BALKAN CELTIC CURVED ‘SACRIFICIAL’ DAGGERS (Sica)

UD: May 2019

 

 

 

Bulbuc - Alba County decorated killed iron dagger

 

Among the most interesting artifacts related to the Celtic culture on the Balkans are curved iron daggers discovered in burials and other sites from the later Iron Age (3rd c. BC – 1st c. AD). These daggers, adopted from the local sica type, are most often found in warrior graves as part of their weapons – together with La Têne swords, shield umbos, etc. (see below).

A large number of these have also been discovered in the territory of the Scordisci in today’s Serbia, which, as in the case of the Bulgarian daggers outlined below, mostly date from the 2nd c. BC to the 1st c. AD (Majnarić-Pandžić 1970, pl. 24/10, 28/5, 46/6; Todorović 1972 pl. 11/1, 13/1, 17/4, 29/2, 34/6, 36/1; Božić 1981 p. 328, no. 75-76 pl. 3/36, 37, 9/9; Dizdar, Potrebica 2005 p. 60-62, map 1). These come particularly from the Iron Gates region, but also from other Celtic sites such as the mass burial at Slana Voda in south-western Serbia.

 

 

Celtic (Scordisci) curved daggers (sica) with Rayed Suns and Triangle motifs from Mala Vrbica (Serbia)

 

 

Examples of similar curved daggers have also been discovered at Celtic sites in the western Balkans. For example, the prehistoric section of the archaeological museum in Zagreb has a number of Celtic (La Têne) daggers whose mutual characteristic is the curved blade. These curved daggers in Croatia (Sisak, Zagreb and Prozor) have analogies from the Obrovac area, Strtemec near Bela Cerkev and Ljubljanica in Slovenia and among the examples from the necropolis Jezerine in Pritoka on the Una river, south of Bihać in Bosnia (Belen-Latunić 2006). Further examples have also been found in Celtic burials in Slovakia (Nešporova 2002, p. 141, 314, fig. 101/2). Recent discoveries from Celtic burials at Mali Bilač in the Pozega Valley in Croatia have close analogies in those from the cemeteries of the Scordisci, who controlled the eastern part of the Požega Valley, which was connected with the central Sava Valley (Dizdar, Potrebica 2014). At the Scordisci necropolis at Karaburma (Belgrade) 7 such curved daggers, dating from the LT C2-D1 period, have been registered (burials 13, 25, 32, 35, 66, 97 and 112) (Todorović 1972).

 

 1- 1 -1 - Machaira sica

 

Balkan Celtic machaira (Iron/Bronze NMS Inv. # B 5051 ) from the Ljubljana Marsh near Volar, and long curved knives (Iron, Iron/Bronze – FP, ZN 260/3; NMS # V445) from the Ljubljanica river near Bevke, Slovenia

 

On the Balkan Celtic Machaira:

https://www.academia.edu/24234744/THE_BALKAN_CELTIC_MACHAIRA

 

 

 The typical Balkan Celtic warrior burial of this period was accompanied by a La Têne sword/scabbard (in the La Têne C2 period of the Belgrade 2 – Mokronog 2-4 types, and in the La Têne D period of the Belgrade 3 – Mokronog 5-6 types), either one or two spearheads, a shield, belt buckle, and spurs.

 

 

Grave goods from the Scordisci warrior burial at Montana, North Western Bulgaria

(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42301/01-08)

 

 

 

mont illust

Detail of the Celtic curved dagger (Sica) from the Montana burial. Note the mirrored ravens and solar motifs

(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42302/04)

 

 

Bulbuc - Alba County decorated killed iron dagger

Ritually ‘killed’ iron Celtic dagger recently discovered by treasure hunters at Bulbuc (Alba County), Transylvania (late 2nd/early 1st c. BC)

 

RAVEN DAGGERS

 

 From a typological perspective, the Celtic curved daggers from the northern Balkans are uniform. They vary between 25 and 35 cm. in length, and in all cases have a ‘blood channel’. The only slight variation is that in some cases (e.g. Altimir, Komarevo, Barkachevo, Sofronievo, Panagurischte Kolonii and Prisovo in Bulgaria, and Piatra Craivii, Izvoru, Radovanu or Dubova in Romania) the blood channel is deeper.

