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Searching for Celtic Trade Routes and the Stories Behind Them

Searching for Celtic Trade Routes and the Stories Behind Them


Before the Roman Empire dominated Europe, a group of tribes known now as the Celts created a trade system which allowed them to communicate and sell things over large distances. It is known that people were able to buy and sell products from the farthest areas of the world they knew. The story of Celtic trade is difficult to interpret, but it also fascinating because it sheds a new light on European origins.

Excavations in Central Europe proved that before the Roman Empire dominated Europe people already had a well working trade route. They were selling and buying items over vast distances. The discoveries made in sites all over Europe and the Mediterranean suggest that the people who lived during the Bronze Age knew much more about each other than was once believed. Tacitus, Diodorus Siculus, Caesar, Polybias, and Strabo wrote about it. These ancient texts have really helped researchers to find archaeological evidence of trade routes.

Celtic Tribe Trading

People often believe that the heartland of the Celts is Western Europe – Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany in France, etc. However, the truth is much more complicated – the Celts also appeared in Eastern and Central Europe. For example, there was a very strong community near the Danube River in Germany and even in southern Poland. More of their story in Europe appears with each new excavation. Through this, researchers find out more about how many societies were at least influenced by the culture which is now known as the Celts.

For example, the center of Celtic culture in Germany contained a city of as many as 10,000 people. And that society was living in luxury. According to archaeological excavations, they were drinking Greek wine, ate food from Iberia, and wore Etruscan gold jewelry. During those times, Rome could have been considered a poor place in comparison.

Map showing where the Celts frequently traveled.

Map showing where the Celts frequently traveled. (

The main problem with analyzing Celtic trade is a qualification of the specific people as Celts and finding out which roads were known before the Romans. For the last few decades, many researchers have tried to find out how many roads were really created by the Romans and how many of them were just adopted by the growing empire. It is obvious that the main routes known in the lands conquered by the Roman army were known before their arrival.

The Roman republic and its neighbors.

The Roman republic and its neighbors. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Celts are known to have been very resourceful. They were also brave warriors, which brought them benefits other tribes could only dream of. The goods they could offer to other people were, for example weapons and other items made of metals, jewelry, and also clothes and leather items. The Celts were very well organized, and apart from typical human needs – the desire to have something different and more interesting than they could make on their own – they were able to fill their needs alone.

Celtic stele from Galicia.

Celtic stele from Galicia. (Public Domain)

Changes Caused by Trade

The Celtic trade route probably spread around Europe and the Middle East. It is known that the Celtic warriors fought in the Middle East, Anatolia, and even in Egypt. The relationships between the people of the South and Celts is still unclear, but there is enough archaeological evidence to prove that it existed. The most mysterious question seems to be centered on the farthest trade destination – the Mediterranean area. According to Becki VandenBoom from the University of New England in Australia:

''There are two main effects that intensified Mediterranean trade relations had on Celtic society. The first is the necessity for and subsequent creation of trading settlements or oppida. Springing up in consequence of the need for local and specialized industry, these oppida were large (often a minimum of 20-25 hectares), fortified, commercial and interdependent.

Celtic society within the oppida became dependent on others within the oppida society as craftsmanship and industry became specialized. The second effect of this social transformation which was caused by the intensification of industry and trade was that of the emergence of wealthy settlement leaders. The Chieftain or leader of a settlement would now be able to supervise and control the flow of goods in and out of the settlement. In an imitation of the Roman practice, of auctioning the right to control import and export taxes to the highest bidder, the Aedui leader Dumnorix, already powerful and feared by his people was able to purchase unopposed the right to control and extract duties on trade and therefore amass a large private fortune.''

Celtic Oppidum, Central Europe 1st century BC.

Celtic Oppidum, Central Europe 1st century BC. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Trade with different cultures allowed the Celts to expand their wealth and improve the standard of living for specific societies. It was also a very interesting aspect in arranging wars and getting new allies and enemies. In ancient times, trade issues were, next to the domination of specific lands, the most important thing in a society.

Forgotten Trade in Europe

The history of the tribes which are usually known as Celts is very complicated and full of mysteries. One of the enigmatic themes is the topic of trade. Although many aspects related to the details connected with selling and buying items were already solved through excavations, it is still difficult to summarize the topic.

Some researchers have attempted in the past to make Celtic trade route maps, but the works by archaeologists is still providing new information. Celtic items were discovered in the Middle East, while ancient Egyptian jewels were unearthed in Ireland. More surprises are expected in the near future.

Top image: Celtic soldiers (bottom left) in Egypt. (The Deadliest Blogger)

By Natalia Klimczak


Friedrich Schlette, Celtowie, 1987.

Bożena Gierek, Celtowie, 1998.

Barry Cunliffe, Starożytni Celtowie, 2003.

Becki VandenBoom, Pre-conquest Celtic and Germanic trade with the wider Mediterranean,a vailable at:



Morgain's picture

There is very little information here beyond the basic ‘Celtic trade routes existed before Rome’. First it is necessary to give a quick review of what ‘Celtic’ means as it was not a centralised culture. Next give the key trading centres, including ports. It is inexcusable that shipping is not mentioned here as it was faster and safer. The routes both land and water between main points of exchange call for a map. Finally give specific trade goods, examples, which apply to the different routes. Add some illustrative items like archaeo finds to make it come alive.

Shan Morgain

Morgain's picture

deleted by author (repeat)

Shan Morgain

Cousin_Jack's picture

You forgot Cornwall in the UK, Cornwall and Britanny used to have close links, my mum still remembers the french coming over to sell things in the ‘60’s. Think Cornish gold, copper and tin has been found in some artifacts, Cornish employment seems to have been to dig the gravels from streams and rivers,refine it and sell it on. Some Roman artifacts have been found around our rivers. Jesus has been thought of visiting here with Joseph for supplies, so maybe land routes aren’t quite as important as you think, maybe sea ports are the answer.

In Anglia et Cornubia.


Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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