Celtic warfare

Celtic warfare

Tribal warfare appears to have been a regular feature of Celtic societies. While epic literature depicts this as more of a sport focused on raids and hunting rather than organised territorial conquest, the historical record is more of tribes using warfare to exert political control and harass rivals, for economic advantage, and in some instances to conquer territory.

The Celts were described by classical writers such as Strabo, Livy, Pausanias, and Florus as fighting like "wild beasts", and as hordes. Dionysius said that their "manner of fighting, being in large measure that of wild beasts and frenzied, was an erratic procedure, quite lacking in military science. Thus, at one moment they would raise their swords aloft and smite after the manner of wild boars, throwing the whole weight of their bodies into the blow like hewers of wood or men digging with mattocks, and again they would deliver crosswise blows aimed at no target, as if they intended to cut to pieces the entire bodies of their adversaries, protective armour and all". [Dionysius of Halicarnassus, "Roman Antiquities"p259 Excerpts from Book XIV] Such descriptions have been challenged by contemporary historians. [cite book
author=Ellis, Peter Berresford
title= "The Celts: A History"
pages= pp.60-3
publisher=Caroll & Graf
date= 1998
id= ISBN 0-786-71211-2


The Celts saw the gradual revolution in military tactics which saw the mounted cavalryman replacing the chariot in battle somewhat later than in the Mediterranean nations. The typical Celtic chariot or a "Carpentom" was a two-wheeled device pulled by a team of two horses or ponies yoked to the vehicle. At about 4 meters in length and 2 meters wide the vehicle was not large (certainly smaller than earlier Egyptian war chariots). Celtic chariots featured iron tires and iron fittings to add strength to the vehicles' hubs. What made the Celtic chariot truly unique was that the platform was fixed to a flexible spring suspension. [Koch, John T. "Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia", ABL-CLIO 2006, ISBN 978-1851094400, p. 401 [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=f899xH_quaMC&pg=PA402&dq=celtic+chariots+platform&num=100&ei=R5deSKKyJZ2yjAGOhNWODA&client=firefox-a&sig=frHkGH4L11nRa8dLuMv8ArqAJa4#PPA401,M1] ]

Typically the crew of two (driver and warrior) would ride together to the battle, the warrior would throw his spears and then dismount to fight on foot.


To say that there was a 'typical' Celtic warrior may be a misnomer, as they were not a unified culture and would have been equipped by themselves and their families there would have been little uniformity amongst the ranks. In as much as a standard emerges Celtic warriors probably Fact|date=June 2008 would have gone to battle with 1-4 spears of varying weights for varying purposes. The long "Lancea" was designed for more traditional spear fighting, while the shorter "gaesum" was used more as a javelin. Others would have carried the Celtic short-sword, which by the 1st century B.C. was replaced by the Celtic long sword. Most warriors would have a large leather-covered wood shield with a metal boss. Among the rank and file there would be little armour in evidence as only the most prosperous nobles could afford a bronze or Iron helmet, in extremely rare cases a mail coat may have been worn by especially well-off nobles. Celts used many slingers in battle, to support their spearmen and to weaken the enemy before a close-quarters encounter. Some tribes also had large numbers of archers in their army, for example the Ruteni, Welsh SiluresFact|date=August 2008 and possibly also the Gallic Eburovices. In parts of east Britain, infantry seems Fact|date=June 2008 to have been almost non-existent, and chariot crews played the role of slingerFact|date=August 2008 and spearman combined in one. Most Celtic armies though, contained a large infantry contingent.

Battle tactics

The Celts, like many other 'barbarian' tribes, employed the use of "scare tactics" before a battle, this consisted of yelling, screaming, shield banging, horns being blown, and possibly drums. Celtic war chiefs would also march before their troops before a battle and exhort them through the proclaiming of their own heroism, more yelling, or the challenging of the enemy commanders to a duel. Fighting was initiated by chariots and slingers hurling missiles at the enemy, the chariot-fighters then dismounted to fight with shield, sword and spear as infantry. Clans and sub-clans followed standards and in Britain, fresh units would often be held in reserve to fight, when another unit needed to rest. Among Gallic and Spanish Celts Chariots were replaced by cavalry which fought mounted instead of dismounting like chariots. Gallic and Spanish Infantry ofted used very effective infantry tactics such as the shieldwall, also common among Germanic armies and more importantly the boar's snout; where the infantry arrayed themselves in a series of wedges and attacked the enemy shieldwall. Celts also employed wild charges when the situation lended itself to it, which could smash even the most well disciplined armies when used effectively.

Accounts vary as to how the Gauls handled the failure of their initial attack to collapse enemy lines.


Historical sources indicate that Celtic warriors were sometimes organized less around formal "armies" than as "war bands" who would congregate around a particularly strong leader or a certain religious cult. Certain bands seem to have enjoyed high status in Celtic society for their heroic deeds in battle. The Gaesatae were known to fight naked in battle, possibly for ritual reasons. [Allen, Stephen and Reynolds, Wayne, "Celtic Warrior: 300 BC-AD 100", Osprey Publishing 2001, ISBN:1841761435, p. 15, [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=M1RopeW8XQ4C&pg=PA62&dq=celtic+chariots+platform&num=100&ei=R5deSKKyJZ2yjAGOhNWODA&client=firefox-a&sig=5eErbjFKYVNBoNwHCUHsCNTaBcM#PPA15,M1] ] but according to Polybius to be more efficient and avoid catching their clothes in brambles. [Polybius, "Histories" [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/2*.html#28.3 2:28.3-7] ]


* cite book
last = Jimenez
first = Ramon L.
title = Caesar Against the Celts
publisher = Da Capo
date = 2005-08-10
isbn = 978-1885119209

ee also

*Ancient warfare
*Celtic sword
*Gallic wars

External links

* cite web
last = Karl
first = Raimund
title = Ancient Celtic Warfare
work = Celtic Well E-Journal
date = 1999
url = http://www.applewarrior.com/celticwell/ejournal/beltane/warfare.htm
accessdate = 2007-05-16

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