Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg

Email:
ruel@
ForensicFashion.com

>Costume Studies
>>225BC Celtic gaesata


Subjectgaesata mercenary spearman
Culture: Gallic Celt
Setting: middle La Tène period, southern Europe / Anatolia 4th-1stc BC





Context (Period Sources, Event Photos)

* Cunliffe 2008 p361
"La Tène society was based on warrior prowess and success in the raid.  With more young men wishing to compete for status and with the general population increasing, the only safety valve was to find new homelands from which successful raids could be mounted -- homelands preferably within easy reach of rich pickings.  The Po valley offered the wealth of Italy, the Carpathian Basin had Thrace and Macedonia on its doorstep, from Transylvania raids could be mounted into the north Pontic zone, and from central Anatolia there was a broad periphery of ripe cities to prey on.  Instead of being passive recipients of luxuries from the Mediterranean, the communities of the Middle European zone now set out to acquire them for themselves. There was also a social imperative.  Since status was predicated on aggressive leadership, engagement with the Mediterranean world offered not only raiding opportunities but also the chance to sell mercenary services.  Dionysius of Syracuse recruited Celtic mercenaries to fight with him in Greece.  Mercenaries also found employment in the service of Hellenistic states in Anatolia and Egypt.  Mercenary activity was little different from perpetual raiding."

* James 1993 p80-81
"It was common for Celtic warriors to go freelance, literally, seeking their fortune as mercenaries beyond their own tribe.  Perhaps a mechanism for peacefully removing surplus young men from within a group, this seems to have become a highly organized practice.  In the third century BC there were thousands of young warriors in Transalpine Gaul called Gaesatae, meaning 'spearmen' .  Polybius wrongly (but significantly) translates the word as 'mercenaries', because they were available for hire.  The Gaesatae mounted expeditions of their own volition, and it was their appearance uninvited in Italy that precipitated in the campaign culminating in the battle of Telamon in 225 BC.  The Gaesatae had a powerful esprit de corps, and contemporary observers noted that they in particular fought naked at Telamon: their Cisalpine Gallic allies fought in breeches and cloaks."

* Ellis 2004 p73
"The Gaesatae were not a tribe at all but a group of élite professional warriors who fought naked for religious purposes as they believed that it enhanced their martial karma, their spiritual vibrations in battle.  This contact with Mother Earth added to their spiritual aura, ensuring rebirth in the Otherworld if they perished in this one.  The word 'Gaesatae' has a cognate in the old Irish gaiscedach, a champion or one who bears arms.  Gaisced is a word for weapons, and gaesum is a spear.  We have an entire series of words from this root such as gaisemail (warlike or valiant), gaiscemaicht (military prowess and wisdom) and gaisce (wisdom)."

* Freeman 2006 p96-97
"Gaulish kings also made use of an important safety valve for hot-blooded warriors and potential rivals.  Mercenary service among other Gauls or in distant lands was a convenient outlet for restless and ambitious young men who might threaten the king's power if they stayed at home.  Brennus and his band fighting against the Greeks for plunder in Delphi or Galatians battling Egyptians for pay beneath the pyramids -- all were Celtic warriors fighting outside their tribes in a time-honored tradition.  The naked Gaesatae who fought the Romans at Telamon in Italy came from tribes in Long-Haired Gaul.  These mercenaries probably consisted of disgruntled nobility and landless sons of the warrior class.  It's likely their tribal kings were at the front of the crowd cheering as they marched far away from home."


Helmet

* Wilcox ill. McBride 1985 p15
"The Montefortino 'jockey cap' evolved about the beginning of the 4th century BC, the finest examples of these beautiful headpieces being found in Italy although they originated in barbarian Europe.  They were to prove extremely popular throughout both Roman and Carthaginian armies.  When later versions were mass produced, their quality deteriorated.  The helmet was held in place by straps which ran from the neck guard, where they were attached, to metal loops, hooks or studs on the lower part of each cheek guard.  Crests were of several types, known examples having several knobs at the apex, metallic branches from a central insert, and hollow finials to accept feather or flowing horsehair plumes.  The helmet shell was sometimes fitted with slots or pockets for flat metal 'horns' to be slid into place on either side of the skull."

