Did the Celts Have Blonde Hair?


When most people imagine the Celts, they imagine them with long, wild hair and blue face and body paint. That’s a pretty accurate representation, actually, but precisely what color was that long, unruly hair?

Some Celts had blonde hair. Others had red hair, brown hair, gray hair, and even black hair and white hair. Because Celts included a wide variety of people from all over Europe, they likely had hair colors across the entire spectrum of possibilities like any large group of people.  

This article will discuss the Celts and their appearance in more detail. It will outline their race, what they looked like, and what hairstyles they frequently wore. 

Celtic cross
What race were the Celts? See below

What Race Were the Celts?

Racially, Celts were mostly white Europeans, but ethnically, they were very varied. There were Irish, Welsh, and Scottish Celts, with whom most people are familiar. There were also Britons, Gauls, Gaels, Celtiberians, and more. “Celts” was a catch-all term to describe Europe’s Iron Age inhabitants.

A myriad of tribes made up what the Greeks and Romans collectively called “the Celts.” Each tribe had distinct differences; however, they all shared some things, as well, including: 

  • Cultural and societal “norms”
  • Traditions
  • Religious beliefs

Some tribes even shared the same language or at least a similar one, though that isn’t true of all Celtic tribes.

Today, most Celtic heritage remains with the people of Scotland, Ireland, and Great Britain. However, during the Iron Age, the Celts expanded all across Europe. In fact, they were the “largest group of people to inhabit ancient Europe.” [1]

Celtic tribes made up the majority of central Europe, but they settled in other regions as they migrated. These regions include: 

  • Spain
  • France
  • Britain
  • Italy

There were even Celts in Asia, primarily in the Anatolia region. That means there were also Celts of Asian racial descent. [2]

A quick Google search will show that Celts lived from 600 BC to 43 AD, but evidence suggests the Celtic culture arose much earlier than that – perhaps as early as 1200 BC and spanned to at least two continents.

Celtic helmet
What did the Celts look like? See below

What Did the Celts Look Like?

Most people imagine the Celts as pale and muscular with red or blonde hair. Though that’s the standard image, it isn’t entirely factual. 

Because there were Celts from both European and Asian racial backgrounds, there’s no single stereotypical image of their appearance. The usual picture of pale, muscular, redheaded or blonde people is likely accurate of many Celts, especially those living in or near Scotland and Ireland.

However, there were also Celts with darker hair colors and Eastern features. 

Nonetheless, there were a few things that most Celts had in common. For example, most of them wore their hair long – both the men and the women – and often styled it into elaborate braids or other unique hairstyles. (This will be discussed further in the following section.)

Additionally, many of the Celts painted themselves with blue dye, though scholars still debate the reasons behind this act. Initially, they thought the Celts did this to look fierce and barbaric and intimidate their enemies in battle. 

Today, however, most scholars agree that there was probably a more practical purpose behind it. The Celts likely covered themselves in woad to help heal the scars they received in battle. [3] Additionally, not all Celts wore the famous blue dye. Scholars believe it was probably only a small subset of Celts that did. 

Furthermore, not all scholars believe that the Celts used woad at all. Some people tested this theory on themselves and found two significant problems with the idea that the Celts used woad to paint themselves blue: 

  • When they applied it, the woad didn’t leave a noticeable blue stain on the skin.
  • The woad actually burned them when they used it. [4]

This led scholars to believe that if the Celts applied woad, they probably did so for medicinal purposes. Otherwise, they probably wouldn’t have suffered the burns it caused. Additionally, it made them wonder if the Celts’ blue dye came from woad at all. Instead, some think the Celts derived it from the verdigris formed on copper deposits.

Either way, the blue dye, elaborate hairstyles, and somewhat wild appearance were three things many Celts had in common. 

Celtic cemetary

What Hairstyles Did the Celts Wear?

Celtic men and women typically kept their hair long, although some of them sported shorter bowl cuts. They often wore their long hair in elaborate braids. Sometimes, they used lime water to lighten their hair color and shape it into lion-like manes, spikes, and mohawks.

The unusual, unnatural appearance of their hair was an intimidation technique. [5] The Romans and Germanic people who invaded already considered the Celts barbaric pagans. Seeing a horde of blue-painted, wild-haired warriors rushing toward them further enforced that belief. They looked wild and dangerous and, therefore, more ferocious.

In addition to their hair, men often wore beards and mustaches, and they would use lime water on them, as well. They’d square them off or fork them into equally strange styles. 

The lime water also lightened the Celts’ natural hair color, which is likely why so many writings about them call them “fair-haired.” As established above, it’s impossible that all Celts were blonde or redheaded. However, with enough lime water, even dark hair would look light.

The women didn’t do as much shaping of their hair. Instead, they’d braid it in beautiful, multi-faceted knots and braids. They’d use a myriad of decorations in their braids, too, including, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Beads
  • Stones
  • Precious metals
  • Ribbons
  • Feathers
  • Pins 

They’d sometimes shape their braids into what today is known as the Celtic knot style. At other times, they’d shape their braids into buns instead.

Both male and female Celts took pride in their hair and often spent time styling it. They had combs to help with this endeavor; they made them out of horns or bones. 

Conclusion

Some, but not all or most, Celts had blonde hair. The lime water they added to their hair made it look lighter than it was.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source
[3] Source
[4] Source
[5] Source

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