Celtic Weapons

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgCeltic Weapons

Let’s get down to a bit of nitty-gritty and look at Iron Age Celtic weapons.

The weapon of choice was, of course, the sword. Heavy iron swords were used for cutting and slashing. With the advance of smelting technology, high quality, flexible blades with a sharp cutting edge were developed. Swords forged from meteorite iron were rare and considered invincible.

Swords scabbards were made of bronze, wood or leather while highly decorated swords hilts were considered a sign of the high status warrior.

In addition to the sword, the spear, a large, heavy one used for thrusting, was the primary weapon used both in  hunting and in war . A smaller lighter one was used for throwing from horseback or chariot and for close quarters use. Spear blades were often serrated to lacerate the flesh on withdrawing. Note the extraordinary weapon Cú Chulainn used with such devastating effect, the Gae Bolga – a short stabbing spear, which opened up its thirty barbs when jerked back, making it impossible to withdraw it.  At one point in the epic, Cú Chulainn orders his charioteer to cut the weapon free from the body as the only way of retrieving the spear.

Kill shots with the spear would be to the face, the throat and groin. Against enemies with shields, often only the top of the head and shins are exposed.  Warriors would stand perpendicular to their enemy in one-on-one combat, their knees bent to lower their centre of gravity, aiming to provide a narrow target to their opponent.

celtic-shield-1520617Long rectangular shields, unlike the later round shields of the Viking era, were made of wood or leather with a central, external boss (a central hub) made of bronze to protect the hand on the inside.

Helmets were made of leather, soaked, salted and then covered with lacquer to harden it.

Iron mail shirts were first invented c 300BCE but were worn only by the noblest and most high status warriors.

Cloth and leather slings, bows and arrows were not considered to be a warrior’s weapons. The warrior’s goal was to engage the enemy in single combat and behead him. To kill from a distance and not to see the victims face, where was the honour in that?  Nevertheless, throughout the Táin, on which I based my novel, Raiding Cúailnge, Cú Chulainn, in his single handed defence of the north from the invading army of Connacht, relies on picking off Queen Medb’s forces with skilful, long distance sling shots, using river pebbles or hard-baked balls of clay.