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The Ancient Celts

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The Celts (Greek: κελτοί, Lat. Celtae) - similar in language and material culture tribes of Indo-European origin, in ancient times occupied a vast territory in Western and Central Europe.

The Celts built fortified settlements ("oppidums") with stone buildings and walls. Later, they turned into fortified cities and trade and craft centers (Bibracta, Gergovia, Alesia, Stradonice, etc.). Thanks to this, the Celts had all industrial crafts at the advanced level of development for that time.

The Celts are divided into several time periods, the most popular for reconstruction of which is "Laten":

Contacts with ancient civilizations

The Celts were one of the most warlike peoples in ancient Europe. Before the battle, as a cry to intimidate the enemy, the Celts issued deafening screams and blew battle trumpets-karnix, bells in the form of animal heads.

The Celts settled almost all of Western Europe from southern Germany. By the beginning of the fifth century BC, they lived in what is now Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of France, Spain, and Britain. Over the next century, they crossed the Alps and invaded northern Italy. The first tribe to arrive in the Po Valley was the Insubri. They settled in the Lombardy area, making Milan their capital. They were followed by the Boi, Lingon, Kenomani, and other tribes who conquered most of the River Valley. The Po and eventually drove the Etruscans back across the Apennines. The last of the tribes to arrive were the Senones, who descended to the Adriatic and settled in the coastal area north of Ancona. In 390 BC, this tribe managed to do something that no one else could do after them for 1000 years - to plunder Rome!

The name " Celts "that we use today came from the Greek language — "keltoi", but the Romans called the people who came from the Po Valley and France, the Gauls (Galli). During the fourth century, the Celts began to move into the Balkans, and at the beginning of the third century, they did not fail to take advantage of the lack of strong power in Macedonia and Thrace at that time. After ravaging both countries, they invaded Asia Minor and finally settled in Galatia. These latter tribes are usually called Galatians.

During the fourth century, the Gauls constantly made devastating raids on the lands of central Italy. The Etruscans, Latins, and Samnites usually managed to push them back, and they flocked to Apulia, where they may have established permanent settlements.

While settling, the Celts mixed with local tribes: Iberians, Ligurians, Illyrians, Thracians, but some of them managed to maintain their identity for a long time (Lingons, Boii), which was one of the reasons for their small number. In 58 BC, according to Gaius Julius Caesar, there were 263,000 Helvetii and only 32,000 Boii (this point is disputed by many historians, since the Boii were mercilessly killed by the Dacian king Burebista around 60 BC). The Celts of southern France developed in an active interaction with the ancient city-states and therefore were distinguished by the highest level of culture. Displaced by the Romans in the 2nd century BC from northern Italy (Cisalpine Gaul), the Celts settled in central and northwestern Bohemia (these were the Boii tribes, from which the territory received the name Boiohaemum-the Boii homeland — Bohemia).

The most numerous Celtic tribes were the Helvetii, Belgae, and Arverni.

The most significant are the Helvetii, Boii, Senones, Biturigs, Volki.

Celtic warrior, a bronze statuette from southern France. 5th century BC
Etruscan stele from Felsina with the image of a duel between an Etruscan horseman and a Gaul on foot in the lower part. Museum of Archeology, Bologna Early 4th century BC
Gallic horseman on a Greek vase painting from Apulia. 4th century BC

No other people were treated by the Romans as the Celts were. They systematically staged mass beatings of them in northern Italy, Spain and France. The reconquest of the Po Valley from the Celts, which took place after the war with Hannibal, was accompanied by such brutality that in the middle of the second century BC Polybius could say that the Celts remained only "in a few places beyond the Alps."

Most of our information about the Celts comes, unfortunately, from their enemies — the Greeks and Romans. Diodorus, the Sicilian historian, vividly describes the colorful clothing of the warriors, the long moustaches and hair that the Celts soaked in lime so that they stood up like a horse's mane.

At first, the Romans were afraid of the Celts, who seemed like giants in comparison. Over time, however, as the Romans learned to exploit the Celts ' weaknesses, they came to despise the violent barbarians. This approach is very accurately reflected in Livy's account of the Celtic wars. However great this disdain might be, with a good general, the Celts were excellent warriors. They made up half of Hannibal's army, which for 15 years prevailed over the legions of Rome. Later, the Romans realized the value of these people, and they joined the ranks of their army for centuries.

