Celtic Warfare, Part III—War Chariots and Cavalry
Celtic Warfare, Part III—Chariots and Cavalry
In this post, Christian author Mark Fisher continues his look at Celtic warfare, with Part III—war chariots and cavalry. (Click here for Part I, Part II, or Part IV.)
What did the Romans most fear about fighting the Celts? What did the Celts have that unnerved even their best-trained troops?
The Celts used chariots and cavalry to make their forces quick to respond to changing conditions on the battlefield. Hundreds of years before the Romans and Celts collided, most armies of the time had abandoned chariots for use in battle. But not the Celts. With their iron working skills, they actually improved the war chariot.
They added stronger wheels and made them big enough so the bed could carry both a charioteer and a warrior. Sometimes, the axles were fixed with scythes or blades. In battle, a number of Celts’ chariots could race to the flanks of their enemy, drop off warriors where they were least expected, then retreat. Used in conjunction with cavalry, this would unnerve and cause panic in an enemy used to a slower moving, less mobile antagonist.
From The Celts, by Peter Berresford Ellis:
“A thousand Celtic chariots took part in the battle of Sentium (295 BC) and also at Telamon (225 BC).
“Diodorus Siculus comments:
“When going into battle, the Celts use two-horsed chariots which carry the charioteer and the warrior. When they meet with cavalry in war, they throw their javelins at the enemy, and, dismounting from their chariots, they join battle with their swords . . . they also bring freemen as servants choosing them from among the poor, and these they use as charioteers and shield bearers.”
Thus, the cavalry and chariots would break the Romans’ front lines and the chariots would drop warriors at unexpected positions, creating a highly mobile infantry.
Chariots were used in ancient Ireland. Indeed, the bog roads that spanned the great mire across the center of Ireland were built wide enough such that two chariots could pass abreast. (See my posts on The Mysterious Bog Roads of Ancient Ireland.)
The Celtic Cavalry
Besides their chariots, the other secret weapon of the Celts was their cavalry. The Celtic cavalrymen were the best in the world. In fact, the best Roman cavalry was composed of Celtic riders. The Roman Strabo says: “Although they are all fine fighting men, yet they are better as cavalry than as infantry and the best of the Roman cavalry is recruited from among them.”
The Celtic cavalry could attack swiftly, causing panic among the enemy. They could also dismount and fight as infantry. Sometimes servants, also skilled riders, rode alongside the warrior. In battle, these assistants held back, watched, and waited for moments when they could come to the warrior’s aid. If his mount should fall, they could sweep in with a new horse. If he lost a weapon, they could provide a new one. They could even take his place if he, himself, fell.
The Celtic Saddle
Another innovation was the Celtic improvement of the saddle. They created four-pommel saddles—two behind, and one on each side by the thigh. And like everything else, some of their saddles were intricately decorated.
Next week, we’ll continue our look at Celtic warfare with Part IV—The Elite Units.
Sources for this post were The Celts, by Peter Berresford Ellis and Wikipedia.
Mark is the author of The Bonfires of Beltane, a novel of Christian historical fiction set in ancient, Celtic Ireland at the time of St. Patrick. To learn more about his book, follow the link above.
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