CELTIC GLASS “FACE BEADS”

It has long been noted that the cult of the head “constitutes a persistent theme throughout all aspects of Celtic life spiritual and temporal, and the symbol of the severed head may be regarded as the most typical and universal of their religious attitudes” (Ross A. Pagan Celtic Britain. London 1967:163).

Strabo informs us that ‘when they depart from the battle they hang the heads of their enemies from the necks of their horses, and when they have brought them home, nail the spectacle to the entrance of their houses…’ (Strabo IV, 4,5). Amongst the Celts the human head ‘was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of  the emotions, as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world’ (Jacobstahl P. Early Celtic Art. Oxford. 1944; see also Mac Congail 2010: 173-175). The severed head is also one of the main core symbols on Celtic artifacts and coins from the Balkans in the 4th – 1st c. BC.

In this context, one of the most interesting types of glasswork produced by the Celts, apparently from Phoenician prototypes, were ‘Face/Head Beads’. These have been found at a number of Celtic burials and other sites from central (Germany, Switzerland etc.) and eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria etc.).

Hung

Celtic glass ‘Janus’ Face Bead from Mezönyarad (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén), Hungary (3rd c. BC)

Moravia 3 c. BC

Celtic face bead from Moravia, Czech Republic (3 c. BC)

 

A wonderful example of this type of face bead from Bulgaria comes from the Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region), which has direct parallels in examples discovered at Celtic sites in the Czech Republic and Romania. Similar artifacts have been unearthed in recent years during excavations at other sites in Bulgaria such as Appolonia Pontica/Sozopol, Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region), Burgas, Kavarna, etc.

Bulg 1

Face Bead from Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region, Bulgaria)

Bulg 2

Glass bead and ‘face bead’ from Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region, Bulgaria)

 

Also interesting, from an artistic perspective, is a gold ‘Janus head’ pendant executed in a repossé technique and decorated filigreé and granulation, discovered in the Shumen region of northeastern Bulgaria, and dated to the same period. From a morphological and stylistic perspective the closest analogies are the Celtic face beads found among the Celts of central and eastern Europe, examples of which come from sites such as Mangalia, Piscolt and Vác, as well as the aforementioned sites in Bulgaria (Rustoiu 2008).

 

Jan head

Gold Celtic ‘Janus Head’ pendant from Schumen region, northeastern Bulgaria (4th/3rd c. BC)

 

As with many aspects of Celtic art, the tradition of producing face beads continues much later in the Insular sphere, as attested to by many wonderful examples of glass face beads dating to the late Iron Age discovered in Ireland.

Late Iron Age glass 'face bead' from Antrim, Ireland. Such Celtic beads emerged in the early Iron Age, apparently based on Phoenician prototypes. 

Late Iron Age glass face bead from Antrim, Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

Alphabet of the Druids ? – Evidence for the use of a Celto-Etruscan script among the Balkan Celts

A fascinating series of inscriptions discovered in the ‘Roman’ cemetery at Poetovio in Pannonia (Ptuj, e. Slovenia) have provided sensational evidence on Celtic society and religion during the Roman period in this part of Europe, and the use of a Celto-Etruscan script on the Balkans.

Among the graffiti on ceramic vessels found at the western cemetery at Poetovio, a number of Celtic inscriptions have been identified which may be divided into 2 main groups:

The first group of inscriptions includes a number of vessels, which date from the 1st / 3rd c. AD, inscribed with Celtic names. Example of such include the names TOCIES – written on a jug dating to the late 1st/ 2nd c., and M. BITTIV, inscribed on the body of another jug, Bittius/Bitus being one of the most common Celtic personal names, recorded in numerous inscriptions across Europe from the British Isles to Galatia (Egri 2007; see also mac Gonagle 2012).

Bituis - Tocies

The TOCIES and BITTIV inscriptions

(after Egri 2007)

 

While the aforementioned inscriptions give us valuable information on the ethnic composition of this region during the period, most interesting from the Poetovio site are two religious inscriptions, which provide fascinating evidence on Celtic (Romano-Celtic) religion and the use of a Celto-Etruscan script in this region.

 

THE NUTRICES

The first of these inscriptions – MATERIA – (written on a jar in cursive letters) is particularly interesting because it is further evidence of a phenomenon already identified by archaeological data from the area – the worship of the Celtic Mother Goddess, in the form of the Nursing Matres or Nutrices.

 

mat

(after Bόnis 1942)

 

The Nursing Matres or Nutrices was a cult widespread in the Celtic world, and particularly significant around Poetovio where 2 sanctuaries and numerous depictions, often with inscriptions, have been discovered. 

mat. gl

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

(Deyts, 1998, n° 30, p. 68)

 

At Poetovio the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form, often portrayed as 3 women, one of them holding and breastfeeding a baby. A significant number of dedicators to the Nutrices at the site also have Celtic names indicating that the cult of the Nursing Matres were brought here by a Celtic group which had settled the region with other Celtic tribes when they occupied the later Regnum Noricum  (Šašel Kos 1999).

