Galicia's disputed Celtic heritage

AndrasBP

Senior Member
Hungarian
Hello,

The title of this thread is that of an article I've recently read. <<< LINK

In two of my books about European peoples and languages, and also in countless online articles and YouTube videos, Galicians are described as the "Celtic minority of Spain".
These sources emphasize the similarity of Galician and Irish/Scottish/Breton folk music, how the Galician language "has preserved many Celtic words", and you can find videos where Scottish musicians visiting Galicia tell us that they feel really at home because of the music, the landscape and the weather. :)

I'd like to focus on the language here: I've found a Wikipedia list of Galician words of Celtic origin, but most of these words seem to be shared by other Romance languages, including Spanish, Catalan, Occitan and French, so I'm not convinced that Galician is more Celtic than its sister languages.

Is Galicia's Celtic character supported by any linguistic or historical facts?
 
  • Penyafort

    Senior Member
    Catalan (Catalonia), Spanish (Spain)
    Take a look at any map of pre-Roman Iberia and you will see that Hispanic Celts occupied most of the western half of the Peninsula, the eastern half being occupied by Iberians, who most likely were not Indo-European. That is to say, inland central Castilians could perfectly claim being as Celtic by history.

    Bagpipes are to be found all over Europe and beyond. In Spain alone, you have several types of bagpipe. It is true that Galicians are Asturians use it more often in their folklore -I don't know for how long it's been like this, though- but you've got gaitas de boto in Aragon too, sac de gemecs (wails' sack) in Catalonia or xeremies in Majorca, and they're at the other end of the Peninsula.

    The Romance language in Spain less affected by Celts is probably Aragonese, grown on Basco-Iberian ground. All the others, and all Western Romance languages in general, have had their share of Celtic influence, whether Hispano-Celtic or Gaulish.
     

    S1m0n

    Senior Member
    English
    There is very little surviving even medieval influence in 'celtic' music; none, certainly, that would connect dark age Ireland to roman Galicia. What we think of as 'celtic music' - jigs and reels; set dances - was the popular music of 18th century Europe. Everyone who was anyone flocked to the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and from high society down to the common soldiers in their encampments, all were caught up in a new craze for dancing the Quadrille (aka dancing a set of quadrilles, aka set dancing, aka square dancing) When the congress broke up, the participants took the new steps back to their homes across the length and breadth of europe.
    This music clung on in Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton, Galicia, etc, not because these were celts, but because they were poor, and poor peasant cultures are more culturally conservative. They didn't travel much and didn't have much chance of learning the new dances - waltzes, etc, that supplanted the dances and music we now think of as celtic in higher society.
    So I don't think the similarity of galician and Irish or scots music has much probative value in terms of kinship.
     

    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    A Galician here.

    The presence of a Britonic settlement in Galicia in the 6th-7th century is probably a well established fact. It is documented in the canons of the II Council of Braga [link], 572 CE, held at the petition of the Suevic king of Galicia Miro under the direction of a Pannonian, St. Martin of Braga. Among the attendant bishops there is a Mailoc (< Proto-Celtic *Magilākos, I think, showing a Britonic evolution of /ā/) “Mailoc Britonensis ecclesiae episcopus his gestis subscripsi”. The Suevic kingdom was annexed by the Visigoths in 585. From that moment a Bishops of Britonia or of the Britons is present in several Councils of Toledo. Known names include Sosa, Metopius, Bela, which as long as I know are happax.

    The second most important documentary evidence is another Suevic document preserved in several interpolated medieval copies, the Divisio Theodemiri or Parochiale Suevorum [link], dated in 569. It is an ecclesiastical (and probably also civil) restructuring of the kingdom which include the creation of new bishoprics; there the church of the Britons is described in a different terms to the rest:

    “Ad sedem Britonorum ecclesias que sunt intro Britones una cum monaterio Maximi et qui in Asturiis sunt”

    Whilst the rest of bishoprics are territorial (and their bishops has either Germanic or Latin names) the Britonic one is ethnic, and mentions a monastery Maximi. Given how particular the Celtic church was, and the almost certain impossibility for a local medieval forger to know that a Celtic bishops was also an abbot, this (and the Mailoc name) is hold as very strong evidence that this Britons of Galicia were actual Britons.

