Albion Armorers Celtic La Tene Type II Sword
A hands-on review by Nathan Bell, with contributions by Chad Arnow

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The "Celts" and "Celtic" are modern categorical terms used by archaeologists and historians to describe a group of loosely associated ancient tribes that flourished in the ancient Pre-Christian Europe. These "barbarian" peoples were contemporaries of the Greek and Roman civilizations, and like those ancient cultures, made their presence known across much of Western Europe: from Spain to Turkey and from Britain to Northern Italy. The Celtic tribes were known by having a similar set of languages and dialects, and similar cultural norms, mores, and customs.

Additionally, the Celtic peoples were known for having broad similarities in their physical culture: the artifacts they left behind. Although there were regional variances, it is possible to identify a "Celtic" style of sword for a given time period. The various phases of the Celtic culture are categorized by the major archaeological find sites, and are then further sub-categorized.

A typical Celtic sword of this period is somewhat slender, with a lenticular or diamond blade cross-section. A minority of blades in this period sport a double or triple fullered blade. Blades are generally parallel for much of their length, slowly and gracefully curving to a point. Despite the comments of Classical authors like Polybius and Livy (often repeated without question by modern history writers), a large number of the swords of this period have a very serviceable thrusting point.

In virtually all Celtic sword finds, the organic (bone, wood, horn, etc.) hilt and grip materials are non-existent. What is left is a bell-shaped iron (or, more rarely, bronze) plate at the blade's shoulders and a small discoid washer at the tang tip over which the tang is peened (referred to as a pommel button). The shape of the organic hilt can be guessed at, however, by numerous period sources—funerary stelae, friezes, limestone statues, or terracotta figurines—and the occasional rare find where more decorative metallic components exist. The shape that emerges is a guard that curves to fit the shaped shoulder plate, and a pommel section that is "lobed". The pommel is shown as having two (or more infrequently, three) rounded symmetrical shapes.

Albion Armorers has recreated a sword named after the famous find site of La Tene in Switzerland where dozens of Celtic swords were found preserved at the bottom of Lake Neuchatel. This particular sword is designated a La Tene II or Middle La Tene—that is, it is typical of Celtic swords throughout Europe in the La Tene II period. This period roughly dates from 250 BC to about 100 BC. The blade style recreated here would be particularly fitting for the Second Punic War era.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:1 pound, 14 ounces
Overall length:34 1/2 inches
Blade length:28 1/2 inches
Blade width:1.9 inches at base
Grip length:3 1/2 inches
Guard width:2 3/4 inches
Point of Balance:7 3/4 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:~20 1/4 inches from guard

Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.

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Detail of Pommel

According to the author's references on Celtic arms and armour, there are some differences between Albion's sword and more "typical" examples that may be worth noting. The bullet-shaped bronze finial atop the pommel would more likely be a small, round, domed washer of iron, which would also replace the current shaped pommel plate. Some pommel caps exist on extant La Tene II swords, but from the pictures the author has seen, these take the form of a small iron (or bronze) sphere. The shape of the guard and pommel were more likely to be more lobed and rounded instead of being pointy at their edges. The current shape is quite possible, given that most La Tene sword finds simply have a bare tang, hilt plate, and pommel button; however, the author simply knows of no period depiction illustrating an appearance that is quite so pointy in the pommel. In fact, Albion's first incarnation of the sword seems more on-target with historical evidence. From what we know, the grips of period swords were typically bored-through cylinders of wood or bone, made of a single piece.

Obviously, these differences are all mainly aesthetic, and don't affect the overall fit, finish and handling of the sword. Even given the minor quibbles the author has noted, the overall appearance is visually striking, and the sword is easily identifiable as a version of the La Tene II sword.

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Underside of Guard
Fit and Finish
The carving of the wood on the hilt components is very nicely done, and the fit between the wood parts and bronze plates is generally very good. The spiral-wrapped leather-covered wooden grip is executed well. The peening at the end of the bronze dome is also cleanly done. The blade's finish has been taken to an attractive satin polish by the craftspeople at Albion. Minor finishing issues are a slight gap between the bronze plate and blade shoulder, a very slight wandering of the center line near the blade's tip, and slight asymmetry of the edges of the blade where it curves to the point.

Handling Characteristics
With its mostly wooden hilt components, it is no surprise that this sword is weighted like a cutter, having a great deal of blade presence. The 50% distal taper of the blade does help keep the blade presence from being overwhelming. This sword should have decent thrusting ability due to its diamond cross-section, though that ability will always be secondary to its ability in the cut. The blade actually flexes very little, which made it difficult to calculate the COP using the tried-and-true pommel slap test. The smoothness of the spiral wrap does not add to the tactility of the grip, but doesn't detract from it either. Even after working up a minor sweat while cutting, the grip did not become slippery. Cutting was easy with this sword. Its short length and distribution of weight make it well-suited to short chops.

The sword is solidly constructed and handles well. The Roman and Celtic swords in Albion's First Generation Albion Mark swords have filled a void in the production sword market. To the author's knowledge, the Albion Celtic La Tene II is the only production La Tene II sword that offers a good level of historical accuracy, appropriate weight, balance and handling, and high functionality. The price point of the Albion Armorers First Generation swords makes this a very attractive option for people interested in Celtic history.

About the Author
New father and Cincinnati native Nathan Bell has been interested in ancient arms and armour since before he hit double digits in age. His interests of late have been arms and armor of the Celts.

Finds from the Site of La Tene: Scabbards and the swords found in them, JM de Navarro
Manuel D' Archeologie Prehistorique et Celtique: Second age du fer Epoque de la Tene, Joseph Dechelette
Early Celtic Art, P. Jacobsthal
Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Jope
Die Kelten, Helmut Kirkhan
The Celts, V. Kruta, ed.
The Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe
The World of the Celts, Simon James
The Celtic Sword, Radomir Pleiner
Guerre et Armement chez les Gaulois, Brunaux and Lambot
Gournay III: Les Fourreaux D'Epee, Lejars
Gournay II: Boucliers et Lances Depots et Trophees, Rapin and Brunaux
Swords and Scabbards of the British Early Iron Age, Stuart Piggot
La Tene Swords and Scabbards in Champagne, I.M. Stead
A Doctor's Grave of the Middle La Tene Period from Bavaria, JM de Navarro
The Celtic Warrior Fibula, I.M. Stead
A Find of the Early Iron Age from Llyn Cerig Bach, Anglesey, Fox
The Prehistoric Archaeology of Ireland, Waddell (chapter 8, From Bronze to Iron)
Some Early Iron Age Sword Hilts from Ireland and Scotland, E. Rynne
The Morel Collection, I.M. Stead
A Classification of Pre-Viking Irish Iron Swords, E. Rynne

Photographer: Chad Arnow

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