About Ancient Celtic Clothing


One of the most widespread cultures in the pre-Roman period of Europe was the Celtic people. Consisting of tribal bands, their culture spread from the British Isles in the west to Anatolia in the east. It was their clothing that most separated them from the Romans who saw the Celtic mode of dress as proof of their barbarity.


There is not much physical evidence of ancient Celtic clothing surviving today, as the materials used were apt to decompose over time, especially in the wet European climate. The only information that is available are accounts of the Roman and Greek people who met these Iron Age people on a regular basis. In fact, it was the mode of dress that the Celts used that set them apart from other people the Romans had encountered to that point–something the Romans took as a sign of the Celt's barbarity.


Most of the clothing worn by the Celts was composed of wool, leather or occasionally linen. Silk may have been used by very wealthy ancient Celts as well. The evidence found in uncovered mines and ruins in Austria suggest that the ancient Celts were very sophisticated weavers and would often dye their clothing with readily available pigments.


The materials were fashioned into long-sleeved tunics, breeches and cloaks. There is no evidence that the ancient Celts ever wore kilts, the skirt-like clothing of Irish and Highland Scottish fame. In fact, Roman legions at the time wore long tunics that came to mid-thigh, creating a more kilt-like dress. In descriptions of the Celtic clothing, Roman authors were generally dismissive of the breeches and tunic combination. Kilts were apparently not adopted by the remaining Celts of Ireland and Scotland until about the 16th century. At the time, the Celts of the British Isles were considered barbarians and their distinctive style of dress supposedly proved their barbarity to the tunic- and breech-wearing English.


Jewelry played a functional and aesthetic part in the Celtic wardrobe, as well. Pins and clasps were used to hold cloaks in place while forearm bracelets and the famous torc was used as bodily adornment. The torc was a solid piece of metal or metals that was shaped into a large "C," usually with balls or other adornment on the ends. This was then placed around the neck like a necklace with the open part of the "C" facing the front. Gold and silver were common metals used, as was copper and other attractive metals.


In addition to clothing, Celtic men occasionally painted their bodies with a dye made from Woad, a relative of the mustard and cabbage family. The plant produced a blue dye that the Celtic men used to adorn their bodies, though whether as paint or as tattoos, it is unclear. Occasionally, Celtic warriors would run into combat wearing nothing but their Woad markings.

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