Who are the Celts? (Online)

Course summary

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, and a link to our course demonstration site, 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.

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.

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.

4. Colonial connections and transitions with the Classical world
 Examines the state of play between Greek, Etruscan, Phoenician, and Roman powers in the Mediterranean and how related events generated responses in Celtic Europe.

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.

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.

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.

8. In depth - Gaul
What we know about Celtic Gaul from both Caesars campaigns and from the archaeology will be examined, with some sites such as Mont Beauvray and Mont Lassois explored at a more detailed level.

9. In depth  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.

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

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following textbooks:

Cunliffe, B: The Ancient Celts (Penguin Books,1999)

Cunliffe, B.W: The Celts: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2003)


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 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 £10 fee.

For more information on CATS point please click on the link below: http://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/studentsupport/faq/cats.php

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.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.

All students who successfully complete this course, whether registered for credit or not, are eligible for a Certificate of Completion. Completion consists of submitting both course assignments and actively participating in the course forums. Certificates will be available, online, for those who qualify after the course finishes.

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.


EU Fee: £260.00
Non-EU Fee: £295.00
Take this course for CATS points: £10.00


Dr Wendy Morrison

Wendy Morrison holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford and is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Archaeology. She has worked in both commercial and research archaeology since 2007 and has excavated in Britain and further afield.

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. 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)
  • Tutors notes and handouts
  • 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

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail.


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please contact us to obtain an application form.

Level and demands

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