1000 - Bronze age Urnfield culture exists across Europe.
800 - Iron age Celtic culture appears across Europe, and begins to expand. Following a major archaeological find in Austria in 1876, this culture is labelled HALLSTATT.
600 - The Massiliote Periplus is written in the Greek port of Massilia (Marseille), describing two distant islands, IERNE (Ireland) and ALBION (England).
550 - The Hochdorf Prince and the Princess of Vix are buried in Southern Germany. Meanwhile in Southern Britain, hundreds of hillforts are being built, including DANEBURY RING in Hampshire.
500 - Celtic culture is endemic throughout Britain, France, Western Spain, South Germany, North Italy and a broad belt stretching East to the Black Sea, including a beachead in Central Turkey (the Galatians).There is trade between the Celts and the Etruscans. The Greek Hecateus describes the KELTOI. A new culture evolves. Following a major archaeological find in Switzerland in 1858 this culture is labelled LA TENE.
450 - Herodotus describes the Celts in Western Spain, and around the source of the Danube.
400 - Celts cross the Alps and invade Italy
390 - Celts sack Rome. Their leader Brennus exacts a huge bounty of gold with the words “Vae Victis” (woe to the defeated). This is the peak of the Celtic empire.
368 - Gaulish mercenaries fight in the army of Syracuse.
335 - Celts from the Adriatic meet Alexander the Great, who is impressed.
325 - The voyage of the Massilian Pytheas, who describes the PRETANIC islands (Britain).
279 - A Celtic tribe from Turkey, the Galatae or GALATIANS, sack the temple of Apollo at Delphi.
230 - The GALATIANS are defeated by Greeks at the battle of Pergamon in Turkey. The Greeks celebrate by casting THE DYING GAUL in bronze and carving the Pergamon reliefs.
225 - Celts (including GAESATAE) are defeated by Romans at the battle of Telamon in Italy (8,000 captured, 25,000 killed). Romans celebrate by copying The Dying Gaul in marble, and Polybius writes about it. From now on its mostly all down hill.
218 - Celts ally with Carthage in the second Punic war.
150 - Posidonius the Greek visits Gaul and describes druids. All his writings are later lost.
125 - Rome conquers Southern Gaul.
105 - Cimbri and Teutones defeat Romans at Arausio (Orange) in Gaul.
101- Romans destroy Cimbri and Teutones at Campi Raurii (60,000 captured, 120,000 killed). Romans celebrate by carving the triumphal arch at Orange.
100 - Danebury is abandoned, reason unknown.
60 - Diodorus the Sicilian writes about the Celts.
58 - Julius Caesar invades Gaul. He attacks 368,000 emigrating Helvetii (the entire Swiss Celtic tribe including women and children) at Toulon-sur-Arroux, killing 238,000 of them (his own estimates).
54 - The quisling Celtic chief Dumnorix is murdered by Genocide Julius.
53 - Numerous failed uprisings. ACCO leads a revolt amongst the Senones and Carnutes tribes and is caught, flogged and executed before Roman troops, but Ambiorix escapes never to be seen again.
52 - VERCINGETORIX, son of Celtillus of the royal house of the Averni, rallies Gaullish forces and attacks Julius Caesar. Caesar lays seige to him in Avaricum, killing 40,000 Gauls, but Vercingetorix and 800 men escape to GERGOVIA. Caesar attacks, but is routed. Now there was a battle. Finally Caesar traps Vercingetorix at THE SEIGE OF ALESIA. Vercingetorix surrenders and is taken prisoner. This is the end of resistance in Gaul, which becomes a Roman province (but Britain is still free). Caesar cashes in by writing the best seller DE BELLO GALLICO (The Gallic Wars).
45 - Vercingetorix is paraded through Rome, then executed.
44 - Julius Caesar is stabbed to death by his friends in the toilets behind a theatre. HAH !