    Other further evidence include toponimy (there are several places called Bretoña or Bretonia in Galicia, and there were more in the past; there is also one Bretios < Bretenos).

    Further reading: https://web.archive.org/web/20070806110332/http://www.britonia.fsnet.co.uk/

    Latter I'll add something, but as a suggested reading I left this link for now: e-Keltoi: https://dc.uwm.edu/ekeltoi/vol6/iss1/
     
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    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    * Material culture of Galicia at the Roman conquest (cultura Castrexa / Castro Culture): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castro_culture

    * Mention of Celtic peoples in Galicia by Classical authors and geographers (https://dc.uwm.edu/ekeltoi/vol6/iss1/10/):

    For example, Pomponius Mela, a geographer from Cádiz, in what is now Andalusia, writing 2000 years ago (De Chorographia):

    “the oceanfront here has a straight bank for a considerable distance [coast of North Portugal] and then protrudes a little bit where it takes a moderate bend. At that time, drawn back again and again [Rías Baixas region in southwestern Galicia] and lying in a straight line, the coast extends to the promontory we call Celtic Point [Punta Nariga / Cabo Vilán].​
    Celtic peoples – except for the Grovi from the Durius [Douro] to the bend [Rías Baixas] – cultivate the whole coast here, and the rivers Avo [Ave], Celadus [Cávado], Nebis [Neiva], Minius [Miño/Minho] and Limia [Limia/Lima] (also known as the Oblivion) flow through their territory. The bend itself includes the city of Lambriaca and receives the Laeron [Lérez < Lerice] and Ulla [Ulla] Rivers. The Praestamarci [Posmarcos] inhabit the section that juts out [peninsula of Barbanza], and through their territory run the Tamaris [Tambre < Tamare] and Sars [Sar] Rivers, which arise not far away – the Tamaris next to Port Ebora, the Sars beside the tower of Augustus, which have the famous inscription [which is a memorable monument? = titulo memorabilem]. The Supertamarici and the Neri, the last people on that stretch, inhabit the remainder. This is as far as its western shores reach.​
    From there the coast shifts northward with its entire flank from Celtic Point all the way to Scythian Point. The shoreline, uninterrupted except for moderate recesses and small promontories, is almost straight until it reaches the Cantabri [Cantabrians]. On that shore, first of all, are the Artabri (actually a people of Celtic ancestry) [etiamnum Celticae gentis = still a Celtic people], then the Astyres [Asturians]. In the territory of the Artabri a bay [Rías Altas region of Galicia, from Coruña do Ferrol] admits the sea through a narrow mouth, but encloses it with its not-so-narrow grasp; it rings the city of Adrobrica and the mouths of four rivers. Two mouths are little known even among locals; through the other two the Mearus [Mero] and the Iubia [Xubia] Rivers make their outlets. On the coast that belongs to the Astyres is the town of Noega […]”​

    So, essentially, and according to this author, all the people that dwelt by the coasts of Galicia, from more of less Vigo in the south till the Asturians in the east, were Celtic. Of the peoples he mentioned, the Pratestamaci, Supertamarci and Neri in particular are again explicitly called Celtic by Pliny, and the inscription of individual persons of the people of the Supertamarci also usually cite themselves as Celtici Supertamarci (inscriptions).

    More later.

     

    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    This music clung on in Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton, Galicia, etc, not because these were celts, but because they were poor, and poor peasant cultures are more culturally conservative. They didn't travel much and didn't have much chance of learning the new dances - waltzes, etc, that supplanted the dances and music we now think of as celtic in higher society.
    So I don't think the similarity of galician and Irish or scots music has much probative value in terms of kinship.
    This, totally. Also sailors moved up and down all the time, probably reinforcing their Atlantic character (nautical Galician lexicon is full of Old French and Germanic loans, including fish). In Iberia, Galicia and Asturias have been, probably, the most culturally conservative places; lexically also, they preserve a trove of substrate words; many of them have an apt Celtic etymology (lets say, tona, “surface, peel”, camba “curved piece of a wheel”, cheda < *cleta “wall of a cart”, as examples), but most are debated / have not been investigated enough.

