Celtic Warriors

Anglorama nr 1/2006 (33)
 Celtic Warriors

Kiedy półnadzy i pobieleni wapnem ruszali do boju, ich przeciwnicy widzieli w nich demony a nie ludzi. Ich męstwo, ale i okrucieństwo były legendarne. Jacy naprawdę byli celtyccy wojownicy?

No historian writing a book about Europe would dare to miss out a passage on the ancient Celts. They were a fascinating bunch of people. The pottery wheel was one of their groundbreaking inventions as well as something which today we could only describe as the prototype of the  harvester. A number of artifacts have been reclaimed by archaeologists - coins, jewelry, household utensils and weapons – that would easily impress modern artists with their original design and lavish ornamentation.
Although the Celts never managed to build a unified state, they conquered a number of nations. For all their love of dancing, feasts and storytelling, they were by far one of the most daring and fierce races of the ancient world.

The tools of war
The ingenuity of Celtic “engineers” was ever so astute when warfare was the issue.  It was they who invented the chain mail. Back then it was a revolutionary idea. What they did was create a protective garment made of many thousands interconnected rings of iron. Their brainchild was effective enough to be copied by the Roman legionnaires and gladiators. The Celtic craftsmen might have been proud to hear it but funnily enough they never really took to wearing it themselves. First of all, it was too expensive and secondly only a wimp would put it on before a fight. The war chariot was something of a Celtic 'weapon of mass destruction'. These days people imagine it as something that would run over Roman soldiers like a tank or cut them in halves with the blades that were attached to its wheels. That, of course, is not true. It was used to transport a warrior who would throw javelins at the enemies and then get off the vehicle and fight on foot.

In the heat of the battle
Any Roman chronicler seeking publicity could always resort to depicting the wild fury of the barbaric Celts. They were said to attack the enemy lines with no strategy whatsoever but with enough vehemence to obliterate the other side. Celtic warriors must have been quite a sight on the battlefield. They would charge the enemy wearing little or no armor at all. Actually, some of them went into combat stark naked except for extensive tattoos. To intimidate the enemy with demonic look, they would also decorate their bodies with dark blue patterns or apply lime to their hair so that it protruded like hedgehog's spines. On their necks and arms they would wear torques. These were thick metal bands that would supposedly provide the owner with superhuman strength and courage. As mentioned before, Celts despised armor. They were very superstitious and they believed firmly that if gods had wished to protect you, no armor would have been necessary. On the other hand, if they had lost divine patronage, no armor would have saved them.

The spiritual aspects of cutting off someone’s head
Celtic Mythology included a number of deities that appreciated battle carnage. An Irish Goddess Macha, for instance, was believed to fly over battlefields in the guise of a raven to enjoy the sounds of bones breaking and people screaming in agony. In the 1st century AD, Diodor of Sicily referred to the Celts as infamous “throat cutters”.  For all we know, he was probably right. They believed that your entire strength and wisdom were hidden in your head. While still being attached to the corpse, the head had the power to resurrect it. Violent as it seemed, decapitation was then a justified self-defense measure. Another good reason for severing the head was the notion that the wisdom it contained could somehow pass on to you. What is more, the head of a prominent enemy was an admirable trophy. Obviously, one would love to take it home to show it to the kids and then possibly hang it over the fireplace. For that reason, particularly valuable heads were conserved in cedar oil.

The heroic queen
There are many legends and stories about Celtic women warriors. The most famous of these was queen Boudicca who lived in Britain in the 1st century A.D.
In his last will her husband relinquished some of his lands to Roman invaders hoping that it would buy peace for his people. The Romans wanted more and they took it without asking. When Boudicca complained to the Roman governor, he had her whipped and her teenage daughters raped by his soldiers. It was more than this proud Celtic woman could take. In the year 60 A.D she initiated an uprising that involved thousands of people suffering the Roman yoke. The rebels burnt down a number of Roman cities and massacred almost 70,000 of legionnaires and colonists. They got very close to winning back their freedom but the Roman army prevailed once again.  The queen is believed to have poisoned herself to avoid humiliation at the hands of her enemies.

Marcin Lutomski

to miss out – pomijać
pottery wheel – koło garncarskie
groundbreaking – przełomowy
harvester - kombajn
to reclaim – odzyskiwać
daring - odważny
warfare – działania wojenne
chain mail - kolczuga
brainchild – idea
to take to – polubić
wimp - mięczak, słabeusz
chariot - rydwan
vehemence- gwałtowność
to obliterate – unicestwiać
stark naked – całkowicie goły
lime - wapno
carnage – rzeź, masakra
guise – przebranie
decapitation – ucięcie głowy
measure – środek
to relinquish – zrzekać się
to rape - gwałcić
uprising- powstanie
yoke – jarzmo

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