Civil wars constantly weakened the Celts, which contributed to the invasion of the Germans from the east and the Romans from the south. The Germans pushed some of the Celts across the Rhine in the 1st century BC. Julius Caesar in 58 BC — 51 BC captured all of Gaul. Under Augustus, the Upper Danube, northern Spain, and Galatia were conquered by the Romans, and under Claudius (mid-1st century AD), a significant part of Britain was conquered. The Celts who remained in the Roman Empire were Romanized.

Celtic invasion of the Balkans, their predatory campaigns against Thrace, Macedonia and Greece, and the invasion of Asia Minor

Warriors of the ancient Celts

Most early societies, not excluding archaic Greece and Rome, have a separate warrior class. The Celts were no exception in this respect. Their warriors came from social groups that can be described as middle and upper strata of society. They were the ones who fought in the battles, while the poor, according to Diodorus, served as squires or drove chariots.

The Celt was a warrior in the heroic sense of the word. He didn't value his life too much. He lived for the sake of war, but his rampant praise of bravery, coupled with a lack of discipline, often led to defeat. In the fifth book of his work, Diodorus gives a detailed and perhaps quite accurate description of the Celtic warrior. It should be remembered, however,that 350 years elapsed between Rome's first encounter with the Celts at the Battle of Allia and Caesar's conquest of Gaul, according to Diodorus. During this time, a lot has changed in both weapons and tactics. Here is a brief summary of Diodorus ' description, which sometimes looks anachronistic, and then we will talk about these changes. So, the Celtic warrior, according to Diodorus, was armed with a long sword, worn on a chain on the right side, as well as a spear or javelins. Although most warriors preferred to fight naked, some wore mail and a bronze helmet. The latter was often decorated with relief figures, horns or overlays depicting animals or birds. The warrior had a long, human-sized shield, which could be decorated with relief bronze figures.

In battles against cavalry, the Celts used war chariots. When the warrior entered the battle in his two-horse chariot, he first threw javelins, and then, like the heroes of Homer, got down from the chariot and fought with a sword. Before the battle, the warriors (Diodorus refers to the instigators) stood out of line, shaking their weapons to instill fear in the enemy, and challenged the bravest of the opponents to a single duel. If the challenge was accepted, the instigator, in a truly barbaric spirit, could break out into a song in which he praised the deeds of his ancestors, boasted of his own exploits and insulted the enemy in every possible way.

Fragment of a relief on a clay lamp with a Gallic warrior. 1st century BC
Terracotta figurine with Celtic warriors running away. Civitalba (Marche), Italy. 3rd century BC
Fragment of the Bithynian stele from Kutluk, on which a Greek horseman fights with the Galatians on foot. Early 2nd century BC

The Romans honored those of their generals who accepted the challenge and defeated the Celtic instigator in a single duel. They were given the honor of dedicating the best part of their loot (prima spolia) to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius ("Giver of loot" or "Bringer of victory"). There were also secunda spolia and tertia spolia (the second and third part of the dedicated loot), which depended on the rank of the winner. It was said that he lived in the IV century. Titus Manlius managed to defeat a huge celt in a duel and tore the golden grivna (torquesus) from his neck, thus earning the nickname Torquatus. The most notable of all these heroes was Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who killed the Gaulish leader Viridomarus in a duel in 222 BC. He then became the most successful of all the Roman generals who fought with Hannibal during his Italian campaign.

After killing an opponent, a Celtic warrior cut off his head and hung it on the neck of his horse. Then he could strip the dead man of his armor and order his squire to carry off the bloodstained trophy, while he sang a battle song over the fallen enemy. The trophy was then nailed to the wall of his home, and the heads of the most distinguished enemies were embalmed in cedar oil. The head of the consul Lucius Postumus, who was killed by the Celts in the Po Valley in 216, was displayed in the temple. Excavations conducted in Entremont have shown that the severed heads were not just a trophy, but part of a religious ritual-they were located there in special niches around the ceremonial entrance.

Before proceeding to a detailed description of Celtic equipment, we should make a few general comments about the military affairs of the Celts. All ancient authors agree that the Celts did not value strategy and tactics very much. Polybius accuses them of having neither a plan for the campaign nor any particular judgment as to how it should be conducted; he adds that everything they did was done under the influence of momentary motives. You might get the impression that the Celts were fighting like a rabble, swarming in. However, the presence of standards and trumpets among the Celtic trophies depicted on the arch in Orange may indicate that they had a fairly strict organization. Caesar describes how pilums pierced the closed shields of the Celts. This can only apply to a tight phalanx formation. Such a construction was not peculiar to the Celts in principle, and therefore, they could use different types of constructions. Polybius ' description of the Battle of Telamon also supports this assumption. The Celts were caught between two Roman armies, so they formed up back to back, facing both sides so that the depth of the formation was four people. Polybius admires this system and says that even in his own day, 75 years later, it was debated which side had the stronger position. None of the Celtic armies could be attacked from the rear, and with no escape route, the Celts were forced to stand to the death.