    More later.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Nobody doubts that Celtic languages were spoken in western Iberia before the arrival of the Roman Empire. But the same goes for a huge swathe of Europe. Those Celtic languages had an influence on subsequent languages of all these regions, especially on and through Latin and the Romance languages.
    List of Spanish words of Celtic origin - Wikipedia
    Celtic expansion in Europe.png

    Of course it is very fashionable to be a Celt - and I am spending lots of time, and having lots of fun, studying and immersing myself in Irish language and culture at the moment. But am I really any different from my neighbours in London because at least 40% of my ancestors spoke a Celtic language (Irish or Welsh) 200 years ago?
     
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    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    Ancient toponimy of Galicia suggested bibliography:

    * Leonard Curchin (2008) “The toponyms of the Roman Galicia: new study” in Cuadernos de estudios gallegos, v. 55, 111. His conclusions are that 41% of the Galician place names recorded in Roman/Greek sources was Celtic, some 36% was Indo-European but probably not Celtic, and 14% were Latin.

    * Patrick Sims-Williams (2006) Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europe and Asia Minor, page 235: “This area [NW Iberia] covers northern Portugal and north-west Spain. Its Celticity is clear from Maps 5.1-5.3, and is further borne out by the unlocatable names in the Barrington data which belongs in this general area”.

    * Xavier Delamarre (2012) Noms de lieux celtiques de l’Europe ancienne, passim.

    * E. R. Luján “Pueblos celtas y no celtas de la Galicia antigua”.

    Names of Gallaecian populi (of whatever origin): Albiones, Cileni, Nemetati, Querquerni, Coelerni, Copori, Artabri, Neri, Arrotrebas, Seurri, Tamacani, Lemavi, Limici, Grovi...

    Gallaecian / Galician Celtic place names attested in Latin authors / Roman inscriptions include for example Brigantia, Nemetobriga, Caladunum, Berisamo, Adrobrica, Arcobriga, Assegonia, Aviliobris, Abobrica, Louciocelo, Olca, Serante, Talabriga, Ocelum, Glandomirum, Durbede, Brevis, Cambetum, Coeliobriga, Miobri, Novium, Letiobri…

    More later.
     

    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    Of course it is very fashionable to be a Celt - and I am spending lots of time, and having lots of fun, studying and immersing myself in Irish language and culture at the moment. But am I really any different from my neighbours in London because at least 40% of my ancestors spoke a Celtic language (Irish or Welsh) 200 years ago?
    Agree. Essentialy Galician Celtism was as its peak in the 19th and 20th centuty, and it is still much fun. But AndrasBP is asking:
    Is Galicia's Celtic character supported by any linguistic or historical facts?
    So, yes. Absolutely. Are Galician still Celts? No, no more that Asturians or French or Piamontese or English people. The Galicians were Celts? Yes, but certainly not La Tene Celts, IMO.
     
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    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    Finally:

    * Autochthonous personal names attested in local Roman inscriptions / attributed to Gallaecians elsewhere (mostly showing the Latin nominative). Some are exclusive to Galicia, other are also found among Astures and/or Cantabri and/or Celtiberians; others a also rather found among Lusitanians:

    Abana/Apana, Acelinus, Adalus, Adronus, Aebura, Aeburina, Aetura, Aeturus, Aidius, Aitanius, Aius, Albura, Alecius, Allius, Alluquius, Alona, Ama, Amaca, Ambatus, Ambollus, Ana, Anceitus/Angetus, Andamionius, Andamus, Anderca, Andergus, Antiania, Apanicus, Apanus, Apilicus, Apilus, Apolta, Arius, Arcisus, Arcius, Ares, Arquius, Arro, Artius, Atia, Atius, Aucalus

    Balaesina, Balcaius, Balesinus, Bibalus, Blendea, Blentia, Bloena, Bobdaenus, Boelius, Bornus, Boualus, Boutia, Boutius, Bracarus

    Cacala, Cadroiolō, Caelenicus, Caeleo, Caesarus, Caelicus, Caenicienus, Calabus, Calutia, Camala, Camalus, Cambauius, Camilia, Cancus, Cantaber, Catura, Caturō, Celeius, Celea/Cilea, Celtiatis, Celtiatus, Ceraecius/Cerecius, Clodama, Cloranus, Cloutaius, Cloutius, Cloutus, Clutamus, Clutimo, Clutosius, Coamea/Coemia, Coedus, Coloticenus, Colupata, Condisa, Conia, Contarus, Coporicus, Coraecus, Coralus, Coria, Corocaudius, Corolla, Coronerus, Coropolla, Corotures, Corunius, Crocius, Cumelius, Cundena

