“For there were among them such innumerable horns and trumpets, which were being blown at the same time from all parts of their army, and their cries were so loud and piercing, that the noise seemed to come not from human voices and trumpets, but from the whole countryside at once”.
(Polybius, Histories, II, 29)
The most unique and distinct of barbarian musical instruments was the Celtic carnyx – a type of elongated war trumpet which was usually (but not exclusively) shaped as a boar’s head. The term “carnyx” is derived from the Gaulish root, “carn-” or “cern-” meaning “antler” or “horn,” the same root as in the name of the Celtic god Cernunnos (Delmarre X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris. p. 106-107). The instruments themselves were of bronze and played upright, as illustrated by their depiction on the Gundestrup cauldron.
Carnyx from the Gaulish sanctuary of Tintignac (Corrèze, Gaul), and examples depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron
Reconstruction of a Carnyx found at Tintignac. The carnyx was 1.80m. long, and one of 7 found at the site (6 representing a boars head, and one a serpent)
(after Gilbert J., Brasseur E., Dalmont J.P., Maniquet C. Acoustical Evaluation of the Carnyx of Tintignac. In: Proceedings of the acoustics conference, Nantes 2012. p. 3956-3959)
Besides depictions on coins and other artifacts from the period, archaeological evidence of the carnyx has been found at Celtic sites throughout Europe, stretching from the British Isles to the Balkans, illustrating that it was common to the pan-Celtic tribes across the continent.
Celtic carnyx depicted on a Roman gold stater from 48 BC
Serpent headed carnyx from Tintignac
Boar headed carnyx from Deskford, Scotland (mid 1st c. AD)
“Their trumpets again are of a peculiar barbarian kind; they blow into them and produce a harsh sound which suits the tumult of war”
(Diod. Sic. V,30)
Scientific reconstructions of these strange instruments, based on archaeological finds (Gilbert et al 2012), confirm that the carnyx produced a distinctive eerie sound, unlike any other ancient or modern musical instrument, and was therefore ideally suited to the atmosphere of battle, for which it was created.
Carnyx discovered in a ritual pit at the Gaulish sanctuary at Tintignac
In the year 1811, a most spectacular discovery was made in an orchard at the village of Negau (today Ženjak) in Slovenia. The Negau Hoard, consisting of 26 bronze Etruscan helmets, many bearing inscriptions in a Celtic script, represents one of the most important archaeological finds in this part of Europe.
The helmets are of an Etruscan design from circa 500-450 BC called the Vetulonic or Negau type, which are of bronze with a comb-shaped ridge across the skull, and a protruding rim with a groove right above the rim. However, the inscriptions on the helmets are believed to have been added at a much later date (2nd c. BC), and the deposition has been dated to circa 50 BC – i.e. shortly before the Roman conquest of the area.
The Negau B Helmet
As mentioned, the deposition of the Negau Hoard has been dated to circa 50 BC, when such helmets had long been obsolete, having been replaced by more modern equipment such as the Novo Mesto type helmets (below). It appears that after becoming redundant the Negau helmets took on a ceremonial / religious function, as attested to by the Celtic inscriptions on the helmets, which bear the names of priests/druids (see Markey T. (2001) A Tale of Two Helmets: The Negau A and B Inscriptions. In: The Journal of Indo-European Studies, Volume 29, 2001; Must G. (1957) The Problem of the Inscription on Helmet B of Negau. In: Harvard Studies in Classical Philology Vol. 62, (1957), pp. 51-59).
Celtic Novo Mesto type helmet discovered in the river Sava, Croatia (1st c. BC)
Increasing evidence of the use of a Celtic script on the Balkans, based on the Etruscan alphabet, has come to light in recent years, and indicates that this alphabet continued to be used throughout the Roman period (see Celtic Graffiti article with relevant lit.).
Inscriptions in the Celtic script from Grad (A) and Posočje (B), Slovenia
(see Celtic Graffiti article, with cited lit.)
