(About) A Warding Belt
The humble belt – a strip or cord of material looped around the waist to support legwear, weaponry or tools – is an invention which is used by the earliest of our ancestors who left their impression in the historical record. Our Celtic Knot Buckle Belt draws together influences from the heritage of traditional Celtic art which stretches back into prehistory, with time-honoured construction methods and resilient modern materials to create the perfect accessory to give your Celtic warrior or seer LARP outfit that extra edge of attention-to-detail.
Craft Worthy of a Celtic Master
The expert leatherworkers at famed Italian LARP costumier Fucina del Drago have selected full-grain leather to make our Celtic Knot Buckle Belt – this is the highest-grade, most robust leather for use in hard-wearing applications, so your Celtic belt will last. The strap is fully stitched with a seam, and it also has a finished ribbed edge that won’t fray or catch on clothing or armor, as well as being a real eye-catcher. The strap is provided unpunched, so you can punch your own hole without the annoying appearance of a mass-produced one-size belt that a Celt would certainly not have had!
The oval Celtic belt buckle bears an authentic Celtic knot design based on the Hiberno-Saxon artwork known as the ‘Insular’ style that emerged in Ireland and Great Britain as late-Roman and Celtic styles met and fused on the pages of early Christian devotional texts. It is finished in an antiqued black, with the raised design in silver. The thorn is thick, meaning that the belt is robust and secure.
In short, this belt would be the ideal finishing touch to a whole range of outfits. It would do sterling service as part of a traditional Celtic re-enactment of a clan warrior, or it would bring a touch of mysticism to a druid LARP. Dig out the old Time Team repeats and drink in the inspiration!
(History) A Window into a Lost Society: The Celtic Belt Buckle in Context
If we are to get to grips with Celtic belts and Celtic art, we have to understand how ideas and material culture evolved across Europe before the rise of pan-European continental empires. This was slightly before you could just hop on a flight to Ibiza and engage in some ‘frank cultural exchange’ with the indigenous inhabitants. After the last Ice Age drew to a close around 12,000 years ago, most Europeans were likely settled or semi-nomadic – but that didn’t mean they stayed in one place. We are starting to discover that prehistoric peoples moved around much more than we previously assumed: for example, genetic analysis of the remains of ‘Ava’, a woman who was buried at Achavanich in the far north of Scotland around 4,200 BCE, showed that she was completely unrelated to the residents of the area. Instead, she was a first-generation migrant of Germanic descent, would have had brown eyes and dark hair rather than the blue eyes and strawberry-blonde of the locals, and would have been lactose intolerant.
European Celtic cultures were non-literate, ie. they left behind no written records or information, and so we are faced with a ‘prehistoric Dark Age’. But this doesn’t mean we’re wholly in the dark. The sea-faring Greek-speaking peoples, and later the Roman Empire, connected disparate peoples with a ready flow of material culture and ideas – and, even though they are uniformly dismissive and supremacist with regard to their Celtic neighbours, we can read between the lines and glean some information from them. We also have a small fragment of the total material culture of the Celtic Europeans which has survived down to the modern day, mostly in the form of grave goods and deposits of religious offerings – these also give us direct evidence of iconography and artistic depictions that we can use to attempt to reconstruct Celtic ideas of symbology and meaning. When taking all of this together, we have a strong indication that cultural change emerged from the movement of individuals and groups across significant distances, even though we don’t have the names or languages of those peoples remaining to us today.
Who Were the Celts?
As with so much of ancient history, even the terms we use are imperfect, coming down to us from a Greek and Roman lineage that treated non-Hellenic cultures with contempt. We broadly use the word ‘Celt’ to refer to the pre-Roman inhabitants of a broad East-West swathe of central and Western Europe, roughly encompassing everywhere west of modern Ukraine, north of Greece and Italy, and south of Poland. Western Spain, France, the British Isles, southern Germany, the Low Countries, northern Italy, Eastern Europe and most of the Balkans exhibit greater or lesser evidence of a common Celtic culture.
Scholars broadly divide Celtic society in this area into two subsequent eras. The ‘core’ area between eastern France and Slovakia is known as the ‘Hallstatt culture’ (c. 1200-500 BCE) after a common set of burial practises and material culture named for the fabulously detailed early Iron Age site discovered at Hallstatt, Austria. This society gradually morphed into the later Celtic culture which emerged with the establishment of trade and cultural exchange with the Greek Mediterranean – this is called the ‘La Tène culture’ (c. 450 BCE – 1 BCE), again named for an archaeological site that typifies it, this one in Switzerland. It was the Mediterranean-influenced La Tène culture that the Romans would expand explosively into, and, in the case of most successful empires, shamelessly crib from and pass off as their own – Celtic belt buckles and all.
Who Were Celts Really?
