In the tide of nationalism and revisionism which has marked the last century, our common European Celtic heritage has been systematically deconstructed, manipulated and denied. To balance this phenomenon, the BALKANCELTS organization presents the archaeological, numismatic, linguistic and historical facts pertaining to the Celts in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor, within the context of the pan-European Celtic culture – a heritage which belongs to no nation, yet is common to all.
“What is extraordinary, they play at dice, when sober, as a serious business: and that with such a desperate venture of gain or loss, that, when everything else is gone, they set their liberties and persons on the last throw”.
(Tacitus, Germania 24)
As in the modern world, gambling and gaming played a central role in Iron Age European society. Extensive archaeological evidence from Celtic settlements and burials, from the British Isles in the west to Kalnovo in eastern Bulgaria, attests to the fact that these activities were common to all Celtic tribes across the continent.
Bone dice from the Celtic settlement at Naintré (Poitou-Charentes), France
(mid 1st c. BC)
Bone dice found at the Celtic settlement at Acy-Romance (Ardennes), France
(1 c. BC)
Bone dice from the sanctuary area of the Celtic settlement at Roseldorf in Lower Austria. The finds come from an area of the sanctuary believed to have been dedicated to the Horse Goddess Epona.
(3/2 c. BC)
Indeed, such was the popularity of gaming among the Celts that by the late Iron Age gaming pieces were being produced on an industrial scale. Archaeological evidence of this phenomenon has been documented in central/eastern Europe at sites such as Manching (Pfaffenhofen District) and Berchung-Pollanten (Neumarkt District) in Germany; in Bohemia at sites such as Stradonice; in Moravia, at the settlements in Drnholec (Břeclav District), Křenovice (Přerov District) and Mistřín (Hodonín District). In the western Celtic sphere workshops manufacturing dice have been discovered at sites in France such as Villeneuve-Saint-Germain (Aisne) in Picardy, at Levroux (Indre Department) in Centre-Val de Loire, and at Aulnat-Gandaillat (Puy-de-Dôme Department) in Auvergne.
Bone, antler and sandstone dice / gaming pieces, from the Celtic oppidum at Stradonice (Bohemia) in the Czech Republic
(2/1 c. BC)
While gaming pieces used by the general Celtic population were produced from bone, antler or stone, naturally the wealthier class could afford sets produced from more expensive material. Particularly wonderful examples of such pieces are those fashioned in glass, the production of which reaches a high level of technical sophistication among the Celtic population from the middle La Tène period onwards.
Glass gaming pieces from Celtic warrior burials at Perugia, Italy
(4th c. BC)
Complete set of glass gaming pieces from a rich Celtic burial at Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire), England
The recent chance discovery of a significant Iron Age burial complex in eastern Slovenia has uncovered important new evidence pertaining to the population who inhabited this region of Europe in the immediate pre-Roman period.
The site, at Pezdirčeva Njiva in Podzemelj, is situated in the White Carniola area of southeastern Slovenia, near the border with Croatia.
Excavation of the site at Pezdirčeva Njiva
One of the graves uncovered at thePezdirčeva Njiva site
Initial investigations at the site have uncovered 15 burials, dating to the late 4th – early 3rd century BC, thus placing these latest finds in the same chronological framework as other early Balkan Celtic burials from eastern Slovenia, notably those from Srednica near Ptuj. The location of the latest discovery at Podzemelj places the burial complex in the territory of the Celtic Taurisci tribe.
Bronze scabbard from a Celtic warrior burial at Srednica, eastern Slovenia (late 4th – early 3rd c. BC)
Material from the Celtic burials at Pezdirčeva Njiva
Perhaps the most interesting find so far from the Pezdirčeva Njiva burials is a Celtic gold stater based on the Greek Athena / Nike prototype, which was discovered attached to a belt in one of the burials (3 c. BC). The gold coin indicates that the burial is one of the later graves at the site. Coins are very rarely found in Celtic burials, and this example, only the third Celtic gold coin to have been found in an archaeological context on the territory of modern Slovenia, provides invaluable data concerning the dating of the burial.
Gold stater discovered in one of the Balkan Celtic burials at Podzemelj
After a remarkable prologue which claims that the Irish language derives from Hebrew, Latin and Greek (and that the Irish people are descended from Greeks!), it discusses the origins of about 880 mostly Irish words, deriving them from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as Welsh and Norse. Modern scholars would not now accept most of these derivations, but nonetheless this represents one of the earliest milestones in the study of the Irish language and the beginnings of Celtic linguistics…
Fascinating article on the ancient Irish text, and its implications for European linguistics:
The past few decades have witnessed the discovery of a large number of Iron Age Celtic chariots across Europe, including a number of examples from the island of Britain.
