According to Roman records, the Iron Age Celtic peoples of Britain consisted of war-like tribes – but this could well be propaganda of the age. In 43 AD, as now, invaders found ways of justifying their subjugation of the native people whose country they colonised and whose land they took. Whatever the reality, the image of rough, heavy-drinking hooligans and evil barbarians is what we have been left with.
Pagan society in the Iron Age was certainly based on a strong system of tribal groups controlling different parts of the country, each with its own warrior class. However the accusations of barbarism could equally be a stereotyped reaction against these ‘uncivilised’ cultures.
The truth is that, though bands of fighting men may well have dominated much of society, the basis of a proto-democracy was also in action. Community leaders had to demonstrate that they were worthy of the role, and some needed to canvass support from surrounding groups to hold power. The economy relied heavily on well-established trade routes and, for the pagan Britons of the time, the system worked fine before the Empire stepped in.