Although it looks great on a map, this idea of the ‘Celts’ as a homogeneous bloc is only useful for historical abstractions. In reality, although they shared a similar material culture and a broadly intelligible linguistic system, Celts were diverse, consisting of hundreds of individual peoples each with their own (largely lost) complex politics and outlooks. If you’d asked a leatherworker in the Atrebates lands in southern England and a flax-spinner in the Dardani steppe in the Balkans, ‘what are you?’, they wouldn’t have both said ‘Oh, we’re both proximate examples of the Hallstatt culture’. The word Celt is derived from the Greek word Κελτοί (‘Keltoi’), which they first applied to the non-Greek inhabitants of eastern France near their trading colony of Massilia (modern Marseilles). It is fascinating to note that some degree of a Celtic idea of commonality between non-Hellenic people might have caught on with their interactions in the Hellenic world, since Julius Caesar notes in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars that the Gauls referred to themselves collectively as ‘Keltoi’, even distinguishing between Celtic, Iberic and Lusitani inhabitants of Hispania. This gives us an amazing insight into how the Celtic belt-wearers likely had a complex multi-layered understanding of their own cultural heritage.
Celtic society remains only partially visible to us through the often unkind eyes of Classical empires, but we are left with an impression of a radically different society to ancient Rome and Greece. Celts appear to have broadly had forms of government based around kinship and social class, led either by kings or in some cases by a republican warrior-aristocracy. They certainly had a complex monied economy which used coins rather than the stereotype of a purely barter-based one. There can be little doubt that women held a significantly more prominent role in Celtic societies than they did in Rome – archaeological evidence from northern France indicates that pre-Roman Iron Age La Tène burials afforded some women the status of warrior, and these are born out by the ferocity of Iceni queen Boudicca’s rebellion against Roman occupation. Early-medieval Irish law bears the heavy marks of this Celtic female empowerment, even enshrining in the Brehon Law the right of women to divorce their husband and assume his land if he failed to fulfill his marital obligations!
Celtic Art and Celtic Belts
The artistic forms associated with the broad swathe of Celtic culture are intimately familiar to us, having been revived with the renewed interest in pre-Roman culture taken by mystical Victorian Romantics. Celtic society was wealthy and flourishing, with many fine craftsmen in the larger towns producing exquisite works of jewellery, embellished arms and armor and fine pottery for elite patrons – we can easily see our Celtic Knot Buckle Belt being instantly familiar to a Celtic smith. A truly exceptional work of this period is the Battersea Shield, a decorative bronze shield-boss worked with raised dramatic organic shapes of the La Tène style, dating from immediately before the Roman invasion. It is easy to see where the trendiest of the Art Nouveau crowd of the turn-of-the-century found their inspiration: in the naturalistic Celtic forms explored two thousand years before.
We are incredibly lucky in that a rare handful of actual Celtic belts and Celtic belt buckles have survived down to the modern day. Metal detectorists in the foothills of the Pilis Mountains in the north of modern Hungary found a spectacular trove of Late Bronze Age Celtic objects between 2008 and 2010. They included socketed bronze axes, beautiful curled fibulae for affixing cloaks, and a series of amazing plate-bronze belts covered with swirling geometric repoussé. Assigning gender to the fragmentary remains of grave goods is a problematic process, as has recently been shown by the genetic discoveries which have shown vikingr warriors to have been represented by both genders, but there is a general association amongst these belts with ‘masculine’ graves including swords and weaponry. These finds have been tentatively dated to the early proto-Celtic Urnfield Culture, whose practices and material culture spread across Central Europe in the 1300s BCE.
Rather than having pockets in your barbarian trousers, Celtic belts in the La Tène period would often have hooks that would loop onto the strap to carry your sundry small items. These could be simple pieces of plain ironwork, but there are some spectacular intricate examples which survive, such as this ornamental Celtic belt hook found at the late-Hallstatt walled town of Glauberg. The town was a princely seat in the pre-Roman period, and this belt hook engraved with two duelling boars was a burial find, marking the individual as one of high status.
No examination of Celtic belt buckles is complete without examining the enduring influence of Celtic knotwork styles on the finest hoard of treasures yet unearthed on British soil: Sutton Hoo, the burial hoard of King Raedwald of East Anglia. The completely jaw-dropping ‘great buckle’, even though it was made hundreds of years after the dispersal of La Tène culture, is the finest tribute made by a legendary goldsmith, fusing German and Celtic styles into the only means of holding up the Kingly trousers that would suffice.
Thus, our Celtic Knot Buckle Belt stands in this illustrious history of master craftsmen creating bespoke objects of exquisite artifice for the most discerning of patrons.
- Material: Full-grain leather
- Colour: Brown or Black
- Strap length: 126cm
- Buckle dimensions: 8cm x 6cm