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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celtic Settlement in the Matra Mountains area of northeastern Hungary

Iron weapons from Grave 186 at Gyöngyös

This article, by Károly Tankó of Loránd University,  provides an overview of the latest discoveries pertaining to Celtic settlement in the Mátra Mountains region of northeastern Hungary.

https://www.academia.edu/38299331/K._Tankó_Celts_in_the_Mátra_region._Hungarian_Archaeology_E-Journal_2018_summer_1-5

Folded iron sword Grave 59 at Gyöngyös

 

 

ALEA IACTA EST – Games and Gaming Pieces in Celtic Europe

 

“What is extraordinary, they play at dice, when sober, as a serious business: and that with such a desperate venture of gain or loss, that, when everything else is gone, they set their liberties and persons on the last throw”.

(Tacitus, Germania 24)

 

 

As in the modern world, gambling and gaming played a central role in Iron Age European society. Extensive archaeological evidence from Celtic settlements and burials, from the British Isles in the west to Kalnovo in eastern Bulgaria, attests to the fact that these activities were common to all Celtic tribes across the continent.

 

Bone dice from the Celtic settlement at Naintré (Poitou-Charentes), France

(mid 1st c. BC)

 

Bone dice found at the Celtic settlement at Acy-Romance (Ardennes), France 

(1 c. BC)

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Bone dice from the sanctuary area of the Celtic settlement at Roseldorf  in Lower Austria. The finds come from an area of the sanctuary believed to have been dedicated to the Horse Goddess Epona.

(3/2 c. BC)

 

Indeed, such was the popularity of gaming among the Celts that by the late Iron Age gaming pieces were being produced on an industrial scale. Archaeological evidence of this phenomenon has been documented in central/eastern Europe at sites such as Manching (Pfaffenhofen District) and Berchung-Pollanten (Neumarkt District) in Germany; in Bohemia at sites such as Stradonice; in Moravia, at the settlements in Drnholec (Břeclav District), Křenovice (Přerov District) and Mistřín (Hodonín District). In the western Celtic sphere workshops manufacturing dice have been discovered at sites in France such as Villeneuve-Saint-Germain (Aisne) in Picardy, at Levroux (Indre Department) in Centre-Val de Loire, and at Aulnat-Gandaillat (Puy-de-Dôme Department) in Auvergne.

 

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Bone, antler and sandstone dice / gaming pieces, from the Celtic oppidum at Stradonice (Bohemia) in the Czech Republic

(2/1 c. BC)

While gaming pieces used by the general Celtic population were produced from bone, antler or stone, naturally the wealthier class could afford sets produced from more expensive material. Particularly wonderful examples of such pieces are those fashioned in glass, the production of which reaches a high level of technical sophistication among the Celtic population from the middle La Tène period onwards. 
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Glass gaming pieces from Celtic warrior burials at Perugia, Italy

(4th c. BC)

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Complete set of glass gaming pieces from a rich Celtic burial at Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire), England

(ca. 30 BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

FANTASTIC BEASTS – The Sphinx and other Hybrid Creatures in Iron Age European Art

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?”.

(Golding; Lord of the Flies)

 

 

Iron Age European Art is populated by a multitude of impossible creatures, ranging from the Ram Headed Serpent associated with the God Cernunnos, to fantastic hybrid serpentine and human headed beasts depicted on artifacts throughout the La Tène period.

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Hybrid creatures with the body of a horse, neck of a giraffe (!) and bird heads; executed in ceramic and discovered at Römerstein (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

(8/7 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/detail-of-the-ram-horned-serpent-on-the-cheek-piece-of-the-agris-helmetated-from-the-4th-century-bc-which-was-found-in-1981-during-archaeological-excavations-in-perrats-cave.jpg

The Ram Headed Serpent depicted on a a Celtic helmet from Agris, France (4 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

 

From the early La Tène period (i.e. 5th century BC) onwards,  a particularly interesting development is the appearance of the Sphinx, and variants thereof, in European art. Such representations can be roughly divided into 2 main categories, the first of which is a group which is obviously derived from examples to be found in the Ancient Greek and Etruscan spheres. 

 

Sphinxes depicted on a gold applique from a drinking horn, discovered in the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Weiskirchen, Germany (late 6 – early 5th c. BC)

 

Bone sphinx with amber face discovered in the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Asperg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany. Two sphinxes, of bone and ivory, both with amber faces, were discovered in the burial.

(ca. 500 BC)

 

Such representations continue throughout the Iron Age, and are to be found on Celtic jewelry and other artifacts across Europe. Depictions of sphinxes are particularly common on late Iron Age Celtic coinage.

