Finger Rings from the Balkan Celtic hillfort at Židovar (Serbia)

zidovar

Silver “saddle rings” from the Celtic hillfort at Židovar (Banat region), northern Serbia

(2-1 c. BC)

 

Židovar, Banat region, northern Serbia. one at the right was found inside jewelry box and it has engraved human figure with palm branch above the head, and fish below feet

Bronze rings from Židovar. One male ring of hammered thick bronze sheet, and female ring of cast bronze engraved with representations of a dolphin, palm branch and standing male figure.

(2-1 c. BC)

 

On the other Celtic treasures from Židovar see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/the-balkan-celtic-treasure-from-zidovar-serbia/

Zidov treasure

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

VOICES OF THE DISAPPEARED (3) -Serpent-Head Armlets from a (looted) Celtic Burial at Sremska Mitrovitsa (Serbia)

 

Magnificent silver armlets, with coral inlay, looted from the burial of a Celtic lady at Sremska Mitrovica (Srem) in Serbia. In contrast to other parts of Celtic Europe, the serpent is very commonly depicted on Balkan Celtic art, indicating that it had a special religious significance for tribes in this part of Europe.

(3/2 c. BC)

 

Armlets

Resurrection Scene on the Mones Diadem

Fascinating narrative scene on a Celtic gold diadem from Mones in Asturias (Spain). The narrative features the themes of resurrection/ rebirth and the transformation of men into birds – a key element of the metempsychosis process and a common theme in Celtic art. 

(4/3 c. BC)

dia det

 

Silver Serpent-Head Bracelet from the Čurug Hoard

 

Silver Serpent-Head Bracelet decorated with solar symbols, from the Balkan Celtic treasure discovered at Čurug in northern Serbia (late 4th / early 3rd century BC)

 

Čurug sikver braclet

 

Full information and more images of the Čurug Treasure:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/curug-a-balkan-celtic-treasure-from-vojvodina-northern-serbia/

 

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

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