A number of exceptional archaeological discoveries from southeastern Europe have thrown new light on the social and cultural relations between the various ‘barbarian’ peoples who inhabited this region in the pre-Roman period.
One example of this phenomenon was discovered in the Celtic burial complex at Remetea Mare in the Banat region of western Romania, which evolved from the period over LT B2 and the start of LT C1 (i.e. from circa 280 BC to the end of the 3rd c. BC). In terms of funerary rites and rituals, the cemetery at Remetea Mare illustrates the cultural mix specific to Celtic cemeteries in the east and south of the Carpathian Basin – with one notable exception.
Burial #3 at the site, which dates to the same period, is a female inhumation burial which contained a handmade bowl, a small bi-conical wheel-made vessel, iron tweezers that when discovered still preserved attached fabric pieces of the woman’s clothing, a segment of an astragal belt reused as a pendant, and a bronze Thracian brooch (Rustoiu 2011, 2012). The ‘Thracian’ brooch belongs to the IIb variant according to Zirra’s typology and is dated to the first half of the 3rd century BC (Zirra 1998). Both the funerary rite (inhumation rather than cremation – unique at the cemetery) and inventory illustrate that the woman came from a community markedly different from the one in which she died, in this case probably from a Thracian group south of the Danube, and reached the Celtic community at Remetea Mare following a matrimonial alliance established between the Celts and the Thracians, sometime in the first half of the 3rd century BC.
A similar case has been recorded recently at Aradu Nou in the Banat region, where the inhumation burial of an Illyrian woman, dating to the late 4th/early 3rd c. BC, was discovered in the Celtic burial complex.
Female Inhumation Burial (#3) from Remetea Mare (after Rustoiu 2011)
Burial of an Illyrian woman in the Celtic cemetery at Aradu Nou (Banat) in western Romania (late 4th/early 3rd c. BC).
Dating to the initial phase of Celtic expansion into this area, her interment in a Celtic cemetery again indicates a matrimonial alliance contributing to the cementing of inter-cultural relations during this period. Such alliances also logically contributed to the creation of complex social networks between the elites of different communities.
(after Rustoiu A., Ursuţiu A. 2013)
Dating to roughly the same period as the Aradu Nou example are two female inhumation burials in graves # 63 and 67 from the Celtic (Scordisci) burial complex at Karaburma, Belgrade. In this case, the women have been identified as of Pannonian origin (Ljuština M., Spasić M. (2011).
Material from the burials of two Pannonian women in the Celtic burial complex at Karaburma, Belgrade. (1-5 = Duchcov fbula, biconical iron fragment, silver earrings, glass beads and ceramic bowl from burial #63; 6-7 = sliver earrings and glass beads from burial #67).
(after Ljuština, Spasić 2011)
Another example of such matrimonial alliances between the indigenous Balkan tribes and the Celts comes from a cremation grave, discovered by chance in 1977 at Teleşti in the Oltenia region of Romania. Its inventory consisted of a fragmentary bronze belt, two fragmentary bronze brooches (probably a pair; one destroyed on the pyre), four glass beads and fragments of a blue glass bracelet, an iron horse-bit and two iron elements which probably belonged to a ceremonial cart. The entire assemblage is characteristic for the Celtic environment dating from the Lt C1 phase (second half of the 3rd century and the beginning of the 2nd century BC). The funerary inventory from Teleşti represents the burial of a Celtic woman in a Thracian context. As is the case at Remetea Mare, this burial also points to the existence of an inter-ethnic matrimonial alliance. Her belt, as well as other garment accessories, suggests that the deceased came from a Celtic area, probably in Transylvania or Scordisci territory in Serbia/Bulgaria (Rustoiu 2012).
THE WOMAN IN GRAVE 9
Direct testimony to such matrimonial alliances is also recorded at the beginning of the 2nd c. BC. In this case the Macedonian king Philip V, in order to secure a military alliance with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes, arranged for his son to be married to a Bastarnae princess:
“The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation” (Livy 40:5).
In relation to the aforementioned Bastarnae, of further significance is the inhumation burial of a woman in the Celtic burial complex at Pelczyska in southern Poland. Dated to La Têne D2/late 1st c. BC, once again the woman came from outside the community and is believed to have reached the Celtic settlement at Pelczyska through a marriage arrangement between the local Celts and the Bastarnae. Extensive contacts between the settlement at Pelczyska and the Bastarnae have been confirmed by the large number of Bastarnae silver tetradrachms of the ‘Huşi-Vovrieşti’ type found at the settlement (Rudnicki 2003). There also exists the possibility that the coinage represents part of the woman’s dowry.
Skull and facial reconstruction of a Celto-Scythian (Bastarnae) woman found in the Celtic burial complex at Pelczyska, Poland (1st c. BC). The skeleton is that of a mature female (adultus maturus), circa 30-35 years of age.
(after Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005)
Bastarnae ‘Huşi-Vovrieşti type’ tetradrachms from Pelczyska (after Rudnicki 2003)
Well recorded in the Hellenistic world, the aforementioned burials from Romania, Serbia and Poland represent the first direct archaeological testimony that such matrimonial alliances were also common among the ‘barbarian’ peoples of Europe. Such marriages would logically have had both a major social and political significance.
It is worth noting that in each case these women, although living in an alien environment, retained their own cultural identity, and upon their deaths their respective customs and burial rites were respected by their host tribe. Such inter-ethnic marriages undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for the development of the symbiotic relationship which evolved between the local tribes and the Celts, resulting in close social, cultural, and political ties. This phenomenon is to be observed in the material culture, and manifests itself, for example, in the development of a mixed Celto-Thracian culture in Thrace, and military alliances formed against Rome during the Scordisci Wars of the late 2nd/1st c. BC.
Ljuština M., Spasić M. (2011) Celtic Newcomers between Traditional and Fashionable: Graves 63 and 67 from Karaburma. In: Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Proceedings of the International Colloquium Târgu Mureș 7–9 October 2011. P. 367-375.
Rudnicki M. (2003) Celtic Coin Finds from a Settlement of the La Têne period at Pelczyska. In: Polish Numismatic News VII, 2003. P. 1-24.
Rudnicki M., Piasecki K. (2005) A Late La Téne Inhumation Grave from Pelczyska: Comments on the Cultural Situation in the Upland Area of Little Poland (with an analysis of the anatomical remains by Karol Piasecki). In Celts on the Margin – Studies in Euopean Cultural Interaction 7th Century BC – 1st Century AD. Krakow 2005. p. 195 – 206
Rustoiu A. (2011) The Celts from Transylvania and the eastern Banat and their Southern Neighbours. Cultural Exchanges and Individual Mobility. In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities between the Alps and the Black Sea. Koper–Beograd 2011. p. 163-171
Rustoiu A. (2012) The Celts and Indigenous Populations from the Southern Carpathian Basin. Intercommunity Communication Strategies. In: Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Proceedings of the International Colloquim from Târgu Mureș 7–9 October 2011. (Târgu Mureș 2012).
Rustoiu A., Ursuţiu A. (2013) Indigenous and Celtic Garment Assemblages in Banat and the Surrounding Areas at the Beginning of the La Tène Period (Observations Regarding the Silver Spiral Earrings). In: Archaeological Small Finds And Their Significance. Proceedings of the Symposion:costume as an identity expression – Cluj-Napoca 2013. p. 77-88
Zirra V. (1998) Bemerkungen zu den thraco-getischen Fibeln, Dacia N. S., 40–42, 1996–1998, 29–53