30 - Strabo (quoting the lost chronicles of Posidonius) and Livy write about the Celts. Meanwhile in Ireland (according to the Annals of Tigernach) Conor Mac Nessa is King of Ulster. Legends told centuries later by bards and written down centuries later still by monks will describe his champion CUCHULAINN - the Hound of Ulster.
9 - Three entire Roman legions (15,000 soldiers) led by Varus are wiped out to a man in the TEUTOBERG FOREST by natives led by Herman the German. Although a Roman expeditionary force later retrieves the lost legions’ standard (this is the scene at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator) Varus’ crushing defeat ends Roman expansion in this area.
10 - Cunobelin (or Cunobelinus, Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline”) is chief of the Catuvellaunii and King of the Britons in Colchester.
43 - Under CARADOC (also known as Caratacus, son of Cunobelin) the Catuvellaunii tribe begin to conquer their neighbours. The quisling Verica of the Atrebates invites Rome to cross the channel and do something about it. The Roman emperor Claudius (the one with the stutter) invades Britain by elephant and four legions led by Aulus Plautius, and after three days of combat defeats Caradoc at THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER MEDWAY in Kent. Caradoc escapes and starts a guerilla war.
50 - Caradoc is driven North and seeks sanctuary with Queen CARTIMANDUA of the Brigantes tribe. She arrests him and hands him over to Rome. He and his family are dragged in chains before Claudius and the senate where he makes such an impressive speech that his life is spared and he is given a farm. Also around this time the Roman poet Lucan visits Gaul and writes his poem “Pharsalia” in which he slanders the druids. Shortly after this Claudius declares all druids outlawed and to be executed on sight.
59 - Suetonius Paulinus leads 2 legions into North-West Wales, attacking the druid stronghold on Mona (Anglesey).
60 - Presutagus, King of the Iceni tribe around Suffolk, dies. His widow BOUDICCA is refused Roman recognition as queen, is flogged, and her daughters raped. She leads a rebellion, sacking the Claudian temple at Camulodonum (Romanised Colchester), then slaughtering the entire Roman populations of Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans), and a few legions here and there. Paullinus is forced to abandon the slaughter of the druids on Anglesey and leading the 14th and 20th legions faces her near Lichfield. With an army of 10,000 Paullinus defeats Boudicca’s army of 100,000 killing 80,000 of them (according to Tacitus, his son-in-law), but Boudicca escapes never to be seen again. Paullinus conducts a punitive reign of terror across Britain. All resistance is crushed, and Britain becomes a Roman province (but Ireland and Scotland are still free). Meanwhile in Turkey, St Paul the Apostle is writing his epistle to the Galatians.
82 - The military governor of Britain, Julius Agricola, reaches the Mull of Kintyre and decides not to invade Ireland.
84 - Agricola presses North to face the last free British Celtic Army. He defeats Calgacus and 30,000 Caledonian warriors at Mons Graupius (according to Tacitus). However, this is as far North as Rome gets, and the rest of Scotland remains free.
122 - Hadrian’s Wall is built to keep out the Picts.
410 - The last Roman legions leave Britain for good as their sordid empire collapses.
427 - Loegaire crowned first king of Tara in Ireland.
432 - St Patrick arrives in Pagan Celtic Ireland. Elsewhere on the island, the last free Celtic warriors are performing feats that will inspire hero-myths that will last millenia, inspired themselves by hero-myths older still.
650 - The first scraps of ancient Irish legends, passed on verbally by bards for centuries, are finally written down on a calf skin belonging to the early Christian monk St Ciaran.
1105 - Maelmuiri transcribes St Ciaran’s work in the monastery of Clonmacnoise as THE BOOK OF THE DUN COW, the oldest surviving copy of THE TAIN BO CUAILNGE (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), the hero-myths of CUCHULAINN and the warriors of the Red Branch of Ulster. Elsewhere the Book of Leinster is also being written, covering events prior to the cattle raid.
1375 - The Yellow Book of Lecan is written down, adding more detail.
