Celtic Iron Age Chariots


According to Caesar, the European Celts made wide use of chariots in warfare with a warrior standing behind the seated driver. The Celts extolled virtues in a chariot driver such as turning in a tight circle, backing up straight and leaping over chasms. Caesar also claimed to witness reckless and dangerous feats such as the warrior running along the pole to stand on the yoke of the horses or the driver urging the horses to jump logs and ditches at full speed. The latter, a back and neck-breaking stunt if performed in a farm-cart, might work with a chariot if it had a flexible spring suspension allowing the vehicle to actually lift off the ground. So, what were the chariots like and how were they used?

Rather than use the chariots as an attack vehicle, they were more likely to be used as a mode of delivery to the battle line. Racing up and down between the opposing forces, warriors would bellow out their battle cries and challenges above the roar of the heavy iron rimmed wheels, to intimidate their opposite number before dismounting and advancing on foot to accept an offer of single combat. The chariot driver would then retreat to a safe distance and wait for the return of victorious warrior or make ready for a speedy retreat if things went badly.

Made from sturdy ash wood, apart from the one-piece, iron rimmed wheels, which was probably a Celtic innovation – and hub fittings, chariots had double arched sides with the main frame lashed to the axle and the pole using wet rawhide which shrank tight, pulling joints together securely. Inside the arched sides was a Y shaped rawhide strap suspending an independent platform within the main frame. Leather slings supporting a carriage body were a tried and tested method of suspension and were still widely used in the stagecoaches of the Wild West.

chariotThe wooden spoked wheels were positioned beyond the edge of the body, offering greater stability and better cornering while the hilly, bumpy, boggy and rutted rough terrain made the need for a driver to be seated as he would have had a lower centre of gravity, adding to the overall stability.

The internal platform frame, again made from ash, was suspended from the main frame by leather straps and supported by two underneath battens fastened to the Y straps. A long strip of rawhide made the warp and weft of the platform, on which the warrior would stand, giving just the right amount of give and springiness to counteract a rough ride.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence of the Irish Celts ever having used chariots but I am afraid historical accuracy did not prevent me from making extensive use of chariots, as evidenced in the following excerpt from the chapter Claiming Emer in Part Two of my novel, Raiding Cúailnge.

Laeg hopped onto the open front of the chariot, taking the reins in his left hand, his right shoulder against the right forward side arch of ash wood with one foot braced against the opposite arch, his right foot extended onto the pole leading to the yoked ponies. At a nod from Sétanta, he expertly guided the light chariot over the coarse grassed, bumpy plain, rutted with old chariot tracks, to the north of Brúgh na Bóinne and forded the Boann river heading south towards Luglochta Logo, the iron-shod wooden wheels sending up gouts of water on either side of the chariot, drenching Sétanta, who balanced easily on the interwoven strips of rawhide which made up the springy strap work floor.

“Hold on,” shouted Laeg, the cold wind whipping his long hair back as he urged the ponies on and over the first of the horizontal logs which made up the corrugated trackway of oaken beams laid over the boggy ground stretching before them. Sétanta grunted and allowed his knees to bend slightly to counteract the jolting although the rawhide straps supporting the body of the chariot provided a rough suspension.

Illustration: British Museum.










I seem to have spent a lot of time recently doing just about everything else except write another book. After all, it is nearly two years since I finished the first draft and more than three months since I uploaded it as an eBook but it seems I’m busy all the time, so much so that I never have time to write, or so I tell myself!

In an attempt to continue the deception, I spur myself on to do loads of unnecessary things as quickly as possible, so that I will have cleared a space in which I can write. It’s a bit like the clear the desk syndrome, sharpening all the pencils and making sure the eraser is to hand, that kind of thing.

I’ve even written stuff on my blog instead of actually sitting down and writing my novel. It’s almost as if I am frightened to start – frightened in case I can’t finish it, frightened that it will be no good, frightened that I will never actually start it in the first place, frightened that it will take me too long, frightened that it is beyond my skills, frightened that … I could go on and on but here’s the point.

Absolute nonsense, isn’t it?

Anyway, back to the title, I have been inspired.

One of my best friends has just completed an incredible walk / hike through an amazing group of European countries – a trans-national Camino-style adventure from Vienna in Austria through Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Slovakia to Trieste, Italy. Here’s the website http://www.peacewalk.eu

Owen mentioned some time ago that he was planning to walk this incredible route from south of Vienna all the way down to Trieste in Italy, cutting through six different cultures over three wee11990651_673887186079775_6898935564980170547_n-2ks or so but, I have to confess, it didn’t stir my interest at the time, being more interested in getting my book into shape than I was with myself. Anyway, my last attempt at a serious hike was about three years ago and I pulled out after the first day. I felt it was too much for me and that I just wasn’t able for it. In truth, I hadn’t prepared myself mentally for the challenge and I certainly had done nothing in the way of physical preparation.

And my niece is doing the incredible – actually cycling from South Korea across China and all the K-stan countries and over the Pamir highway and down into central Europe and on to the UK and Ireland, a total journey of gargantuan length. I suppose it has to be pretty much the same route the Mongol Khans took when they headed over into Europe. Fascinating. Take a look at Steph’s website and be even more fascinated. http://bike-back-home.blogspot.com.au

Incredible adventures, wonderful experiences. And I envy them and can’t help thinking why I haven’t done something like that for ages.

So, inspired by the two examples above, I am committing myself to doing that European Peace Walk or something similar in 2017. Too late to do it now, this year – thank God, so that gives me time to prepare and get myself ready to walk 25 – 35 K a day, carrying my own bag.

For too long I have been sedentary. I sit around all day messing about writing and fiddling with the website and the layout, graphics that sort of nonsense. But if I am not going to write something, I have to get up and be more active. There are always jobs to do in the garden now and then but then I do nothing for ages and yet I don’t manage to write or produce anything!

I remember a time when I stood on the top of the world looking down at the sun rising below my feet while I shivered in my sweat drenched clothes and I felt wonderful. I remember feeling superhuman when I reached the summit of Mt. Kinabalu in Sabah in Borneo, about 4100 metres high and high enough that oxygen became a problem in the last few hundred metres of the ascent.

And since then? I’ve never had that amazing sense of exhilaration that I had that Saturday morning, a quarter of a century ago.

OK, there is my new learning curve – shit or get off the pot, to put it bluntly. Write a new book or start training for a six or seven hundred kilometre walk in June or July next year.