* Healy 1997 p25 caption
"Probably the earliest representation of a Gaul in Italian art comes from a red-figure vase.  As the detail from it shows, he carries the distinctive oval Celtic shield, and wears a helmet of 'Montefortino' type."


Torc

* Sloss 1999 p36
"Possibly the best known item of jewellery worn by the Celts was the torc, a large gold or bronze necklace.  It is said that in battle a torc was all the Celt wore, other than war paint.  They were almost always penannular (almost a ring, with a round 'boss' at each end).
    "These bosses were sometimes separate, sometimes interlocking and sometimes connected by a chain.  Often torcs were made up simply of multiple twisted strands of gold melted together at the ends, though a few had designs carved or moulded into them, and some of the later ones had coloured enamel champlevE designs.  Most of the early designs were bands of interlocking spirals, all slightly different variations on a basic spiral shape.Otherwise they were almost invariably reflected across the vertical line (the front of the throat) like mirror designs."

* Konstam 2001 p112 (quoting Polybius' account of the Battle of Telamon 225BC)
"[T]he Gaesatae in their overconfidence had thrown these [trousers and cloaks] aside and stood in front of the whole army naked, with nothing but their arms; for they thought that thus they would be more efficient since some of the ground was overgrown with thorns which could catch on their clothes and impede the use of their weapons.  [...]  No less terrifying [than the noise of the Celtic host] were the appearance and gestures of the naked warriors in front, all of whom were in the prime of life and of excellent physique.  All the warriors in the front ranks were adorned with golden torcs and armlets."

* Allen ill. Reynolds 2001 p21-22
"Of all the Celtic jewellery, the most impressive in the eyes of Mediterranean commentators was the neck-ring, or 'torc'.  To the Romans it characterised the Celtic warrior although it was not unique to the Celts.  The torc could be of gold, bronze or iron according to the wealth of the wearer.  It is quite possible that it possessed a symbolic significance since not all were made of precious metal.  It was almost certainly an indication of rank (the Gauls presented a golden torc to the Emperor Augustus supposedly 45 kg [100lbs] in weight), with perhaps in some cases ritual or religious overtones.  Many representations of Celtic deities are portrayed wearing the torc."

* Jimenez 1996 p29
"The Gaesatae, a group of mercenaries brought in from beyond the Alps, fought naked in the forefront of the battle line, adorned only with gold armlets and gold torques around their necks."


Nudity

* Allen ill. Reynolds 2001 p27
"... Celtic mercenary warriors, sometimes referred to as Gaesatae, formed distinct groups outside the traditional social structure of the tribe or clan.  The 'proud confidence in themselves', noted by Polybius may provide an explanation of why Celtic mercenaries had such a penchant for nudity in battle.  First and foremost, it identified the individual warrior as a member of this select group.  The warrior who chose to become a mercenary was bound by rules of conduct, taboos or geissi, other than those which governed his normal life within the clan.  he would, at the very least, have dedicated himself to his fellow Gaesatae and very likely to a god of war, for example Camulos in Britain and Gaul.  Thus, nudity on the battlefield assumes ritual significance.  Protected and empowered by divine forces, the warrior displays his strength and perhaps his personal wealth also, and has no need for either armour or clothing.  The fact that he carries a shield does not contradict the assumption of divine protection.  The shield, like the spear and sword, was part of the warrior's panoply; it was not only his right but also his duty to bear them."

