The Celtic Nightmare
To the Romans the Romans the people of the East lacked manliness
and vigor. This is how they regarded the Egyptians and peoples of
the Near East, but the Celts where a different matter. The Roman's
had more respect for their bravery and ability to fight toe to toe.
They considered the Gauls to be powerful, although crazy and felt
the Celtic warriors of the Iberian Peninsula where cunning and skilled.
If fact, the very real threat that their empire would be wiped out
by a Celtic invasion was always in the back of their minds and almost
came true on several occasions. It took the Roman
military 500 years before they achieved security from the threat
of Celtic warriors pouring through the gates of Rome.
The Celtic Warriors Weapons
The Celts used a multiplicity of ancient
weapons, which is to probably due to their warrior culture.
Distance combat weapons were javelins, harpoons, bows and slings.
The stones of the slings were usually taken out of rivers, since
these were well formed by the current. In addition one must say
that javelins were not necessarily the primary weapons of a warrior,
many close-in engagement troops additionally carried thrown weapons.
Young warriors fought usually with primitive javelins, slings and
bows, while well crafted pila or harpoon type javelins were carried
by Celtic champions. The Gaesatae, a group of Celtic warriors from
the Alps are said to have used poison on their ranged weapons. In
late ancient times the Picts already used light crossbows. As close-range
weapons spears, two-hand hammers, axes and swords would be used.
The swords were initially short swords, but later became long swords.
Celtic swords varied greatly in their quality. There were true masterpieces,
but some ancient writer’s report of swords which after the
first impact of a warrior bent or became blunt. Some particularly
large and well crafted swords have been found in England that may
have been for rituals; however, a military employment is also possible.
The celtic, Celtiberian (that’s a mixed celtic and Iberian
tribe) and Iberian tribes of Hibernia (modern spain) fashioned a
short, double sided sword that was ideal for stabbing. This weapon
became the model for the roman gladius, used by the roman legions.
Celtic Spear possessed relatively broad points and were a grand
example of this weapon type. Axes, two-hand hammers and two-hand
swords (Claymore) were also used, but rather rarer weapons. Nevertheless
they belong to the Celtic arsenal and worked well against well protected
opponents. The force of such, heavy weapon was so great they could
cause fatal injuries through chainmail armor.
The Celtic Warriors Armor
Early La-Tene era Celtic warriors did not wear armor, although nobles
occasionally wore chest plates and chainmail, a Celtic invention
according to the Romans. Later leather armor, light bronze breast
plates, chain shirts and scale armor were employed, although typically
beyond the means of common warriors. A special form of armor the
Celts developed was called Ceannlann armor. It is a layer of metal
scales sewn onto linen which is in turn sown on to chain armor creating
a very effective multilayer armor that could cover the entire body.
Helmets were also uncommon at first and mostly worn by nobles. Important
forms are the Montefortino Helmet and the Coolus helmet which the
Romans imitated for their legionaries. Another style of helmet came
from the Belgae, a Belgian Celtic tribe. Belgian helmets had a typical,
cone-like form with a long, square and straight plate to protect
the neck. Celtic warriors were known to fasten feathers, wings or
horse tails to their helmets. Some helmets had real horns or metal
horns attached in order to create a fearsome look. Celtic warriors
frequently employed shields in all ranges and time periods. Round
shields were usually used by light infantrymen or cavalry. Heavy
infantrymen carried long shields, usually square, oval or hexagonally.
The warrior of a chariot crew probably carried an infantry shield.
The Celts often took great pride in the crafting of their shields.
They used hide covered wood with metal ribbing, spines and edges.
They were covered with Celtic designs of spirals, circles and animal
motifs. One example that survived, dating from 300 BC to 100 AD,
called the Battersea Shield is a constructed using sheet bronze
and decorated in La Tène art style. It is absolutely stunning,
however it was impractical for combat and most likely only used
for ritual purposes. Celtic shield designs were frequently imitated
throughout the classic western world. For clothing the Celtic warrior
usually wore the so-called Braccae wool trousers and a light cloak.