    Doquirus, Doruscus, Douaius, Douaecia, Douilo, Ducria, Duerta, Durbidia, Dutia

    Elanicus, Eminus, Enuinus, Epeicius, Equales, Erbutus

    Goilius


    Laboena, Ladronus, Lagius, Laucia, Laucius, Lauius, Loueius/Loueus, Louesia, Louesius/Louessius, Louiana, Luaecus/Lubaecus

    Macilia, Macilō, Malceinus, Mantaus, Mearus, Mebdius, Medamus, Meducea, Meduenus, Meduttus, Meiduena, Melgaecus, Meluius
    ius, Nantia, Nantius, Nauiolus, Nelius, Niuius, Nobbius, Nusius

    Paugenda, Peicana, Pelistus, Pentamus, Pentus, Perurda, Pestera, Pictelancius, Pictelancea, Pinarea, Pintamus, Pitilius, Praenia, Pusinca, Pusincina

    Reburria, Reburrinus, Reburrius, Reburrus, Riburrinius, Rouinus, Ruana

    Sabalco
    , Secoilia, Seguia, Seneca, Senus, Seuiria, Soupus

    Tacanus
    /Taganus, Talabarus, Talauia, Talauia, Talauus, Tanginus, Tapila, Taurocus, Taurocutius, Temarus, Tillegus, Tridia/Tritia, Trites, Triteus, Trupeisius, Turobius

    Uacceus, Uacisius, Uacus, Uaecius, Uagonius, Uanilo, Uaucanius, Uecius, Uerotius, Uerobius, Uesuclotus, Uilius, Uiriatus, Uisala, Ulacius, Ulcus, Urtienus, Urtinus

    * Local god names and number of dedications and dedications in other “provinces”:

    - Lug (Lugubo Arquienobo, plural dative dedication in a local tongue in an otherwise Latin inscription) – the pan-Celtic Lugus, although locally there is evidence that he was a trinity. 5 votive inscriptions in Galicia, 3 more in the Celtiberia.

    - Nauia/Nabia (Nabiae Elaesurranegae, Nauiae Sesmacae... x10 – Lusitania/N. Portugal x10)

    - Crougia (Crougiai Toudadigoe, Crugia Munniaego: x2 – Lusitania x2)

    - Cossue (dative form: Coso Oenaego, Coso Meobrigo, Coso Calaeunio, Coso Soaegoe, Coso Udauiniago… x10 – Asturia x8 – Lusitania x2)

    - Bandue (dative form: Bandue Aetiobrico, Bandue Veigebreaego, Bandue Verubrico… x6 – Lusitania x35)

    - Berobreo (local divinity)

    - Deo Vestio Alonieco (local)

    - Ariounis Mincosegaeigis (local)

    - Edouio (local)

    - Matrinus Gallaicis “The Galician mothers” (in Celtiberia)

    Well, etc. A lot more. A full repertory of autochthonous names of persons and gods from Hispania can be consulted in: J. M. Vallejo (2016) Onomástica paleohispánica.

    * Finally, contemporary toponymy (check List of Celtic place names in Galicia - Wikipedia); there are probably thousands of pre-Latin toponyms in Galicia, but the most characteristic ones are those derived from Celtic -brixs/-brigā ‘hill, hill-fort’, as most of this at these links: Toponimia galega, and Toponimia galega.

    * And Again: e-Keltoi: e-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies | Vol 6 | Iss 1

    Happy weekend everybody.

    Edit: typos and grammar
     
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    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Wow, Cossue, that's quite a bit of research you've done there! So your username is a Celtic god too... :)

    I'm impressed, but I never actually intended to question whether Galicia was inhabited by Celts in ancient times.
    My point was that apart from Galicia (and sometimes Asturias) there are no other areas in Europe that identify as Celtic where an Insular Celtic (Goidelic or Brittonic) language hasn't recently been spoken.