Although in many cases the blade’s decoration has been erased as a result of the advanced state of degeneration, a significant number are well enough preserved to allow us to document the most frequent symbols. The basic decorative elements on the daggers are triangles, the punched circle (‘RA’ symbol), rayed sun symbols, opposed birds of prey (ravens) and the spoked wheel – all common elements on Celtic artifacts and coins on the Balkans in the late Iron Age (See Balkancelts ‘Taranis’ and ‘Catubodua’ articles). It should also be observed that in the Celtic burials these daggers are often found among the bones of sacrificed animals, indicating a ritual/sacrificial function. This would appear to be confirmed by the fact that the religious symbols – rayed suns, ravens, etc. are to be found exclusively on the same edge of the blade as the ‘blood channel’.

 

 aa - x serb

Hoard of Celtic (Scordisci) jewelry and weapons, including a curved dagger/sica decorated with conjoined solar symbols, recently discovered on the southern slopes of the Rtanj mountain, near Vrmdza in eastern Serbia

(After Милојевић П., Милановић Д. 2015)

 

 

The spatial distribution of these daggers in Bulgaria is particularly significant. From the northeast of the country examples have been found at Kamburovo (Targovischte region) (Borangic 2009), Ezerche (Razgrad region) (Radoslavova 2005), Varna (Georgieva 1992), and at Veliko Tarnovo, as well as Prisovo and Vinograd in the Veliko Tarnovo region (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2008, 2010). The Kamburovo and Vinograd daggers were associated with La Têne swords, spearheads, spurs and Celtic H-shaped horse bits similar to those found at Celtic burial such as those from Montana or Pavolche (Vratza region).

Further examples of Celtic curved daggers from central and western Bulgaria have been discovered at sites such as Pautalia, Plovdiv, Bogomilovo (Stara Zagora region), Panagurischte Kolonii (Pazardjik region), and Ravno Pole (Sofia Region) (Torbov 1997, 2005, Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010). As well as in Celtic burials, such daggers have been found as votive offerings at cult sanctuaries such as Babyak in the w. Rhodope mountains – ritually ‘killed’ in the distinctive Celtic fashion. Particularly interesting is the case of the Byalata Chishma and Atanasza sites in the Taja area of the Balkan (Stara Planina) mountains where curved daggers have been found in Celtic burials together with La Têne swords, shield umbos, spearheads etc., the majority again ‘killed’ in the typical Celtic fashion. At the Taja sites curved daggers have been found in burials dating from the 3rd – 1st c. BC, but also in later Celtic burials from the 1st – 2nd c. AD, i.e. the Roman period.

 It is from northwestern Bulgaria that the vast majority of Celtic curved daggers have originated. From the area of northern Bulgaria between the Timok and Iskar rivers 82 of these curved knives have so far been found, the majority associated with other La Têne material – swords, shields, spearheads, etc. Over 60 La Têne swords have been found in the same area of north-western Bulgaria (see https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria).

Finds from this region include examples from Karpachevo (Lovech region) (Popov, 1928-1929, p. 282, fig. 146/a), Lom, Montana, Stubel and Kriva Bara (Montana region), Teteven (Lovech region), as well as Pleven, Chomakovzi, Gigen (ancient Oescus), Rezeletz and Koynare, all in the Pleven region (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010). Particularly noteworthy is the concentration of such daggers in the Vratza region of present day Bulgaria, where examples in have been recorded from sites such as Oryachovo, Osen, Mezdra, Kostalevo, Vratza, Vurbeschnitza, Ohoden and Pavolche. (Nikolov 1965; Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010).