The inscription on the Negau B helmet
The majority of the Celtic inscriptions on the Negau helmets are structured: name + ‘the diviner’, name + ‘astral priest of the troop’, while an inscription on one of the helmets – the so-called Negau B helmet, has attracted particular attention. According to linguistic analysis, it contains the Germanic name *Harigasti(z), which consists of two parts: hari = army, host (found in Old Norse herjan – to make war, to plunder, hernað – warfare; or in German Heer – army) and gasti(z) = guest. The second part of the inscription has been interpreted as *teiwa(z) = god. Thus the inscription would read: “Harigasti, [the priest of] the god” (Markey 2001). If such analysis is correct, this would represent the earliest recorded Germanic inscription.
How a Germanic priest came to be living among the local Celtic population during this period is another question…
Celtic Strymon/Trident Coinage:
The nature of burial rituals practiced by the Iron Age European population makes the task of archaeologists an especially complex one. In particular, the Celtic burial process, which generally included the deliberate ‘killing’ of the artifacts, i.e. the bending, breaking or otherwise deformation of weapons and other objects before being placed on the funeral pyre, and subsequent cremation of the articles along with the body of the deceased, has meant that material from Celtic burials is often rendered unrecognizable to the naked eye.
A good example of this phenomenon is the recently published middle La Têne warrior burial (LT C1/C2) from the Auersperg Palace in Ljubljana (Slovenia), which yielded the cremated bones of the individual along with a rich burial inventory. However, while initial excavation of the burial revealed only an unrecognizable melted conglomerate of iron, bone and ceramic material, subsequent analysis showed that the ‘lump’ actually contained, among other objects, a ritually ‘killed’ middle La Tène sword and shield boss, a shaft-hole axe, as well as human and animal bones.
Particularly interesting is the fact that the human bones included a fragment of the cranial part of the skull with an unfused suture, which belonged to a person under 20 years of age. Thus, it appears that in death, due to nature of the burial rites observed, and subsequent environmental factors, this ‘boy warrior’ literally fused with his weapons.
Auersperg Palace. The conglomerate of the distorted weapons
(Illustrations after Štrajhar M., Gaspari A., Ostanki Dveh Srednjelatehskih Bojevniških Grobov Iz Turjaške Palače v Ljubljani, Pril. Inst. Arheol. Zagrebu, 30/2013, str. 27-43)
A scanned image of the conglomerate
Auersperg Palace. The upper half of a larger vessel from the layer
A further fascinating find from the same deposit / layer, but originating from another (slightly earlier) grave unit, is a ritually ‘killed’ scabbard, typical for the Celtic LT C1b phase. The scabbard is decorated with a unique composite motif of a dragon pair and a snake, combined with vegetative ornamentation. A similar combination of ornaments is most often found on scabbards from the southern border area of the Pannonian Plain, which are discovered in burials from the later part of the LT C1 phase. The complexity of the decoration, which is typical for the latest phase of the Celtic ‘dragon pair’ depictions, thus dates the manufacture of the Auersperg Palace scabbard in the late 3rd century BC (Štrajhar, Gaspari, op cit).
The Auersperg Palace scabbard and detail of decoration
A wealth of Celtic archaeological material, mostly dating to the late La Têne period, has been discovered over the past decades by ‘treasure hunters’ at the Iron Age hillfort at Žerovnišček near Bločice (Notranjska Region) in Slovenia. Perhaps the most fascinating of these artifacts is a bronze statuette of a horned deity which dates to the late La Têne period and, according to archaeologists, depicts the God Mars who also became associated with the Greek God Ares, and was popular in the Celtic world where he was associated with various local deities (Šašel Kos M. (1999) Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic. Situla 38).
(after Laharnar B. (2009) The Žerovnišček Iron Age Hillfort near Bločice in the Notranjska Region. In: Arheološki vestnik 60, 2009. P. 97 – 157)
The libation dish (patera) in the extended right hand is an Italico-Etruscan motif characteristic of donor statuettes between the 3-1st c. BC
Most interesting about the Žerovnišček statuette is the fact that the deity is depicted with a horned helmet, which ancient authors mention were worn by the Celts:
“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)
Horned helmets among the Celtic tribes are also well documented in artwork and coins from the period, and archaeological confirmation of the existence of such helmets includes depictions of a warrior on an early La Têne stone slab from Bormio, examples depicted on the Gundestrup cauldron, as well as the horned Waterloo helmet found in the river Thames in London, and another discovered near the village of Bryastovetz in eastern Bulgaria.