    The main reason why I called the map showing British Celtic settlement in Galicia (#4) "dubious" is that I would have expected the Celtic language to survive much longer, see Brittany for comparison. I understand that Brittany is much closer to Britain and settlers in Galicia were probably less numerous, but still, I thought there should have been some more influence, a bit more than a few place names.

    I'm not a professional linguist or historian, though.
     
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    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    There's a lot of misunderstanding about the Celts, as I realised when I had to translate a book on Celtic art. (Venceslas Kruta, l'Art des Celtes, Paris, Phaidon, 2015. English title Celtic art). Originally they seem to have come from the Balkans in late classical times and their centre of population was Austria/Switzerland. From there the Celtic culture spread across most of France, southern Germany and the low countries, and then into eastern Spain and the British Isles. This was followed by many cross-boundary exchanges in later centuries.

    However, there is little evidence of a Celtic language, other than the names of gods and goddesses. What some people call Celtic languages today are the Brythonic and Goedelic languages of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Brittany, etc. If you find traces of those in Galician, good luck, but you'll find evidence of Celtic culture in Spain mainly in pottery and metalwork.
     

    Cossue

    Senior Member
    Galician & Spanish
    Wow, Cossue, that's quite a bit of research you've done there!
    Ah...Yes. Maybe I overreacted; I had some pretty harsh debate on this some ten years ago, and had to bring not just bibliography and references but apparently every tiny bit of first hand materials... So, yes, I ended doing a very large research on the subject :-/

    On what happened with the language of the Britons, I guess that it had the same fate that the languages of the Visigoths, Suevi... Only Basque and Romance varieties survived the commotion that was the Arab invasion of 711 (which is stating a fact rather than giving an explanation).

    However, there is little evidence of a Celtic language, other than the names of gods and goddesses
    Well, Gaulish and Celtiberian are certainly well established Celtic languages, although their corpora are absolutely no way near as large as that of the other historically attested Celtic languages, off course. And then we have the proto-Celtic language that is being reconstructed from these languages, as an evolution of proto-indo-European. Well, this reconstructed language, the long and continued work of scholars all along the world, is essentially useful for understanding divine names, place names, personal names... of barely and brokenly attested languages as those that were spoken by, for example, the Gallaecians, 2000 years ago, and which have left a moderate number of words in modern languages, either as appellatives or as toponyms.

    So, when we have a votive Roman inscription reading CROUGAI TOUDADIGOE we can suspect that it represent a evolved form from a proto-Celtic *krowkāi (dative singular, a derivative of *krowko- "heap, hill", Matasovic 2009:226) *toutatikūi (dative singular, a derivative of *towta "tribe, people", compare Gaulish Teutates, Matasovic 2009:386). Or if you have an ancient place name BRIGANTIA (< PC *brigantî- "the high one", Matasovic 2009:78), or NEMETOBRIGA (< PC *nemeto- "santuary" and "noble, privileged", Matasovic 2009:288, + brigā "hill-fort", Matasovic 2009:78) or AVILIOBRIS ( < PC *awelio- "wind" and *brixs "hill", Matasovic 2009:47 and 77); and then ancient personal names as NANTIUS, NANTIA ( < PC *nanti- "fight, battle", Matasovic 2009:386), CLOUTIUS, VESUCLOTI (< *wesu- "excellent", *klut- "fame", Matasovic 2009:418 and 210); and current places as Canzobre ( < Carançoure < *Carantiobre: PC *karant- "friend, family" + -bre < -brixs "hill(-fort)", Matasovic 2009:190), or current river names as Dubra ( < Dubria < PC *Dubro- "dark > water", Matasovic 2009:107), Nantón ( < PC *nantu- "stream, valley" Matasovic 2009:283), Deva ( < PC *dêwo- "god", Matasovic 2009:96). Etcetera. This, multiplied by some hundreds just in Galicia. I can go on for days. There are tens on books and pappers of local scholars reseaching this material.

    And then you have tens? of scholars doing this synergic things all along Europe, and finding reasonable etymologies for thousand of words whose meaning have been lost for near a pair of millennia... Again, recommended readings: e-Keltoi, Matasovic's Proto-Celtic Dictionary, Xavier Delamarre's works, Patrick Sims-Williams' works, Falileyev's works, Jürgen Untermann's works, etc...
     
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