education of the young people, settled conflicts or managed the land register. The latter was to determine the value of land properties in a certain area.
They also settled legacy matters, public or private accounts, and conflicts.
Fortune tellers, doctors, astronomers, wizards, ambassadors, and political counselors also belonged to this class.
The druid were the intellectual elite of society. They divided the tasks among themselves according to rank and specialty. The bards dealt with literature, poetry and music. They are the ones who honored traditions and mythological stories.

The task of the warriors

The class of warriors consisted of military and senior aristocracy. Of course, warriors had to defend the tribe against raids from other tribes. Women also had to take up the weapon if deemed necessary.

The production class: the engine of society

It is not enough in a society to have warriors and priests. Food must of course be provided. This was therefore the task of the production class. The production class included artisans, farmers, breeders and merchants. They were, as it were, the engine of society. In addition to these classes, the Celts also had slaves who had no rights whatsoever. They were deployed by the production class to help them with their duties.



With the Celts, power was exercised by the aristocracy. In the early Iron Age, the most important people in society are called "princes" by archaeologists. Their names and actual title is unprecedented.
In the late Iron Age, from the 3rd century BC, there were kings. They were mentioned in texts and on coins. Ambiorix is ​​an example of this.

A new way of governing

In the 2nd century BC. A new way of government appeared next to the kingship. Some nations were ruled by a group of leaders, called assembly. These leaders were chosen from the large aristocratic families. Elections took place every year to elect the leaders. A leader for the army was also chosen.

Procedures were followed

When the leaders met, certain procedures were followed. For example, the person speaking could not be interrupted by cries or movement. If this were the case, guards would go to the person who had disturbed the speaker with the sword from the sheath and threatened with silence. If he did not obey, he was threatened a second and third time. Eventually they cut off a long piece of the cloak that they wore so that it became unbearable.


Crazy about war?

The Celts were often described as warriors who were crazy about waging war. Their warfare was often extremely violent. For the Celts, wars were things that had to happen quickly. It was accompanied by raids, looting and a lot of power. Because of the speed associated with their warfare, they therefore had extremely mobile troops. The Greeks and Romans previously had a heavy and dense army.

Not only aristocrats fought ...

Originally, only the aristocrats fought during a war, but as the Celts began to spread more and more, the nobles surrounded themselves with more soldiers, servants, and weapon-bearers. They recruited personal armies that numbered thousands of soldiers. The cavalry was very scary and the combat wagons formed the elite corps of the Celtic army. They also had infantry soldiers. The chariots disappeared from the battlefield during the 2nd century BC.

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