The Bryastovetz Horned Helmet from Eastern Bulgaria (3rd/2nd c. BC)
(Sofia Archaeological Museum Inv. # 3454)
A statuette of the Goddess Athena / Minerva with a votive inscription from the middle and late La Têne period settlement at Dornach (Aschheim, Munich) also has a helmet with cattle horns. The statuette was found in a late La Têne well or ritual shaft, in a layer dated to between 80 and 50/30 BC. The statuette is stylistically of Late Hellenistic form (Dietz K. (1999) Die Inschrift auf dem sockel der Dornacher Athene. In: Irlinger, Winghart 1999:144-147).
The Žerovnišček statuette, executed in the Italico-Etruscan tradition (Laharnar op cit), with Celtic iconography interwoven, represents a wonderful example of the synthesis of Italico-Etruscan and Celtic artistic/cultural traditions.
“the mechanism of dreams where things have floating contours and pass into other things”.
The Celtic helmet from Silivaş (Transylvania) was first published in 1925 as part of the inventory of a warrior burial which also included two spearheads, a sword, dagger, brooch and a ‘sickle’ (actually a curved dagger), all of which had previously been in the private collection of Count Teleki Dromokos of Transylvania.
Inventory of the Celtic Burial from ‘Silivaş’, after Róska 1925*
The helmet itself is of a type with neck-guard (eisenhelme mit angesetztem Nackenschutz) common among the Celts at the end of the 4th/beginning of the 3rd c. BC (LT B2). Finds of such helmets are concentrated in the alpine region of western Austria and northern Italy, from where they circulated to the east and west (Rustoiu 2013). The most spectacular examples of such helmets include those from Agris and Amfreville in France, decorated with gold and coral.
The Agris Helmet
Detail of the Ram-Horned Serpent on the Cheek-piece of the Agris Helmet
The Amfreville Helmet
Detail of the decoration on the Amfreville helmet
VEGETAL / WALDALGESHEIM STYLE
The helmet from “Silivaş”* is ornamented on the neck-guard with vegetal elements specific to the so-called Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Style.
The Waldalgesheim Style is named after a princely burial in the middle Rhine, and displays an independence of interpretation and conﬁdence in execution that marks the culmination of achievement of the early La Tène period (Jacobsthal 1944). The descriptive term ‘Vegetal’ has been proposed in place of Jacobsthal’s type-site to denote the new style, reﬂecting in particular its use of plant-derived tendril motifs, although the style is not characterized exclusively by vegetal motifs, nor are vegetal motifs exclusive to it (Harding 2007:70). The Vegetal Style is often regarded as the high point of La Tène curvilinear ornament because it is in this style that derivative classical motifs are deconstructed and re-emerge with the ‘assured irrationality’ of a vibrant and independent Celtic creation (Harding 265).
The vegetal decorative details on the neck-guard of the helmet from Silivaş belong to the late phase of the aforementioned style, similar to the ornamentation of the helmets from Förker Laas Riegel, in Carinthia, discovered in 1989 (Schaaff 1990).
The neck-guard of the Silivaş helmet. Detail of decoration
A further fine example of the vegetal style decoration on the Balkans is to be observed on the Celtic gold torc from Gorni Tsibar (Montana region) in north-western Bulgaria, which dates from the same period as the Silivaş helmet.
Celtic gold torc decorated in the Vegetal Style, from Gorni Tsibar, northwestern Bulgaria
(late 4th/ early 3rd c. BC)
*In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that the most recent research on the Silivaş burial has indicated that the helmet and associated material did not in fact originate from Silivaş, but was most probably discovered in a Celtic burial in the Turda area, also in Transylvania, while the brooch and curved dagger came from a Celtic burial either in another part of Transylvania, or from the Scordisci area in today’s northern Bulgaria (for discussion see Rustoiu 2013).
On Eastern Celtic helmets of the Novo Mesto type see:
On Celtic helmets of the Montefortino type in Eastern Europe see:
Harding D.W. (2007) The Archaeology of Celtic Art. Routledge.
