Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Celts through Roman Eyes

By Darren Kneen

'The Celts had drawn up the Gaesatae from the Alps to face their enemies on the rear ... and behind them the Insubres .... The Insubres and the Boii wore trousers and light cloaks, but the Gaesatae in their overconfidence had thrown these 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 would catch on their clothes and impede the use of their weapons.' On the other hand the fine order and the noise of the Celtic host terrified the Romans; for there were countless trumpeters and horn blowers and since the whole army was shouting its war cries at the same time there was such a confused sound that the noise seemed to come not only from the trumpeters and the soldiers but also from the countryside which was joining in the echo. No less terrifying 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 gold torcs and armlets. The Romans were particularly terrified by the sight of these men, but, led on by hope of gain, they were twice as keen to face the danger. '... to the Celts in the rear their trousers and cloaks afforded good protection, but to the naked men in front events turned out differently to what they had expected and caused them much discomfiture and distress. For since the Gallic shield cannot cover the whole body, because they were naked, the bigger they were, the more chance there was of missiles striking home. At length, unable to ward off the javelin throwers because of the distance and the number of javelins falling upon them, in despair and distress some rushed upon the enemy in wild rage and willingly gave up their lives; others, retreating step by step towards their comrades, threw them into confusion by their manifest show of cowardice.' - Polybius, Battle of Telamon, 225 B.C.E.
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