 

 

To the west, a total of eleven knives of this type, dating to the Late Têne period have been recorded in four sites identified with the settlement of the Celtic Taurisci. Four specimens belong to the rich collection of items recovered from the river Ljubljanica near the locality Bevke in Inner Carniola. Others surfaced in cemeteries of Lower Carniola: two at Bela Cerkev-Vinji Vrh and, one each, at Novo Mesto-Okrajno Glavarstvo119 and at Podzemelj. A further example has been recently recorded on the Celtic hillfort at Oberleiserberg in Lower Austria, which is believed to be further evidence of trade and cultural links between the population in this area and the Balkan Celts.(Karwowski 2015).

 

The Curved Dagger from Oberleiserberg (after Karwowski 2015)

 

The archaeological data clearly illustrates that the local curved dagger (sica) was rapidly adopted by the Celtic tribes upon their arrival in the Balkans, and their presence in numerous Celtic burials from this period (3rd c. BC – 1st c. AD, in isolated cases later), accompanied by La Têne swords, scabbards, shields etc. provides irrefutable proof that the sica became an intricate element of Balkan Celtic weaponry. Its spatial distribution – from Croatia in the west to the Black Sea in the east, and from Transylvania in the north to Galatia in the south – indicates that it was popular among the diverse Celtic tribes across southeastern Europe and Asia-Minor. Furthermore, the decoration and typology of these weapons indicate that they had not only a practical purpose, but also a ritual/religious significance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Alexandrov G. (1984) Montana-eine thrakisch-römisch Stadt”, in Dritter Internationaler Thracologischer Kongress, Sofia, 1984, p. 218-231.

Belen-Latunić D. (2006) Late La Téne Knives of the Pritoka-Bela-Cerkev Type, In: Journal of Dalmatian archaeology and history, vol. 1, no. 99, December 2006, P. 63 – 70

Borangic C. (2009) Sica- Tipologie Şi Funcţionaliţe, NEMUS, IV, 7-8, 2009. P. 22-74

Božić D. (1981) Relativna kronologija mlajše železne dobe v Jugoslovanskem Podonavju. In: Arh. Vest. 32, 1981. p. 315-347

Dizdar M., Potrebica H. (2005) The late La Têne culture in central Slavonia (Croatia). In: Dobrzanska H., Megaw V. Poleska P. (eds.) Celts on the Margin. Studies in European Cultural Interaction (7th century BC – 1st century AD) Kraków 2005. P. 57 – 66

Dizdar M., Potrebica H. (2014) Kasnolatenski Ratnicki Grob iz Maloga Bilaca (Pozeska Kotlina, Hrvatska). In: Studia Praehistorica in Honorem Janez Dular, Opera Instituti Archaeologici Sloveniae 30, 2014, 355–376

Emilov, J. (2007) La Tene finds and the indigenous communities in Thrace. Interrelations during the Hellenistic period. – Studia Hercynia 11, 57-75

Georgieva M. (1992) Grabfunde in der Umgebung von Varna. In: Bulletin de Musée National de Varna, 28 (43), 1992, p.73-80

Gerov B. (1967) Untersuchungen über die westthrakischen Länder in römischer Zeit. II Teil – Annuaire de l’Université de Sofia. Faculté des letters. Tome I. XI, 1. P. 1-102.

Gerov B. (1968) Keltische Spuren in Westthrakien. In: Studien zur Geschichte un Philosophie des Altertums. Akademiai Kiadó, Budapest. P. 3349 – 355

Holder A. (1896-1910) Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz. I-III. Leipzig.

Karwowski M. (2015) Southern Cross-Regional Connections of the Celtic Settlement on the Oberleiserberg: An Analysis of Selected Finds. In: Boii – Taurisci (2015) Karwowski M., Ramsl P. C. (Eds.) Proceedings of the International Seminar, Oberleis-Klement, June 14th−15th, 2012 Mitteilungen der Prähistorischen Kommission Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Philosophisch-historische Klasse Band 85. Pp. 69 – 87

Кацаров Г. (1919) Келтите в стара Тракия и Македония, СИБАН 18, кл. ист. Фил. 10, София, 1919, 41-80

Кацаров Г. (1926) България в древността. Историко-археологически очерк.  Популярна археологическа библиотека, No. 1. София

Kull B. (2002) Torques, Schwert und Silberschätze. Eisenzeitliche Ferbeziehungen zwischen Iberischer Halbinsel, Balkan und östlichem Mittelmeerraum, in: PZ, 77, 2002, p. 189-2003.

