The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Prehistoric times of the British Isles

Category: 00 Early period

Britain is an island and this fact is more important than any other in understanding its history. The British Isles were the object of different foreign invasions for many times. The conquerors always had to have a dialogue with the conquered, producing sooner or later a mixed society with elements from both.

The island enters written history for the first time in a passage which records the visit to the Cornish peninsula of a Greek sea captain about 320 BC. The natives lived in wooden huts, storing their grain in underground silos and drinking a brew made from corn and honey.

We can’t but mention 4 main invasions on the British Isles. The first one took place in 400 BC when Celts armed with iron weapons conquered Kent and much of Southern England. They spread north and imposed their language on the natives. Celts were ancient people who lived in Central and Western Europe and moved to the British Isles during the Iron Age. They were of striking appearance, tall with fair skin, blue eyes and blond hair. Their everyday dress consisted of a tunic over which they wore a cloak fastened by a brooch. They loved brilliant colours and gold jewellery. They were people with powerful traditions handed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. Their language had two forms: Gaelic, spoken in Ireland and Scotland and Brythonic, spoken in England and Wales. Nowadays only 3 of all the Celtic languages have survived: Welsh, which is the official language of Wales; Irish Gaelic, it’s the first official language of the Republic of Ireland and Scots Gaelic which is still spoken in the hills and islands of the West of Scotland but which has no official status.

Traces of the Celtic culture can be mainly found in Lowland Britain. Originally this part had more favourable conditions for human settlements. Its greatest memorial is Stonehenge. It is very impressive with its huge stone circle and central platform the ruins of which people see today.

Stonehenge is the best known and probably the most remarkable of prehistoric remains in the UK. It has stood on Salisbury Plain for about 4.000 years. There have been many different theories about its original use but no one is certain why it was built.

One theory is that it was a place from where stars and planets could be observed. It was discovered the positions of some of the stones related to the movements of the sun and moon, so that the stones could be used as a calendar to predict such things as eclipses.

At one time people thought that Stonehenge was a Druid temple. Because Stonehenge had existed 1.000 years before the arrival of the Druids, this theory has been rejected.

Alongside the theories of the scholars are local legends. Stonehenge was built by the devil in a single night. He flew backwards and forwards between Ireland and Salisbury Plain, carrying the stones one by one and setting them in place. He wanted to convince people in his power. But a friar was hiding in ditch nearby. He surprised the  devil who threw a stone which hit the friar on the heel. The stone which the devil threw, known as the ‘heel stone’ can be still seen by the side of the road.

However, geologists have shown that the stones came from Wales and north Wiltshire, not Ireland.

Also Celtic mythology is a remarkable cultural heritage. One of the brightest myths is the legend story about Balor and Lugh.

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