Scottish Claymore sword

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Small claymore sword

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Claymore, Hand-and-a-Half Size  SD901070SL

Scottish Claymore sword in medium size with leather sheath

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Scottish and Celtic influence in Weaponry

We all know that the Celts were in Scotland and Wales but did you know that once their culture spread throughout Western Continental Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, Ireland and Great Britain? For three hundred years, they WERE the culture of Europe from 1200 BC to 700 BC but were present until around 500 AD before ending up on the edges of civilization in the Northern reaches of Scotland, Ireland and the outer banks of Wales and Eastern England. The name Celt was given to them by the Romans but they were originally the Κελτοί. On the European Continent, the Romans called this race of savage warriors Gaul and they eventually were absorbed into other races coming into the area. The British Isles remained their home and today we mostly think of the Celts from their history in Wales and Scotland.

There is an encounter reported around 225 BC in the Alps, by a Roman historian, which describes the Celts as fierce warriors, coming into battle in a frenzy with huge axes raised overhead, screaming like banshees, wearing nothing but their total body dark-blue tattoos, which put the terror of bodily destruction into the more civilized Roman soldiers, watching these barbarians, who were easily a head taller than themselves, running naked towards them. They named these fighters, Berserkers. These  fierce foot soldiers that used short daggers or kirks in stead of swords as their main weapon, a practice carried on into the Scottish traditions. The early Celts, like the Danes, rarely dressed in armor for battle considering it unworthy to be so protected until around the 12th century AD, when they had been absorbed into the English and Norman cultures.

Not all Celts wore their colors during battle but burial mounds have revealed that those of rank did appear to have armor and swords with their tartan cloaks over the more protective chainmail which would have helped those of lesser rank to quickly identify and protect their leaders. Their armor was decorated with runic designs which had meaning to the individual wearing it. Since the Celts first used body tattoos of runic style symbols, this was a link to their ancient tradition. This, along with their tartan, made the leaders easy to recognize on the battlefield. However, even as late as 1746, at the battle of Culloden, clan identification was recognized not by their Tartan plaid but the color ribbon worn on their hat.

The Celts were pushed to the farthest regions of the British Isles which included the high regions of Scotland and Wales with the Roman invasion around 43 AD. From these stalwart warriors descended the tribes that inhabited the Highlands of the Scottish Isles. With the influence and descendants of first the Romans and then the Angles and Saxons blending with the Lowlander tribes, Scotland gradually assimilated much of the British Isles traditions by 1000 AD although they remained unique with some of their armor and arms.

The Scottish swords that stand out among these are the Claymore style or the broadsword. The word Claymore is an English term taken from the Gaelic word claidheamh-mr which means “Great Sword”. These massive swords, usually around five feet in length, required a big warrior to use as they were heavy and required a good blacksmith to produce one of such balance that it could be used easily.
One of the most famous of these is the sword dubbed the William Wallace Sword which was fashioned from the sword used by the famous 13th century Scottish landowner, a leader in the fight for Scottish Independence from King Edward 1 of England. He was reported to be a very large man of probable Welsh descent who was probably an archer as his personal seal bore the archer’s insignia. He was one of the leaders who led the Scots who supported their own King, John Balliol. His use of the Claymore and the bow were not unusual for that time period as many archers relied on big weapons for close range fighting, usually a pole axe or even a hoe. William Wallace’s choice of weapons indicated some military training and it is theorized that he acted as a mercenary for King Edward during the Wales invasion by England years earlier.

The Claymore sword was the Scottish broadsword in many variations through the centuries as the country was taken from Celtic domination into English submission. It was smaller during the time of William Wallace and grew larger during the next 300 years of fighting with the English. The largest one on record was 7 feet 2 inches long! The last known battle where the Claymore sword was known to have been used in quantity was the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689. By 1700, the claidheamh-mr, the true Scottish Broadsword and the symbol of Scottish independence had been subdued under English control and ceased to be a weapon of significance. Several generations passed before the English utilized the Scots in warfare, allowing the Scottish troops to have their own identity by allowing kilts, even developing a tartan for these called the Black Watch. But the swords were forever set aside. Perhaps the English feared these more than the Scots that had wielded them or perhaps these mighty weapons were just too much for them to handle. The Mighty Scots may have been brought under English dominion but their history, their culture and especially their Tartan kilts and Scottish broadswords will be remembered for many ages.

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