The Romans, on the other hand, were intimidated by this immaculate formation, as well as by the wild rumble and noise that the Celts made. Indeed, they had countless buglers and trumpeters, and all the warriors were shouting their battle cries at the same time. In conclusion, Polybius says that the Celts were inferior to the Romans only in weapons, because they had less high-quality swords and shields.

Men's Celtic clothing

Basic elements of Celtic men's clothing:

For Celtic warriors, the following elements are also added::

Celtic Warrior, reconstruction

Celtic women's clothing

Basic elements of Celtic women's clothing:

Celtic woman, reconstruction


When reconstructing the Celts, time periods should be taken into account. It is best to take Laten III (120-50 BC). It should be noted that there are few finds for fabric products, and they will coincide for a large period of time, while there is a huge amount of jewelry, weapons, and other things made of metals found. In this regard, the greatest attention when creating an image should be paid to the sword and helmet. In the case of a female image-first of all, you need to monitor your jewelry.

Related topics

Celtic shoes, Peplos, Celtic skirts, Celtic shirts, Celtic shirts, Celtic swords, Celtic helmets


Celts-an article from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Belova N. N., Mongayt A. L..

Gauls or Celts // Encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron : in 86 volumes (82 volumes and 4 additions). - St. Petersburg, 1890-1907.

The Celts // Encyclopedia of Brockhaus and Efron : in 86 volumes (82 volumes and 4 additions). - St. Petersburg, 1890-1907.

Birkhahn Helmut. Celty: Istoriya i kul'tura [The Celts: History and Culture], translated from German by N. Y. Chekhonadskaya, Moscow: Agraf, 2007, 512 p. (Heritage of the Celts. Research). — ISBN 978-57784-0346-8.

Bruno Jean-Louis. Gauls / Translated from French by A. A. Rodionova, Moscow: Veche, 2011, 400 p.: ill. (Guides of Civilizations). — ISBN 978-5-9533-4656-6.

Connolly P. Greece and Rome. Encyclopedia of Military History. Eksmo-Press. Moscow, 2000. Translated by S. Lopukhova and A. Khromova.

Celts Lords of Battles-Stephen Allen. pdf

Gauls - Jean Louis Bruno

Celtic warriors from Szabadi Somogy coun.pdf

Celtic Design Spiral Patterns - Aidan Meehan.pdf


"The Dying Gaul." Marble Roman copy from the Greek original. Palazzo Nuovo Musei Capitolini. 230-220 BC
A Galatian rider knocks his opponent out of the saddle. Terracotta relief from a canosa vase. Late 3rd century BC
Frieze with Galatian trophies from the propylon of the Pergamon Library. It shows characteristic Galatian shields, chain mail, spears and a signal trumpet with a bell shaped like a bull's head. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. 2nd century BC
Terracotta statuette depicting fighting Gauls. Antique Collection, Berlin. 2nd century BC
A stele from Bormio in northern Italy depicting a Gallic trumpeter and standard bearer. 4th-2nd century BC
Bas-relief of a Gallic chariot, Museum of Padua. 4th century BC
A Roman soldier fights the Gauls. Fresco from the tomb of the Statilii of the Tauri in Esquiline. National Museum of Rome. 1st century BC
An Italian horseman strikes a Gallic infantryman with a spear. Relief of the Etruscan sarcophagus from Chiusi. 3rd century BC
Terracotta statue of a Celtic warrior. 3-2 century BC
Statue of a Gallic warrior "Guerrier de Vacheres". Calvert - Avignon-F Museum. 1st century BC
A Galatian mercenary in the service of the Ptolemies. Tombstone stele from Sidon. Archaeological Museum, Istanbul. 2nd century BC
Celtic warrior depicted on a gold clasp from the Braganza collection. 3rd century BC
Statue of a Gallic warrior from Mondragon. Avignon Museum. 2nd century BC
Bronze statuette depicting a Gallic warrior dressed in a Greek linen carapace and an Etruscan helmet with cheek pads. 4th century BC
A Celt who kills himself and his wife to avoid falling into the hands of his enemies alive. A statue from the group that originally decorated the Pergamon altar. Palazzo Altemps, Rome, 2nd century BC
An iconic wagon found in a rich burial site near Strettweg, Austria. 7th century BC
Bas-relief with Galatian trophies from the propylon of the Pergamon Library. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. 2nd century BC