A torc, also spelled torq or torque, is a rigid piece of personal adornment made from
twisted metal. It can be worn as an arm ring, a circular neck
ring, or a necklace that is open-ended at the front.
Smaller torcs worn around the wrist are called bracelets instead. Torcs are a type of
Scythian, Thracian and Celtic jeweler, produced in the European Iron Age, from around the 8th century
BC to the 3rd century AD
The word comes from Latin torques, from torqueo, to twist, because of
the twisted shape of the collar. The ends of ancient torcs typically bore sculpted ornaments. These were frequently
globes, cubes, or animal heads, and, less commonly, human figures. The body of the necklace was usually - but not
always wrapped. Although they were most often neck-rings, there were also bracelets with this shape. Torcs were
made from intertwined metal strands, usually gold or bronze and, less often, silver.
The Celtic torc disappears in the migration period, but during the Viking Age torc-style metal necklaces came back into fashion.
The torc first appears in Scythian art, from the Early Iron
Age, introduced to Celtic Europe around 500 BC. It also has predecessors in gold necklaces of the
European Bronze Age, which are sometimes also called "torcs", e.g. the three 12th-11th
century BC specimens found at Tiers Cross, Pembrokeshire, Wales.
One of the earliest known depictions of a torc can be found on the Warrior of
Hirschlanden (6th century BC).
Depictions of the gods and goddesses of
Celtic mythology frequently show them wearing torcs. The famous Roman copy of the
original Greek sculpture The Dying
Gaul depicts a wounded Gallic warrior naked
except for a torc. Examples have been discovered in Britain and Europe during
archaeological surveys. A 1st century BC example is the
Torc found in southwestern
It was said by some authors that the torc was an ornament for women until the 4th
century BC, when it became an attribute of warriors. An example of a torc
owned by a woman is the gold torc from the La Tene
burial of a princess, found in Waldalgesheim, Germany, and
another found in a woman's grave at Reinheim. Another La Tene example was found as part of a
hoard buried near Erstfeld. The famous heavy silver "bull torc" found
in Trichtingen, Germany, dates to the 2nd century BC.
The torc was a sign of nobility and high social status: a
decoration awarded to warriors for their deeds in battle, as well as a divine attribute, since some
depictions of Celtic gods wear one or more torcs. Images of the god Cernunnos wearing one torc around his
neck, with torcs hanging from his antlers or held in his hand, have been found.
The Roman consul Titus
Manlius in the 361s BC challenged a Gaul to single combat and
killed him, and then took his torc. Because he always wore it, he received the nickname
Torquatus (the one who wears a
torc). After this, Romans adopted the torc as a decoration for distinguished soldiers and elite units
during Republican times.
The hippie movement of the
1960s and 1970s brought torcs back into fashion, not only as necklaces and bracelets, but also as rings.
Torc-shaped bracelets are commonly worn today by both men and women.
The torc is also the symbol of someone with the title of Saoi. This is the highest honour Aosdána, the Irish organization of
artists, can bestow upon any of its members.
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