Celtic chariot from Newbridge (Edinburgh), Scotland. (5th century BC)
Of particular interest in this context is the recent discovery of a Celtic chariot burial uncovered by a ‘treasure hunter’ at a (still undisclosed) site in the south Pembrokeshire area of Wales. While individual elements of Celtic chariots have previously been uncovered in western Britain, this discovery represents the first example of a complete Celtic chariot to be found on the territory of today’s Wales.
Chariot terret of fine bronze with striking red enamel inlay, executed in classic late La Tène style – discovered at Lesser Garth (near Pentyrch), Wales. (1 c. BC)
Cast bronze enameled terret with multi-colored glass inlay, from Suffolk, England (1 c. BC / 1 c. AD)
Terret decorated with red enamel, from the recently discovered Celtic chariot burial in south Pembrokeshire
Bridle fitting from the south Pembrokeshire chariot
Despite initial media reports dating the Welsh chariot burial to the 6th century BC (!!!), the decorative compositions and distinctive use of red enamel clearly date this chariot to the same period as similar discoveries from southern Britain, i.e. 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
Bronze element from the Pembrokeshire chariot, lavishly decorated with red enamel
Although a systematic archaeological excavation of the burial has not yet been carried out, and is planned for later this year, initial research has revealed a number of interesting facts. The use of ground penetrating radar in the area has indicated a pattern of buried ditches and walls, indicating an important Celtic settlement in the area. Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that a trial excavation has revealed that the chariot was buried in an upright position, a rare phenomenon in Britain, but one which has been observed in continental Celtic chariot burials in Gaul and on the Balkans, most recently the discovery at Sboryanovo in Bulgaria.
Celtic chariot, buried in an upright position with horses still attached, uncovered at Sboryanovo in northeastern Bulgaria
Dating to the early phase of Celtic expansion into this part of Europe, one of the most exquisite artifacts to be discovered on the territory of today’s Bulgaria is the golden torc discovered on the banks of the Danube in the northwest of the country. The torc, from Gorni Tsibar (formerly Cibar Varosh) in the Montana region, is the most easterly example of a number of similar Celtic neck-rings decorated in the ‘Vegetal’ or ‘Waldalgesheim’ style.
Golden Celtic Torc from Gorni Tsibar (Montana region, Bulgaria)
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 (Loc cit. 265).
The Waldalgesheim torc and arm-rings (Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn).
Detail of decoration on theWaldalgesheim torc
Detail of decoration on the Bulgarian torc
Another golden torc from grave # 2 at Filottrano near Ancona, in the territory of the Senones, is a closely related piece to the Bulgarian example. Elements in the design in the Gorni Tsibar torc are also paralleled on Celtic pottery from Alsopel in Hungary which shows a similar vegetal tendril surrounded by random dots and stamped arcades or half-moons (Megaw 2001:118-119), while the vegetal decorative details on the neck-guard of the Celtic helmet from Silivaş (Romania)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 theSilivaş helmet. Detail of decoration(early 3rd c. BC)
The Bulgarian torc has been dated to the last quarter of the 4th c. BC., and is significant not only from an artistic perspective but because it, in combination with other archaeological and numismatic evidence, confirms Celtic presence in this area of Bulgaria as early as the 4th c. BC., a fact which is also testified to in ancient sources (Seneca nat. quaest 3.11.3; Plin. n.h. 31.53) who describe a battle between the Macedonian general Cassander and Celtic forces in the Balkan mountains (Stara Planina) at the end of the 4th c. BC.
The Gorna Tsibar site is near the location of the Celtic settlement of Cumodina (modern Stanevo, Montana region) (Ravennatis Anonymi Cosmographia. Liber IV, 7, 190). Further along the valley of the small Tsibritza river, on which Gorna Tsibar is situated, recent archaeological evidence has also confirmed Celtic settlement around the villages of Valchedrum and Jakimovo dating until the 1st c. BC / 1st c. AD.
Depiction of a Celto-Thracian chieftain with torcon a sliver/gilt plate from the Jakimovo treasure, Montana region (Northwestern Bulgaria / 2/1 c. BC)
Military equipment from the burial of a Celtic / Scordisci cavalry officer from Montana, Bulgaria (2/1 c. BC)