Celtic Headhunters

There is a theory that in Japan, the Samurai would take the head of its enemy after a battle. In the 14th century, victorious warriors often only received rewards for success in war if they proved their achievements by presenting the decapitated heads of enemy warriors to their leaders. Decapitated enemy heads thus became a bizarre currency of a military accounting process which rewarded victors only if they could furnish proof of their military accomplishments.
The Samurai had a very strict set of conduct during battle. When faced with an opponent, the Samurai would yelled out his name, ancestry and previous deeds of heroism to identify himself before the fight. After defeating his enemy, the Samurai would pay complements to the dead soldier prior to severing his head. Before battle, each warrior would burn incense in his helmet so that in the event that he lost, the adversary would have a pleasant smell after severing the head.
As this tradition was heavily documented..the Celts had being cutting the heads off their enemy long before the Samurai even existed!

The Celts believed the soul, or what they defined as the soul, lived in a person’s head. Therefore, heads of enemies were often taken, not only to show battlefield victory, but also to steal the life essence from their enemies. These were brutal times. I’m sure that most of you who have researched something on the ancient Celts have come across one or more images of them carrying severed heads attached to themselves or their horses. This is not a myth. To add to this belief of stealing the enemy’s soul or essence, the Romans found this Celtic practice was a very useful way to reward their Celtic allies and to get an idea how many kills were made. A Celtic warrior working for the Romans would often bring back the heads of the enemy for which he’d be paid by a Roman commander, just as soldiers in the French and Indian War in the middle of the 18th century were paid for the scalps of the dead enemies. Headhunting was a regular occurrence on the barbarian frontier among the barbarian tribes, and many Celtic warriors outside of the army may have acted as freelance bounty hunters, working in gangs to root out barbarian bandits and bringing their heads back to display in a marketplace before collecting their money.

There is evidence to suggest that the positioning of skulls, discovered during excavations of Celtic earthworks, indicate that heads were displayed upon entrance gates of hillforts and sanctuaries. The shrine at Roquepertuse in modern day France was entered through a brightly painted stone archway, into which human skulls were placed in niches within the upright pillars.

A stone tete coupee, complete with grasping hand was unearthed in Entremont, along with numerous head groupings. Many have been found throughout the British Isles, with a great many found within the kingdom of the Brigantes in the north of modern day England.

There is, however, an over use of the phrase “Celtic Head” as a catchall term to describe the often crudely carved stone heads that are found around the British Isle and mainland Europe. Some are prehistoric in origin, others from the early Christian period (although they themselves may be considered a continuation of the “sacred head” as a motif) and it is important that we view these as separate, although connected.

Classical Citations

“(The Gauls) cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and carry off as booty, while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory, and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses just as those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that, for this head, one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold” – Diodorus Siculus.


So there you go! Hanging around with Celts about is one sure way of ‘losing your head’! hahaha (oh no 😦 another terrible pun!)

For more on Celtic society and other things historical, why not check out other blogs here at The Áed


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