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/to-the-3-almighty-mothers-on-the-celtic-cult-of-the-nutrices-nursing-mothers/

 

 

“Alphabet of the Druids”

 

The most sensational Celtic inscription to be found at Poetovio is undoubtedly that found on a ceramic beaker at the site. Dated to the 2nd/3rd c. AD, and written in a Celto-Etruscan script, the inscription reads:

ARTEBUDZ BROGDU

which has been translated as ‘Artebudz for Brogdos’. Both names are Celtic, and the vessel was a votive offering to Brogdos – a deity guarding the border between the world of the living and the after-world (Eichner et al 1994:137; Egri 2007).

 

brogdos p

The Brogdos Inscription

(after Istenič 2000)

 

The use of scripts based on the Etruscan alphabet by the Celtic tribes is well documented in other parts of Europe, with recent discoveries providing important new information which indicates that the use of such was much more extensive than previously thought.  

1 - TARANIS incs.

Fragment of bone with inscription to the Thunder God Taranis in a Celto-Etruscan script, from Tesero di Sottopendonda (Trente) Italy (4/3 c. BC)

 

Inscribed glass bead from a Celtic burial at Münsingen-Rain (Bern), Switzerland. The inscription (in Etruscan characters from right to left) is a proper name - Anthine. 3-2 c bc 2

Inscribed glass bead from a Celtic burial at Münsingen-Rain (Bern), Switzerland. The inscription (in Etruscan characters from right to left) is a proper name – Anthine.

(3-2 c. BC)

Mathay-Mandeure sanctuary the seven engraved beads Doubs, France Lepontic or Insubro-Lepontic script 2-1 c bc

 

7 glass beads from a Celtic sanctuary at Mathay-Mandeure (Doubs) in eastern France. Discovered in the 19th century, it has only recently been established that the beads are engraved with inscriptions in a Celto-Etruscan (Lepontic / Insubro-Lepontic) script. A growing number of Celtic artifacts bearing inscriptions in a similar script, apparently of a religious nature, have been discovered at a number of Celtic sites across Europe.

(2/1 c. BC)

 

Recorded in other parts of Europe, the use of such a Celtic-Etruscan script on the Balkans has also been known from a series of pre-Roman inscriptions discovered prior to the First World War, in the 1950’s and a handful of recent publications from sites such as Grad near Reka (a cremation urn), the situla fragment from the site in Posočje, as well as the bronze plaque fragment from Gradič above Kobarid (Turk et al 2009), and on a number of Celtic coins (particularly of the Paeonian model) and other artifacts.

Probably the best known examples are the Negau Inscriptions. Discovered  in an orchard at the village of Negau (today Ženjak) in Slovenia, the Negau Hoard consisted of 26 bronze Etruscan helmets, many bearing inscriptions in a Celto-Etruscan script. The helmets are of an Etruscan design from circa 500-450 BC called the Vetulonic or Negau type, which are of bronze with a comb-shaped ridge across the skull, and a protruding rim with a groove right above the rim. However, the inscriptions on the helmets are believed to have been added at a much later date (2nd c. BC), and the deposition has been dated to circa 50 BC – i.e. shortly before the Roman conquest of the area.

The Negau B Helmet and inscription

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/the-negau-inscriptions/

 

Slo plaq

Silver votive plaque from Vrh Gradu (Šentviška Gora), eastern Slovenia with Celto-Etruscan inscription (2-1 c. BC)

 

1 - GRAD a-b

The Grad (A) and Posočje (B) inscriptions

(After Turk et al 2009)

 

 

However, until now all archaeological evidence of the use of this script on the Balkans has been confined to the pre-Roman period. Thus, the significance of the BROGDOS inscription from Poetovio cannot be overstated, as it represents not only a further example of this alphabet, but provides conclusive archaeological evidence that this writing system was still known and used in certain parts of the Balkans throughout the Roman period. It is also interesting to note that in each case the script appears to be used in religious contexts, suggesting that the alphabet was strictly controlled and used only by Celtic priests/druids, while the Greek and Latin alphabets were used for more mundane purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Bόnis E. (1942) Die kaiserzeitliche Keramik von Pannonien. Dissertationes Pannonicae 2.20. Budapest.

Egri M. (2007) Graffiti on Ceramic Vessels from the Western Cemetery at Poetovio. In: Funerary Offerings and Votive Depositions in Europe’s 1st Millennium AD. Cluj-Napoca 2007. P. 37 – 48.

