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Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1997-08 > 0871921786

From: Karen Emery< >
Subject: Celts
Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 10:29:46 -0600 (MDT)


This is from "The Celts" - I don't know the author. The description is from
Diordorus and evidently comes from someone who actually witnessed a battle.
The Celts: "There were Celts both to the north and south of the Pyrenees,
and they inhabited a large part of
Central Europe. This people, called Galli by the Romans and Galatai or
Keltoi by the Greeks, did
not fit in with any of the Ancients' notions of humanity. In the words of
the Greek historian
Diodorus (himself born in Sicily and hence known as 'Siculus'):

'Their aspect is terrifying . . . . They are very tall in stature, with
muscles under clear white skin. Their hair is blond, but not naturally so:
bleach it, to this day, artificially, washing it in lime and combing it back
their foreheads. They look like wood-demons, their hair thick and shaggy like
a horse's mane. Some of these are clean-shaven, but others - especially those
of high rank, shave their cheeks but leave a moustache that covers the whole
mouth and, when they eat and drink, acts like a sieve, trapping particles of
food . . . . The way they dress is astonishing: they wear brightly
coloured and
embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae (breeches?) and cloaks
fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These
cloaks are striped or checkered in design, with the separate checks close
together and in various colours.'

This may sound like a description of some harmless, colourful, exotic
people, addicted to
embroidered peasant blouses and a sort of Scottish tartan about the neck;
but Diordorus later shows
that this love of colour was anything but primitive joie de vivre. Although
Diodorus was only a
compiler of contemporary eyewitness reports (he himself lived in the first
century BC), we may none
the less accept his account of what made the Celts not just surprising but
also terrifying: their way of

Some of the Celts, he says, wore 'bronze helmets with figures picked out on
them, even horns,
which made them look even taller than they already are . . . while others
cover themselves with
breast-armour made out of chains. But most content themselves with weapons
nature gave them:
they go naked into battle.' Before it began, however, they indulged in a
performance that was bound
to confuse their enemies more than anything they had seen before. It
started with one or more of
them leaving the ranks and challenging the bravest of the enemy to a duel.
As Diodorus recounts:
'At the same time they swing their weapons about to intimidate their foe; if
anyone accepts the
challenge, the Celtic warriors break into a wild singing, praising the deeds
of their fathers and their
own prowess, while insulting and belittling their opponents, to take the
edge off them before the
battle begins.' It was a ritualized psychological warfare, of a kind still
employed in pub-brawls in
Alpine village-inns or Breton fishermen's taverns. But there was more to
it. After this prelude, the
Celts would begin their own moral preparation: 'Weird, discordant horns
were sounded', there was a
chorus of shouting from their 'deep and harsh voices', swords were beaten
rhythmically against
shields, rage and war-lust were systematically whipped up. At last the
first warrior broke ranks and
stormed forward. At the same time, on the flanks, squadrons of four-wheeled
war-chariots started
moving, usually manned by two warriors. One drove the horses, while the
other hurled javelins at
the enemy cavalry. When he had thrown them all, he would jump out and join
the battle on foot,
while the chariot was turned around, to be kept ready in case a retreat was

The horsemen fought in the same way. Each mount had two riders: one threw
javelins and
then jumped off; the other turned the horse about, tied it up and, like the
javelin-thrower, took hold
of a sword or lancia (battle lance--the word is Celtic). The blade of such
a lance might be up to
eighteen inches long and almost six inches across: 'Some of these lance
blades are straight, others are
wavy over their whole length, so that a blow not only slices into the flesh
but can also lacerate it, and
the wound is enlarged when the lance is pulled out . . . . But their swords
are shorter than the
javelins of other peoples.'

Yet it was not just the cruel weaponry that so terrified their enemies, but
the impression the
Celtic warriors gave: the seething rage, the fury of their attacks.
However soberly they made
preparations, in the midst of battle, for a possible retreat, when they were
actually fighting they were
transformed, beside themselves, entranced in a rage for blood. The Romans
later described this
entrancement, for want of a better word, as furor, and they were always in
great fear of it.

If this incomprehensible battle-fury was not proof enough that the Celts
had come out of chaos
itself, further evidence was provided by the most terrifying of their
military customs. This was their
habit of cutting off their enemies' heads and nailing them over the door of
their huts. As Diodorus
put it: 'In exactly the same way as hunters do with their skulls of the
animals they have slain. . . they
preserved the heads of their most high-ranking victims in cedar-oil, keeping
them carefully in wooden

Sounds like Braveheart, aye? Sorry for taking up so much space, but I love
this description and hope some of you do also.

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