When I put up a post about the blurb for my book The Fireborn somebody asked me why the title characters are described as “naked blue zombies”. She thought the “naked blue” part sounded like a gimmick or something that came up for a laugh. Actually, the “naked blue” part was the first thing I thought of and the story is based around it.
Celtic soldiers were often depicted as fighting in the nude. The whole Celtic army wouldn’t be nude, but individuals would enter battle with nothing but their weapons.
Now it needs to be said that the Celts did use armor and not only did the Romans credit them for inventing chainmail, the famous roman helmet was actually copied from the Celts. That still didn’t stop some from fighting in the nude, even fighting crazy, similar to the Norse berserkers.
Polybius, in his history of the rise of Rome in the second and third centuries BC, described the Celts coming to battle nude and taunting the enemy army. It was a form of intimidation. Others commented on some Celtic warriors’ lack of clothing.
Celts often spiked their hair like a punk rocker. They used lime to perform this trick, which made their light hair even lighter. I can’t find a reference right now, but I have read that some dyed their hair red. It’s possible that there was just a higher percentage of natural red hair in the Celts than the Romans or Greeks. Or maybe the lime had that effect.
There are several sources from ancient times of Celts, particularly in Britain, using battle paints, dyes and pigments. Julius Caesar talks about nude warriors in Gaul and blue painted warriors in Britain. Caesar’s description of British soldiers may have been political, but the image stuck. To back up Caesar’s claims, the word “Pict” means “painted”. Of course most modern scholars say the where tattooed, not painted solid like the Blue Man Group.
– Caesar, Gallic War, V.14
All the Britains, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which occasions a bluish color, and thereby have a more terrible appearance in fight. (I’ve seen other translations)
There are so many unknowns in this era. So taking the known, i.e. blue naked men with spiked red hair going into battle, the myth, i.e. a cauldron of resurrection in Welsh myth, and then sprinkling it with quite a bit of fancy to fill in the unknown you might understand how the idea for the Fireborn was born.
So now you know why the Fireborn are blue and nude.
(Side note – the Celt in the picture at the top of the page has a torque. In the book the ancient Fireborn wore torques but the modern ones don’t. I think it would have complicated matters.)
Image from Wikimedia Commons –The Dying Gaul, Roman copy of a Greek original to commemorate the victories over the Galatians in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Capitoline Museum, Rome. Digitally colored by me…
— — — —
A few years after I wrote this post, I finally published The Fireborn. You can read more about it here, or buy it: