First century AD British Celtic warrior
Boudica’s army was formed of British Celtic warriors organised in tribal contingents, led by chieftains, and accompanied by druids, trumpeters, and standard-bearers. The elite used chariots and sometimes wore armour, but ordinary tribesmen fought as infantry, usually with only a shield for protection. Boudica’s army was essentially a tribal militia of under-trained and lightly-equipped farmers.
Some men in the ranks may have had helmets or at least a leather cap, but most were probably bare-headed, for Celtic warriors are sometimes described as having blue tattoos and lime-washed spiky hair. They wore homespun tunics, trousers, and cloaks, often made from colourful tartan cloth, though some may have stripped to the waist for battle, perhaps to expose talismanic tattoos across the chest. Personal ornament may have included torcs (neck-rings), bracelets, and decorated belt-fittings.
The Celts carried large body-shields, usually oval in shape, made of wood, and provided with a metal boss and perhaps decorative devices. They were armed with spear and sword. The spear was principally a throwing weapon, though it could also be used for thrusting. The sword was the more important armament, being a relatively long (55-75 cm), double-edged, slashing weapon.
Celtic infantry tactics were therefore an awkward combination of shield-wall defensiveness and ‘heroic’ sword-duelling. Though unarmoured, the Celts fought in the manner of heavy infantry, closing with the enemy in dense masses, relying on shock action rather than missile-shooting. On the other hand, they were not drilled to fight as a team, and their principal weapon required space for long sideways or overhead sword-swings.
This contradiction between tactical organisation and weapons system, combined with lack of protection, almost guaranteed defeat in any head-on collision with Roman legionaries.
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