Eichner H., Istenič J., Lovenjak M. (1994) Ein römerzeitliches Keramikgefäss aus Ptuj (Pettau, Poetovio) in Slowenien mit Inschrift in unekanntem Alphabet und epichorischer (vermutlich kelticher) Sprache. In: Arheološki Vestnik 45, 1994, 131-142.

Istenič  J. (2000) Poetovio, the western cemeteries II. Ljubljana.

Mac Gonagle B. (2012) https://www.academia.edu/3292310/The_Thracian_Myth_-_Celtic_Personal_Names_in_Thrace

Šašel Kos (1999) Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic – Situla 38, Ljubljana.

Turk P., Božič D., Istenič J., Osmuk N., Šmit Ž. (2009)New Pre-Roman Inscriptions from Western Slovenia : The Archaeological Evidence. In: Protohistoire Européenne II, 2009. Éditions monique mergoil Montagnac. p. 47–64.

 

 

 

Mac Congail

THE CELTIC BUDDHA – Stucco Portrait of an “Enlightened” Celt from the Greco-Buddhist Monastic Complex at Hadda in eastern Afghanistan

 

Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations”.

 

 

The long and winding road from Kabul to the Khyber Pass follows the River Kabul through a rich and fertile valley with Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan as its centre, and there, for centuries around the beginning of the first millennium, lived large communities of Buddhist monks. Hadda was one of the most sacred sites of the Buddhist world dating from the early part of the first millenium AD to the 7th Century. Countless pilgrims came from every corner of the earth to worship at its many holy temples, maintained by thousands of monks and priests living in large monastery complexes.

Hadda Blown B

The Larger Bamiyan Buddha at Hadda, before and after demolition by the Taliban in March 2001. The Gandharan period saw the earliest figural depictions of the Buddha.

 

Almost entirely destroyed by religious extremists during the recent civil wars, throughout the period of Buddhism’s great flourishing, from the Kushans (1st–3rd century AD) into the 7th century AD, Hadda was a popular pilgrimage destination where, according to the accounts of famous Chinese pilgrims such as Faxian and Xuanzang, various relics of the Buddha’s body and belongings were preserved, each of them enshrined in a stūpa (a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns that is used as a place of meditation) – a bone of the Buddha’s skull and uṣṇīṣa (cranial protuberance), an eyeball, the monastic robe and the ascetic staff.

Archaeological exploration of the site in the modern era began in 1834 with Charles Masson of the British East India company, who discovered Graeco-Bactrian, Indo-Scythian, Hunnic, Roman and Byzantine coins inside 14 stūpas in different sacred areas. The most important of these, Tapa Kalan, also yielded fragments of stone and stucco sculptures. Further minor investigations followed, until J. Barthoux of the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA) carried out extensive excavations on various sites from 1926 to 1929.

 

Hadda Budd 1

Detail, central section of arcade on façade. Hadda. Monastery of Bagh-Gai. Painted stucco. Barthoux Expedition 1927-1928. 

 

From a 21st century perspective the plundering of such an important archaeological site by the British and French during the imperial period may be frowned upon. However, in light of its recent destruction by Afghan forces the fact that many of the treasures had already been transported to the west means that much of the archaeological evidence from Hadda has survived, thus providing invaluable information on the exchange of cultural and spiritual ideas during this period in history.

Hadda Monk

Monk. Hadda. Monastery of Tapa-Kalan

(Barthoux expedition 1927)

Over 23,000 Greco-Buddhist sculptures, combining elements of Buddhism and Hellenism, have been excavated at the site. Although the style of the artifacts is typical of the late Hellenistic 2nd or 1st century BC, the Hadda sculptures are usually dated to the 1st century AD or later, which is explained by the preservation of late Hellenistic styles for a few centuries in this part of the world. However, it is highly possible that many of the artifacts were actually produced in the late Hellenistic period.

Hadda Buddha loc

Buddha Shakyamuni. Hadda. Monastery of Tapa-Kalan

 

 

THE CELTIC BUDDHA

 

In the present context, one of the most significant artifacts to be discovered at Hadda was found during the French mission led by Jules Barthoux in 1926-1927. Among the ca. 15,000 artifacts recorded by Barthoux was the stucco head of a Celt (“Gaulois”) found at the Tapa-Kalan monastery. 

Hadda authen - Louvre

Head of the ‘Barbarian Gaul’ from Hadda.

(Stucco – Height 0.1 m. Length 0.06 m; Depth 0.069 m.)

 

 

It is perhaps not surprising that an individual of Celtic origin may have found his way to such a famous place of spiritual learning; countless pilgrims came from every corner of the earth to worship at its many holy temples, maintained by thousand of monks and priests living in large monastery complexes. The fact that eastern philosophies had spread into Europe by this stage is also testified to by many ancient authors. For example, in the 2nd century AD the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria (Stromata), recognizing Bactrian Buddhists (Sramanas) and Indian Gymnosophists for their influence on Greek thought, writes:

Thus philosophy, a thing of the highest utility, flourished in antiquity among the barbarians, shedding its light over the nations. And afterwards it came to Greece. First in its ranks were the prophets of the Egyptians; and the Chaldeans among the Assyrians; and the Druids among the Gauls; and the Sramanas among the Bactrians (“Σαρμαναίοι Βάκτρων”); and the philosophers of the Celts…”.