Mac Congail B. (2007) Belgae Expansion into South-Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor (4th – 3rd c. BC) In: PRAE, In honorem Henrieta Todorova. P. 295 – 302. Sofia

Mac Congail B. (2008) Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Plovdiv (attached Pdf.)

Mac Congail B., Krusseva B. (2010) The Men who Became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv

Majnarić-Pandžić N. (1970) Keltsko-latenska kultura u Slavoniji I Srijemu, Vinkovici.

Милојевић П., Милановић Д. (2015) ДЕПО ЛАТЕНСКИХ МЕТАЛНИХ ПРЕДМЕТА СА JУЖНИХ ПАДИНА ПЛАНИНЕ РТАЊ. In: Етно-културолошки ЗБОРНИК, књ. XIX, Сврљиг 2015

Nicolaescu-Plopşor C.S. (1945-1947) Antiquités celtiques en Olténie. In: Dacia 11-12, 1945-47. P 17-33

Nikolov B. (1965) Trakiiski pametnići v Vračansko. In: Isvestija-Sofia, 28, 1965, p. 163-202

Nešporova T. (2002) Nálezy z Košece-Nosdrovic. In: Archeologické vyskumy a nálezy na Slovensku v roku 2001. Nitra. P. 141-142

Popov R. (1928-1929) Novootkriti pametnici ot zeleznata epoha v Balgarija, Izvestija, Sofia, 5, 1928-1929, p. 273 – 290

Radoslavova, G. (2005) Văorăženie na boini – edna nahodka ot s. Ezerče, Razgradsko, p. 277-283. In: Trakija i okolnijat svjat. Haučna konferencija, Šumen, 2004. Sofia.

Szabó M., Petres E. (1992) Decorated Weapons of the La Têne Iron Age in the Carpathian Basin. Inv. Praehist Hungariae 5 (Budapest 1992)

Sirbu V., Dacian settlements and necropolises in SW Romania (2nd c. B.C. – 1st c. A.D.) in: The Society of the Living – The Community of the Dead (from the Neolithic to the Christian Era), Proceedings of the 7th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology.)

Theodossiev N. (2005) Celtic Settlement in North-Western Thrace during the Late Fourth and Third Centuries BC: Some Historical and Archaeological Notes. In: Dobrzanska H., Megaw V., Poleska P. (eds.) Celts on the Margin: Studies in European Cultural Interaction VII BC – I c. AD. Essays in Honor of Zenon Wozniak. Krakow 2004.

Todorović J. (1972) Praistorijska Karaburma, I, Beograd.

Торбов Н. (1997) Криви тракийски ножове от III пр. Хр. – I в. открити в сиверосападна България. In: Исвестия на музеите в сиверосападна България. т. 25. 1997.

Торбов Н. (2000) Мечове от III- I в. пр. Хр. открити в сиверосападна България. In: Исвестия на музеите в сиверосападна България. т. 28. 2000.

Torbov N. (2005) Curved Thracian Knives from North-Western Bulgaria, in: Heros Hephaistos, Studia in Honorem Liubae Ognenova – Marinova. Veliko Tarnovo, 2005. P. 358 – 367

Woźniak Z. (1974) Wschodnie pogranicze kultury Latenskiej. Wroclaw-Warszava-Krakow-Gdansk

Zotović R. (2007) Social and Cultural Aspects of the burial ‘Krajčinovićiv’ -Slana Voda (South-West Serbia, Mid II c. BC). Acta Septemcastrensis, VI, 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BOXER WHO BECAME THE SUN – Metamorphosis and Fusion in Celtic Numismatic Art

UD: November 2018

 

boxer

 

Some of the most exciting and enigmatic late Iron Age barbarian images are those found in the artistic processes to be observed on Celtic ‘imitations’ of the coinage of the Paeonian kings.

