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Barbarians and Celts

The Ancient World and Fashion > The Roman Empire

A Frankish warrior, armed with his throwing axe, known as a francisca.

Celtic warriors
Celtic warriors

Celtic warriors usually wore thick woolen clothes with bold patterns of checks and plaids.

A Celtic bronze shield dating from around 350 BCE.

Although the Romans were very successful at conquering the peoples of Europe, there were some tribes who resisted them.The Roman army fought constant battles with the Celtic people, while tribes of Germanic people from northeastern Europe launched frequent attacks on the empire’s borders.

Celtic bronze shield
Celtic bronze shield

Barbarian Warriors

By the third century CE attacks on the Roman Empire by Germanic tribes were growing more serious. The Romans called these tribes “barbarians” and fought fiercely to keep them out of their lands. Eventually, however, Rome was invaded by barbarians, and in 476 the Roman Empire collapsed in western Europe. Rome was threatened by many warlike tribes, but one of the most terrifying were the Franks, who originally came from Germany. Frankish warriors carried circular wooden shields and fought with spears and lethal throwing axes called franciscas.They wore rough coats made from furs, short tunics and leggings, and boots cross-laced around their calves. However, the most striking aspect of the warriors’ appearance was their hair.This was worn in a pigtail at the front, and shaved at the back with an extra topknot of hair sprouting from the top of the head.

Celtic People

The people known as the Celts were made up of many different tribes, but they all shared the same language and way of life.The Celtic culture began in Austria around 800 BCE, and the Celts gradually spread across most of Europe, settling as far north as Scotland and as far south as Turkey. As the Roman Empire grew, the Celts fought hard to defend their lands, but in the end most of them were conquered. However, Celtic culture survived in Ireland and remote parts of Scotland and Wales, while in Cornwall and Brittany some Celtic traditions remained.

Celtic Dress

Celtic men wore short, belted tunics and baggy pants tied at the ankle with strips of leather, while women wore long dresses with belts. Both men and women often wore chunky neckbands, known as torcs, made from twisted bands of gold. In battle, Celtic warriors wore bronze helmets, which were sometimes crowned with horns or animal ornaments. They carried bronze shields, fought with spears, and blew on tall war trumpets decorated with animal heads. To make themselves appear more intimidating to their enemies, some Celtic warriors stripped to the waist and painted their bodies with swirling patterns, using a blue dye called woad. They also combed lime through their hair to make it stand up in spikes.

Celtic Metalwork

The Celts were skilled metalworkers who made strong weapons and tools. They also created beautiful cups, shields, and items of jewelry from bronze, silver, and gold. Some of these objects, dating from around two thousand years ago, are decorated with intricate swirling patterns, and the same sort of patterns appeared much later in Celtic medieval art.

Checks and Plaids

Celtic clothes were woven from wool and dyed bright colors, and often featured patterns of stripes, checks, and very simple plaids. These simple designs were probably the origin of the traditional plaid patterns later used in Scottish kilts.

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