Could the Celts have used Claymores?

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Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Ian Vawter on February 4th, 2016, 1:42 pm

I was doing some digging on the Celts of Scotland, specifically the Outer Hebrides and came across and interesting bit of information. I found a page on the discussion board Total War. The author of the post says

"According to Tacitus the Caledonian swords of this iron materials, and extreme length seemed a poor choice of a sword to the legions until they saw that these monstrosities could actually be used quickly and efficiently with proper training. The Ninth legion under Agricola, in Britain, feared the barbaric Caledonians extreme advantage in reach, with their overly long swords. He also mentions at the battle of Mons Graupius the use of chariots and darts (javelins)."

This sword described by Tacitus could it be the first Claymore?

I am not able to find Tacitus quote exactly due to my small library. If anyone has it I would love to read it. This is of course pure speculation and most likely has many problems with idea; although it would be an interesting topic of discussions.

Any thoughts on the matter are always appreciated.

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Steven B on February 4th, 2016, 2:40 pm

My guess without having gone and done a bunch of research to back it up is that the swords Tacitus was remarking on the length of were/were similar to spathae. Compared to a gladius, a spatha is indeed much longer. These were eventually adopted into the Roman army as cavalry swords. I highly doubt that they bore much of a resemblance to Scottish claymores. I don't know when two handed swords developed, though I am sure that I can look it up in Ewart Oakenshott's The Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry when I get home.
You may see other Germans proceed equipped to battle, but the Chatti so as to conduct a war. ~Tacitus
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Ian Vawter on February 4th, 2016, 2:57 pm

Thank you for the Reply Steven,

I figured they were alluding to a single handed long sword if you will; like the spatha that you described. But the quote seemed vague enough to me to that there is a possibility of a to handed weapon involved.
I would also have my doubts to it looking like the classic claymore, I guess I should have used the term two handed sword instead.

Let me know what you find, it could prove to be quite interesting!
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Steven M. Peffley on February 4th, 2016, 4:14 pm

There are no (Celtic) swords capable of being used with two hands before about the 13th century at the earliest.
That being said, there were some frightfully large single handed swords. These were exceptions rather than the rule. From Hallstatt period France (Poiseul-la-Ville), a burial mound containing four primary warrior graves each of which had an iron sword of Gundlingen Type with estimated original lengths between 85 cm and 110 cm.
From Late La Tene at Port Nidau, Switzerland I have a report (GewasserFunde aus Port, by Rene Wyss) that lists 82 swords - a number of these are fragmentary. There are however, 34 complete blades with tangs that are 90 cm long or more. There are seven swords in this group that are 100 cm to 106.2 cm. And one of these, at 104.2 cm is an example of a rare type, the Knollenknaufschwert; what I like to call a LaTene Rapier.
I do not have it on hand, but I have heard of a few monstrous Late La Tene examples ranging from 110 cm to 125 cm.
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Ian Vawter on February 4th, 2016, 5:48 pm

Interesting that such large swords were produced that only had capabilities to be used with one hand. Do you think such a large sword would have been used by a chariot rider? It would explain the one hand only, needing to hold on and the length possibly used for chariot v chariot warfare.

I'm wondering if the possibility of a two handed blade is that preposterous though. The remains of weapons that have been found have usually been far from stellar condition, is is possible that the weapons handles simply fallen to the test of time? No accounts what so ever have been found of a two handed sword until the 13th century is hard to believe.

Thank you for siting those archaeological sword finds. Those will be very interesting to look into further.
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Steven M. Peffley on February 4th, 2016, 6:59 pm

"Do you think such a large sword would have been used by a chariot rider?"

Possible. However these swords were not anywhere near as heavy as people might think. Even the minimal difference between iron and steel doesn't amount to more than several ounces in weight if a sword is made correctly. A friend of mine reconstructed a large (though not the largest) La Tene III double-fullered swords. It was 92.7 cm (36.5") in overall length, the blade was 78.74 cm (31") long and 4.5 cm (1.75") wide at the base of the blade (the blade also had little profile taper, but was distally tapered). It weighed 0.70 kg (1.5 lbs).
In addition, you would still be using a shield even when riding in a chariot as you would fighting as infantry.

"I'm wondering if the possibility of a two handed blade is that preposterous though. The remains of weapons that have been found have usually been far from stellar condition, is is possible that the weapons handles simply fallen to the test of time? No accounts what so ever have been found of a two handed sword until the 13th century is hard to believe."

