Ancient Greek and Roman texts indicate how ancient Celts living in the region of Gaul — modern-day France and neighboring areas — cut off the heads of their enemies after the battle, and placed them around the necks of their horses, bringing back their war trophies back home.
This gruesome practice was corroborated by sculptures depicting decapitated heads in the Iron Age settlement of Entremont in Provence in southern France.
In addition to sculptures, this practice was also recorded by ancient writers such as Diodorus Sicilus.
The Celtic Gauls
The Gauls were a group of Celtic peoples of West-Central Europe in the Iron Age and the Roman period (roughly from the 5th century BC to the 5th century AD).
Among other things, they were considered fearsome warriors who, after defeating their enemies, proceeded to cut off the heads of their enemies and displayed them for all to see.
They were accustomed to bring the heads of their enemies back from battle hanging around their horses’ necks.
Ancient texts described that one of the most impressive ritual practices of the Celts during the Iron Age was to remove the heads of enemies killed in battle and to embalm them for display in front of the victor’s dwellings. An archaeological settlement excavation site in Le Cailar, in southern France, has revealed a considerable number of examples of this practice. It was documented by Classical authors and later by the archaeological recording of iconographic representations and skeletal remains of human heads. Weapons were also exhibited alongside the severed heads.
“In fact, the ancient texts told about us the head [being] embalmed with cedar oil … thanks to our chemical analysis we know that this information is right,” explains co-author of the study from Paul Valéry University of Montpellier, Réjane Roure.