Archive for November, 2016



The first Celtic chariot burial to be found in Scotland…


FULL ARTICLE  by Carter, Hunter et al in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society:





UD: October 2017





“The cruelest of all the Thracians were the Scordisci…”.

(Florus, Epitome XXXVIIII (The Thracian War) III. 4)




Towards the end of the 2nd century BC relentless attacks from the north by the Celtic Scordisci and the Free Thracian tribes, notably the Maidi (the tribe of Spartacus) and Denteletes, threatened to overrun the Roman province of Macedonia. By 115 BC the situation had become so chronic that Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus, who had been consul in 116 BC, was sent to Macedonia. Eburnus was renowned as a strict authoritarian figure who had sentenced his own son to death for ‘immorality’, and it appears that it was he who drew up the plans for the eradication of the ‘barbarian’ threat and the Roman conquest of Thrace (Valerius Maximus 6.1.5–6; Pseudo-Quintilian, Decl. 3.17; Orosius 5.16.8).

As part of this strategy a Roman fortress was established at the old Hellenistic settlement of Heraclea Sintica (at today’s Rupite near Petritch in s.w. Bulgaria) under a commander called Lucullus. This garrison was situated in the strategic Struma river valley, the only practical route for a large military force to move into western Thrace. The culmination of the Roman strategy was the invasion of Thrace in 114 BC by a Roman army led by the Consul Gaius Porcius Cato.




Silver denarius of the consul Gaius Porcius Cato, who led the first major Roman invasion of Thrace in 114 BC.



Location of Heraclea Sintica/Rupite



Roman Terracotta mask from Heraclea Sintica



The events of 114 BC were to prove catastrophic for Rome. As mentioned, a Roman fortress had been established on the upper Struma River at Heraclea Sintica, and two cohorts of Roman soldiers were stationed there under a commander called Lucullus (Front. Strat. 3,10,7). This fortress was on the border of, or even possibly within, the territory of the Celtic tribes in Thrace, and appears to have been intended as a staging post for further Roman expansion northwards.





Ruins of the Roman Settlement at Heraclea Sintica



Roman stone projectile, (7.5 kg in weight), discovered at Heraclea Sintica




In 114 BC the army of Gaius Porcius Cato marched along the Struma river valley into Thrace (Liv. Per. 63′a; Flor. 1.39, 1-4; Dio Cass fr. 88’1; Eutrop. 4.24.1; Amm. Marc. 27.4.4). The purpose of Cato’s campaign appears to have been twofold – to eradicate the threat of the Celtic and Free Thracian tribes to Roman Macedonia, and to expand the empires power into the territory of today’s western/southern Bulgaria.




The western Rhodope mountains



This heavily afforested and mountainous area of the western Rhodope mountains is ill suited for the conventional military tactics of a Roman army, but perfect terrain for the surprise attacks and ambush tactics used by the Balkan Celts in this period. It would appear that the Roman consul completely underestimated the situation both in terms of the terrain, and the military potential of his enemy. Instead of expanding Roman power into the central Balkans, the invading Roman army was wiped out, and the Celts counterattacked.




Material from the burial of a Scordisci Cavalry Officer at Montana (N.W. Bulgaria)

(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42301/01-08; late 2nd / 1st c. BC)


Part of a large hoard of Celtic (Scordisci) material (14 sets of weapons, harness gear, jewellery… / 2-1 c. BC) discovered in a cave (known locally as the “Druids Cave”) on the Juhor Mountain in central Serbia.







After the destruction of Cato’s army the Scordisci advanced along the Struma river towards the Roman garrison at Heraclea Sintica. In light of the fact that a large Roman army had just invaded Thrace, it appears that the last thing the garrison was expecting was a Celtic attack. The subsequent events are described by the Roman historian Frontinius (40 – 103 AD) in his work Strategemata (3,19,7):

“Scordisci equites, cum Heracleae diversarum partium praesidio praepositus esset Lucullus, pecora abigere simulantes provocaverunt eruptionem; fugam deinde mentiti sequentem Lucullum in insidias deduxerunt et octingentos cum eo milites occiderunt”.

Thus, the attack on the Roman fortress at Heraclea was marked, not by the headlong barbarian charge often associated with the Celts, but by a much more subtle and successful tactic. A small group of Celtic horsemen were first dispatched and, pretending to drive off the livestock, provoked Lucullus into a fatal error. No sooner had the Roman force emerged from their defenses to hunt down the ‘barbarians’, than the main body of the Celtic cavalry charged out of the forest. What followed was less a battle than a massacre, in the aftermath of which the Roman commander and 800 of his soldiers lay dead.


In a series of devastating attacks, the Thracian Celts had brought Roman expansion on the Balkans to a brutal halt…















Mac Congail













In a world where the average woman was not expected to live beyond her 20’s, and death in childbirth was common, it is little wonder that one of the most widespread cults in the Celtic (and Romano-Celtic) world was that of the Nutrices – the protectors of maternity and motherhood.


In Britannia and Gaul the Nutrices/Matres are often represented in a triad on votive reliefs such as those from Circencester (Gloucestershire) where the central Goddess is holding the baby in her arms, or Vertault (Côte d’Or) where 3 nursing Goddesses are depicted.

The Aufanian Matronae (detail) from the Gallo-Roman temple site at Görresburg, Nettersheim

(Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn)

Above Left: Terracotta relief of the Matres from the Gallo-Roman settlement of Vertillum (Vertault, Côte d’Or).

(Museum of Châtillon-sur-Seine)

Above Right: Depiction of the Nursing Mother Goddesses from Cirencester, England. (Corinium Museum, Cirencester)



Hoard of silver jewelry from Backworth (Tyne & Wear), England ( 1-2 c. AD). The silver pan, which was probably the container for most of the objects, has a  decorated handle with a gold-inlaid inscription in Latin MATR.FAB DVBIT – a gift from Fabius Dubitatus to the Celtic Matres




Other depictions of the Nutrices are found on white terracotta figurines discovered across Europe, depicting seated Matres wearing a diadem and long garments, feeding 1 or 2 infants at their breast. The Celtic Nutrices should also be related to the Roman Dea Nutrix, who was venerated especially in North Africa, either alone, or together with Saturnus, and is also represented breast-feeding babies, or as protector of children.

Five statuettes in white terracotta of nursing Matres discovered in a well in Auxerre (Yonne).

Statuettes of the Matres from Morlanwelz (Hainaut), Belgium

Mould for the production of statuettes of the Matres from Toulon-sur-Allier (Auvergne), France




On the Balkans, the largest center dedicated to the Nutrices was that at Poetovio in Pannonia (Ptuj, eastern Slovenia), where 2 sanctuaries and numerous inscriptions have been discovered. In Poetovio the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form and, as in the case of sites such as Cirencester (Britannia) and Vertault (Gaul), are often portrayed as a triad.

Representation of the Nutrices from Poetovio

(LIMC, vol. 6.2, p. 620, n°4)



Noteworthy is the fact that, although dating to the Roman period, a significant number of dedicators to the Nutrices/Matres at Poetovio and other such sites still bear Celtic names (Šašel Kos 1999). This fact, and the use of a separate Celtic alphabet/script in this region as late as the 3rd c. AD, indicates a remarkable continuity of native religious and cultural tradition throughout the Roman period.


Roman period altar dedicated to the Celtic Matres from Duratón (Segovia), Spain (1st-2nd century). The invocation Matribus Termegiste (To the Three Almighty Mothers) alludes to the typical Celtic trinity concept.















Mac Congail