Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>225BC Celtic gaesata
Subjectgaesata mercenary spearman
Culture: Gallic Celt
Setting: middle La Tène period, southern Europe / Anatolia 4th-1stcBC
Evolution500BC Hallstatt warrior > 225BC Celtic gaesata

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* 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."

* Bennett 1998 p123
"Gaesati  transalpine Gallic warriors probably armed with the gaesum, a long, heavy Gallic throwing spear.  According to the Greek historian Polybius, in 225 BC they were hired by the north Italian Gallic tribes called the Insubres and Boli for a campaign into central Italy that ended at Telamon.  In the imperial period numeri of Raeti Gaesati appear from inscriptions to have been stationed throughout the Roman Empire, although little is known about them.
    "Stationed in front of the main army at Telamon, the Gaesati displayed their naked physiques and gold torcs in an intimidating fashion (they may have fought naked for ritual reasons).  However, they were ill-equipped to deal with the skirmishing tactics of the Roman velites and broke under a prolonged hail of missiles.
    "A further 30,000 Gaesati were hired by the Insubres in 223 BC and were probably present at the Celtic defeats of Clastidium and Mediolanum."

* Bennett 1998 p296
"soldurii (singular soldurius)  infantrymen who made up the bulk of Celtic armies.  The rewards gained by displays of personal courage and skill in battle made the Celtic soldurii ferocious and aggressive soldiers.
    "While nobles wore helmets and, from about 300 BC, mail armour, the soldurii fought naked or stripped to the waist, carrying only a shield.  Effects such as war paint and lime-washed hair were used to intimidate their opponents.  By engaging in battle cries, taunts, boasts, and acts of intimidation the soldurii worked themselves into a frenzy before they engaged the enemy in a mass charge.
    "The battle lines were open-order to allow each man room to use his slashing sword or thrusting spear in single combat.  The head of the vanquished was taken as proof of valour, while booty from the enemy camp was also motivation for determined fighting.  These trophies enhanced the status of individuals within their society."

* Royal Armouries Museum > War Gallery
"The La Tène Celts fought principally on foot, armed with long iron cutting swords.  They relied more on ferocity in the charge than on defensive armour, and frequently fought naked."


* Wilcox/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."

* Müller/Kunter 1984 p18
"Der <<Montefortino-Type>> hatte eine halb- bis dreiviertelkugelige Helm glocke miteiner Tülle auf dem Scheitel für den Roßhaarbusch. Der untere Helmrand war meist gerade abgeschnitten, an der Rückseite saß ein kurzer gerader Nackenschirm, an den Siten hingen Wangenklappen. Kinnriemen sicherten den festen Sitz auf dem Kopf."

* Bennett 1998 p219
"Montefortino helmet  Celtic helmet found in the 4th-century BC Gallic cemetery at Montefortino, near Ancona, Italy.  In its widest sense, the term is used as a general name for all helmets with a back peak and integral topknot.  Hundreds of examples have been found all over western and central Europe.
    "The Montefortino helmet was adopted by the Italic peoples and became the first truly Roman helmet.  Most examples are made of bronze and many Celtic examples are partly lined with iron.  The helmet type survived until superseded by the Coolus helmet and Imperial Gallic helmet around the end of the pre-Christian era (early 1st century BC)."

* Capwell 2007 p10
"The style is now known as the 'Montefortino' type -- named after the town in north Italy where a large number of helmets were found in a Celtic burial ground.  Montefortino helmets were drawn out at the back to form a lip, and the lower edge of the helmet was usually decorated with simple lines and cross-hatching.  The most recognizable feature is a little knob on the top of the skull, pierced to hold a horsehair plume.  These helmets also had cheek-pieces, but these rarely survive.  Sometimes the cheek-pieces were made of hardened leather, which over many years rotted away.  More usually they were made of bronze but attached to the helmet with leather tabs, which disintegrated causing the cheek-pieces to fall off."


* 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 champlevé 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/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."


* Allen/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/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'."

