Celtic sword from the La Ten period

Celtic sword from the La Ten period

Celtic sword from La Ten (phase Laten II (c. 250-120 BC)

There were four types of Celtic warriors: heavy infantrymen, light infantrymen, horsemen and chariot fighters. The presence of all four species is attested by Polybius. According to all ancient sources, heavy infantrymen were primarily swordsmen, and lightly armed ones were dart throwers.

Dionysius describes how the Celts lifted swords above their heads, rotated them in the air, and then brought down the enemy as if chopping wood. It was this handling of the sword that terrified their opponents. However, the Romans soon learned to cope with this; Polybius reports that they began to take the first blow to the upper edge of the shield, reinforced with an iron plate. From a blow to the iron edge, the sword was bent, and the Celtic warrior was forced to straighten his leg, which opened up the legionary the opportunity to attack a temporarily unarmed enemy. In addition, the legionnaires found that as long as the Celt delivers a chopping blow with their sword, they can ward it off with a shield and strike it from under the shield into the stomach. Diodorus emphasizes the length of the Celtic swords compared to short ones (probably Greek or Roman). A somewhat exaggerated length appears in other ancient sources. This is not entirely true, since during the time of Celtic domination, i.e. in about 450-250 BC, their blades were quite short, reaching about 60 cm — no longer than those used by the Etruscans and Romans at that time. Longer swords came into use only from the end of the 3rd century. BC, and continued to use them until about the 1st century. BC.

All swords found are divided according to the adopted periodization system of the Lathen period and have corresponding dating. Laten I swords (450-250 BC) have a blade length of 55 to 65 cm. The exception is 1, in which it reaches 80 cm. All of these swords are double-edged, with a pointed tip and belong to the pricking chopping type. The most characteristic feature of this early weapon is the special shape of the sheath tip.

During the Laten II phase (c. 250-120 BC), the swords turned into weapons, which were used to inflict chopping blows. The tip of the sword became rounded, and the length of the blade gradually increased until the blades reached 75–80 cm. The weight of such a sword with the hilt reached about 1 kg. Although the old form of the sheath tip continued to be used in the Balkans, in Western Europe it began to more closely follow the outline of the sword itself. Literally hundreds of them were taken from the lake near the village of La Ten in Switzerland, and although it is possible to identify local differences that affect mainly the shape of the scabbard, the Latin type fully reflects the characteristic features of the swords of that period. The sheath (usually iron) was made of two plates. The front, which was slightly wider than the back, bent around it at the edges. The sheath was reinforced with a decorative pad at the top and a tip that strengthened the entire structure from below.

During the Laten III phase (120-50 BC), the length of the blade continued to increase. In some of the samples found, it reaches 90 cm. Although swords with a pointed tip still continued to exist, the type rounded at the end began to prevail. The long scabbards that are shown in this group are found in Britain. The shape of the scabbard clearly goes back to the Lathen culture, but their considerable length — about 84 cm — suggests that they should be attributed to a later period.

Based on the available photos of dug swords and descriptions of archaeologists, we reconstructed the Celtic sword from La Ten (laten phase II (c. 250-120 BC). Basel Museum. Switzerland. We also used the experience of Patrick Barth.