Sunday, 21 April 2013

Oh...those Stylish Celts - My S for the Day

S is for Style

Hello there! I’m still continuing my Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71-84 posts.

According to Roman writings the Celts were as fastidious as the Romans about personal hygiene and kept themselves clean on a daily basis. It would not have been such an easy job washing oneself if living in a Celtic roundhouse compared to the spectacular bathhouses the Romans frequented, but accounts indicate regular washing was the norm.  As far as I can see there was little, if any, communal aspects to Celtic bathing though evidence does suggest that latrine pits/ areas were likely in the roundhouse villages.

Hot water could only be produced from the fire so it was important to keep that fire going all day long.   

The Celts liked bright clothes. Evidence of woven patterns has been found in fragments of woollen cloth, the fibres of which had been dyed with berries and lichens.

The typical Celtic male in Britannia AD 71-84 would be wearing clothing appropriate for the climate. In modern day Scotland, or the borders area between Scotland and England - areas which feature in my historical novels- that would mean wearing warm woollen clothing to ward off the cold and damp, the snow, and the searing winds during the winter months. Little was likely to change during the warmer months- a long sleeved tunic might be replaced by a short sleeved one.
It appeared the well dressed Celt liked to have braies (trousers) in different patterns from the tunic. A bratt (cloak) was worn to ward off the chills and to enwrap themselves, if sleeping rough while travelling. The belt was an important part of the outfit as it could be both decorative, the leather studded with copper or gold embellishments, and also functional as it secured the waist pouches and scabbards for knives and other items. The sword scabbard might also be hung from the belt. Leather footwear was sometimes stuffed with mosses or perhaps wool to warm the feet, thronged crosswise over the bottom of the braies to keep them in place.

Some fantastic jewellery has survived showing that the goldsmiths were excellent craftsmen – bratt pins, gold neck torques and armbands had superb designs and were sometimes enamelled or with precious stones incorporated in the designs.

The hair tended to flow below the shoulders, often cut short at the crown, and with two thin braids hanging at the ears. The shorter hair at the crown appears to have been 'lime' smeared to create spikes. This application of lime paste would also have ligthened the hair and may, perhaps, have given the illusion that they were all light haired.

Female dress was simple.  A loose flowing tunic would hang to almost ground length and was tied at the waist with a cord or leather belt. Like the males it was also functional and an array of pouches suspended from it would hold a knife and other small items like a comb. A bratt also enwrapped them to keep out the draughty chills though these may have been a bit shorter than that of a Celtic male.
The woman’s hair was worn in two long braids hanging at the front or the hair might be worn loose. Golden circlets have been unearthed which would have held the hair back from the brow on females of higher status in the tribes; likewise armbands, neck torques and bratt pins.

Footwear was likely to be similar to the men.

Make-up? Wode for war was elaborate and part of the whole ritualistic build up to battle. Whether they always went to war naked or naked from the waist up, their wode decorated bodies were intended to intimidate-along with their hollering and chanting.

I have made no mention of the warriors in THE BELTANE CHOICE taking time to decorate themselves with wode but it just might appear in the sequel!   

My internet access is seriously limited at this time of posting or I'd give many references to great sites for viewing Celtic gold and silver and wode decorated warriors. They are out there!


  1. What an information packed post - I feel a lot smarter than I did a few minutes ago. Keeping themselves clean daily when it was cold enough to need so many layers must have been pretty miserable.

    Hope you’re having fun with the A to Z challenge,

    1. I am thank you, Jocelyn. I'm thinking of making a 'book' out of my Celts/ Romans posts.

  2. Brilliant post. Very informative. I'd now go back and read all your posts. Love this series. and yes, a book is a very good idea :)

    1. Hello Deepa. Thanks for the lovely comments. Glad you're enjoying my series.

  3. I need to go back and read more. I love all the history. Makes total sense being a former social studies teacher but I taught in the United States, so obviously I had to teach U.S. History,mostly. Anyway, I find all this history fascinating.
    Lucy from Lucy's Reality

  4. I have to look it for you Nancy, but I have article clipping I save here somewhere on my harddrive about the Royal Celtic graves they dug up in Heuneburg - just like shows in your link. Instead of the usual archaeologic dig-on-site excavation, the scientists decided to sink steel plates into the entire area surrounding the grave and squeeze the loam together and transport something to the tune of 3.5 cubic metric tonnes of earth into their labs. There they used an MRI scanner to photograph the layers of earth before removing them, so they had a 3-dimensional picture of the clothing of the Celts as they orginally appeared in their graves. They found out things they never knew, such as red was the colour for clothing worn by Celtic royalty. They also wore leather jackets with the studs you mentioned, and so sort of leather belt sashes also studdes with bronze and copper studs. They were able to photograph remnents of hairstyles, and found that women wore small braids with gold clasps. I will have to look up this article and send to you from this tattoo guy from Britain. He tried using woad and found out that it burns worse than stinging nettles. It itches, burns and will make your skin red and swollen. Thinking he might have had a rash, he let someone else try, and found the same thing. He thinks that Celtic war paint was mixture of copper ore, grease and chalk, because he says no one could have worn woad paint without getting a horrible rash. He thinks it was only used for making the world-famous "Lincoln Green". As far as jewellery, the Celts were by far the most superior goldsmiths in the Roman Empire, inventing gold wire before any other folk. Hence the Celts were traders and farmers first, and warriors only if they had no other choice. Here's a picture of a gold bead from Heuneburg. The gold wire is less than 1 mm in thickness - something they can only reproduce with modern metal-working equipment. How the Celts were able to make such filligree jewellery is still a mystery.

  5. Hi Coral. That's a fantastic response, thank you. If you find the article I'd appreciate looking at it. I hadn't heard about the 'woad' burning, but since they used lime for their hair it would make sense for them to use the grease/chalk copper ore (which from my science lessons many years ago was a very colourful product).


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