* Barker 1981 p112-113
"Some fanatical warriors ... fought completely nude, stiffening their hair with a mixture of lime to make it stand out in a horrifying white mane.  These congregated in small bands and were used much as Norse berserks later, their charge preceding the mane engagement and hopefully disordering and dismaying the enemy.  Such bands were called 'Gaesati'."

* 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)."


* Wilcox/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."


* 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/Reynolds 2002 p24 = 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."

* Kelten und Germanen 1964 p8
"Das La-Tène-Schwert, aus dem keltischen Oppidum Alesia stammend, ist lang, gerade, zweischneidig, mit parallelen Seiten und abgestumpfter Spitze.  Es ist nicht mehr ein Stichschwert wie alle Schwerter der Bronzezeit, sondern ein Hiebschwert.  Die Querstege gehören bereits zur Schwertscheide."

* Burton 1884 p266
"The northern neighbours of the Celtiberians -- the warlike old Keltic Gauls -- were essentially swordsmen: they relied mainly upon the Claidab.  When they entered Europe they had already left behind them the Age of Stone; and they made their blades of copper, bronze, and iron.  The latter, as we learn from history, entered into use during the fourth or fifth century B.C., the later Celtic Period, as it is called by Mr. Franks.  The material appears to have been, according to all authorities, very poor and mean. [CONTRA Allen/Reynolds 2002 p24 = Allen 2007 p117]  The blade was mostly two-edged, about one mètre long, thin, straight, and without point (sine mucrone); it had a tang for the attachment of the grip, but no guard or defence for the hand.
    "Yet their gallantry enabled the Gauls to do good work with these bad tools.  F. Camillus, the dictator, seeing that his enemy cut mostly at head and shoulders, made his Romans wear light helmets, whereby the Machairæ-blades were bent, blunted or broken.  Also, the Roman shield being of wood, he 'directed it for the same reason to be bordered with a thin plate of brass' (copper, bronze?).  He also taught his men to handle long pikes, which they could thrust under the enemy's weapons.  Dionysius Halicarnassus introduces him saying, while he compares Roman and Gaulish arms, that these Kelts assail the foe only with long lances and large knives (μάχαιρας κοπίδες) of sabre shape."

* Barker 1981 p112 (describing Gallic warband infantry)
"The men illustrated typify the traditional Gallic mode of infantry warfare, a wild charge with sword or light spear, accompanied by a shower of javelins.  The sword illustrated is the best known variety, though some recent archaeological evidence suggests that it was not necessarily the commonest.  It is a long clumsy slashing weapon with little point, said to bend in action and require straightening out with the foot. [CONTRA Allen/Reynolds 2002 p24 = Allen 2007 p117] ...  It should be noted that the long sword's hilt was not big enough to allow it to be used two-handed."

* Burton 1884 p268
​"Polybius, recounting the battle at Pisæ, where Anerœstes, king of the Gaesatæ, aided by the Boii, the Insubres, and the Taurisci (Noricans, Styrians), was defeated by C. Atilius (A.U.C. 529=B.C. 225), shows the superiority of the Roman weapons.  He describes the Machairæ of the Gauls 'as merely cutting blades ... altogether pointless, and fit only to slash from a distance downwards: these weapons by their construction soon wax blunt, and are bent and bowed; so that a second blow cannot be delivered until they are straighened by the foot.'  The same excellent author, when describing the battle of Cannæ (B.C. 2016) tells us that Hannibal and his Africans were armed like the Romans, with the spoils of the preceding actions; while the Spanish and Gaulish auxiliaries had the same kind of shield, but their Swords were wholly unequal and dissimilar.  While the Spanish Xiphos was excellent both for cutting and thrusting, the long and pointless Gallic Machæra could only slash from afar.  Livy also notices the want of point and the bending of the soft and ill-tempered Keltic blades."


* Wilcox/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."

* Barker 1981 p112
"The chopped oval was the favorite shield for infantry, then true oval, with round and other shields a long way last."


* Barker 1981 p112
"There was also a much shorter kind [of Gallic infantry sword], possibly carried as a secondary weapon by men who fancied themselves as spear wielders."

​* Burton 1884 p267
"According to Poseidonius, the Gauls also carried a dagger which served the purpose of a knife, and this may have caused some confusion in the descriptions."