Indeed, also in the 2nd century AD, Origen in his Commentary on Ezekiel states that the teachings of The Buddha had spread as far west as the British Isles, and that Buddhists co-existed with Druids in pre-Christian Britain:

“The island (Britain) has long been predisposed to it (Christianity) through the doctrines of the Druids and Buddhists, who had already inculcated the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead”.

 

However, actual archaeological confirmation of this phenomenon has hitherto been very sparse, rendering the evidence from Hadda even more important. Notable about the portrayal of the “Hadda Celt” is that he is depicted in a naturalistic fashion, indicting that we are most likely dealing with a portrait of an actual person of Celtic origin who lived and studied at Hadda during the period in question. Perhaps most remarkable is that the man is depicted with elongated earlobes, which are of particular significance.

On both ancient and modern statues of The Buddha in all cultures the ear lobes are depicted in such a fashion, a powerful symbol in Budhist religious belief, and an intrinsic part of the portrayal of Siddartha Gautama as The Buddha, or “Enlightened One.” The fact that the Celt from Hadda is also depicted in such a fashion would therefore appear to indicate that, in the eyes of the monastic community, this man, as the Buddha himself, was perceived to have reached spiritual enlightenment.

Haḍḍa 1 is a Greco-Buddhist archeological - Bigger -

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

TWISTED BEAUTY – Gold Ribbon Torcs in Bronze Age and Celtic Europe

Bronze Age and Celtic Ribbon Torcs

 

Representing some of the finest examples of European jewelry of the Bronze Age and Celtic period, gold ribbon torcs first appear during the middle Bronze Age in the British Isles. The torcs were created by beating an gold ingot into a flat band that was then twisted.

Carrowdore bog, Co. Down. It dates from the middle Bronze Age (c. 1400-1000 BC)

Middle Bronze Age ribbon torc discovered in Carrowdore Bog in County Down, Ireland

1857 Law Farm Hoard 1 of 36 in Moray, Scotland. Pitt Rivers Museum - Ribbon Torc

Ribbon torc (middle Bronze Age), 1 of 36 discovered in 1857 in a hoard at Law Farm in Moray, Scotland.  Some examples from this and other hoards are smaller in dimension, and may have been worn as bracelets.

 

From the Bronze Age such torcs have been discovered almost exclusively in Ireland and Scotland, the only examples from southern Britain being those from Heyope in Powys, Wales (again dating to the middle Bronze Age).

Gold ribbon torcs discovered at Heyope in Powys, Wales. Dating to the middle Bronze Age

The Heyope Torcs

 

Moving into the Iron Age, perhaps the finest example is a wonderfully elaborate ribbon torc discovered at Saint-Marc-le-Blanc in Brittany, dated to the 6th century BC. Notable examples from the later Iron Age are again largely confined to the Insular Celtic sphere, specifically Ireland and Scotland, and include beautiful examples such as those from Belfast in northern Ireland and Stirlingshire in Scotland.

Saint-Marc-le-Blanc Brittany 6 c. BC

The wonderful layered ribbon torc from Saint-Marc-le-Blanc in Brittany (6 c. BC)

Gold 'ribbon torcs' discovered at Blair Drummond (Stirlingshire), Scotland. 4 Celtic torcs were discovered in the hoard, 2 of which displayed Mediterranean influences.

Ribbon torc from Blair Drummond (Stirlingshire), Scotland. 4 Celtic torcs were discovered in the hoard, 2 of which displayed Mediterranean influences. (3/2 century BC)

Celtic gold ribbon torc discovered near Belfast, Ireland 3 c. BC

The Belfast Torc (3rd century BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOICES OF THE DISAPPEARED (1) – A (looted) Balkan Celtic Warrior Burial from Bačka Palanka (Vojvodina) in Serbia

From an archaeological perspective the last 30 years in Eastern Europe (i.e. since the introduction of “Democracy”) have been marked by a massive growth in the trafficking of antiquities, and the resulting destruction of ancient cultural sites across the region. On the Balkans this phenomenon has reached catastrophic proportions over the last decade, with the looting of archaeological sites on an industrial scale, often with the passive or active collusion of the local authorities.

These artifacts are then illegally transported to the west, primarily to dealers in Germany, where they are laundered – i.e. provided with false documents by ‘experts’ indicating that they come from ‘old private collections’, thus legalizing their sale on the open market. 