1450 - The Books of Lecan (not yellow, presumably) and Lismore are made.
1857 - A shallow part of Lake Neuchatel (La Tene) in Switzerland is found to be full of ancient Celtic artefacts dating from the 6th century BC.
1876 - An ancient salt mine dating from the 9th century BC is excavated in Hallstatt, Austria.
1890 - William Butler Yeats writes “The Rose”, a collection of poems based on ancient Irish legend, including “Fergus and the Druid”.
1898 - In an atmosphere of Celtic revivalism, Lady Eleanor Hull writes “The Cuchulainn Saga”.
May Day is a holiday that slips many people by, yet for some it is full of meaning. The history of May Day and the May Pole tradition is thousands of years old, and is rooted in the Celtic cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. May Day was, and still is, known as Beltane; a festival for the celebration of the life, fertility and summer.
May 1 was once considered the start of summer, and the other season, winter, started on November 1. Many pre-Christian Celtic people split the seasons into two in this way, and Beltane marked a half way point in the year. It was celebrated with much optimism; the sun thawed out the people and the land, and flowers and animals sprang to life in the new-found warmth. The strength of the sun is said to finally overcome the darkness of the winter on May Day, and takes it’s place to bring life to the planet.
For Pagans of ancient and modern times, the winter is a time to honor death, and the summer a time to honor life. Beltane, being the half way point between death and life, dark and light, is a sacred day of “no time” where the veils between the physical and ethereal worlds are at their thinnest. The fairies are said to be out in all their mischief on the eve of Beltane, and so traditions often involved offerings, such as leaving flowers or food out for them.
Beltane is the cross-over, and represents a coming change in the human cycle, which reflects the turning of the seasons. Winter is a time that can feel dreary, and it can start to take it’s toil on the soul. Short days, grey skies, and cold temperatures begin to wear people down, and in ancient times this would be coupled by a gradual decline in food supplies. Winter, back then, would be a very difficult time indeed. The coming of summer, and the festival of Beltane, were times of great hope; crops and grasslands became full of life again, animals bred, and the warmth of the sun thawed out human soul.
As life becomes the pre-dominant force, ancient civilizations would celebrate Beltane with highly energetic fire displays, field frolicking, and of course dancing round the May pole. The word Beltane translates to bright fire, and the reason for the bonfires may be in celebration of the sun; the Bel fire was lit in order to invoke Bel, the Sun God. Myths surrounding Beltane very often describe a battle between two deities, or a battle between summer and winter, and on May 1 summer prevails.
Pagan celebrations old and new still celebrate Beltane with feasts, festivities, fires, and yet more frolicking. Across the world some of the ancient traditions of Beltane still exist, often in evolved or nullified forms. In Britain for example, Beltane traditions are still quite strong on May Day and include the crowning of the May queen, carnivals, Morris dancing, where many men dressed in bells perform tribal dance, and the dancing of the May pole. The ancient history is still visible across much of Europe.
The May pole is actually, historically speaking, a phallic symbol, and the dancing around it an ancient fertility rite. The May pole is perhaps the most famous tradition associated with modern May Day, and it had equal importance for Celtic Beltane festivals. A huge pole is decorated with flowers and wreaths, a potent symbol of the fertility of summer. Then, boys and girls hold on to ribbons connected to the pole, and dance opposite ways, interwinding their ribbons as they duck and dive between each other. The dance seems to perfectly symbolize life, and the interwinding of masculine and feminine energies. The pattern was also believed to indicate patterns of the harvest, and may have been a sort of tool for divination.
The history of the May Pole and May Day have their roots in Beltane. Today May Day has many different meanings, and has found it’s place in Christianity, International Workers’ Day movements, Labour Day, and as a much needed bank holiday weekend. For some, May Day will be a time for relaxing, but for others’ it will be a time for celebrating the forces of life overcoming death, light overcoming darkness, and summer overcoming winter.