 

Reverse of a Celtiberian bronze issue from Castro (Andalusia), Spain (2-1 c. BC)

Sphinx springing right – reverse of a silver issue of Cunobelinus, chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe in southern England (Early 1 c. AD)

 

A second group of hybrid creatures represented in Iron Age European art is perhaps even more interesting. These take a wide variety of forms, combining anthropomorphic and zoomorphic features in a multitude of combinations, resulting in fantastic creatures drawing from elements of both real and imaginary beings.

 

Sphinx-like creatures depicted on a bronze flagon, from a Celtic burial at Glauberg (Hesse) Germany (ca. 420 BC)

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Humanoid and sphinx-like creatures on a Celtic bronze brooch (maskenfibel / 5 c. BC) from Parsberg in Bavaria.

 

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Fantastic sphinx-like creatures on a Celtic bronze belt plate with coral inlay, from Weiskirchen (Saarland), Germany.

(ca. 400 BC)

Hybrid creature depicted on a Celtic bronze flagon from Dürnberg, Austria

(5 c. BC)

Fantastic creature from the Dürrnberg Flagon

 

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Bronze hybrid/sphinx creature, from the Celtic settlement at Horné Orešany, western Slovakia. The creature was most likely mounted on a large ceremonial vessel.

(5/4 c. BC)

 

 

Thus, while the first category of creatures is clearly influenced by / drawn from prototypes borrowed from other ancient cultures, the latter group is born of the experimentation and surrealistic fantasy typical of Iron Age Celtic art, a phenomenon which is continued and expanded upon, culminating in images to be observed in later Insular Ultimate La Tène art. 

 

Winged Ox depicted on Folio 27 V (detail), one of a large number of fantastic / hybrid creatures represented in the Book of Kells (ca. 800 AD)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GLORY OF CELTIC EUROPE – The Case of the Rich Burial of a Celtic Princess with Horse Armour at Bettelbühl (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

 

The first decades of the 21st century in European archaeology have been marked by a massive amount of new discoveries relating to the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, significantly altering our perception of the Celtic peoples who populated Iron Age Europe. One of the most spectacular discoveries in this context was unearthed at the Bettelbühl necropolis, situated just over two kilometres from the well known Celtic settlement on the Heuneburg in the Sigmaringen area of BadenWürttemberg in southern Germany.

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3D Reconstruction of the Celtic settlement on the Heuneburg

 

In the central tumulus at the Bettelbühl site an incredibly rich burial of a Celtic lady and a child was discovered; revealing some of the most spectacular burial goods yet unearthed from this period in European history. The woman, who died aged 30-40, in ca. 583 BC, was accompanied in her journey into the afterlife by a wealth of  wonderfully crafted jewelry of gold, bronze, amber, glass and other materials. 

goldene Fibeln,Perlen, ein Nadelkopf,ein Ohrring und Bettelbühl 583 BC

Gold jewelry from the Bettelbühl burial

Bernsteinanhänger, needle heads - beads Bettelbühl

Amber jewelry from the burial

 

Besides the aforementioned material, perhaps the most fascinating discovery in the burial was an excellently preserved example of horse armour, in the form of a lavishly decorated bronze mask. The tremendous wealth and workmanship to be observed in this and other early Celtic aristocratic burials of the period have provided a valuable insight into the high level of material and cultural sophistication which had developed among the European population by the early stages of the Iron Age.

Horse mask 1

Horse mask 2 - Beautiful bronze horse mask discovered in 2010 in the burial of a Celtic lady at the Heuneburg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

Bronze horse mask from the Bettelbühl burial, and reconstruction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mac Congail

 

Келтски следи в Източна България

 

Hа български:

http://celtic-society.com/?p=850

 

Оригинален текст:

CELTIC TRACES IN EASTERN BULGARIA

(English version):

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/%ce%ba%cf%8c%cf%81%ce%b1%ce%bb%ce%bb%ce%bf%ce%b9-the-celts-in-eastern-bulgaria/

 

 

 

 

 

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NAZIS, CELTS AND TREASURE HUNTERS – The Celtic Settlement at Nowa Cerekwia in southern Poland

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/intro.jpg

 

Situated in the Opole district of Upper Silesia in Southern Poland, the Celtic center at Nova Cerekwia is located in a broad depression between the Sudetesland and the Carpathians – the Moravian Gate, which throughout antiquity served as a major communication route linking southern Europe and the Baltic Sea – commonly referred to as the Amber Route. Over the past century the site has attracted the attention of numerous researchers, both amateur and professional…

 

Full Article: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/nowa-cerekwia-a-major-celtic-settlement-and-economic-complex-in-southern-poland/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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