Celtic Armies

1st - 3rd Century A.D.


The Fianna

The Fianna did not use chariots preferring to be more mobile on horses alone. 

The Fianna were made up of members from many different tribes who travelled in bands of up to 3000 men across the country protecting the land from invaders. 

By the time of the Fianna iron was being used in weaponry as opposed to the use of bronze by their ancestors.  Iron was much stronger and less liable to bend.  The average sword was 3 feet in length, the hilt comprising 6 inches of the total length.  The swords were used to cut and hack rather than stab, later on shorter stabbing swords would have been used.  The Fianna probably used both types.  Spears were also used these had barbs attached they were easy to thrust into a body but always tore when being withdrawn causing the most damage.  Slings would also have been used but not as often.  The Fianna's greatest task was the defence of the coast.  They had a system of look-outs and signals posted on top of cliffs and at fords and passes of importance.  Signals were passed by relays of runners or by beacons at night. Therefore the Fianna were alerted very quickly of any encroachments and could defend the land straightaway.

The Fianna were made up of  three classes of Irish men each under obligation to give a certain number of their days in service to their chieftain after which they could return to their normal duties.  They also comprised of mercenaries from various countries such as Scandinavia and Britain who were paid a regular wage for their services by the reigning high king.  Ordinary peacekeeping duties were also under their jurisdiction.  The making and keeping of laws was very important in Celtic culture at this time.

The motto of the Fianna was: Truth in our hearts. Strength in our hands. Consistency in our tongues.

They had a special war-cry called the- 'Diord Fionn'.

From Bealtaine to Samhain they went from place to place hunting game for their food. The rest of the year they patrolled as defenders, being granted free bed and board by local chieftains in return for their protection.

Conditions for entry into the Fianna:

First of all there had to be assurances from the patrilineal as well as the matrilineal line of the family that none of them would sue for compensation in the event of the death of the member.  

Conversely if a member of the Fianna caused damage to anyone or their property then his family would not be held responsible for his actions.

No man was taken until he was a prime poet versed in the twelve books of bardic literature.

No man was taken until he could defend himself from within a large hole in the ground up to his belt, with only his shield and a length of hazel rod.  While nine warriors having nine spears and being a distance of ten furrows away from him let fly at him together.  If he let anything past his guard and got hurt he was not accepted.

No man was taken until he had woven his hair into many braids and he was set at a run through the woods, while the ones seeking to wound him were sent after him there having been just one forest bough between them at first.  If he was overtaken and wounded he was not allowed entry, If his weapons had quivered in his hand he was not taken, If his hair was disturbed in any way out of its braiding he was not taken.  If he cracked a dry stick under his foot as he ran he was not taken.  He also had at full speed to jump a branch level with chest and stoop under one level with his knee without breaking stride or else he was not accepted.  Also he had to extract a thorn from his foot without pausing in his stride or else he was not taken.  

If he could manage to do all the above successfully then he was accepted into the Fianna.

Famous Warriors of the Fianna:  

Cumhal (Father of Fionn)

Fionn Mac Cumhail

Fiacha Mac Conga 

Goll Mac Morna

Oisín (son of Fionn)

Oscar (son of Oisín)

Diarmuid O'Duibhne

Caoilte Mac Ronan

Mac Lugaidh

Conan Maol 

Celtic Warcraft

The Celtic Warriors often went into battle naked  expecting to be protected by their gods, their hair would be whitened with lime, fashioned into splendid shapes, their bodies patterned with tattoos, they attacked their chosen combatants with special war cries and boasts of past victories.  Some Celts were head hunters believing the head to be the seat of the soul and the possession of the skull to lend strength to them in battle therefore these tribes decorated their chariots with skulls.  The use of the chariot was very important for the Early Celtic warriors, they worked in tandem with their charioteers and horses as a team.  The Celts used the method of single combat choosing a champion to fight in a one on one confrontation with an opposing champion, they did not believe in unnecessary bloodshed and waste of life.  Therefore skill and mastery of Warcraft was an important element of combat as they never relied on sheer numbers to win their battles.

Celtic Battles were very organized, joined by mutual agreement on certain days at specified times.  Before battle each warrior took a stone and these were piled into cairns, afterwards those stones not reclaimed enabled the number of dead to be calculated.

Stories, Myths and Legends associated with the Fianna

The Early life of Fionn Mac Cumhaill

How the Fianna got their horses

How Fionn got his grey hair

The Hostel of the Quicken Trees

Diarmuid and Gráinne

The Death of Fionn

The Battles of Fionn

The Best Men of the Fianna

The Birth of Diarmuid

The Boar of Beinn Gulbain

The Coming of Finn

Finn's Household

The Birth of Bran


Black, Brown and Grey

Red Ridge

The Hound

The Lad of the Skins

Ilbrec of Ess Ruadh

Oisín in Tir na nÓg

Oisín and Talkenn (Patrick)

Cat-Heads and Dog-Heads

The Cave of Ceiscoran

Conn Crither

Credhe's Lament

The Daughter of King Under-Wave

How Diarmuid Got His Love-Spot

Donn Son of Midhir

The Enemies of Ireland

Finn and the Phantoms

Finn's Madness

The First Fighters

The Flight From Teamhair

Glas Son of Dremen

The Great Fight

The Green Champions

The Hard Servant

The High King's Son

The House of the Quicken Trees

The Hunt of Slieve Cuilinn

The King of Britain's Son

The King of Lochlann and his Sons

The King of Ulster's Son


Further Reading List:   Click here


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