“…and the King received them kindly and asked them when drinking what it was that they most feared, thinking they would say himself, but that they replied that they feared no one, unless it were that Heaven would fall on their heads”.
(Strabo, VII, 3:8)
Best associated with the spectacular chieftain’s helmet with Bird of Prey attachment, in fact the Celtic settlement at Ciumeşti (Satu Mare) in Transylvania has yielded a wealth of archaeological information on Iron Age settlement and society in southeastern Europe, and the Celtic warrior culture during this period.
The Iron Age settlement at Ciumeşti was a small rural community, of which 8 houses have been excavated. These were spread over a large area, and the general pattern was of houses organized in groups of 3 or 4, each group also having a larger central structure with two rooms. The spatial distribution of the dwellings indicates that the settlement was organized on a clan system (Zirra 1980:69-70, Rustoiu 2006:66). Finds from the settlement include Celtic wheel-made ceramic, as well as local Dacian hand-made pottery, again indicating a symbiotic relationship between the newly arrived Celts and the local population – a phenomenon to be observed throughout the eastern Celtic migration (see Flight of the Ravens).
A large La Têne funerary complex was discovered at the site, of which 33 burials have been excavated. The cemetery has been roadly dated to the La Têne B2b – C1 period, which in Transylvania corresponds to the period between 280/277 – 175 BC (Horedt 1973:32, 2006:43). Three of the excavated graves were warrior burials indicating that the percentage of warriors in this community was circa 9% (See ‘The Warrior Elite’ article).
THE CHIEFTAIN’S BURIAL
The Ciumeşti Chieftains burial was discovered on 10 August 1961 in a circular pit with a diameter of 1.2 – 1.5 m. Initially only part of the artifacts from the cremation burial were published, including the ‘Falcon’ helmet, two bronze greaves, an iron spearhead, and iron chainmail:
Subsequently other artifacts from the burial have come to light, and a review of all the material published over the past 50 years reveals that the complete inventory consisted of the following:
The pottery from the burial consisted of a large pot and a bowl, both wheel-made. Vessels of this type are frequent in Celtic burials from the La Têne B2b – C1 period from the Carpathian basin, and analogies have been found in other burials at Ciumeşti, as well as at sites such as Pişcolt, Apahida, etc. (Zirra 1976:143-144; Rustoiu 2006:44).
2. BELT CHAIN
The iron belt chain was of elements of bent wire fitted in the middle with a ring. The buckle of the belt had a lanceolated form. Such belts are well known among the Carpathian Celts and to the west in Moravia and Bohemia. In the sub-Danubian region they have also been found in Celtic burials at Komarevo, Montana, Panagurischte Kolonii and Stoikite in Bulgaria (Rustoiu 1996:113-114). They were still in use among the Thracian Celts in the LT D period (1st c. BC).
3. “SPEARHEAD” – JAVELIN
With an elongated blade and an angular median nervure, its dimensions (legnth 22 cm., socket 8 cm., blade 14 cm., socket diameter 1.7 cm.) indicate that it is in fact a javelin and not a spear as originally identified (Rustoiu 2006:47). This is the only offensive weapon among the graves inventory.
Chainmail and Bronze ‘Triskele’ Discs from the Burial
(after Borangic, Paliga 2013)
Diodorus (v,30:3), Strabo (II, 3:6), Appianus (Syriaca 32, 1-3), Livy (37:40) and Varro (De Ling. Lat. V, 24:116) all mention that the Celts used chainmail, with the latter explicitely stating that they invented it. Chainmail from central and western Europe, with the exception of a piece from Vielle-Tursan (Aubagnan) dated circa 200 BC (Boyrie-Fénié, Bost 194:160), refer to the late La Têne period. In the Carpathian Basin the earliest chainmail has been found at a burial in Horný Jatov (Slovakia) dated to the LT B2 period (first half of the 3rd c. BC) (Rustoiu 2006:50), while numerous examples of Celtic chainmail have been recorded in Romania – Ciumeşti, Cugir, Cetăţeni, Poiana-Gorj, Popeşti etc. (Rustoiu op cit 49, with cited lit), and in Bulgaria from sites such as Kalnovo, Kyolmen, Jankovo, in the so-called ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ (Sashova, Slavchova and Tziakova tumuli), as well as from Tarnava, Varbeschnitza, Mezdra, Smochan, Dojrentsi, Panagurischte Kolonii, Rozovetz, Ravnogor, Matochina and Arkovna (see ‘Chainmail’ article).
