Celts at war
Almost every society in history had their warriors, the Celts were no exception. The Celts drew their warriors from middle and upper classes and they were the ones who did the fighting while they made use of the free poor classes to drive their chariots.
Celtic warriors lived for war. Boasting about their victories in gory detail was part of a warriors’ rituals. It was also not unusual for warriors to fight amongst themselves, and in fact regarded this as an important part of their lives.
The Celts were renowned for bringing home trophies, in particular the heads of their enemies which earned them the title of head-hunters. After battle these heads were displayed at the entrance their places of worship, many also dedicated their enemy’s weapons to the Gods by throwing them into a river or lake after battle. Today thousands of weapons have been dredged from the Lake of Neuchatel at La Tene.
Celtic chiefs together with the wealthiest Celts of the day wore armour and would ride out before battle in full view of their army, clashing their weapons on their shields while loudly proclaiming their great deeds. This practice was also designed to challenge their enemies at a single bout of combat. They must have been a frightening sight dressed in skins and decorated in blue tattoos. It was also not uncommon for warriors to go to battle wearing nothing but blue dye, covered with Celtic art work, naked as the day they were born.
Evolution of Celtic Weapons
Celtic warriors are known to be great swords-men and wielded them above their heads in battle, swirling and slashing from side to side, then downwards onto their enemies as easy as if they were chopping a piece of wood. Using their daggers and swords in this way absolutely terrified their enemies and gained them the reputation of being formidable opponents in war.
To understand the dagger it should first be explained how the Bronze Age influenced the weapons of that age. Celtic swords were primarily the weapon of choice during this era which indicated that perhaps warfare was fought on a small scale between elite groups of warriors. The Iron Age influenced the classic Celtic long swords with their characteristic leaf blade design.
The longsword fell out of favor with the Celts with changing patterns of warfare and short thrusting daggers made their appearance, evident by the great number of them found in the graves of those warriors were buried in high status burials.
The long swords became shorter, had only a single edge and lacked the sharp pointed thrusting point so common in swords. These daggers were designed primarily to cut, although some were used to slash. Swords in Britain and Ireland became shorter and thinner and with increasing Celtic populations, changing warfare and larger armies, the spearman began gaining importance resulting in a decline in dagger and sword functionality.
The Greeks and Romans were the first civilizations to encounter major threats from Celtic invaders. It was these civilizations, whose pens formed the history we know today and whose writings have helped create an image of the savage ferocity of the Celtic warrior that persists today, yet it was the Roman Empire that eventually conquered this great nation of warriors.
There is no mention that the Celts fought en masse with daggers, their weapons of choice included javelins and arrows and their defense strategies entailed fighting in close order so that they formed a defense against advancing Roman cavalries, in fact Caesar wrote about this and they used their daggers in close contact combat, something they were very accomplished at.
Swords and daggers were being used by Celtic warriors as far back as 280BCE when Brennus led his Celtic tribes against Greece. It is interesting to note that Brennus originated from a region of Senones that later became famous for their production of high quality steel which they used to form their weapons.
During this invasion of Greece, a large part of this Celtic army turned East where they eventually founded Galatia and went on to produce a source of mercenaries throughout this Mediterranean area, depicts by illustrations which show troops armed with daggers and oval shields. This image is one that is still used today to commonly depict Galatians.