The Celtic peoples have historically lived across mainland Europe stretching from Swizerland and Turkey in the east to Britain and Ireland In the west. They can be defined by multiple physical characteristics such as red hair, blue and green eyes, tartan clothing, and prominent statures.
This article will discuss five physical characteristics of the Celtic people and five stereotypical traits of the Celts. Note that these are stereotypes and dominant physical traits only, and are not representative of one individual.
Remember, stereotypes are incorrect or skewed, so while I share these as stereotypes, often emerging from folklore and media, remember they are not factual.
Celtic People Physical Characteristics
1. Red and Fair Hair
When Greek authors of antiquity began writing about the Keltoi, the origin of the word which we now use to describe the ancient peoples of central and western Europe, the Celtic people, they mentioned that a large portion of them had red hair.
The Celtic people can often be divided into multiple subcategories, with some having red and blonde hair and others having darkish hair. The ancient Greeks wrote that they had never seen a population with such a dense amount of red and auburn-colored hair.
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2. Great Stature
It’s been well recorded by Greek and Roman scholars that the average Celt was often much larger than the average Roman soldier.
On average Celtic men were close to 6 feet tall, whereas Roman soldiers of the day were around 5 feet 7-8 inches.
On top of this, Celtic warriors were known for having much longer limbs than your average Mediterranean of the day, which gave them a slight advantage in battle.
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3. Light Colored Eyes
As the Celtic peoples were not one unified population group, specific characteristics varied across central and western Europe.
One defining characteristic that stands out among central, northern, and western Celtic populations was the color of their eyes.
The Celtic people had a broad range of eye colors, such as blue, light blue, grey, and green, as well as the more common brown. The blue, grey, and green are thought to be mutations that occurred over thousands of years due to the Celts who lived in the far north of the world.
4. Nude Warriors
You would be able to notice a significant difference in the Celtic warriors when compared to warriors from other parts of Europe and Asia.
It’s been written in multiple Mediterranean sources that the Celts would often enter into battle nude with nothing except a spear.
Whether or not this was solely for tribal warfare is unknown, as, by the time of the Roman invasions in Britain, tribes are mentioned as wearing trousers and cloaks. They would also use trumpets as they entered the battle, almost like a war cry.
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5. Tartan Clothing
Archaeological and scriptural evidence suggests that the Celtic peoples from Switzerland to Scotland and in between all wore plaid or tartan clothing such as trousers and cloaks.
They wore brightly colored woolen clothes, often in a striped or plaid design.
Some had two colors, such as the fragment discovered in Hallstatt had three colors. In some instances, the colors sometimes represented the area you originated from, as they would use whatever local dye they could find.
Celtic People Character Stereotypes
People such as the Greeks wrote a great deal about the Celtic peoples living in central Europe, as did the Romans. You can be sure that as while they may have told the truth from time to time, they also filled their writing with stereotypical characteristics.
1. Barbarians And Uncivilized
The Greeks and Romans both labeled the Celtic people barbaric heathens, and the word itself, barbarian, originates from Greek writers who couldn’t understand the Celts and said they talked like “bar barbar.”
However, Celtic society was a lot better put together than what people give it credit for. Evidence suggests they had a form of currency in metal artifacts, dynasties ruled by competent kings and queens, and followed a religious belief system that was in harmony with the natural world.
2. They Were One People
When most people talk about the Celts, they often refer to them as red-haired and blue-eyed, and while this was true in an extreme amount of cases, it wasn’t the only characteristic that defined them.
The Celtic people were a diverse collection of tribes living all over mainland Europe and western Europe. There were people of light skin and blonde hair; there were also people of a darker complexion and dark hair.
3. They Loved Human Sacrifice
Many Roman scholars referenced the idea that the Celtic people loved to sacrifice humans.
Julius Caesar was one of the primary sources of this and wrote that the Druids, the spiritual advisors of western Celtic peoples, committed ritual sacrifice on a large scale.
This was probably a stereotype of the time, as the Romans and Greeks saw the Celtic people as barbarians and civilized. While this may have been a practice by a few tribes of the Celtic world, it was by no means done on a mass scale by all Celtic peoples.
Just as Romans would drag prisoners to be executed, i.e., sacrifice in front of their gods, in the same way, Celtic warriors would often execute prisoners and place their heads on a spike.
4. They Drink a Lot
One major stereotype that has survived into the modern day, especially with the Irish, is that the ancient Celtic peoples love a drink.
While they historically enjoyed their fermented beverages, this stereotype may have arisen as they could handle their drinks.
The Celtic began making fermented beverages as early as 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.
5. They have Warrior Blood
The Celtic people were known around the Roman and Greek worlds as some of the greatest warriors on the planet, but what Greek history often leaves out of their stories is that they were much more than simple warriors.
The Celtics had a belief system centered around the world’s natural processes; they believed that working in harmony with nature was critical. They had poets, singers, scribes, astronomers, Astro theologists, doctors, artisans, and early scientists.
While above are some of the the most common stereotypes and physical characteristics of Celtic people, stereotypes are also a little removed from reality. Furthermore, perpetuating negative stereotypes can be harmful, so it’s important to be careful about not typecasting any one individual.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]