A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Albion Armorers Celtic La Tene Type II Sword
A hands-on review by Nathan Bell, with contributions by Chad Arnow
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 sourcesfunerary stelae, friezes, limestone statues, or terracotta figurinesand 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 Tenethat 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.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
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.
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.
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
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Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Jope
Die Kelten, Helmut Kirkhan
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The Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe
The World of the Celts, Simon James
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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