UD: March 2017
Some of the finest examples of Iron Age metalwork are to be found on the anthropomorphic hilts of swords which appear in the 2nd c. BC, produced by the pan-Celtic tribes across Europe. In late Iron Age artistic compositions human heads become increasingly frequent and realistic, and appear to have had talismanic significance. The hilts of middle to late La Têne swords become truly anthropomorphic, with the figures body as sword grip and the arms and legs as cross bars.
Celtic sword from Switzerland and detail of hilt (Iron blade, copper alloy hilt and scabbard)
(c. 60 BC)
Bronze sword hilt from Châtillon-sur-Indre (Val de Loire), France
(c. 30-20 BC)
Celtic anthropomorphic sword in the Reichstadtmuseum Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany (2nd c. BC)
The head of an anthropoid hilt from a Celtic sword, discovered at Besançon, France (2 c. BC)
Such anthropomorphic representations are not confined to swords, but are also to be found on a number of Celtic daggers from this period. The more realistic depiction of the human head in the late La Têne period, possibly under Roman influence, is also to be observed on other artifacts, notably eastern Celtic helmets of the Novo Mesto type.
Short iron sword with X-shaped hilt, from the Celtic settlement in the Gališ-Lovačka hills, western Ukraine (3/2 c. BC). It is from such X-shaped hilts that the Celtic anthropomorphic hilts are believed to have evolved.
Ritually ‘killed’ Celtic sword with proto-anthropomorphic hilt from Szendrő, northern Hungary (3rd c. BC)
Hilt of a Celtic dagger from Zalaegerszeg, Hungary.
(2nd c. BC)
Human heads from the front and rear of the Novo Mesto type Sava helmet from Croatia
(1st c. BC)
Celtic swords (and daggers) with anthropomorphic hilts were produced during the La Têne C/D period (2nd c. BC – early 1st c. AD), and have been found across the continent stretching from northwestern Ireland to the Balkans, indicating that they gained popularity among all the pan-Celtic European tribes during this period.
Celtic sword with anthropomorphic hilt from Saint-André-de-Lidon (Charente-Maritime) France (2/1 c. BC)
Celtic sword with anthropomorphic hilt, from a warrior burial at North Grimston (Yorkshire), England
(late 2nd century BC)
Bronze Celtic sword hilt from Ballyshannon Bay (Donegal) northwestern Ireland
(1st c. BC)