The Celtic migration into the western and central Balkans during the 4th c. BC (Mac Congail 2008) quickly resulted in the development of Celtic coinage based on Hellenistic models, including those of the kings of Paeonia. As with the Macedonian and Thasos models, initial Celtic ‘Paeonian’ models remained quite true to the classical style and iconography of the originals. However, by the 3rd /2nd c. BC artistic experimentation with the Hellenistic models had resulted in a metamorphosis of the core iconography, and the development of unique barbarian imagery – a fusion of Hellenistic and Celtic cultures which resulted in the first non-classical European numismatic art.

Fig. 1 – Early Celtic Imitation of Audoleon AR tetradrachm (c. 315-286 BC)

(BMC Celtic 116-117. Gobl OTA 402/1)

On the evolution of the First Celtic Coinage see:

https://www.academia.edu/25857737/AB_OVO_-_The_First_Celtic_Coinage

 

Fig. 2 – Early Celtic Imitation of Audoleon AR tetradrachm
(Castelin-pg.201#1221)

 

THE BOXER

 In this context, best recorded is the coinage based on images of the Paeonian king Audoleon (315 – 285 BC), which developed in a number of artistic directions, including the ‘Boxer’ process outlined below.

 By the 2nd c. BC coinage based on the ‘Audoleon model’ has been transformed to such an extent that the original is barely recognizable, and in the barbarian issues the images on the reverse have developed a unique style which brings to mind the 20th century artistic movement known as naivism.

 

Fig. 3 – Celtic ‘Imitation of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf

(Gobl 469)

 

While the portrait on the obverse of fig. 3 displays the classical idealization of the subject, the rider on the reverse is represented only by a head and torso. The composition of both increasingly conforms to the circular nature of the canvass/coin.

 In fig. 4 the classical idealization of the subject on the obverse has been transformed into a naturalistic portrayal of a Celtic chieftain – a rare phenomenon in Celtic art.

 

Fig. 4 – Celtic ‘Imitation’ of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type

 

In fig. 5/6 the naturalistic features of the chieftain are further developed, and the subject is portrayed with a broken nose, logically indicating (if this is the same individual) that these are chronologically later than fig. 4.

 

Fig. 5 Celtic ‘Imitation of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf. Broken Nose type.

 

Fig. 6 – Celtic ‘Imitation of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf. Broken Nose type (2nd/1st c. BC)

 

 

However, just as the process appears to develop logically towards a naturalistic portrait of the subject on the obverse, and a naivist approach to the horse/rider on the reverse, it takes an unexpected twist.

During the final phase of the process we see a return to the idealization of the subject on the obverse, wholly conforming to the circular composition. Perhaps most remarkable is the schematic/iconic portrayal of the horseman on the reverse. In this final phase the head/torso of the rider fuses with horse and the head is represented by a solar symbol – 9 smaller dots ‘revolving’ around a central larger dot.

 

Fig 7 a/b – Late Celtic ‘Imitations of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm (Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf) (1st c. BC)

 

Both the ‘rayed sun’ and the fusion of rider and horse into one creature are common developments in late Iron Age Celtic art (fig. 8-10), and may represent the fusion of the human and the divine – the transformation of man into God.

 

Fig 8 – Celtic Scyphate AR Tetradrachm from the Transylvanian Plain. (Ringelkopfreiter type)

(Gobl 450A.1)

 

DBP

Zoomorphic/geometric composition on the reverse of a hemistater of the Aulerci Eburovices tribe. (Northwestern Gaul/ 2nd c BC). Note the use of the solar/RA symbol to depict the horses head.

 

Fig . 9 –  Celtic AR tetradrachm (Serbia). (3rd/2nd c. BC. Helmschweifreiter type)

(Göbl, OTA 165)

 

Fig. 10  – Reverse of a Celtic AR Tetradrachm, Lower Danube (2nd c. BC)


(Gobl OTA-496)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Text after Крусева Б. / Мак Конгал Б., Хората, които се превърна в слънце – Krusseva B. / Mac Congail B., The Men Who became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv, 2010).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FROM GODS TO MATCHSTICK MEN – The Art of the Scordisci Wars

UD: November 2018

abst

 

“The more horrifying the world becomes, the more art becomes abstract”.