Jacobsthal P.F. (1944) Early Celtic Art. Oxford.
Roska M. (1925) Keltisches Grab aus Siebenbürgen. In: PZ, 16, 1925, p. 210-211.
Rustoiu A. (2013) Wandering Warriors. The Celtic Grave from “Silivaş” (Transylvania) and Its History. In: Terra Sebus. Acta Musei Sabesiensis, 5, 2013, p. 211-226
Schaaff U. (1990) Keltische Waffen. Mainz.
Imbolc shona daoibh !
In a world where the average woman was not expected to live beyond her 20’s, and death in childbirth was common (see celtic-death), it is little wonder that one of the most widespread cults in the Celtic (and Gallo-Roman) world was that of the Nutrices – the protectors of maternity and motherhood.
In Britannia and Gaul the Nutrices/Matres are often represented in a triad on votive reliefs such as those from Circencester (Gloucestershire) where the central Goddess is holding the baby in her arms, or Vertault (Côte d’Or) where 3 nursing Goddesses are depicted.
The Aufanian Matronae (detail) from the Gallo-Roman temple site at Görresburg, Nettersheim
(Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn)
Left: Terracotta relief of the Matres from the Gallo-Roman settlement of Vertillum (Vertault, Côte d’Or).
(Museum of Châtillon-sur-Seine)
Right: Nursing Mother Goddesses from Cirencester. (Corinium Museum, Cirencester)
Other depictions of the Nutrices are found on white terracotta figurines discovered across Europe, depicting seated Matres wearing a diadem and long garments, feeding 1 or 2 infants at their breast. The Celtic Nutrices should also be related to the Roman Dea Nutrix, who was venerated especially in North Africa, either alone, or together with Saturnus, and is also represented breast-feeding babies, or as protector of children.
Five statuettes in white terracotta of nursing Matres discovered in a well in Auxerre (Yonne).
On the Balkans, the largest center dedicated to the Nutrices was that at Poetovio in Pannonia (Ptuj, eastern Slovenia), where 2 sanctuaries and numerous inscriptions have been discovered. In Poetovio the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form and, as in the case of sites such as Cirencester (Britannia) and Vertault (Gaul), are often portrayed as a triad.
Representation of the Nutrices from Poetovio
(LIMC, vol. 6.2, p. 620, n°4)
Noteworthy is the fact that, although dating to the Roman period, a significant number of dedicators to the Nutrices/Matres at Poetovio still bear Celtic names (Šašel Kos 1999). This fact, and the use of a separate Celtic alphabet/script in this region as late as the 3rd c. AD, indicates a remarkable continuity of native religious and cultural tradition throughout the Roman period.
Celtic inscription discovered on a beaker at Poetovio (2nd /3rd c. AD)
(after Istenič 2000)
Text = ARTEBUDZ BROGDUI
Translated as ‘Artebudz for Brogdos’. Both names are Celtic, and the vessel was a votive offering to Brogdos – a deity guarding the border between the world of the living and the after-world (Eichner et al 1994:137; Egri 2007).
(see Celtic Graffiti with relevant lit.)
While not directly connected to the core theme of this site, over the past few months a large number of artifacts pertaining to other ancient cultures have been brought to the attention of Balkancelts. These unique objects have been discovered by ‘treasure hunters’, mostly, but not exclusively, in the Republic of Bulgaria, where this phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions.
A combination of pleading and ‘subtle blackmail’ has enabled us to photograph some of these ancient artifacts, and it has been decided to publish them periodically on this site, so that they may be thus recorded before they are sold into private hands, and disappear forever.
This first installment presents a number of ancient Hellenistic and Roman mirrors recently discovered by ‘collectors’ in the area of Plovdiv/ ancient Philippopolis in south-central Bulgaria.
Mirror P1 reverse
Mirror P1 reverse/inscription detail
Mirror P2 reverse
Mirror P 3
Mirror P3 reverse
Mirror P4 reverse
Mirror P4 reverse/detail
Any information / expert opinion on these artifacts (or information on other such unpublished artifacts) would be much appreciated. All correspondence will be treated in the strictest confidence.