A recent example of this phenomenon is the material from a Balkan Celtic warrior burial discovered at Bačka Palanka (Vojvodina) on the Danube in northwestern Serbia. The material from the burial represents the complete inventory of a Celtic (Scordisci) warrior, dating to the 3rd / early 2nd century BC, and includes an iron sword in its scabbard, knife and socketed spearhead, all ritually killed / bent according to Celtic ritual.  Further material from the burial included a shield umbo, forged kettle chain and sword chain. 

Plankenburg sword

Plankenburg sword 2

Plankenburg sword 3

Ritually killed iron sword in its scabbard from the Bačka Palanka burial

Plankenburg shield boss

Shield umbo from the burial

 

The material from the Bačka Palanka burial represents just one example of the massive amount of Balkan Celtic material, particularly from Serbia and Bulgaria, which has been looted and illegally exported over the past few years, thus irreversibly distorting and destroying our understanding of the historical and cultural heritage of this part of Europe. 

 

 

 

1. Bačka Palanka -Plankenburg. Landkreis Vojvodina, sword socketed sphead swordbelt knife Danube

 

 

Mac Congail

 

THE MYSTERY MATRIX – On the Significance of a Gallo-Belgic Die Matrix from Southern England

The surprise discovery of a matrix die for the minting of “Ear-Boar type” potins (type of coin; usually a mixture of copper, tin and lead), associated with the Gallo-Belgic Suessiones tribe of northern France, in the Hampshire region of southern England has thrown new light on the nature and development of the first coinage in Britain.

 

The expansion of Gallo-Belgic tribes across the English Channel into the southern part of the Island of Britain during the later Iron Age had a significant cultural and economic impact, as reflected in a large amount of archaeological evidence recorded over the past century.

Aylesford

Celtic ceremonial vessel from Aylesford in Kent, England.  The area of distribution of such buckets coincides with the territory of the Gallo-Belgic tribes, and the regions of southern Britain into which they expanded. (see link below)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/11/15/celtic-ceremonial-buckets-and-belgic-expansion/

 

This is particularly true in the case of discoveries of numismatic material from the area of southern England, which clearly indicate that the continental Celtic tribes in question introduced the first coinage and monetary system into Britain during this period. This phenomenon has hitherto been attested to by numerous finds of Gallo-Belgic coinage and hoards thereof in the region, as well as matrices / coin dies which testify to the production of such in southern England from the late 2nd century BC onwards.

Gallo-Belgic A type stater produced in northern France or Belgium, and discovered bytreasure hunters at Fenny Stratford near Milton Ke

Gallo-Belgic “A type” stater produced in northern France or Belgium. Discovered by treasure hunters at Fenny Stratford near Milton KeynesEngland – thought to be the first typof coin ever to circulate in Britain (mid 2. c. BC)

 

Coin die (punch) for the production of Gallo-Belgic A staters discovered by treasure hunters atBredgar (Kent), England. (Late 2

Coin die for the production of “Gallo-Belgic A” staters discovered by treasure hunters at Bredgar (Kent), England. (Late 2nd c. BC)

Die for a Gallo-Belgic B quarter stater discovered by treasure hunters at Alton(Hampshire) England. (late 2 c. BC

Die for a Gallo-Belgic B quarter stater discovered by treasure hunters at Alton (Hampshire) England. (late 2nd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.word-british-currency-and-m press.com/2017/02/07/the-firstonetary-system/

 

Of particular interest in this context is the recent discovery of a bronze die matrix used to create casting moulds for the production of Soissons “Eye Boar type” potins, which are usually identified as a Continental / Belgic import type originating from the Soissons region of Northern France.

 

SUR08FD05a

The “Boar Eye type” die matrix

https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/949108

 

Thus the discovery of such a die matrix at Steventon in Hampshire, England is particularly significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, the fact that the die is of a very specific type associated with the Suessiones tribe logically indicates that these were one of the main continental Celtic tribes involved in the Gallo-Belgic expansion into southern Britain during this period.

 

Pot 1

Celtic “Boar Eye type” potin discovered at Berrick Salome in Oxfordshire

https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/892734

Pot 2

Celtic “Boar Eye type” potin discovered at Welyn Hatfield in Hertfordshire

https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/516937

 

 

Most importantly, the Steventon die matrix, as well as numerous finds of such potins in southern England, logically indicates that Celtic tribes in this area were producing not only high value coinage minted in precious metals, which would have circulated mainly among the wealthier classes / tribal elites, but also coinage with a lower intrinsic value for use by the wider  population; thus providing clear evidence that a highly sophisticated coinage / monetary system had already been developed by the native Celtic population in southern Britain in the immediate pre-Roman period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

THE PSYCHOPATH WHO FELL OFF HIS ELEPHANT – Rise and Fall of the Macedonian king Ptolemy Keraunos

UD: May 2019

 

a - a - a - Thunderbolt ELEPHANTS

 

It is said that fact is stranger than fiction. The case of the Macedonian king Ptolemy Keraunos (Πτολεμαῖος Κεραυνός) certainly confirms this.