Although the Romans reported one group of Celts charged into battle
At first horses were used only in conjunction with chariots. Each
chariot consisted of two crew members: A driver and a noble warrior
or champion. The ancient writers describe the Celtic chariots use
as a mixture of cavalry and infantry tactics. The chariot would
drive into the battle where the warrior jumps out of the vehicle
and fights as an infantry warrior. Once the warrior tired he would
jump back on the chariot. The chariots would also drive up and down
the battle lines throwing javelins and intimidating opponents with
the load noises they made. Caesar describes that the drivers as
extremely agile on the chariot, they would even climb forward on
the yoke in order to steer the horses better. Celtic chariots used
a suspension system that allowed them to operate on rough ground
and even on steep hillsides.
Mounted cavalry arose only later,
particularly in Britain where chariots were still used in battle
much longer than anywhere else in the world. Celtic riders were
usually rather light cavalry. They fought by first unleashing a
hail of javelins on their opponents, then they followed up by attacking
with lances and swords. An exception to this was the nobles who
often functioned as heavy cavalry, particuarly in Gual.
Celtic Military Tactics
The normal Celtic sword fighter was probably a heavy infantryman.
They typically fought unarmored in a battle line formation. The
center piece of Celtic tactics was the mass charge. The wild frontal
attack, referred to by the Romans as “the Furor Celtica “,
was devastating and could quickly overpower opponents with the sheer
power of the impact of the rushing Celtic warriors and their vicious,
frenzied attacks. However, the Romans tended to out endure the less
well armored and disciplined Celts if they could with stand the
initial ferocity of their rush and usually came out on the winning
side of prolonged battles. The Celts also fought defensively at
times. They could form a deadly and formidable shield wall. Caesar
describes a Celtic Phalanx that formed to defend the Helvetia wagons.
The Romans set launched their Pila in order to weight down or pin
their overlapping shields to one another. The Galatians, who formed
a warlike Celtic state in the highlands of central Anatolia in modern
Turkey , also used a tight, phalanx like formation. It has been
theorized that they developed this technique to deal with the open
plains, mounted troops and Greek formations they encountered on
their route to Asia Minor. In addition to these open combat methods
the Celts also employed Guerilla tactics. They understood well that
they could gain an advantage by attacking their opponents from forest
or by disturb them with raids and ambushes. This enabled the more
lightly armored Celts to take advantage of their speed and knowledge
of terrain. At one point during Caesars Gaelic campaign an army
of Celts surprised Caesars forces as they were setting up camp.
It was only with a great amount of luck, by Caesars own admission,
that he and his army were not annihilated.
Celtic Warrior Culture
The Celts were a warrior culture. Fighters were admired like heroes
and courage in the battleground was an important virtue. The Celtic
elite fighters functioned as models, which should inspire other
warriors by their courage.
The Celts cut off the heads of killed
enemies and collected them. It was considered a spiritual gesture,
which often also appears in other cultures. The head was valued
by the Celts as the seat of life, emotions and the soul. He who
had captured a head attained the strength of the fallen enemy. Such
trophies were bound to their horse or fastened to their belts, a
practice that also served to cause fear in their enemies.
One of the main motivations
of Celtic warriors was the pursuit of glory and to this end the
Celts loved exhibition when in battle. Thus there are legends of
a Celtic ruler who drove a silver chariot into battle. Naturally
silver is very soft and rather unsuitable for a chariot, but the
hostile war bands took to flight at the sight of it. Warriors often
painted themselves with woed, a blue die, or used war cries in order
to intimidate their enemies. Celtic warriors would also wear horned
helmets or helmets topped with horse tails into the battle to intimidate
their enemies and make themselves appear taller. A helmet was found
crowned with a metal raven. When the wearer ran the metal wings
of the raven would flap and strike the helm. This is an allusion
on the Celtic mythology in which the death goddess gets the souls
of the fallen warriors in shape of a raven.
Celts as Mercenaries
Celts had a long tradition of fighting as mercenaries, Hannibal
even had a personal guard of Gaesatae. Celtic mercenaries served
as a major force in Hannibal’s powerful field army as well.
The Romans took note of this and frequently hired celtic mercenaries
during their long military history. In classical times the Galatian
warriors were respected by Greek, Pontic and Roman commanders .
They frequently hired them as mercenary soldiers, sometimes fighting
on both sides in the great battles of the times. For years the Galatian
chieftains and their war bands ravaged the western half of Asia
Minor, as allies of one or other of the warring princes, without
any serious check. Later Celtic groups inherited the mercenary tradition:
Scottish highlanders, Welch archers and Irish Kerns often found
places in English armies. The French formed from companies of both
Celtic swordsmen and cavalry.