Celtic jewelry ranks among the most popular fashion accessories on earth today. Irish-Americans, Rock N’ Rollers, top-end fashion designers and all kinds of other people have embraced Celtic crosses, pendants, wedding rings and other baubles.

But did the Celts themselves actually wear jewelry in ancient times? You bet they did. Greek philosopher Strabo, who was actually alive when Christ was born, heaped criticism on the Celts for their “childish boastfulness and love of decoration. They wear torcs on their necks, and bracelets on their arms and wrists, and their nobles adorn themselves with dyed garments sprinkled with gold.”

The old Celts, it seems, would be right at home during New York Fashion Week.

FYI, the Celts were a people who existed all over Europe from as far back as the sixth century BC. After many historical twists, by 1000 AD the Roman Empire had pushed them westward into a sort of geographical “last stand” in Ireland and a few other areas, which is why we tend to associate Celtic and Irish culture so closely today.

So what kind of jewelry did they like to wear?

dying gaul with Celtic torcTorcs were clearly the top status symbol (see illustration of the Dying Gaul from 240 BC, sporting a Celtic-style torc necklace, at right). The circular necklace with a space in front was made in bronze, gold, silver and other metals. It was said to be a badge of leadership passed down from chiefs to their sons. Among the stranger legends (and there are many strange legends with the Celts) is one saying that some Celtic warriors went into battle naked, carrying only a weapon and a torc around the neck. Torcs are still sold by some jewelers today, but they are not among the most popular Celtic pieces.

handpin brooch old CelticBrooches were worn by both men and women, sometimes as simple clothing fasteners but at other times as religious symbols. Hand pins and “fibula” brooches were the most popular. While hand pin brooches in particular remain popular with lovers of medieval jewelry, designers have created many new types of Celtic brooches that have eclipsed these original designs in popularity. (see handpin style Celtic brooch at left.)

Armlets, bracelets and ankle rings were also hugely popular with the Celts. Archeologists have also found many ornamented combs at Celtic sites. Curiously, crosses and rings were not among their favorites. Today, jewelers offer an incredibly wide variety of Celtic crosses and rings (wedding, engagement and otherwise) that may not look exactly like ancient pieces, but which carry many of the knot, triskel and animal symbols that would have been familiar to a Celt from 100 BC. ancient chief with celtic jewelry

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