True. However, the votive deposits into lakes (like La Tene) and bogs very often have the deposited objects covered by sediment fairly quickly. This has a tendency to cut down exposure to oxygen and therefore oxidation (rust/corrosion). No joy here for the idea of pre-Medieval Celtic two-handers - the tangs, being the thinnest/narrowest portion of a blade and prone to the most corrosion normally do not show this. In many cases the tangs on these sword blades still show the ends being peened over. This latter really does indicate the total length of the blade and tang in question. In more cases than you might think, the surface condition and edges are very close to the condition they were when thrown into the lake.
There are two-handed weapons found in antiquity, but not among the Celts (so far). The Rhomphaia and Falx, from Thrace (Bulgaria) and Dacia (Romania) respectively, qualify as two-handed weapons in the larger examples. There are also supposed to be two-handed swords found in Sarmatian graves.
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Matthew Amt on February 5th, 2016, 2:39 pm

Had a nice long post almost done this morning and the computer went insane and lost it...

"According to Tacitus the Caledonian swords of this iron materials, and extreme length seemed a poor choice of a sword to the legions until they saw that these monstrosities could actually be used quickly and efficiently with proper training. The Ninth legion under Agricola, in Britain, feared the barbaric Caledonians extreme advantage in reach, with their overly long swords. He also mentions at the battle of Mons Graupius the use of chariots and darts (javelins)."


I'd be surprised if Tacitus said anything like this. It doesn't seem to be the section of his Agricola about the Caledonian campaign:

The Britons with equal steadiness and skill used their huge swords and small shields to avoid or to parry the missiles of our soldiers, while they themselves poured on us a dense shower of darts, till Agricola encouraged three Batavian and two Tungrian cohorts to bring matters to the decision of close fighting with swords. Such tactics were familiar to these veteran soldiers, but were embarrassing to an enemy armed with small bucklers and unwieldy weapons. The swords of the Britons are not pointed, and do not allow them to close with the foe, or to fight in the open field.


This is from http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/ ... _e.html#36 The campaign starts around http://www.forumromanum.org/literature/ ... _e.html#29

You should be able to find most if not all of Tacitus' works online, with some searching. One or two places may even give the original Latin, if you want to get gritty.

This sword described by Tacitus could it be the first Claymore?


No, there's no point in calling it that, even if it were a true two-hander. "Claymore" is used VERY specifically and is loaded with implications and connotations. Suggesting that it was used in a specific form 1500 years before it actually was is just begging for trouble! There's enough flagrant misinformation on places like Total War boards as it is...

Mons Grapius was in 84 AD, by which point the Romans had been using cavalry with Celtic-style long swords for almost 2 centuries. Even in the description of the night attack on the Ninth Legion's camp, there is no mention of any specific fear of local weapons. Obviously these excerpts may not be the only thing Tacitus wrote on the subject! But since no one has suggested this sort of thing before, even those who know the literature very well, I kinda doubt the initial claim can be documented.

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Luka Borščak on February 5th, 2016, 2:49 pm

Plenty of single handers with blades between 36 and 38 inches were used in medieval period by mounted warriors, so long celtic swords would be logical and useful if used by cavalry or charioteeers.
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Ian Vawter on February 15th, 2016, 8:15 pm

Thank you Matthew for the correction.
I am above all else trying to find the ancient truths to the Celts as I suspect we all are attempting. I appreciate you being able to look through the original source of Tacticus. I posted the quotation with speculation and I am happy to see some of the actual text. After I made my first post I began to look over what I wrote and realized that "Claymore" was definitely not the the correct terminology to use. I should have said "two handed swords", I am familiar with the history of the weapon and really used the term to get peoples attention.

I was interested int the quote you posted; it stated that the Celts they encountered did not have pointed swords. Is this fairly common or a happenstance within the tribe they were fighting?

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Ian Vawter on February 15th, 2016, 8:19 pm

Hello Luca,

It seems the board agrees with you. I now stand happily corrected, I think a longer sword would be beneficial in most types of combat. I made reference to the Claymore because through my experience sparring with the weapon many people approach me claiming it is a slow and unwieldy weapon. Which with proper training is definitely no the case. I as well as those I have sparred against have often been caught off guard by a strike that we perceived was going to be much slower than it was.

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Colin McGarry on August 28th, 2017, 2:44 pm

There are a few swords from Ireland and Scotland that have longer tangs/grips than you normally expect to see with other Iron Age and Early Medieval examples. One interpretation is that they could be to allow two handed use, but it could just be a different fighting style or some sort of thick glove/gauntlet, but it's still a possibility, and using a sword with two hands appears in some early Irish sagas, so I wouldn't throw out the possibility.

Here's an example of a sword with a longer grip found in Northern Britain. https://nms.scran.ac.uk/database/record ... chdb=scran
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Matthew Amt on August 29th, 2017, 12:11 pm

Colin McGarry wrote:There are a few swords from Ireland and Scotland that have longer tangs/grips than you normally expect to see with other Iron Age and Early Medieval examples. One interpretation is that they could be to allow two handed use, but it could just be a different fighting style or some sort of thick glove/gauntlet, but it's still a possibility, and using a sword with two hands appears in some early Irish sagas, so I wouldn't throw out the possibility.

