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Celts Social System

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Social System

Celtic Social System

The Celtic social system played a big role in maintaining law and order among its people. It was an integral part of the Celtic legal system. Through time, the Celtic social system had been altered and modified because of different influences that came, including Christianity.

If there was a social structure, it consequently meant the existence of a social division. A Celtic community had sub layers and layers. Land leaders, including kings, were put into their position through elections. Being a king wasn't exactly based on a person's ancestry or kinship. The nobility of a person was solely based on his personal merits. Once a person of a title had died, his title remained his and wouldn’t be passed on to the remaining members of his family, unless the family proved to maintain enough wealth and stature that could be carried into generations to come.

The Celtic social ranking was basically based on personal merits. So, if a king was incapable of joining a battle because of some physical illness, then he could no longer be a king. Likewise, if a farmer could no longer pay what he owed, then his land and rights could be taken away from him.

The head of state or the Ard Rí na hÉireann, was also an elected official. Any person who had an untainted track record and credible personal merits on both civilian and military affairs were eligible for this position. An Ard Di did not make laws, his responsibility was to implement them and see to it that they were followed. One primary role of an Ard Ri was to prepare and preside over the Great Fair (Feis Teamhrach), a ceremonial feast where lower kings gather together.

Another player in Celtic social system is the King of the Providence or the Ri Cuicidh. The Ri Cuicidh was regarded as the second highest official. They were responsible for collections, created rules and supervised the lower kings. Their power and territory did not go beyond their land ownership. A Ri Cuicidh was the custodian and treasurer of a province.

Tuath, in its modern usage, is a term used to refer to a clan or tribe. A tuath, in Celtic terms, is a group of people with the same origin or genesis. They take pride of their own descent, live together and work for their own prosperity. The tuath, also called as cinel, is the smallest social unit of the Celts.

The common people look up to the Ri Tuath. These are the people who were responsible in looking after the everyday activities of the tuath. The Ri Tuath is referred to as the King of the tribe. He has the power to rule over his tribe and governs over his territory. In a tuath, its members have a responsibility to preserve its original ancestry. With such a role, a structure was created with the objective to protect the tuath's own pedigree. The hierarchy structure consists of 17 males organized in concentric circles. The geil fine (family of the inner circle) has the ceann fine who acts as the head of the family. Under him are four more members of the same family. The geil fine has in it three more circles that represent three more groups of family. These families are namely the deirb fine (true family), iar fine (after family) and inn fine (end family). Under each family group are four members. Whenever a new male descendant was born, he automatically entered the circle and the eldest member of the group left and now belongs to the broader circle of the structure. Any male member of a fine can actually set up his own fine, given he is of the right age, had enough money, wealth and personal merits.

There was a time in history where tuaths were conquered and Ri Tuath disappeared completely. Over the years, a tuath's population grew as they give way to improper adoption of people from other tribes and opening their doors to strangers, travellers, craftsmen, warriors and even noblemen. The concept of tuath then translates to a mere piece of land which a group of people inhabit. Similar to what a 'state' is in the modern times. Despite this, the original inhabitants of the area, the tribe or clan, remains the basic social unit of the tuath.

The noblemen of Celts are referred to as the flaiths. These people acquired their nobility because of personal merits and not because of kinship. They are also referred to as nemedh, which means privileged. Ennobled men have properties including fields, tenants and cattle, among other things.

High-regarded people in the Celtic social system also include breitheamh (judges), ollamhs (storytellers), bards, druids and craftsmen. Right under them on the social ladder are the feines. Feines are the freemen or free farmers who own their own private cottages, cattle and supervise their own field production. Unlike feines, a saer ceilis does not have their own property and thus referred to as unfree tenants. Saer ceilis are often considered as warriors for battle or as servants for Riu Tuath.

The lowest groups of people in the Celtic social system are the criminals, unskilled labourers and indebted farmers. They are collectively called as bothachs or cottiers. These are people who do not literally have any property and are stripped of their rights.

Original Authors: Jennifer Tumanda
Edit Update Authors: RPN
Updated On: 25/01/2007

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