* Ritchie 1995 p29-30
"... Polybius describes a contingent of Gaesatae (sometimes taken as mercenaries, now more often as spearmen), which took part in the battle of Telamon; they came from beyond the Alps to help the Gauls already in north Italy (for example the Boii and the Insubres).  The Celts of north Italy wore trousers and cloaks, but the Gaesatae fought naked.  At the battle of Cannae (216 BC) Polybius describes the naked Celts and the Iberians with their short linen tunics with purple borders, and Livy speaks of the Gauls naked from the navel up and of the Iberians with dazzlingly white tunics bordered with purple.  The Celts in Asia Minor seem to have preserved this custom, for they too are described as naked in battle with skin white because they were never exposed in except in battle.  Camillus, trying to raise the morale of the Romans after the seige of the Capitol, pointed to some naked Gauls and said: 'These are the men who rush against you in battle, who raise loud shouts, clash their arms and long swords, and toss their hair.  Look at their lack of hardiness, their soft and flabby bodies, and go to it'.  Dionysius of Halicarnassus expresses the same sentiments: 'Our enemies fight bare-headed, their breasts, sides, thighs, legs are all bare, and they have no protection except from their shields; their weapons of defence are thin spears and long swords.  What injury could their long hair, their fierce looks, the clashing of their arms and the brandishing of their arms do us?  These are mere symbols of barbarian boastfulness.'"

* Dougherty 2015 p174
"Among the ... Gallic populations in Italy were the Gaesatae, who often fought as mercenaries alongside other tribes. Indeed, some ancient historians translated their tribal name as 'mercenaries' although 'spearmen' or 'javelinmen' is probably a better translation. The Gaesatae are recorded as fighting naked, and some sources note that this was to prevent their clothing from being damaged if it snagged on brambles, an assertion that raises some questions. It is debatable whether anyone, clothed or not, would try to fight amid brambles, and if this did occurr [SIC] then one must wonder how effective a naked man can be while trying to wield a sword among sharp thorns.
    "Such is the nature of ancient writings."

* Krätzer 2013 p49
"The explanation Polybius provides here for the nudity of the Gaesataes has been widely rejected by modern scholars.  Why should only the Gaesataes undress when hindered by brambles growing on the battlefield?  Perhaps Diodorus Siculus got closer to the truth when he ascribed the Celtic custom of nude fighting to some sort of death-defiance: 'Certain of them despise death to such a degree that they enter the perils of battle without protective armour and with no more than a girdle around their loins' (Library 5.29.2)."

* Duffy 1996 p82-83
"In the third century B.C. the notoriously well-dressed Celts sometimes employed bands of gaesatae or spearmen who were known to fight naked for religious reasons.  Relatively few in number, they were professional soldiers who fought for whatever ruler wished to retain their services.  The sculptures made by the Greeks of Pergamum reflect this practice, the extent of which was exaggerated by the reproduction and distribution of the sculptures, and by both classical and more modern writers.  As Professor Powell reminds us, however, the custom of fighting unclothed had been widespread by other peoples in Greece and Italy."

* Allen ill. Reynolds 2001 p60
"The Gaesatae formed a distinct grouping outside the normal structure of Celtic society and could be compared to the Jomsvikings and Native American warrior societies.  The principal characteristic that made them immediately identifiable on the battlefield was their custom of fighting naked.  Their ritual nudity was probably linked to the sacred rules of conduct that governed many aspects of the warrior's life.  It engendered a strong esprit de corps among the members of such groups and, according to Polybius, 'a proud confidence in themselves'."

* McIntosh 2006 p307
"Some Celtic warriors such as the Gaesatae, who faced the Romans at Telamon, enhanced their prestige by fighting naked (a practice that, while exposing them to greater likelihood of injury, ironically greatly reduced the risk of their wounds becoming infected)."


Spear

* Wilcox ill. McBride 1985 p21-22
"Spears and javelins of bronze and iron took various forms and sizes.  In general, spearheads were larger during the first and second La Tène phases, from the 5th to the first quarter of the 1st century BC.  The most typical Celtic designs have edges curving inwards from the belly of the blade to its tip, giving the impression of an elongated point."