 

RISE OF A THUNDERBOLT

 

Keraunos (Greek for Thunderbolt) was born the eldest son of Ptolemy I Soter, ruler of Egypt, and Eurydice, daughter of Antipater, the Macedonian regent. He first appears in history in 282 BC in connection with a plot by the Macedonian king Lysimachus to murder his son – Agatholes. The apparent reason for Lysimachus’ displeasure with his son was that Agathocles was having an affair with Lysimachus’ wife (his own mother), Arsinoe of Egypt, who also happened to be Ptolemy Keraunos’ sister. Actually, according to the ancient historians, Lysimachus was displeased with the situation, not because the boy was having sex with his mother, but because his wife and son were rumored to be plotting together against Lysimachus (Memnon 12:6). Incest among the Macedonian aristocracy was a common occurrence (see below), but political infidelity was not tolerated.

  To solve this family problem the king decided to murder his son, who was duly given a dose of poison. Unfortunately for Lysimachus, Agathocles, apparently realizing his father’s intentions at the last moment, spat out the poison. Faced with this embarrassing situation, Lysimachus subsequently threw the boy into a dungeon and called on his brother-in-law, Ptolemy Keraunos, to finish the job. Happy to oblige, soon afterwards Keraunos visited his nephew in his cell and stabbed him to death. According to the ancient historian Memnon (Memnon: History of Heracleia 12’6, 8′ 4-6), it was for this deed that Ptolemy received the title Keraunos – The Thunderbolt.

However, according to other ancient historians (Justinus XXIV,3; Pausinias 1. 16:2. 10.19 7-12), Ptolemy received his ‘title’ for another murder soon afterwards. After Lysimachus’ defeat and death at the Battle of Corupedium in 281 BC, against Seleucus I Nicator, the Macedonian throne passed to Seleucus who now held the whole of Alexander’s conquests excepting Egypt, and moved to take possession of Macedonia and Thrace. On his journey home to Macedonia in September 281 BC Seleucus was accompanied by Ptolemy Keraunos, who he, for some unexplained reason, had taken under his protection. However, as soon as they arrived in the Thracian Chersonese  Keraunos, in a magnificant example of opportunism, murdered the old general, jumped on his horse and rode to the city of Lysimachia, where he immediately crowned himself King of Macedonia (Pausinias 1.16.2).

Seleucus I Nicator (bronze). Roman copy from a Greek original, from Herculaneum.

(National Archaeological Museum of  Naples)

 

Thus, through treachery and murder Keraunos had made himself king of Macedonia. However, in order to secure his hold on the throne he now resorted to another strategy – incest. The main threat to Ptolemy’s hold on the Macedonian throne was presented by Lysimachus and Philip, the remaining sons of Keraunos’ sister Arsinoe (Keraunos had already murdered the eldest). In order to get at the children, over the next few months Keraunos wooed his sister with gifts and proclamations of undying love, until finally, convinced that her brother truly loved both her and her children, she consented to marry him.

 

The wedding was celebrated with great magnificence and general rejoicings. Ptolemy, before the assembled army, placed a diadem on his sister’s head, and saluted her with the title of Queen. Arsinoe invited Ptolemy to her city Cassandrea and her sons, Lysimachus who was sixteen years old, and Philip three years younger, went to meet their uncle/father with crowns on their heads. The events which followed were indeed a Greek tragedy:

Ptolemy, to conceal his treachery, caressing them with eagerness, and beyond the warmth of real affection, persisted for a long time in kissing them. But as soon as he arrived at the gate, he ordered the citadel to be seized, and the boys to be slain. They, fleeing to their mother, were slain upon her lap, as she was embracing them.  

 She several times offered herself to the assassins in the room of her children, and, embracing them, covered their bodies with her own, endeavouring to receive the wounds intended for them. At last, deprived even of the dead bodies of her sons, she was dragged out of the city, with her garments torn and her hair dishevelled, and with only two attendants went to live in exile in Samothracia; sorrowing the more, that she was not allowed to die with her children’.

(Just. 24.2’1-3’9; see also Memn. 8’7; Plut: Mor 112’A; Trog: Prol 24).

