To the Romans the Celts were barbaric, not least because they had pushed down through Italy and even sacked Rome itself in 386 BCE. This arrogance masked a highly successful people whose society was not as sophisticated as that of Rome, yet could still produce wonderful metalwork and exquisite art. As with so many societies the prowess of the warriors was of great importance, and in countless raids young men sought to enhance their prestige and prove themselves in each others eyes. Ultimately Celtic culture was pushed to the very edges of Europe, but all agreed that the Celts were superb warriors overwhelmed by a more organised Rome.
When a Celtic warrior took the field of battle he could present any of a range of appearances, and this has already been explored in several previous sets from various manufacturers. None of the figures in this set are naked, which was a practice mainly associated with the early Celtic period, and not when the Celts faced Caesar and the Imperial legions. Many are bare-chested and others are wearing shirts, while a few have mail armour. Mail is generally thought to be a Celtic invention, yet it was expensive and therefore restricted mostly to the aristocracy who could afford it. For most their only chance of such an armour lay in liberating it from a fallen enemy, so after Cannae for example many Celts might have worn mail, but in general mail was unusual and this is reflected well in this set. Of the mail that is on show here, two styles are evident. The first is most closely associated with the Celts, and has a ‘cape’ around the shoulders. The second has pieces over the shoulders attached in a similar manner to the Greek linen cuirass, which is authentic but incorrectly reverts to the curved ‘cape’ shape at the back.
The subject of helmets can excite much debate amongst amateur historians. Helmet styles varied with time, location and many other factors, but those that appear on the seven helmeted poses in this set all look authentic. Several have very exotic, and therefore expensive, crests and horns, and all can be directly traced back to surviving examples found in various parts of Europe. The unnecessary expense of such things made them very rare – far more rare than their frequency in this set might suggest – but a swift action with a knife would remove them and leave a much more common plain style. The author was once told that, as such surviving helmets were clearly ceremonial, their presence in such a battle set must be an error. This is clearly nonsense, as the existence of an example for ceremonial purposes does not preclude a similar design built for real war, so while we would suggest nearly all be trimmed if depicting a representative group, all the designs here are undeniably authentic and make a very impressive figure if left on.
Many of those that are bareheaded seem to show the stiffened lime-washed hair of which ancient writers speak, although this was not universal in any case. Staying with the costume there are no problems here, and many of the men can clearly be seen to have the torcs which warriors often wore.
As we have said before, warriors with edged weapons and shields can only properly be represented if at least one (and usually both) are separate. Many of the poses in this set have ring hands to take the separate weapons, while all the shields are separate. These items are provided on a separate sprue, of which there are six in each box. The sprue contains swords and spears/javelins to allow some flexibility in pose – those in our pictures are merely examples and some poses could take either weapon. The shields are a mix of the normal oval as well as rectangular, hexagonal and round, and all are fine. They all have designs known to be appropriate, although we would have preferred undecorated, and all fit onto pegs on the figure’s hand, giving a correct impression of the way the shield was held if leaving it a little away from the hand itself. Nevertheless this is a good fit and works well here. Sword scabbards are mostly on the left hip, which again suggests a date later in the Celtic period rather than earlier, as do the fairly long sword blades. One figure has been given a sling, a weapon known to have been used and potentially just as deadly as a sword, but not seen as a weapon of honour.
We never tire of praising the lifelike, energetic and natural poses that Caesar come up with for their figures, particularly those with edged weapons. This set is no different, with a very real sense of movement in the moving figures and even the stationary examples have their body weight correctly positioned to show the force they are putting into their actions. As usual a multi-piece mould has given far more scope for this kind of great pose without excess plastic or the need for assembly, and also as usual the results are stunning, with all bar the first pictured figure having their shield in a believable position. The standard of sculpting is beyond reproach, with the face of the man holding up the head of a defeated foe being about the best of an all first-class bunch.
There have been several very good sets of Celts before this one, yet this set more than justifies its existence by being at least as good as any of them.