Heads, Heroes and Horses: in search of the Ancient Celts - CLAS6510

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Spring Term 5 30 (15) Steven Willis checkmark-circle


The module examines the Iron Age peoples of temperate Europe, their ways and means of living combining the archaeological, artefactual and historic sources of evidence. This was the era of the proto-historic Celts: farmers, crafts people and warriors. Peoples described as Celts sacked Rome in the early fourth century BC; they probably ravaged Delphi towards the mid third century BC; and from the later second century BC they were in conflict with the expanding Roman Empire, ultimately becoming the majority of its subjects in the West. The intent of this module is to search for the Iron Age Celts of Antiquity... but participants should not embark on the study with the certain expectation that they will be found! For long interpreted within a largely Classically-derived pan European model, the archaeological evidence is now increasingly discussed in ways which emphasise the diversity rather than the uniformity of life and culture across west/central Europe during the centuries in which the Classical World was in contact with those whom it identified as Celts.

The module will critically evaluate the evidence for the pre/proto historic Celts derived from the Classical writers, the concept of a widespread European Celtic culture in antiquity, and the contrasting interpretations that can be generated by the archaeological evidence for the conventional pre Roman Iron Age in temperate Europe. The Iron Age of temperate Europe presents a rich array of burials, finely crafted metalwork, settlements, hillforts, ritual, religious manifestations, artefacts and environmental remains plus evidence of travel, trade, contact and warfare both within its realms and with the Mediterranean peoples: all these elements form curriculum subjects via study, characterisation and contextualisation.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40
Total Private Study Hours: 260
Total Study Hours: 300

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods:

• Essay 1 (3,000 words) – 40%
• Essay 2 (3,000 words) – 40%
• Research Assignment (2,000 words) – 20%

Reassessment method:

• 100% Coursework (4,000 words)

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Brunaux, J.L (1988). The Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites and Sanctuaries. London: Seaby
Collis, J. (1998). The European Iron Age. London: Routledge
Collis, J. (2003). The Celts: Origins, Myths and Inventions. Stroud: Tempus
Collis, J. (2001). Society and Settlement in Iron Age Europe. Stroud: Tempus
Cunliffe, B. (1997). The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Green, M. (ed). (1995). The Celtic World. London: Routledge
Haselgrove, C. R. Pope. (2007). The Earlier Iron Age in Britain and the Near Continent. Oxford: Oxbow
James, S. (1999). The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? Madison: University of Wisconsin Press
Moscati, S. (ed). (1999). The Celts. New York: Rizzoli

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate knowledge of the social, economic and cultural dynamics of Temperate (west/central) Europe in the first millennium BC, and the extent to which the timing, pace and direction of change were influenced by internal or external factors particularly in relation to interaction with the Classical World;
2. Demonstrate critical understanding as to how both historical and archaeological data can appropriately be used to further analysis of this period of antiquity;
3. Demonstrate skills of close observation of examples of material culture (i.e. artefacts), ritual practice, and understanding of site and settlement location and morphology;
4. Demonstrate writing skills in terms of clear concise description and commentary consequent on observation and analysis of material culture, geographic considerations and historical texts;
5. Describe the principal data for both the prehistoric Celts and the archaeology of the pre-Roman Iron Age in west/central Europe;
6. Use historical and archaeological data on a comparative basis to discuss critically the concept of the ancient Celts challenging assumptions or embedded hypotheses, whether popular or academic;
7. Show sound awareness of (i) examples of how these peoples organised their settlements and economy, developed technologies, especially in metals, managed and traded resources, and undertook burial practices, through the Hallstatt and La Tène eras; (ii) the complex changes brought about by the advent of Roman incursion into Temperate Europe at the end of the period; and (iii) the degree of corroboration between the material evidence and the accounts of the Ancient Historians, and areas of divergence, using particular examples.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Critically assess the views of others and of contrasting views;
2. Show familiarity with a wide range of primary source materials and methodologies appropriate to their use;
3. Communicate information and analysis, in a variety of forms, to specialist audiences;
4. Understand the limits of their own knowledge and how this influences their analyses and interpretations of source material;


  1. Credit level 5. Intermediate level module usually taken in Stage 2 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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