UD: October 2016
From the vicinity of the Kamula mountain in western Ukraine comes one of the most fascinating Celtic artifacts from Eastern Europe – the late La Têne scabbard from Gryniv.
Celtic groups settled in this part of the Upper Dniester river during the last decades of the 1st c. BC, mixing with the local Przerorsk culture (of Germanic origin). Traces of a Celtic speaking population on the upper Dniester are to be found in several place- and ethnic names, among them Καρρόδουνον, Мαιτώνιον, and Ήρακτον (Claud. Ptol. III.5.15; Sims-Williams 2006: 218-19, Falileyev 2005, 2007:4-9), and the name of the Kamula mountain itself (Tischenko 2006:220, Kazakevich 2010: 172), in the vicinity of which the Gryniv cemetery is situated.
The Gryniv scabbard was discovered in burial # 3 at the cemetery and dated to between the second and fourth decades of the 1st c. AD. The burial contained an iron fibula, sword/scabbard, spearhead, 3 knives, a spur, shield umbo, pottery of local and Balkan origin and shears (Kazakevich op cit.). The presence of shears in Celtic burials is well documented among the Celts of central and eastern Europa (loc cit.), and many of the objects in the burial, including the shears and weapons had been ritually killed – i.e. broken, bent or otherwise deformed, according to the well known Celtic custom (see ‘Killing the Objects’).
The most notable artifact was the scabbard from which two bronze plates have been preserved. One of them is decorated with cut-out anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures in the open work (opus interasile) style. The scabbards with open work decoration originated from the La Têne zone of central Europe where a strong tradition of richly decorated scabbards existed (Szabó 1996). Although most of the open work scabbards contained a comparatively simple geometric ornamentation, the Gryniv bronze plate is decorated in a much more sophisticated manner.
The decoration consists of 5 scenes:
Section A – A beast of prey catching a long necked bird;
Section B – An eagle headed griffin:
Section C – An Embracing couple:
Section D – A horse (pony?) encircled by two plants or leaves:
Section E – A horseman with a spear and round shield:
Particularly noteworthy in the depiction of the horseman in section E is the circular shield carried by the warrior. Such shields are not typical of the Celts, but of the Germani, and the portrayal is a good example of the Celto-Germanic nature of the population which developed in this area during the period in question.
From an artistic perspective, parallels to the scabbards decoration may be found in many Celtic artifacts. For example, the closest analogue of the eagle-headed griffin in section B is to be found on the Celto-Thracian Gundestrup Cauldron, while the floral elements (triangular leaves on long stalks), as well as the features and proportions of the human figures, are also very similar to examples from Gundestrup (op cit.).
The fact that the male and female figures form the center of the composition, and this section is disproportionally larger than the other scenes, logically indicates that this is the central theme, which has led to the conclusion that the whole composition depicts a scene of ‘sacred marriage’ symbolizing a form of cosmological structure (Kozak 2008:157-159).
On Celtic Ukraine see:
Falileyev A. (2005) Celtic Presence in Dobrudja: Onomastic Evidence. In: Cojocaru V. ed., Ethnic Contacts and Cultural Exchanges North and West of the Black Sea from Greek Colonization to Ottoman Conquest. Iasi. P. 291-303.
Kazakevich G. (2010) The Late La Têne Scabbard from the Upper Dniester Area: A Far Relative of the Gundestrup Cauldron? In: Studia Celto-Slavica 5. Dimensions and Categories of Celticity: Studies in Literature and Culture. Proceedings of the Fourth Internationl Colloquium of Societas Celto-Slavica. University of Lódź, Poland, 13-15 Septemer 2009. Part 2. P. 171- 179.
Kozak D. N. (2008) Venedy. Kyiv: Instytut Arheologii
Sims-Williams P. (2006) Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europa and Asia Minor. Oxford.
Szabó M (1996) L’expansion Celte et l’armament décoré. MEFRA 108, 522-553.
Tyschenko K. M. (2006) Movni kontakty: svidky formuvannia ukraintsiv (Linguistic Contacts: Witnesses of the Formation of the Ukrainians). Kyiv.