THE DOG IN CELTIC CULTURE AND RELIGION

UD: Feb. 2018

 

 

Reverse of a Celtic coin (potin), Paris region, 1 c. BC

 

 

 

Kujawy is a historical region in north-central Poland, situated on the left bank of the Vistula, and east of the Noteć river and Lake Goplo. Archaeological research over the past decade has revealed a wealth of new information about the Celtic presence in this area of Poland in the pre-Roman era.

 

 

Stater KUJAWY
Celtic gold stater from Kujawy (1st c. BC)
(After Andrałojć 2014 )

 

 

One of the most interesting recent discoveries from the Kujawy region is a small bronze Celtic pendant/amulet in the shape of a dog discovered at the Gąski site (loc cit). The bronze amulet features the animal with an elongated body (5.2 cm long), a delicate snout, accentuated ears (the endings of the ears are broken), and a long, curved tail. The animal bears a striking resemblance to a modern Dachshund/Sausage Dog, and the amulet has a large ring for hanging on a chain.

 

 

DOG
The Celtic Dog Amulet from Kujawy

(After Andrałojć M. (2014) fig. 11; On the Celts in Poland see also: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/the-celts-in-poland/)

 

 

 

 

Confirmation of the religious significance of the dog in Celtic culture is provided by extensive archaeological evidence. Dogs as amulets in Celtic cremation graves, dated to Late La Tène period, have been found in Hessen, Germany. The ten small sculptures are made of clay, bronze, glass or jet, and all found in the burials of women or girls (Polenz 1975). A number of Celtic dog amulets are also known from eastern Europe – e.g. finds from eastern Hungary, the oppidum at Stradonice, the sites at Belušske Slatiny, Nimnica, Esztergom, and the Celtic oppidum at Stare Hradisko (Veres 2009:231‑237, 234, Filip 1956, Pl.125:9; Pieta 2008, F.32:4, F.31:4, F.31:1). Bronze dog figurines have also recently been found among the votive offerings at the Celtic settlement at Nĕmčice-Vícemĕřice (Czech Republic).

 

 

 

 

bronze-zoomorphic-figurines-settlement-at-120-found-nemcice-vicemerice-moravia-czech-2-1-c-bc
Bronze votive figurines of birds, dogs and other animals from the Celtic settlement at Nĕmčice-Vícemĕřice

(after Cizmar et al 2008)

 

wolf-pendant-talisman-from-the-celtic-settlement-at-esztergom-n-hungary-bronze-2-1-c-bc

Dog (wolf?) pendant/talisman (bronze) from the Celtic settlement at Esztergom, northern Hungary

(2-1 c. BC)

 

Head of a dog, with open jaws and long swirling tongue, on the reverse of a bronze issue of the Biturges Cubi tribe from Gaul (ca. 70 BC)

 

 

Dogs appear frequently in Celtic artwork and in Celtic myths and legends as the companions of kings and warriors, and representatives of the Gods (Green 2004:16,175). The animal possessed both mundane value and spiritual importance in Celtic culture. Hunting and herding were mainstays of early economies in the Celtic world and these economic activities made dogs highly valued, being closely connected with both the spiritual and practical aspects of healing, hunting and death.

 

 

 

Obverse of a Celtic tetradrachm (Croatia-mid 3rd c. BC), featuring a bearded God with a tiny dog dancing on his nose...
Obverse of a Celtic tetradrachm (Croatia-mid 3rd c. BC), featuring a bearded God with a tiny dog dancing on his nose…

 

 

Reverse of a Celtic coin (potin), Paris region, 1 c. BC
A rather bizarre scene of a dog savaging a humanoid creature, depicted on the reverse of a Celtic coin (potin), Paris region, 1 c. BC

 

Dog riding a horse, triskele below. Silver drachm (reverse) of the Carnutes tribe in Gaul (2/1 c. BC)

 

One of the most important sacred aspects of dogs in Celtic culture was its close association with healing. In the area inhabited by the Celts, representations of dogs often appear together with gods providing fertility and good harvest (e.g. female deities depicted with pomegranate fruit or cornucopias). Similarly, Celtic goddesses of hunting (Abnoba and Arduinna) were shown in the company of a dog (Andralojc 1993:102-104).