 

However, Arsinoe’s grief did not last long. Shortly afterwards she returned to Egypt where she continued her intrigues and instigated the accusation and exile of her other brother’s wife (another Arsinoe – confusingly called Arsinoe I). Arsinoe II then married her brother Ptolemy II (Pausanias (I 7.1). As a result, both were given the epithet “Philadelphoi” (Greek: Φιλάδελφοι, “Sibling-loving”) (see also S.M. Burstein, “Arsinoe II Philadelphos: A Revisionist View”, in W.L. Adams and E.N. Borza (eds), Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage (Washington, 1982), 197-212). For all her worldly charms the Ptolemy (s) sister/wife was subsequently deified and worshipped as a goddess after her death (see Ladynin I, Popova E. (2010) An Egyptian Pendant from the Settlement ‘Chayka’ (North-Western Crimea) and the Posthumous Divinization of Arsinoe II Philadelphos. In: Vestnik drevney istorii (Journal of Ancient History) 2 (273), 2010, p. 71-85 (in Russian).

 

Cameo Gonzaga. Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II (III c. BC, Alexandria. Hermitage)

 

In a short period of time a series of brutal murders had secured the Macedonian throne for Ptolemy Keraunos, who now proclaimed himself the successor to Alexander the Great. It appeared that Keraunos had played the game perfectly, and that the Gods had smiled on him. However, as the new Macedonian king was concentrating on his internal enemies he had apparently forgotten the bigger picture. In the summer of 280 BC, as ‘The Thunderbolt’ settled on his newly acquired throne, to the north the ravens were gathering…

 

 

But the crimes of Ptolemy were not unpunished; for soon after the immortal gods inflicted vengeance on him for so many perjuries, and such cruel murders’. (Justinus XXIV, 3)

 

The first warnings of the gathering storm arrived at the Macedonian court in the form of ambassadors from the Dardanii tribe who reported a massive Celtic army approaching from the north. To emphasize the gravity of the situation the Dardanians offered Ptolemy 20,000 warrriors to help the Macedonians hold back the Celtic advance. However, Keraunos laughed at the ambassadors, boasting that as successors of Philip II and Alexander the Great, the Macedonians who had been victorious throughout the world (Justinus XXIV, 4) required no help from ‘barbarians’. While arrogant, Ptolemy’s reply was not without a certain machiavellian logic. By refusing to come to the aid of the Dardanii, Keraunos hoped to ‘kill two birds with one stone’, presuming that the resulting battle between the Dardanii and the Celts would weaken both to such an extent that neither would subsequently present a threat to Macedonia.

However, if Ptolemy had paused to consider the statistics, he might have thought twice. The force of 20,000 offered by the Dardanii was in itself a large army by any standards, and the fact that they knew that this would not be enough to stop the Celtic advance without Macedonian help illustrates that the advancing Celtic army (Bolgios’ western army) massively outnumbered them. In any event Ptolemy had made the first of many fatal miscalculations. Wisely, the Dardanii did not try to stop the Celts. Instead they joined them, and as they advanced on Macedonia, the Celtic army was now reinforced by 10,000 Dardanians.

 Again ambassadors arrived at Ptolemy’s court, this time from the Celtic leader, Bolgios. Apparently believing that they offered peace terms because they wished to avoid a fight, Ptolemy arrogantly informed the Celts that if they laid down their weapons and surrendered their leaders, he would spare their lives. We are informed that, The deputies bringing back this answer, the Gauls laughed, and exclaimed throughout their camp, that “he would soon see whether they had offered peace from regard for themselves or for him.” (Justinus XXIV, 5).

 

 lychnidos-helm

Celtic warrior helmet from burial #143 at Lychnidos/Ohrid, FYR Macedonia (3rd c. BC)

 

 

BOLGIOS

 

The commander of the western Balkan Celtic army in Macedonia is referred to in classical sources as Bolgios and also as Belgio/Belgios – Galli duce Belgio (Just. xxiv, 5; cf. Pomp. Prol. xxiv – ‘Belgius leader of the Gauls’). The participation of Belgae tribes in the Celtic migration into the Balkans and Asia-Minor during this period is well recorded (see Mac Congail B. Belgae expansion into South Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor (4th – 3rd c. BC.) In: PRAE. In Honorem Henrieta Todorova. National Archaeological Institute With Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Sofia 2007. p. 295 – 302) and Bolgios/Belgios is, like that of Brennos, not a personal name, but in this case derived from an ethnonym – i.e. Belgius = leader of the Belgae (see also ‘Bastarnae’ and ‘Galatia’ articles).

 

The exact size of Bolgios’ western army is unknown, but a number of factors indicate that it was a formidable military force. One should bear in mind that this was only one of 3 Celtic armies operating in the Balkans during this period (4 if one includes the ‘Galatian’ force of Lutarius and Leonnorius) and, while exact statistics are not given for the western and eastern armies of Bolgios and Cerethrius, the size of the central Celtic force gives us an indication of the scale of these armies. The central Celtic army consisted of 150,000 infantry, on which all three main sources (Diodorus Siculus Fragm. XXII 9.1; Pausanias 10. 19.9 – 152, 000; Justin XXIV, 6) are agreed. The figure given for the Celtic cavalry varies between 10,000 (Dio. Sic. op. cit; Justin. op cit – 15,000) and 62,700 (Pausanias X 19.9). The remarkably high figure given by Pausinias is explained by the unique cavalry system used by the Celts – the Trimarkisia system.

