Who are the Celts? (Online)


The romantic appeal of a Celtic past reaches across the centuries to us today through popular art, music and dance as well as museums filled with intricately wrought metalwork, not to mention the enigma of the Druids! But what do we really know about the Celtic world? These ancient communities left us captivating artefacts and imposing earthworks, but also more subtle clues from which we can tease out the origins of the peoples who have come to be known as the Celts.

Listen to Dr Wendy Morrison talking about the course:

Who were the ancient Celts? This course will take us on a journey from the original Classical world concepts of 'Wild Celt through to the very latest models of Celtic origins. Based largely upon the archaeological evidence, we will explore themes such as trade and connectivity, warfare and religious practice, and issues of identity. The course will have a basic chronological structure, beginning with the communities dotted along the Atlantic facade of peninsular Europe, exploring the narrative of Celtic interactions with the Roman Empire, and finally investigating the legacy of the people who have come to be known as the Celts.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Who are the Celts?

A synopsis of popular conception of the Celtic peoples from Classical times through to the present.

  • First appearances
  • Classical stereotyping
  •  ‘New World’ analogies
  • Re-inventing the past
  • Material evidence of a Celtic world

​2. Atlantic beginnings: new thoughts on the origins of the Celts

Outlining the separate threads of linguisitc, archaeological, historical, and genetic evidence which suggests the Celts originated in the Atlantic coastal regions.

  • The Celtic languages
  • Tartessos
  • Mobility and trade
  • 2The Beaker cultural package
  • Genetic evidence

​3. Emerging elites in the heart of 1st millennium BC Europe

Explores the social structure of the Hallstatt culture with specific reference to princely burials and what we can learn from them.

  • Ancient metallurgy – Copper, Bronze, and Iron
  • Hallstatt: discovering an early centre
  • What burials can teach us about the living
  • Hallstatt: 650-450 BC
  • The ‘Princess’ of Vix
  • Early La Tène: 450-300BC

4. Mediterranean contact, trade and warfare

Examines the state of play between Greek, Etruscan, Phoenician, and Roman powers in the Mediterranean and how related events generated responses in Celtic Europe.

  • A crowded Middle Sea
  • Trade and exchange
  • Celts in Italy
  • Accounts of militant Celts in the east
  • Weapons and warfare
  • First assignment

5. Celtic Art: is it Celtic and is it art?

Examines the history of Celtic Art and questions the importance of the aesthetic in the production, use, and display of these objects by the ancient Celts. Concepts of style, hybridisation, and regionality will be introduced.

  • Styles of Celtic art
  • Symbolism and meaning
  • Technologies of enchantment
  • Types of objects
  • Critical assessment of ‘art’

6. Religion and ritual in the Celtic world

Introduces the evidence for religious belief in the Celtic world relying on the archaeological evidence and historical texts concerning ritual, deities, and the Druids.

  • The Druids
  • Places of worship
  • Spirituality and the natural world
  • Celtic deities
  • Human sacrifice?
  • Into the afterlife

7. Urbanisation and the barbarian economy

Aspects of Iron Age economy will be explored, as well as the role of hill forts and oppida. Concepts of what constitutes an urban space will be discussed with reference to pre-Roman 'barbarian' towns.

  • Coinage
  • Hillforts – Iron Age Castles?
  • Oppida – proto-towns?
  • Rural settlement

8. In depth - Gaul

What we know about Celtic Gaul from both Caesar's campaigns and from the archaeology will be examined, with some sites such as Mont Beauvray and Mont Lassois explored at a more detailed level.

  • Caesar’s campaigns – the ethnographic report
  • Caesar’s battles – Celtic warfare
  • Caesar’s Alliances – Celtic leadership structure
  • Vercingetorix and the end of the wars
  • The End of a Celtic Gaul?

9. Late Celtic Britain and Ireland

What we know about Britain and Ireland in the Iron Age, with specific reference to sites such as Danebury, Yeavering Bell, and St Albans. The concept of Romanisation will be introduced.

  • Caesar and Claudius
  • The Romanisation of Britain
  • The Boudiccan Revolt
  • The North, Wales, and Scotland
  • Roman Ireland?

10. Twilight of the Celts?: the 'Celtic fringe' in a post-Roman world

  • A post-Roman Celtic world
  • The Celtic church
  • Irish ‘Celtic’ civilization
  • Vernacular literature
  • Celtic identity – then and now
  • Concluding thoughts

The narrative of the Celtic culture after 'Romanisation' and into the Saxon and Viking eras will be summarised, as well as the pervasive influence of Celtic language and styles in the Western extremity of Europe. The post-medieval Celtic 'diaspora' will be examined as well as its effect on Celtic identity today. This summary will reference back to Unit one, hopefully providing a sense of a completed journey.

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Wendy Morrison

Dr Morrison has over a decade of experience in both research and commercial archaeological work. She has excavated in Britain, the Channel Islands, and India and currently is a Senior Associate Tutor for OUDCE.

Course aims

This course will introduce students to key themes in the archaeology of Celtic Europe, with special emphasis on how archaeologists use and interpret evidence.

Course Objectives

This course will enable students to:

  • Be aware of the types of evidence used to tell the story of the Celts (archaeology, historical texts, linguistics)
  • Gain an understanding of how archaeologists collect, analyse, and interpret data. Be aware of the types of evidence used to tell the story of the Celts (archaeology, historical texts, linguistics)
  • Critically analyse these various sources of evidence and their interpretations.

Teaching methods

  • Introduction to and overview of the session, highlighting the main issues to be examined and discussed.
  • Guided readings (required and optional).
  • Practical activities, including discussion on the unit forum.
  • Concluding comments and indication of areas for further independent study and research.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to:

1. Have an understanding of the complexity of Iron Age European society.
2. Be able to think critically about material and textual evidence.
3. Have an understanding of the geographical context of the Celtic peoples and of the chronology of the period of study.
4. Have gained a sound academic basis for continuing study of archaeology through further courses or for better understanding of related sites, monuments and museum displays.

By the end of this course students will have gained the following skills:

1. The ability to critically assess different types of evidence and their context.
2. The ability to synthesise many threads of evidence to arrive at a narrative interpretation.
3. The ability to present clear and rational arguments to defend the interpretation of evidence.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.