UD: May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the hills east of the Tribanjska Draga canyon in western Croatia, not far from the Adriatic coast, comes one of most enigmatic ancient burials from Eastern Europe.

 

Discovered by local shepherds in 2006, the cremation burial in the Sveta Trojica area yielded a Roman sword (Gladius of the ‘Mainz’ type), a spearhead, shield boss and nails, as well as a ceramic urn and ‘chalice’ – the nature of the weapons and Roman caligae type nails indicating that the burial was that of a Roman soldier, and dated to the early 1st c. AD. However, it also became clear from the geographical context and the burial ritual that this was no ordinary ‘Roman’ burial.

 

 

 

 

Sveta weapons
Weapons from the Warrior Burial at Sveta Trojica

 
(after Tonc et al 2010: Tonc A., Radman-Livaja I., Dizdar M. The Warrior Grave from Sveta Trojica near Starigrad Paklenica. In: Proceedings of the International conference Weapons and Military Equipment in a Funerary Context. Zagreb 2010. pp. 245 – 258)

 

 

 

 

Sveta m.

Location of the Site

 

 

 

In the late Iron Age this area was inhabited by an Illyrian Liburnian population, the burial rite practiced by whom was inhumation, thus ruling out the possibility that this was a local individual who had served in the Roman army. Furthermore, in the area where the burial was discovered no evidence has been found of a garrison or other Roman military presence which would explain the burial of a Roman soldier at this location. A further surprising twist is that the sword from the burial shows clear evidence of having been ritually ‘killed’, indicating that the deceased was actually of Celtic origin (loc cit).

 

 

 

 
Sveta urn
The Funerary Urn from the Burial at Sveta Trojica
(after Tonc et al 2010)

 

 

 

 

 

 
So how does one explain the burial of a Celtic warrior with Roman weapons in an area inhabited by Illyrians?

 

 
It is a well documented fact that a large proportion of Roman forces on the Balkans, and other parts of the empire, consisted of soldiers of Celtic origin. For example, recent research from Romania shows that circa 25% of the Roman peregrine population in Dacia were Celts:

 

 

 
alegion-piechart

Ethnic origin of Roman auxiliary troops in Dacia

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/hounds-of-the-empire-celtic-roman-legions-on-the-balkans/

 

 

 

 

 

In the western Balkans, a number of other cases have been registered of Roman soldiers buried according to Celtic ritual. Such is the case, for example, with ‘Roman’ burials at sites such as Novo Mesto – Beletov Vrt and Verdun pri Stopičah in Slovenia, where the weapons were also deformed in the distinctive Celtic fashion (Tonc et al 2010).

 

 

Thus, in light of the available archaeological evidence it appears that the warrior from Sveta Trojica was part of a Roman military unit which passed through this region of Croatia at the beginning of the 1st century. The fact that he was buried according to Celtic ritual further indicates that this Roman force also contained other individuals from this ethnic group and represents further evidence that, although formally ‘Romans’, these warriors retained their own religious traditions and sense of ethnic identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Mac Congail

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