Indo-European Studies 1: the La Tène culture

Choose one Indo-European culture and describe briefly the influences that have shaped it and distinguish it from other Indo-European derived cultures. Examples include migration, contact with other cultures, changes in religion, language, and political factors. Is there any sense in which this culture can be said to have stopped being an Indo-European culture?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘culture’ as: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time.  As a result, any discussion of ‘a culture’ needs to be firmly rooted in a particular location and historical period.

As such, we shall consider here the Celts of the La Tène culture from approximately 450 BCE until the Roman conquest of Britannia. Many influences helped to shape this culture, the most prominent possibly being the fact that from the La Tène ‘homeland’ in modern Switzerland, the culture spread far and wide over river-based trade routes (Chadwick, 24), from Iberia to Ireland and northern Italy and even into Asia Minor. This wide disbursement and subsequent supplanting and merging with numerous substrate cultures over a vast territory created a diaspora of localized versions of the culture.  The immediate result of this was the proliferation of individual Celtic tribes as we know from Caesar’s descriptions.

The far flung trading nature of the La Tène culture also caused it to come into contact with many other cultures including the Greeks, Etruscans, Thracians, and Scythians.  Additionally, the Celts would also have come into contact and conflict with the Germanic tribes, who eventually pushed the Celts out of central Europe.  According to Chadwick, these contacts heavily influenced both the Celtic political system (26) and Celtic art (216).   Serith further describes how these contacts may also have influenced Celtic religion, using the depiction of Cernunnos on the Gundestrup cauldron as an example.

However, despite their contact with various literate neighbours, the Celts do not seem to have taken to writing during this period.  As a result their language, already likely highly regionalized by the disperse nature of the culture, would have evolved steadily.  The general consensus amongst scholars is now that the ‘Q’ form of the language was the older, original form.  As such it continued on in in the more remote areas of the Celtic lands, including Iberia and Ireland, while the ‘P’ form took hold on the continent and from there spread to Britain and Wales (Chadwick, 28).

Despite their dominance of the continent during the third and fourth centuries BCE, the Celts found themselves first squeezed out of their former homeland in central Europe by Germanic tribes and then under assault by the Romans.  The La Tène culture is considered to have come to an end with the Roman conquest and subsequent Latinization of Hispania, Gaul, and Britannia.  Insofar as it makes sense to ask whether it ceased to be an Indo-European culture the answer, however, would be no; the only definitive characteristic of an Indo-European culture is their language, and the people of the La Tène culture simply left off speaking one such language, Celtic, for another, Latin.

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