Here's an example of a sword with a longer grip found in Northern Britain. https://nms.scran.ac.uk/database/record ... chdb=scran


Better double-check the dimensions below: "Blade 23.00" L; tang 5.50" L"

Even if you allow only a minimal amount for guard and pommel, you can't have more than 4-1/2 inches for the grip. Same as any other single-handed sword grip through history.

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Colin McGarry on August 29th, 2017, 2:55 pm

The guard is in the metal, and maybe the pommel as well (I can't tell from the picture if that's a full pommel or just a cap), so I would argue that much more of it would go towards the grip-- possibly all of it
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Matthew Amt on August 30th, 2017, 12:11 pm

Colin McGarry wrote:The guard is in the metal, and maybe the pommel as well (I can't tell from the picture if that's a full pommel or just a cap), so I would argue that much more of it would go towards the grip-- possibly all of it


Okay, but that's still too short for a 2-handed grip. Plus, the blade is only 23 inches--2-handed short sword? I doubt it.

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Edwin Deady on September 3rd, 2017, 11:09 am

I can use two hands with my single swords quite easily. Try it rather than speculate. Even use Albans or Britons rather than Celts perhaps. I felt very foolish when I bought a seax with a long handle and cut the handle down not having seen pics of double seax. These had relatively short blades compared to swords but doubling must have had some utility.
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Matthew Amt on September 3rd, 2017, 11:23 am

Edwin Deady wrote:I can use two hands with my single swords quite easily. Try it rather than speculate. Even use Albans or Britons rather than Celts perhaps. I felt very foolish when I bought a seax with a long handle and cut the handle down not having seen pics of double seax. These had relatively short blades compared to swords but doubling must have had some utility.


Well, I guess if I saw a mighty Celtic warrior charging at me with no shield and a 23-inch sword in a two-handed grip, it might be very effective because I would fall down laughing...

Yes, I can use two hands on a dinner fork. Doesn't make much culinary sense to do it very often, eh?

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Edwin Deady on September 3rd, 2017, 3:22 pm

Ever read of the effect of a charging Afghan with a khyber knife or a Ghurka with kukri or a Malay with a large kris etc? Short blades can be very effective. Can't be bothered to look it up in Oakeshott but if you look up Archaeology of Weapons there is an account of someone preferring seax to sword. Two handed length handle does not preclude single use. Not quite the same but my much shorter foil bladed smallsword can easily defeat hand a half swords with much longer blades.

Welsh knifemen were included as part of English expeditionary forces. Finally, the Australian Light Horse successfully charged using their 21 inch bayonets from horseback in the Battle of Beersheba.
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Edwin Deady on September 3rd, 2017, 3:26 pm

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Matthew Amt on September 4th, 2017, 9:43 am

Sorry, Edwin, I think I'm not getting your point. To me, the sword in the photo that Colin posted is a perfectly normal sword from an era when the vast majority of combatants in close action used SHIELDS. You just don't need to use it 2-handed, and doing so makes you an instant target for every opponent in range because you have no shield. Sure, you can use your friends' shields for cover, but with that kind of reach? What's the point? The only reason I can see to use 2 hands on a blade like that would be to increase the damage done, for instance if beheading a prisoner or slaughtering an animal. But this just isn't the ideal implement for that sort of thing. It's not going to hack through helmets or armor, either.

Kukris and khyber knives are wonderful things, of course! But were they primarily used 2-handed on a battlefield full of shielded opponents? I'm betting not.

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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Edwin Deady on September 4th, 2017, 11:23 am

The facts remain that there were two handed short bladed weapons, single swords can be wielded with two hands and Dacians used big concave bladed scythes with two hands without shields. Fights were more complicated than uniformly armed bodies facing off. Just think, archers marching in the early Greek phalanx, who would have thought it?
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Re: Could the Celts have used Claymores?

Postby Matthew Amt on September 6th, 2017, 9:15 am

Edwin Deady wrote:The facts remain that there were two handed short bladed weapons, single swords can be wielded with two hands...


There just isn't any indication that this was at all common for Celtic warriors, though. Nor are there any short-bladed swords from that general time and region with demonstrable 2-handed hilts. Five inches of tang won't do it. You can wear your trousers on your head, but they're still trousers.

...and Dacians used big concave bladed scythes with two hands without shields.


Yes, the falx is a large weapon with plenty of reach that benefits greatly from being used 2-handed. The grip more than 2 feet long. And as I said, men with 2-handed weapons were protected by their shield-wielding buddies.

Fights were more complicated than uniformly armed bodies facing off. Just think, archers marching in the early Greek phalanx, who would have thought it?


Absolutely! Doesn't bring us any closer to Celts with 2-handed swords, though.

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