The Celtic Trimarkisia cavalry system was a system whereby each horseman was accompanied by two mounted servants who were themselves skilled riders. When the horseman was engaged in battle, the servants remained behind the ranks and if a horse fell, they would bring the warrior a fresh horse. If the rider himself were killed, the servant would mount the horse in his masters place, thus replenishing the Celtic ranks. Pausanias (X 19.10-11) also informs us that:

 I believe that the Gauls in adopting these methods copied the Persian regiment of the Ten Thousand, who were called the Immortals. There was, however, this difference. The Persians used to wait until the battle was over before replacing casualties, while the Gauls kept reinforcing the horsemen to their full number during the height of the action. This organization is called in their native speech trimarcisia, for I would have you know that marca is the Celtic name for a horse.

 

As they advanced south the Celts were joined by large numbers of warriors from the Balkan tribes, particularly the Dardanii, the Thracian Denteletes and the Illyrian Autariatae tribe (on the participation of the Denteletes see Gerov 1961 – Проучвания върху западнотракийските земи през римско време. In ГСУ, ФЗФ, т. 54, 3, 1961). The Macedonian general, Kassandros, had settled 20,000 of the Autariatae in the Orbelos area (on the modern Greek/Bulgarian border) as military settlers in order to establish a buffer zone protecting Macedonia’s northern border from Celtic expansion (Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca historica XX. 19.1). However, as the Celts now advanced, instead of defending Macedonia’s borders against the Celts, the Autariatae joined them. Interestingly, there is no record of any of the Balkan tribes supporting the Macedonians during this conflict, and it would appear that many of the Balkan peoples saw the arrival of the Celts as an opportunity to finally free themselves from centuries of Macedonian dominance.

 

 

THUNDERBOLTS AND ELEPHANTS

 

The inevitable battle between the Macedonians and Bolgios’ Celts took place a few days after the ‘negotiations’ had broken down. The Macedonian army was the unchallenged military ‘superpower’ in the region during this period, and past Macedonian victories had instilled in the Hellenistic world in general, and Ptolemy Keraunos in particular, a belief in the invincibility of the Macedonian military against the armies of ‘inferior’ cultures, which is clearly reflected in Ptolemy’s attitude to both the Dardanian and Celtic ambassadors.

The armies of the Diadochi period were equipped and fought mainly in the same style as Alexander’s, and the famous Macedonian phalanx was still the main component, much like in the earlier days. Its disadvantage was its lack of versatility, but as long as both armies were playing by the same rules this weakness in the Macedonian military tactics was not apparent. However, now faced with an army which did not play by the rules of Hellenistic warfare, the game was about to change…

 

The battle of Issos between Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia. Floor mosaic, Roman copy after a Hellenistic original by Philoxenos of Eretria. (Naples National Archaeological Museum)

 

 

 

What followed was, according to ancient authors, less a battle than a full-scale slaughter (Polyb. 9.35’4; Diod. Sic. 22.3’1-2; Memn. 8’8; Plut. Pyrrh. 22’2; Paus. 1.16’2; Just. 24. 3’10). Keraunos’ battle strategy was built around the use of battle elephants, apparently believing that these beasts would terrify the “barbarians”. In fact, it appears that the opposite was true…

The Macedonian ranks quickly collapsed in the face of the Celtic onslaught, Ptolemy’s battle elephants rearing out of control and adding to the bloody chaos. During the ensuing events the Macedonian king fell off the elephant he was riding, and was captured. His army fled in disarray and, turning their backs on the enemy, the Macedonians became easy prey for the advancing Celtic cavalry. The majority were slaughtered on the battlefield and those that surrendered were rounded up and ritually beheaded.

Of the Macedonian king we learn that “Ptolemy, after receiving several wounds, was taken, and his head, cut off and stuck on a lance, was carried round the whole army to strike terror into the enemy”.  (Justinus, Epit. 24:5)

 

Ironically, The Thunderbolt met his fate on the battlefield amid the bodies of his ‘invincible’ Macedonian army; sacrificed to the God of Thunder, with his head impaled on a spear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Celtic Conquest of Thrace and Macedonia:

https://www.academia.edu/10763789/On_The_Celtic_Conquest_of_Thrace_280_279_BC_

 

On these events see also:

Polyb. 9.35’4; Diod. Sic. 22.3’1-2; Memn. 8’8; Plut. Pyrrh. 22’2; Paus. 1.16’2, 10.19’7-12; just. 24.3’10, 5. 5-11; Trog. Prol. 24; Euseb. Chron. 235 a-b, 237 a, 241 b, 243 a; Hieron. Chron. 1736).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail