The Celtic World
Jennifer Paxton is a Clinical Associate Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. She is also the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and director of the University Honors Program. She was previously a Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University, where she taught for more than a decade. Jennifer received her PhD in History from Harvard University, where she also taught and earned a Certificate of Distinction in Teaching. She is a widely published, award-winning writer and a highly regarded scholar, earning both a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship.
Jennifer lectures regularly at the Smithsonian Institution and serves as an expert on Scotland and Ireland for Smithsonian Journeys. Her research focuses on England from the reign of King Alfred to the late 12th century. She is particularly interested in the intersection between the authority of church and state and the representation of the past in historical texts, especially those produced by religious communities. She is completing a book that examines how monastic historians shaped their narratives to project present polemical concerns onto the past. She is also working on a project that examines changing views of abbatial leadership across the Anglo-Norman world in the 11th and 12th centuries.
01: Who Are the Celts?
Professor Paxton begins this lively history course by examining the common preconceptions about Celtic identity—before smashing them to bits. The first lecture paints the initial brushstrokes on the gargantuan canvas of this European culture most widely perceived as Scottish and Irish while promising much more.
02: The Celts and the Classical World
Our earliest written records of the Celts come from Italy, Greece, and Spain, dating as far back as the 6th century B.C. Although scholarly theories about the Celts’ migration throughout Europe conflict, the foundation of our understanding of their origins is laid bare here, peppered with several curious historic anecdotes.
03: Celtic Art and Artifacts
Archaeological studies of Celtic artifacts have woven a rich tapestry of their millennia-old society and its La Tène art style. Learn about war trumpets, gold necklaces, ornate helmets, and other recovered objects from around Europe to build an image of this ever-adapting culture and its connections to the classical world.
04: Celtic Languages in the Ancient World
The discovery of Celtic inscriptions on the western coast of Spain suggests the possible development of a common language along maritime Celtic trade routes, revolutionizing studies of Celtic origins and migration. The long-standing theory of Central European Celtic origins may die out thanks to new linguistic evidence.
05: Caesar and the Gauls
Several centuries of violent combat against Celtic-controlled Gaul made northern Italy and southern France a dangerous neighborhood for the Romans. Hannibal, Gaius Marius, and Spartacus are just some of the famous figures of world history who encounter the Gauls in this lecture centered on Julius Caesar’s wars against the Gauls.
06: Celtic Religion and the Druids
Celtic religious beliefs included divination, reincarnation, and human sacrifice. Along with these practices, discover the ancient religious figures known as druids who served as holy men, soothsayers, and even lawyers. Enjoy this insight into the Celtic version of one constant that appears in all civilizations—the sacred.
07: Celtic Britain and Roman Britain
Professor Paxton uses the theory of trade-based migration to first explain the arrival of the Celts influence in Britain before the arrival of the Romans. Then she details the exciting struggle between the Celts and the Romans over Britain, untangling the web of history on the island during the first and second centuries A.D.
08: Celts and Picts in Scotland
With a Romanized southern Britain, what was life like in Scotland? Meet the warring tribes of Picts that ruled North Britain, with the Irish to the west and Angles moving in from the southeast. Highlights include the ancient Pictish tongue and the truth about William “Braveheart” Wallace and all that blue paint.
09: Prehistoric Ireland and the Celts
An early Irish text called The Book of Invasions is the basis for this truly unique look back at the origins of Ireland and its people. In equal parts weird, fascinating, and humorous, this text tells of one-armed pirate giants, descendants of Noah, a tribe of sorcerers, and six full-scale takeovers of Ireland.
10: Celtic Britain after Rome
North and west of what today is England, where the Romans held far less influence, a paradoxical era of both peaceful immigration and rebellion added to the melting pot of Britain in the first millennium A.D. Discover Cornwall, Wales, and parts of Scotland with a quick appearance of one of Britain’s noblest legends: King Arthur.
11: Brittany and Galicia: Fringe of the Fringe
See how both France and Spain welcomed immigrants from a rapidly de-Romanizing Britain. Brittany became a thriving Celtic province that maintained its autonomy through the Middle Ages, while Galicia mostly lost its Celtic identity until a revival of interest in modern times.
12: Celtic Churches
The melding of pagan religions and Christianity is a compelling tale. St. Patrick’s legendary priesthood and missionary work are discussed, as is the Christian saint Brigid, who was remolded as a nature deity to impress the recently converted Irish. Learn how Irish monks brought Latin learning back to the European continent and “saved civilization.”
13: Celtic Art and Insular Art
Native Britons copied much of the art style prominent on the continent, complicating the process of defining Celtic art, but Professor Paxton unties this intricate knot. Observe some of Ireland’s most breathtaking religious and secular art pieces, from the Book of Kells to the Tara Brooch.
14: Medieval Irish Literature
The early Irish prized literary skill just as much as prowess in warfare, and lords were judged by the quality of poet they could hire. This lecture gives a glimpse into the diverse genres of Irish literature, from epics about mythological heroes to exciting tales designed to warn kings about the dangers of ruling unjustly.
15: Celtic Women, Families, and Social Structure
Irish society treated all disputes as civil suits between families—so if your cousin killed someone, you had to pay some of the damages, which varied with the social status of the victim. Gain a fascinating insight into the hierarchical structure of this period and women’s roles in society as well.
16: The Irish Sea World: Celts and Vikings
By the turn of the first millennium A.D., we find ample evidence of Viking presence in both Ireland and Scotland. From raids to intermarriages, the Celtic-Scandinavian relationship is a stranger-than-fiction love-hate saga any history buff can appreciate.
17: English Invasions of Wales and Ireland
Get a glimpse of the life of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, one of the most influential Welsh rulers, who briefly unified the country 1,000 years ago. Uncover the shocking truth of Henry II’s invasion of Ireland and its causes as well as anti-Irish propaganda and the development of cruel stereotypes that influenced English views of the Irish down to the modern period.
18: Scotland from Macbeth to Braveheart
How do Shakespeare and Hollywood stack up against the truth in some of the fictional accounts of Scotland’s history? Learn about the historical Macbeth and William Wallace (of Braveheart fame), as well as the famous ruler Robert Bruce, who secured Scottish independence from the invading English.
19: Politics and Literature in Wales
Unveil the turbulent story of English conquest in Wales with this insightful glimpse into Welsh history that includes the unfortunate influence of misplaced loyalty to family that cost the Welsh their sovereignty forever. Then, look at Welsh literature, particularly the wonderful but enigmatic myths of the Mabinogi and the witty poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym.
20: The Tudor Conquest of Ireland
After Henry VIII denounced Catholicism, England tried repeatedly to bring Ireland into its fold. With Catholicism and Protestantism at odds, Irish chieftains were caught in the middle: the English offered land deals in exchange for shedding their Irish culture and heritage. Witness the aftermath when a historic powder keg exploded, with devastating losses on both sides.
21: (Re)Discovering the Celts
Just as the Tudors were conquering Ireland, linguistic studies of the Celtic languages began and a new fascination with the Celts slowly emerged. Witness the resurgence of mythological Celtic tales and the revival of the tartan after it was briefly banned by the British; see how fascination with the druids and Welsh bards created a newly confident Welsh identity.
22: The Gaelic Revival in Ireland
Compared to the fun-loving and historically focused revival of Celtic culture in Scotland and Wales, Ireland’s Celtic revival had more of a political edge. Ancient Irish mythology played a surprising role in the growth of Irish nationalism that led to conflict and ultimately to independence from Britain.
23: Celtic Music and Dance
Celtic instruments come to life in this lecture. Take a music lesson and learn about the carnyx, a war trumpet; the bodhrán, a hand drum; and the crwth, a lyre played with a bow. Treat your ears to samples of these and beautiful Irish singing, then watch clips of delightful Celtic dances based on classic traditions.
24: The Celts Today
In the final lecture, end your 2,500-year journey with the Celts by considering the Celtic nations in the 21st century. Bilingualism, modern Celtic pop culture, and renewed nationalist groups pushing for political autonomy are merely the tip of the iceberg in this satisfying conclusion to a truly epic history of culture, politics, and warfare.