(Paul Klee)

 

It is said that art mirrors life, and nowhere is this to be more clearly observed than in the art produced by the ‘barbarian’ tribes during the Scordisci Wars of the late 2nd / 1st c. BC.

 

Fig. 1 – Original Thasos AR tetradrachm, 164/160 BC.

Wreathed head of Dionysos right. HPAKΛEOYΣ ΣΩTHPOΣ ΘAΣIΩN, M inner left field, Herakles standing left, holding club and lion skin

 

The original Greek issues (fig. 1) depict typical examples of Hellenistic art – static and anatomically accurate images of Greek Gods, in this case Dionysos and Herakles. In the original Thasos images idealization of the subject is to be observed, a trait typical of Hellenistic art.

 In the second half of the 2nd c. BC the ‘barbarian’ tribes of today’s Bulgaria began to copy the Thasos coins. Early imitations (Fig. 2/3) remain very close to the Greek original, both in terms of imagery and the use of Greek inscriptions on the coins. Indeed, some of the early copies are so close to the originals that experts have great difficulty distinguishing them from the Hellenistic originals.

 

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

 

However, even at this early stage certain divergences from the originals are to be observed. These coins, while remaining true to the Greek iconography and continuing to use the Greek inscription/alphabet, begin to show clear distinguishing characteristics. For example, the head of Dionysos on the obverse begins to take on more masculine characteristics – square chin, larger nose, etc., which is at variance with the effeminate features of the Greek deity on the originals.

In the early decades of the 1st c. BC the real process of artistic metamorphosis begins. The subjects take on a more abstract aspect, and attempts to ‘copy’ the Hellenistic images and inscriptions are abandoned.

Fig. 4 – Celtic ‘Thasos type’ tetradrachma minted over that of the Roman Quaestor Aesillas (early 1st c. BC)

On Herakles’ left knee the Q (short for Quaestor – similar to English P) can be seen. There are also faint traces of Alexander’s hair locks at the metal disturbance in Dionysos’ cheek from the Roman original. The historical context in which these coins were produced – during a bitter struggle between the ‘barbarians’ and the Roman empire, should be borne in mind. From a psychological perspective the fact that the Celtic population in Thrace took the trouble to mint over the Roman/Hellenistic coins, instead of simply using the classical issues, is a clear political statement – a rejection of the classical images portrayed on the originals, and by extension the culture which had produced them (see: https://www.academia.edu/4963636/Plunder_Coinage_from_Thrace).

 

During this period new details also begin to appear, such as the case in fig. 5a, where the lion-skin of Herakles on the reverse of the Greek coin has now been transformed into a child in the Celtic image, or 5b where the Wheel of the Celtic Thunder God Taranis appears on the reverse of the coin.

 

Fig. 5a

thasos-taranis

Fig. 5b

 

1-thasos-meltdown-comparisosn

Reverse of an original Hellenistic issue (early 2nd c. BC), and Celtic issue from central Bulgaria from the late 1st c. BC

 

The brutal conflict with Rome during the final phases of the Scordisci Wars, and the accompanying misery of everyday life, is reflected in increasingly abstract and surreal images. A metamorphosis is to be observed in the images which reflect core Celtic religious iconography, foremost among them the image of the human headed serpent which has evolved on the obverse (fig. 6), or the appearance of the bird goddess, depicting the Badhbh Chatha – the Celtic Goddess of War (fig. 7/8). 

Fig. 6

Fig. 7Fig. 8

 

At this stage the subjects on the reverse become even more schematic, depicting images such as the ‘Wicker Man’, or the clawed creature depicted in fig. 9; images which reflect the final phases of a brutal war – a conflict which shortly afterwards culminated in the destruction of the culture which produced them.