 The Celtic goddess Nehalennia has a relationship with dogs that is similar to that of the goddess Epona with horses. Nehalennia was a goddess worshipped as a provider of prosperity and healing, and was usually portrayed with a dog and a basket of fruit. The healing aspects of dogs are also present in the iconography associated with the British god Nodens, who may be a British representation of the Irish god Nuadu (Green 2004:16; on the Celtic Horse Goddess Epona see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/epona-the-celtic-horse-goddess-in-thrace/).


The importance of the dog in Celtic culture is also emphasized by the frequency with which the Celtic term for Dog/Hound is found in Celtic personal names.

 

 

 

Cunorix
The CUNORIX inscription from Wroxeter, (Shropshire) England (CISP = WRXTR/1)

CVNORIX | MACVSM/A | QVICO[L]I[N]E

= Hound-King, son of The Son of the Holly (Wright/Jackson 1968)

https://www.academia.edu/14329263/KINGS_OF_THE_WORLD_-_On_The_Nature_of_Celtic_Personal_Names

 

 

 

 

 

Miniature glass dog from a Celtic burial (#31) at Wallertheim, (Rhineland) Germany
Miniature glass dog from a Celtic burial (#31) at Wallertheim, (Rhineland) Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LITERATURE CITED

 

Andrałojć M (1993) Rola psa w obrzędowości pradziejowych ludow Europy Środkowej [w:] Wierzenia przedchrześcijańskie na ziemiach polskich, (red.) M. Kwapiński, H. Paner. Gdańsk

Andrałojć M. and Andrałojć M. (2014) The unknown face of the Lugian Federation– Celtic coinage in the Polish lands Inowrocław–Poznań 2014

Filip J. (1956) Keltove ve středni Evrope. Monumenta Archaeologica 5, Prague.

H. Polenz (1975) ‘Latènezeitliche Hundeplastiken aus Süd- und Rheinhessen’, Fundberichte aus Hessen 14, 1974 (pr. 1975), 255-307.

Green M. (2004) The Gods of the Celts. Sutton.

Pieta K. (2008) Keltske osidlenie Slovenska. Mladša doba latenska, Archaeologica Slovaca
Monographiae, Nitra.

Veres J. (2009) The depiction of a carnyx-player from the Carpathian Basin. A study of two Celtic bronze statuettes from eastern Hungary, Archaologisches Korrespondenzblatt, Bd. 39, H. 2, S. 231‑248.

Cizmar V.M., Eva Kolníková E., Noeske H. (2008) Nĕmčice-Vícemĕřice – ein neues Handels- und Industriezentrum der Latènezeit in Mähren. Vorbericht. In: GERMANIA 86, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “THE DOG IN CELTIC CULTURE AND RELIGION

  1. I always think it is worth examining the mythology of the other great European Iron Age cultures when assessing the ‘Celtic’ component, about which we know very little except for the late-classical syncretisms of Hellenisation and Romanisation. The dog was closely associated both with Artemis/Diana and with other lunar (e.g. – Hecate, Selene) divinities. It was also important to the Thracian ‘Hero’ (Sabazios) imagery of the masculine hunter, and was also generally a feature associated with herders, which in turn had a link to cthonic deities who looked after the ‘host’ of the shades of the dead. Dogs (the Celtic term ‘Cvno’ also included wolves) were likewise associated with the liminal boundaries of human settlement – places also favoured by the souls of the restless dead. The cthonic realm might be said to be a source of healing, in that decay produces fertility, but dogs were classified as ‘gnawing’ creatures who threatened health – picking over human scraps and dogging our heels… They are a paradoxical or ambivalent image: protectors of our herds, yet scavengers of our waste and our dead: a wild force which could control for our benefit, yet will turn on us if we show weakness!

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