Among the Turkish Celts (Galatians) the use of chainmail is attested to by Appian (Syriaca 32, 1-3) and Livy (37:40) and included in the depiction of Celtic military equipment at Pergamon (Rustoiu 2006:55). Archaeological confirmation of this has been recorded at the royal cemetery of the Galatian Tolistobogi (-boii) tribe at Karalar (Turkey) (Arik, Coupry 1935:140).
Celtic shields and chainmail depicted on the ‘weapons frieze’ from Pergamon
The Ciumeşti chainmail was closed with a system made from a horizontal iron plaque with decorated bronze discs. Similar bronze ‘triskele discs’ from Celtic chainmail have been found at Targu Mureş in Transylvania and Matochina in southern Bulgaria (see ‘Chainmail’ article).
Bronze ‘Triskele’ appliqués from the Târgu Mureş chainmail
(after Berecki 2010)
5. ‘FALCON’ HELMET
“On their heads they put bronze helmets which have large embossed figures standing out from them and give an appearance of great size to those who wear them; for in some cases horns are attached to the helmet so as to form a single piece, in other cases images of the fore-parts of birds or four footed animals”.
Diodorus Siculus (on Celtic helmets) (History V.30.2)
The best known of the Ciumeşti artifacts, the Bird of Prey (Falcon) helmet belongs to a type with reinforced calotte. Such helmets had lateral triangular elements fitted with rivets from which were hung mobile cheek pieces. Similar Celtic helmets have been found at sites such as Batina (Croatia) and Mihovo (Slovenia) (Rustoiu 2006:48), but what distinguishes the Ciumeşti helmet is the bronze falcon which decorated the calotte. Besides the testimony of Diodorus, such Celtic helmets are depicted on Celtic coins and artifacts like the Gundestrup Cauldron (See also THE BRYASTOVETS HELMET).
From an historical perspective, the most informative artifacts from the chieftain’s burial are a pair of bronze greaves. Similar pieces appeared in Greece at the end of the Archaic Age, and were used during the classical and Hellenistic periods. The better preserved right greave had a length of 46 cm., which indicates that the warrior was of large stature – between 1.80 – 1.90 m. in height.
The Greaves from the Ciumeşti Burial
(Baia Mare History and Archaeology Museum)
Manufacture of such greaves logically requires the exact measurement of the warrior’s legs. Two golden greaves from the so-called Philip II grave at Vergina, which are of different sizes and designed for a crippled man, are a significant example (Andronicos 1984:186-189). It therefore appears that the Ciumeşti warrior had these made at a Greek workshop in the Mediterranean area, which is only possible if the warrior was himself present there (Rustoiu op. cit). Celtic mercenary activity in Hellenistic armies in Greece and Asia-Minor is recorded throughout the 3rd c. BC (see Mercenaries – Just Plain Bad), and we can conclude with a great degree of certainty that the Transylvanian chieftain was the leader of one such Celtic mercenary force.
Andronicos M. (1984) Vergina. The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City. Athens.
ArikR.O., Couprey J. (1935) Les tumuli de Karalar et la sépulture du roi Déotarus II. In: Revue archéologique 6, Paris 1935. P. 133-151.
Berecki S. (2010) Two La Tène Bronze Discs from Târgu Mureş, Transylvania In: Marisia, Studii Şi Materiale, XXX Arheologie. Targu Mureş 2010. P. 69 – 76
Borangic C., Paliga S. (2013) Note pe marginea originii şi a rolului armurilor geto-dacilor în ritualurile funerar. In: Acta Centri Lucusiensis, I, 2013, p. 5-23.
Bohn R. (1885) Das Heligtum der Athena Polias Nikephoros. Mit Beitrag H. Droysen, Die Balustradenreliefs. Altertümer von Pergamon II. Berlin.
Boyrie-Fénié B., Bost J.P (1994) Les Landes. In: M. Provost (ed.), Carte archeologique de la Gaule 40. Paris
Horedt K. (1973) Interperpretări arheologice II. SCIV 24, 2, 1973. P. 299-310
Rustoiu A. (1996) Metalurgia bronzului la daci (sec. II î Chr. – sec. I d. Chr.) Tehnici, ateliere şi produse de bronz. Bibliotheca Thracologica 15. Bucharest.
Rustoiu A. (2006) A Journey to Mediterranean. Peregrinations of a Celtic Warrior from Transylvania. In: Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai, Historia 51, no. 1 (June 2006). P. 42-85
Rusu M. (1969) Das Keltische Furstengrab von Ciumeşti in Rumänien. Germania 50, 1969: 167 – 269
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Zirra V. (1980) Locuiri din a doua vărstă a fierului în nord-vestul României (Aşezarea contemporană cimitirului La Têne de la Ciumeşti şi habitatul indigen de la Berea). In: StComSatu Mare 4, 1980. P. 39-84.