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Ornamentation of the Celts

The Celtic Ornament-The Torc

Of all the Celtic metalworking, the one item that has become most associated with the Celts is the TORC. The torc was a neckband worn most often into combat. Usually made of gold or silver, some were found made of bronze or alloys.

The torcs were very elaborate ornamentation. They were often braided pieces of gold or silver. One torc, for example, the Snettisham torc from England, was made from eight strands of gold twisted together. Each of the eight strands comprises eight lengths of swagged wire twisted together. The ends of the wires were secured in terminals which were originally molded in wax. The ends are lobes of intricately designed work, with a number of designs.

The Greeks recorded the use of the torcs in both their histories and statues. There were a number of statues to fallen Celtic warriors done by Greek artists. Most were after the failure of the Celts to defeat the Greeks at Pergamon. (The Greeks were in deathly fear of the Celts.) Polybius, the Greek historian, said that at the battle of Telemon, "all the warriors in the front rank were adored with gold necklaces and bracelets". A Roman general, T. Manlius, took a collar from a Celtic warrior, and earned the name Torquatus as a result.

The Celts would often go into battle naked, except for the torc. There were reasons other than the purpose of decoration. The torc was also a means of protection. The construction of them was so strong that it would often prevent an opponents sword from penetrating.

Torcs were not isolated to one part of the Celtic world. They were found in burial mounds all over Germany, France, and England. Their recorded use covers all of the reports from the Roman and Greek historians. And one of the most important finds of Celtic artisanship, the Gundestrup Cauldron, from the Jutland peninsula, shows the Celtic god Cernunnos wearing a torc. Other statues from Gaul showed the Celts wearing the torc.

The use of the torc began to die out in the last stages of the Celtic rule of Gaul. However, in Britain, the Iceni queen Boudicca was noted to be wearing a torc as she went into battle.

Burial Rites| Who Were the Celts?| La Tene|Halstaat
Burial Rites| TORCS| Hillforts and Oppida
Boudicca and the Romans| Druids||Social Classes
Terrifying Helmets|Arms And Weaponry|Gods and Goddesses
Were the Celts Illiterate?|European Celtic Place Names