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CELTIC CHAINMAIL

Mac Congail

The popular image of naked barbarians rushing headlong into battle depicted by
ancient and neo-classical historians, and encapsulated in classical works of art such as
The Dying Gaul or The Galatian Suicide may have fitted the preferred stereotype of
the Celts as naked savages in the eyes of the civilized Greco-Roman world, but
archaeological evidence indicates that the real Iron Age Celtic warrior was a much more
formidable figure.
Diodorus (v,30:3), Strabo (II, 3:6), Appianus (Syriaca 32, 1-3), Livy (37:40) and Varro
(De Ling. Lat. V, 24:116) all mention that the Celts used chainmail, with the latter
explicitly stating that they invented it. However, what does the available archaeological
evidence tell us of the chronological development of this technology?

Gallo-Roman statue of a Celtic warrior in chainmail


(Museum Calvet Avignon, France)

Chainmail from central and western Europe, with the exception of a piece from VielleTursan (Aubagnan) dated circa 200 BC, refer to the late La Tne period (Boyrie-Fni,
Bost 194:160, Rustoiu 2006; examples from Als Island in Denmark originated from the
central-eastern European sphere Randsborg 1995, Roustoiu 2006 with discussion and lit.).
However, the vast majority of finds of such defensive armor from the late Iron Age come
from Eastern Europe. In the Carpathian Basin the earliest chainmail has been found at
a burial in Horn Jatov (Slovakia) dated to the LT B2 period (first half of the 3 rd c. BC)
(Rustoiu 2006:50), while numerous other examples of Celtic chainmail have been

recorded in Romania Ciumeti, Cugir, Ceteni, Poiana-Gorj, Popeti etc. (Rustoiu op


cit 49, with cited lit). In Ukraine, chainmail has also been recorded at the Mutyn site
excavated in 2009/2010 on the banks of the river Seim (middle Dneiper Basin). At
Mutyn a dozen rich Celtic warrior burials have been registered, all dating to the late
1st c. BC, and the inventory, besides the aforementioned Celtic chainmail, also included
13 La Tne swords, scabbards, spearheads and shield bosses, as well as 5 La Tne
helmets, at least 2 of which are of the Novo Mesto type (Kazakevich 2012).

Chainmail from the Celtic Chieftains Burial at Ciumeti, Romania (mid 3rd c. BC)
(see Prince of Transylvania article)

South of the Danube in Thrace two distinct concentrations of Celtic chainmail finds are
to be observed on the territory of modern Bulgaria, dating from the 3rd c. BC onwards.
The first is centered around the hillfort at Arkovna which was the centre of the Tyle
state in eastern Bulgaria. In this area examples have been recorded from Dalgopol
(Lazarov 2010), Kalnovo (See Kalnovo article), Kyolmen, and Jankovo (Torbov 2004) as
well as further finds from the Shipka/Kazanlak area in the Valley of the Thracian

Kings (Sashova, Slavchova and Tziakova tumuli; Kitov 2007 See Behind the Golden
Mask article) and Bryastovetz (Burgas region) (Torbov 2004; Borangic 2011).

Celtic Chainmail from Northwestern Bulgaria


1. Varbeschnitza
2. Vratza
(after Torbov 2004)

The chainmail from the vicinity of the Celtic hillfort at Arkovna, (Dalgopol district,
Varna region) and Yankovo (Schumen district) also dates to the 3rd c. BC., while that
discovered in the rich Celtic chieftains burial in Sashova Tumulus near Shipka in the
Valley of the Thracian Kings, like the Kalnovo burials, dates to the late 3rd/ beginning
of the 2nd c. BC (Manov 2010).
The second concentration of Celtic chainmail in Thrace relates to a later period (2nd
1st c. BC) and is located in the Vratza/Lovech region of northwestern Bulgaria where
finds have been recorded at Vratza, Tarnava, Varbeschnitza, and Mezdra (all Vratza
region), and at Smochan and Dojrentsi in Lovech region (Torbov 2004). Chainmail is
also recorded from the Celtic burials at the Panagurischte Kolonii site (Pazardjik region)
Domaradski 1984:136), and has been found at Rozovetz (Plovdiv region Shkorpil H.,
Schkorpil K. 1895: 125), and at Ravnogor (Pazardjik region) (Torbov 2004).

In addition to the aforementioned finds from various Celtic burials across Bulgaria,
representations of warriors wearing such chainmail are also to be found on a number of
other late Iron Age artifacts, particularly from the area of todays northwestern
Bulgaria. Such is the case, for example, with depictions of warriors on a late Iron Age
gold jug from Mogilanska Tumulus in Vratza, or the appliqus from the Letnitza
treasure (Lovech region) which was found slightly to the northeast of the aforementioned
Celtic burials at Smochan and Dojrentsi, where chainmail and other La Tne material
was also recorded.

Celtic warrior in chainmail depicted on an appliqu from the Letnitza treasure

Depiction of a warrior wearing chainmail on a gold jug from Mogilanska Tumulus


(Vratza reg. n.w Bulgaria)

Also noteworthy are a number of bronze appliqus from chainmail discovered at


various sites in Romania and Bulgaria. Hemispherical bronze discs from Celtic
chainmail have been discovered at sites such as Matochina (Haskovo region) (Lazarov
2006: 171, 178. Fig. 11) and Panagurischte Kolonii in Bulgaria (Domaradski 1984:136), as
well as Ciumeti and Targu Mure in Romania.

Bronze disc/appliqu from the chainmail at Ciumeti (After Rusu 1969)

Bronze Triskele appliqus from the Trgu Mure chainmail (After Berecki 2010)

Among the Turkish Celts (Galatians) the use of chainmail is attested to by Appian
(Syriaca 32, 1-3) and Livy (37:40) and included in the depiction of Celtic military
equipment at Pergamon (Rustoiu 2006:55). At the Battle of Magnesia in December 190
BC when the Celts supported Antiochus III (the Great) against the Romans led by
Consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio, of the Celtic warriors in Antiochus army we are
informed:

His horse was stationed on either wing consisting of the mail-clad Galatians and the
Macedonian corps known as the Agena. (Appianus, Syr. 6)
On the right of the phalanx Antiochus stationed 1,500 Galatian infantry and 300 cavalry
clad in mail armour. (Livy 37:40)

Archaeological confirmation of the use of chainmail by the Turkish Celts has been
recorded at the royal cemetery of the Galatian Tolistobogi (-boii) tribe at Karalar
(Turkey) (Arik, Coupry 1935:140).

Celtic shields and chainmail depicted on the weapons frieze from Pergamon

Thus, an analysis of the available archaeological evidence from Europe and Asia-Minor
would appear to confirm Varros claim (De Ling. Lat. V, 24:116) that chainmail was first
invented by the Celts and, as has been pointed out (Rustoiu 2012), the chronological
framework of the evidence from southeastern Europe clearly indicates that such body
armor was first developed by the Celtic tribes of south-eastern Europe.

Literature Cited

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Revue archologique 6, Paris 1935. P. 133-151.
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