A number of rather strange archaeological discoveries from s.e. Europe over the past few years have thrown new light on the social and cultural relationships between the various ‘barbarian’ peoples who inhabited this region in the pre-Roman period.
One example of this phenomenon was discovered at the late Iron Age burial complex at Remetea Mare in the Banat region of western Romania, which evolved from the period over LT B2 and the start of LT C1 (i.e. from circa 280 BC to the end of the 3rd c. BC). In terms of funerary rites and rituals, the cemetery at Remetea Mare illustrates the cultural mixture specific to Celtic cemeteries in the east and south of the Carpathian Basin (fig. 1) – with one notable exception.
Burial # 3 at the site, which dates to the same period, is a female inhumation burial which contained a handmade bowl, a small bi-conical wheel-made vessel, iron tweezers that when discovered still preserved attached fabric pieces of the woman’s clothing, a segment of an astragal belt reused as pendant, and a bronze Thracian brooch (Rustoiu 2011, 2012) (Fig. 2). The ‘Thracian’ brooch belongs to the IIb variant according to Zirra’s typology and was dated in the first half of the 3rd century BC (Zirra V. (1998) Bemerkungen zu den thraco-getischen Fibeln, Dacia N. S., 40–42, 1996–1998, 29–53).
Both the funerary rite (inhumation rather than cremation – unique at the cemetery) and inventory illustrate that the woman came from a community markedly different from the one in which she died, in this case probably from a Thracian group (Triballi?) south of the Danube, and reached the Celtic community at Remetea Mare following a matrimonial alliance established between the Celts and the Thracians, sometime in the first half of the 3rd century BC.
Fig 1- Material from Celtic Cremation burial # 9 from Remetea Mare (Different scales)
(after Rustoiu 2011- Rustoiu A. (2011)The Celts from Transylvania and the eastern Banat and their Southern Neighbours. Cultural Exchanges and Individual Mobility. In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities between the Alps and the Black Sea. Koper–Beograd 2011. p. 163-171)
Fig 2 – Female Inhumation Burial (#3) from Remetea Mare
(after Rustoiu 2011)
Another example of such matrimonial relationships between Thracians and Celts comes from a cremation grave, discovered by chance in 1977 at Teleşti in the Oltenia region of Romania. Its inventory consisted of a fragmentary bronze belt, two fragmentary bronze brooches (probably a pair; one destroyed on the pyre), four glass beads and fragments of a blue glass bracelet (see also THE EVIL EYE), an iron horse-bit and two iron elements which probably belonged to a ceremonial cart. The entire assemblage is characteristic for the Celtic environment dating from the Lt C1 phase (second half of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 2nd century BC).
The funerary inventory from Teleşti represents the burial of a Celtic woman in a Thracian context. As is the case at Remetea Mare, this burial also points to the existence of an inter-ethnic matrimonial alliance. Her belt, as well as other garment accessories, suggests that the deceased came from a Celtic area, probably in Transylvania or Scordisci territory in Serbia/Bulgaria (Rustoiu A. (2012) The Celts and Indigenous Populations from the Southern Carpathian Basin. Intercommunity Communication Strategies. In: Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Proceedings of the International Colloquim from Târgu Mureș 7–9 October 2011. Târgu Mureș 2012).
An example of such matrimonial alliances is also recorded at the beginning of the 2nd c. BC. In this case the Macedonian king Philip V, in order to secure a military alliance with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes, arranged for his son to be married to a Bastarnae princess:
“The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation” (Livy 40:5; see also ‘Bastarnae’ article).
BONDS OF BLOOD
Well recorded in the Hellenistic world, the aforementioned burials from Banat and Oltenia represent the first direct archaeological testimony that such matrimonial alliances were also common among the ‘barbarian’ peoples of Europe. Such marriages would logically have had both a social and political significance.
It is worth noting that both these women, although living in an alien cultural environment, retained their own cultural identity, and upon their deaths their respective customs and burial rites were respected by their host tribe. Such inter-ethnic marriages undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for the development of the symbiotic relationship which evolved between the local Thracian tribes and the Celts, resulting in close social, cultural, and political ties. This phenomenon is to be observed in the material culture, and manifests itself in the development of the mixed Celto-Thracian Zaravetz Culture in n.e. Thrace, and military alliances formed between them against Rome during the Scordisci Wars.