* Allen 2007 p116
"The Greek writer Strabo commented that the Celtic warrior carried two types of spear: a larger, heavier one for thrusting, and a smaller, lighter javelin that could be both thrown and used at close quarters.  Spearheads of different shape, size and weight found at La Tène indicate a variety of uses.  Ash was a common wood for the shaft, which was fitted with a bronze butt spike to provide a counterweight for the head. ...  Two complete spears were recovered from the lake deposits at La Tène, each 2.5m (8ft 2in) long."


Sword

* Venner 1986 p27
"La tactique de combat des Celtes était celle du combat rapproché à l'épée.  L'attaque était préparée par une volée de javelots.  Puis, aussitôt, avec des hurlements terrifiants, on passait au corps à corps.  Alors que pour l'hoplite grec ou romain, l'épée était une arme accessoire, utilisée comme secours si la lance était brisée, pour le Celte, elle était l'arme principale.  Les épées proevenant des sépultures des différentes époques de la Tène montrent des formes et des longueurs qui varient fortement das le temps.  L'épée courte d'estoc et de taille était en principe destinée à l'infanterie et l'épée longue, à la cavalerie."

* Allen ill. Reynolds 2002 p24 (repeated in Allen 2007 p117)
"Archaeological evidence has proved that Celtic swords were of high quality, flexible and with a sharp, strong cutting edge, contradicting Polybius' comments that in battle the blade quickly became so bent that the warrior had to straighten it with his foot.  Confusion probably arose over the practice of ritually 'killing' a sword by deliberately bending it as part of a burial ceremony or sacrifice to the gods."


Shield

* Wilcox ill. McBride 1985 p18
"Remains of long Celtic shields have been discovered at La Tène in France, Hjortspring in Denmark, and in Ireland.  The La Tène examples were originally oval and about 1.1 metre long; they are made of oak planks which were chamfered to a thinner section towards the rim.  The centre was reinforced by a wooden spine, swelling in the middle, which was hollowed out to correspond with a round or oval cut-out in the shield centre.  The hollow was usually protected by a bronze or iron strap-type boss which crossed over the wide section of the spine and was riveted through the shield.  The hand grip was fashioned in wood, sometimes reinforced with a metal strap riveted through the shield.  The flat area of the face and back of the shield was covered with leather or sometimes perhaps with felt.  An extra metal binding or 'piping' was applied to the upper rim of some shields to guard against downward strokes of sword or axe, which could split the wood."

* Allen 2007 p118
"The warrior's principal protection was his shield.  Celtic shields were generally oval in shape or sometimes an elongated hexagon.  They were made of thin planks of oak or lime wood covered in leather.  The resulting construction was both light and resilient, essential to the warrior who held the shield by a central horizontal handgrip, wielding it not only to defend himself but also offensively to punch at his opponent.  His hand was protected by a hollow wooden boss that sometimes extended into a central spine to reinforce the face of the shield.  The boss was often itself reinforced by a bronze or iron plate.  More rarely, the shield might be edged with a metal strip to better deflect blows.  Examples discovered at La Tène measure approximately 1.1m (3ft 7in) by 0.6m (1ft 11in)."

* Freeman 2006 p106-107
"Archaeologists have found ... Celtic shields from Egypt to the British Isles.  They were larger than Roman shields and required a strong arm to carry through a long battle, but their length gave added protection from spears and arrows.  They were normally made of brightly painted wood with metal around the edges and protruding centerpieces, called bosses.  Sometimes a layer of bronze was added to the face of the shield, but the extra security this gave was offset by increased weight.  Most Celtic shield bosses discovered so far are simply rounded disks fixed to the fronts of the shields that stick out just a few inches.  These bosses were crucial both for absorbing blows and, as Posidonius says, as instruments for pressing and smashing against an enemy in close-quarters combat.  The individual decorations Posidonius describes have been amply verified by archaeologists.  Beautiful examples of La Tène art, the motifs on the shields range from simple patterns of curving lines and circles to elaborate representations of animals and birds."