 

Fig. 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Text after Крусева Б. / Мак Конгал Б., Хората, които се превърна в слънце – Krusseva B. / Mac Congail B., The Men Who became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv, 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HEART OF THRACE – The Celts in Central Bulgaria

UD: December 2018

The recent publication of results from large-scale excavations in sub-Balkan Thrace marks an important step forward in Bulgarian archaeology, and has finally provided us with objective scientific data on the geo-political status quo and ethnic composition in this part of Europe in the late Iron Age. These extensive excavations, carried out at a number of sites in Central Bulgaria, especially in the Chirpan Heights area, has yielded material that has prompted local archaeologists to finally conclude that in the late Iron Age “this region was in fact inhabited by a Celtic (Celto-Thracian) population” (Tonkova et al 2011 = Трако-римски династичен център в районна Чирпанските възвишения Тонкова M. (ed.) София, 2011).

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/4107842/The_Celts_in_Central_Thrace

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A Celtic Warrior Burial from Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia)

 UD: Jan. 2020

 

 

The “accidental” discovery of a Celtic warrior burial from Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia has shed new light on the Scordisci tribes who inhabited large areas of today’s eastern Croatia, southwestern Romania, Serbia, and northern/western Bulgaria in the late Iron Age. The burial, which was disturbed by a local farmer, was found in the Syrmia region, most probably close to the modern town of Sremska Mitrovica.

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011 = Tapavički-Ilić M., Filipović V., A Late Iron Age Grave Find from Syrmia. In:  Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Poceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureş, 7–9 October 2011. 453-559)

 

 

 The cremation burial was accompanied by a bronze ‘kettle’, a bronze simpulum, a pair of iron snaffle-bits, a bronze fibula, an iron knife, a belt buckle of the Laminici type, a scabbard decorated with geometric ornaments, and two spears (one ritually killed). A sword from the grave had been removed, and presumably sold, before the material was presented to archaeologists. There is no information about the sword itself, so one cannot tell whether it was a long one, typical of the Late Iron Age, or a shorter one, developed during the last decades of the 1st century BC by the Balkan Celts. Examples of the latter have been found at sites in Serbia and in Bulgaria, such as the Taja site in the Balkan mountains where burials contained examples of both types of late Iron Age Celtic swords.

A number of interesting features are to be noted in the Sremska Mitrovica burial. All of the finds have close parallels with material from Balkan Celtic burials from the same period (late 2nd / 1st c. BC). Two iron spurs with button-shaped endings, which belong to the first variant of the La Tène spur type 1 in Serbia, chronologically belong to the 1st century BC. What makes this find of spurs special is that so far in the Central Balkans only one more pair of Celtic spurs have discovered as grave goods – from a Celtic burial at Popica in Bulgaria. Usually, only a single spur is encountered (Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović op cit.). The bronze kettle discovered has analogies in Scordisci territory along the Danube in Serbia and in examples from Romania (Tigănesti, Bobaia, Vedea, Costești and Pescari), all dated to the 1st century BC.

An iron knife with a straight blade is also noteworthy. This knife is in contrast to the typical Celtic/Scordisci fighting knives (daggers), which possess a massive bent blade and a short handle. Thus, the type of knife found at Sremska Mitrovica was not a fighting knife/dagger, and the bronze earring-like ornament on its handle indicates that it belonged to a female.

Also noteworthy in this burial is the deliberate bending/deformation of the spearhead before being placed in the grave – once again confirming that the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ was a common religious practice among the Balkan Celts in the late Iron Age ((see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/killing-the-objects-3/).

 

 

Ritually ‘Killed’ Spearhead from the Sremska Mitrovica burial

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)

 

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Celtic burial under discussion is the presence of female articles in the grave. Objects such as the knife, ‘Laminci’ belt buckle and fibula belong to a woman, in contrast to the weapons and spurs which are obviously from a male burial. This has led archaeologists to conclude that we may be dealing with the double cremation burial of a warrior accompanied by his wife. The circumstances which could have led to such a double burial, which dates to the period of the Scordisci Wars, can only be guessed at.

 

Reconstruction of the Celtic Burial from Sremska Mitrovica

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail