Category: Uncategorized


 

Some of the most fascinating archaeological discoveries in recent years have come from the Bronze and Iron Age site at Cliffs End Farm on the Isle of Thanet (Kent), in south-eastern England. Of the wealth of material uncovered at the site most enigmatic is pit #3666, which tells a tale of bizarre ritual practices and human sacrifice…

 

Full Article:

https://www.academia.edu/33313713/SLAUGHTER_OF_THE_INNOCENTS_Some_Observations_on_Human_Sacrifice_in_Iron_Age_Europe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PUPPETRIDERS

 

 

 

puppt intro

 

 

 

 

The most fascinating and enigmatic of late Iron Age European coinage, the Celtic Puppetrider tetradrachms were produced from the early 3rd c. BC onwards by the Pannonian Celtic tribes. The coinage itself features a male laureate head on the obverse, the subjects eye being represented on a number of issues by an arrowhead.

 

 

 

 

PR eyear

Obverse of Celtic tetradrachm of the Puppetrider/Triskele type (Hungary, late 3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

The reverse depicts a horseman with left arm raised, of whom only the upper part of the body is represented. Behind the riders head and in front of the horse is a Celtic inscription while below the horse, on the majority of such coins, is a triskelion/triskele, a common symbol on late Iron Age Celtic coins and other artifacts. The triskele variants date from the mid 3rd c. BC onwards, while rarer issues which feature a monogram from the coinage of the Paeonian king Audoleon, from which the Celtic puppetrider types are believed to have evolved, date to a slightly earlier period.

 

 

 

tri and mono

Puppetrider tetradrachm with triskele, and the earlier type with Audoleon monogram

(both from the Zichyújfalu hoard; see below)

 

 

 

 

 

PUPPETRIDER/TRISKELE

 

 

As mentioned, the vast majority of puppetrider coins are of the aforementioned triskele type. Based on the recorded finds of such, the epicentre of production and distribution lay in the area of today’s central Hungary where, besides numerous single finds, two major hoards of such have been found in close proximity – those from Zichyújfalu, which included 268 Celtic coins, 262 of the triskele type, and Dunaújváros (also in Fejér county) (Kerényi 1960; Göbl 1972: 51-52) which included a similar, slightly larger, hoard of such coinage (see map 1 below).

 

 

 

 

 

zichy ho

Puppetrider/Triskele tetradrachms from the Zichyújfalu hoard

(after Torbágyi 2012)

 

 

 

 

 

A second concentration of puppetrider/triskele coinage has been identified around the villages of Sióagárd/Baranyamágócs, slightly to the south. These coins, however, are artistically and technically inferior to the aforementioned issues, and should therefore be seen as contemporary Celtic imitations of the latter.

 

 

 

sig tds

 

Puppetrider/Triskele tetradrachms from Sióagárd

(after Torbágyi 2012)

 

 

 

 

Although Celtic coinage of the Puppetrider/Triskele types circulated chiefly in the aforementioned area of Central Hungary, finds such as those from Diex in southern Austria, Batina in eastern Croatia, Bač in northern Serbia, as well as Bratislava and Görgő in Slovakia, and Ungvár in western Ukraine (loc cit), indicate that this type of coinage circulated widely among the Celtic tribes of Eastern Europe during the period in question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

mppp

Distribution of recorded finds of Celtic Puppetrider/Triskele type coinage (3rd/2nd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Göbl R. (1972) Neue technische Forschungsmethoden in der keltischen Numismatik. Anzeiger der phil.-hist. Klasse der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 109/1972: 49-63.

Kerényi A. (1960) Sztálinvárosi kelta éremlelet. (Trouvaille de médailles celtiques à Sztalinváros /Intercisa/) Numizmatikai Közlöny 58-59/1959-1960: 3-6, 83.
Torbágyi M. (2008) Der „Zichyújfalu” Typ mit Audoleon Monogramm. Festschrift für Günther
Dembski zum 65. Geburtstag. NZ 116-117/2008: 87-93.

Torbágyi M. (2012)Der Münzfund von Zichyújfalu 1873, In: VAMZ, 3. s., XLV (2012) p. 537-552

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tha 1 int. c

 

 

 

https://www.academia.edu/6144182/Celtic_Thasos_Type_Coinage_from_Central_Bulgaria

 

 

 

Tha 1 bl

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cb

Pessinus (Πεσσινούς), Asia-Minor – 2nd century BC

 

 

One of the most powerful and beautiful women of her day, the life of the Gallo-Greek Princess Camma is an extraordinary tale of obsessive love, murder and ultimate justice.

 Born a princess of the Celtic Tolistoboii tribe in Galatia (today’s central Turkey), Camma was renowned for her form and beauty, but even more admired for her virtues. She was also quick-witted and high-minded, and unusually dear to her inferiors by reason of her kindness and benevolence(Plutarch, On The Bravery of Woman. XX Camma*). These attributes appear to have been accompanied by good fortune, for the princess fell in love with, and married, one of the most powerful men in Galatia – a tetrarch called Sinatus. In addition, she was elevated to High Priestess of the Mother Goddess (Cybele-Artemis) at Pessinus – the highest position that could be attained by a woman at that time. It appeared that Camma was truly blessed by the Gods.

 

However, in true Celtic fashion, what began as a fairy tale soon descended into nightmare.

Sk. b

From afar, the priestess was being observed by her husband’s cousin, another chieftain called Sinorix, whose obsession with her grew until it left the bounds of reason. Seeing Camma’s husband as the obstacle to his desire, Sinorix secretly formulated a plan which culminated in the brutal murder of his rival.

 With her husband now disposed of, Sinorix lost no time in consoling the widow and, while wooing her, exerting influence on her family to facilitate a marriage between them. As time passed, it seemed that Sinorix’ sinister strategy had borne fruit for, under intense pressure from her relatives, Camma finally agreed to the union. A marriage, to be held in the temple of the Mother Goddess, was hastily arranged.

temp

                                     The temple at Pessinus (3D reconstruction)

The ceremony was a lavish affair, as befitted two of the highest ranking members of Galatian society, and a union that would cement the political bonds between the clans of Camma and Sinorix. As the celebrations progressed before the sacred alter of Artemis, Camma filled a golden chalice with milk and honey, a traditional drink on such occasions. Drinking deeply and smiling, the priestess passed the chalice to Sinorix, who enthusiastically drained the goblet.

  And then, as he watched his new bride collapse on the temple floor, the look on the chieftain’s face turned first to confusion and then to horror. Convulsions began to wrack his body, and through his agony he heard his wife’s cry of joy:

‘I call you to witness, Goddess most revered, that for the sake of this day I have lived on after the murder of Sinatus, and during all that time I have derived no comfort from life save only the hope of justice’.

Turning to Sinorix, she added, ‘As for you, wickedest of all men, let your relatives make ready a tomb instead of a bridal chamber’.

moC

       The poisoning of Camma and Sinorix in the temple  (Charles Poerson, 17th century)

The poison was slow working, bringing unbearable pain. Through the night Camma suffered, yet held grimly to life until, with dawns light, came word that Sinorix had died in agony. Thereupon the priestess, smiling, followed him into the afterlife…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The life of Camma is also recorded by Plutarch in Moralia (768 b), and Polyaenus (Strategemata, viii. 39)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: November 2016

 

 

 

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/goldh-s.jpg?w=640

 

 

One would imagine that an invasion by hundreds of thousands of barbarians would have a catastrophic effect on the economy of a region. However, this presumption has been challenged in recent years by the archaeological and numismatic data emerging from the territory which fell under the control of the ‘barbarian’ Tyle state in eastern Thrace during the 3rd c. BC.

 

The traditional description of the Celtic tribes who arrived in this area has been one of ‘thirsty savages’ or ‘gangs of mercenaries’ (latest Emilov 2007, 2010), and we have been repeatedly informed that ‘their aim was not to settle, but money and booty which could be acquired in different ways … by attacking wealthy cities, and by ravaging the countryside’ (Nixon 1977, cited by Mitchell 1993; Emilov 2010). However, repeating a simplistic stereotype does not make it true, particularly when the depiction of a culture entirely contradicts all the available archaeological and historical evidence. In this case the facts tell a rather surprising tale – a barbarian invasion that brought political stability and economic prosperity in its wake…

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/5420363/THE_TYLE_EXPERIMENT

 

S.E. Thrace map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UD: June 2017

 

                       mo god gund

    

‘In dama huair ann ba rigan roisclethan ro alainn;

           Ocus in uair aill… na baidb biraigh banghalis’.

 

(At one moment she was a broad-eyed, most beautiful queen,

And another time a beaked, white-grey badb)

(Harleian manuscript 4.22)

 

 

The central tenant of Celtic religion was metempsychosis – the transmigration of the soul and its reincarnation after death (Caesar J. De Bello Gallica, Book VI, XIV). This belief is probably best summed up by the Roman poet Lucanus (1st c. AD):

 

While you, ye Druids, when the war was done,
To mysteries strange and hateful rites returned:
To you alone ’tis given the heavenly gods
To know or not to know; secluded groves
Your dwelling-place, and forests far remote.
If  what ye sing be true, the shades of men
Seek not the dismal homes of Erebus
Or death’s pale kingdoms; but the breath of life
Still rules these bodies in another age-
Life on this hand and that, and death between.
Happy the peoples ‘neath the Northern Star
In this their false belief; for them no fear
Of that which frights all others: they with hands
And hearts undaunted rush upon the foe
And scorn to spare the life that shall return.

(Pharsalia Book 1:453-456)

 

A similar account of the Celtic belief system is provided by the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (V.28:5-6; 1st century BC):

“…for the belief of Pythagoras prevails among them, that the souls of men are immortal and that after a prescribed number of years they commence upon a new life, the soul entering into another body”.

 

In the transportation of the soul from one world to the next Birds of Prey played a central role:

‘to these men death in battle is glorious;

And they consider it a crime to bury the body of such a warrior;

For they believe that the soul goes up to the gods in heaven,

If the body is exposed on the field to be devoured by the birds of prey’.

(Silius Italicus (2nd c. AD) Punica 3 340-343)

 

‘…those who laid down their lives in war they regard as noble, heroic and full of valor,

And them cast to the vultures believing this bird to be sacred’.

(Claudius Aelianus. De Natur. Anim. X. 22)

 

Fig. 1 Boii

 

 

The removal of flesh from corpses, which is well documented in the Celtic world, had a mortuary significance that differed greatly from the Greco-Roman practices (Soprena Genzor  1995: 198 ff.). The last 25 years of research have revealed how interments were the culmination of previous very complex rituals. The removal of flesh before interment is clearly attested at Celtic sanctuaries like Ribemont (Brunaux  2004: 103-24), but the enormous deficit of interments, especially in the late La Têne period, can be partially explained by the exposure of corpses with the consequent destruction of most of the skeleton. This exposure ritual was a genuine self-sacrifice, as the enemy who had taken the life of the warrior, just as the bird of prey who devoured him, was merely the hand of the god (Soprena 1995; Brunaux 2004: 118-24).

 

 

Recent excavations, such as those at Ham Hill in Somerset (England), have provided further evidence of the Celtic practice of excarnation – the ritual exposure of corpses to the elements and scavengers.

Ham Hill

The finds at Ham Hill include ritualistic burials – arrangements of human skulls as well as bodies tossed into a pit, left exposed and gnawed by animals and Birds of Prey. At the site “hundreds, if not thousands of bodies”, dated from the 1st or 2nd century AD, have been found treated in this fashion.

(See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/excarnation/)

 

 

Ribem.

The Ribemont-Sur-Ancre ‘Tower of Silence’

 

 

This shrine/sanctuary was erected on the site of the Battle at Ribemont (northern France), where around 1,000 Celtic warriors are believed to have died. The victorious Belgae erected this shrine to celebrate the great battle, decapitated the bodies of the defeated warriors taking the heads home with them as trophies. The headless corpses and thousands of weapons collected from the battle field were hung from a large wooden platform (‘Tower of Silence’). 

 Evidence of weathering and dismemberment of the dead at the site, and others such as Ham Hill, is consistent with the well documented Celtic religious practice of exposing corpses after death to be devoured by Birds of Prey and carnivores  (Soprena Genzor 1995: 198 ff.).

 

 

Fascinating narrative scene on a gold diadem from Ribadeo, in Galicia, Spain (n the territory of the Celtic/Celticized Castro culture). The narrative features the themes of rebirth and the transformation of men into birds – a common theme in Celtic art. (4/3 c. BC)
.

On the Balkans, the same ritual is described by Pausanias (X, 21, 3) in connection with the Celtic migration into the Balkans at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC. Celtic warriors who fell in battle during the invasion of Greece were likewise left exposed to be devoured by birds of prey, consistent with the religious practice outlined above (Churchin 1995; Mac Congail 2010: 57).

In light of the significance given to birds of prey in Celtic culture it is interesting to note the ‘name’ of the leader of the Celtic offensive on Greece at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC, the same as that of the chieftain who led the Celtic tribes who sacked Rome a century earlier – Brennos. It is unlikely that this is coincidence, and it appears that Brennos was not a personal name, but a military title given to the overall commander of a Celtic army drawn from different tribes. The term comes from the Proto-Celtic *brano- (Matasović R. 2009; Mac Congail 2010: 54-59), and means literally The Raven.

 

bird-god-lysimachus

Portrait of the Bird Goddess/Catubodua on the obverse of a Celto-Scythian gold stater (1st c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/metamorphosis-in-gold/

 

 

The importance of the raven, and birds of prey in general, in Celtic culture and religion is archaeologically confirmed by their frequent appearance on Celtic artifacts and coins. For example, of the more than 500 Celtic brooches with representational decoration now known, from Bulgaria in the east to Spain in the west, more than half depict birds (Megaw 2001: 87). On the Balkans, birds of prey also appear on artifacts such as the Celtic helmet from Ciumesti (Romania), similar examples of which are depicted on the Gundestrup cauldron, produced by the Scordisci in northwestern Bulgaria. Depictions of Birds of Prey are also found on the Celtic chariot fittings from Mezek in southern Bulgaria, and Balkan Celtic sacrificial daggers.

 

 

Bronze Celtic fibula from Ingelfingen-Criesbach in southern Germany, depicting a human head crowned by a bird of prey

(5-4 c. BC)

Gund.

Detail from the Gundestrup Cauldron

a - a- a- Cium

Celtic Chieftain’s Helmet from Ciumeşti (Romania) with Bird of Prey attachment

(see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/prince-of-transylvania/)

 

 

 

 

BADHBH CHATHA

 

 The Celtic Mother Goddess – the Morrígan, was a triple goddess, appearing as a trinity consisting of Macha, Anann and the Badb.  The Celts believed that the Badb/war-goddess, or more accurately the mother goddess in her war mien, appeared to warriors slain in battle in the form of a bird of prey, most often a crow or raven (O h’Ogain 2002: 22; Mackillop 2004:30; Mac Congail 2010: 72-76). Her presence was not only a symbol of imminent death, but to also influence the outcome of battle. Most often she did this by appearing as a crow/raven flying overhead, and would either inspire fear or courage in the hearts of the warriors, or, in rare cases, join in the battle herself.

 

This aspect of the goddess was known as the Catubodua (battle-raveness) which survived in later Celtic tradition as the Cathbhadhbh or Badhbh Chatha (loc cit).

 

 From Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary originate Celtic coins (of both the Philip II (fig. 4/5) and Paeonia models (fig. 6/7) on which a Bird of Prey is depicted behind the left shoulder of the horseman, accompanying him into battle. The presence of the triskele on the Paeonia model coins in particular confirms the religious nature of the images. On the vogelreiter type (fig. 7), from the 3rd – 2nd c. BC, the horseman himself is portrayed as a skeleton, the ‘deathrider’ again accompanied by a Bird of Prey.

scor coin 1

scor coin 2

paeon. c

rom phal

Celtic gilded silver phalera from Surcea (Covasna county), Romania. Note the Bird of Prey behind the left shoulder of the warrior (late 2nd/ early 1st c. BC)

 

Depiction of the Mother Goddess with torcs and birds of prey on a Celto-Thracian harness appliqué from Galiche (Vratza reg.) in northeastern Bulgaria

(2-1 c. BC)

 

 

This theme is also represented on other Celtic coins from the Balkans, with depictions of the mother goddess – the Morrígan (Great Queen) in her personification as the Badhbh Chatha / Battle Raven. Such is the case, for example, with her portrayal on Celtic ‘Thasos model’ coins from Bulgaria (fig. 8), as well as some of the Paeonian ‘imitations’ (fig. 9).

 

tha 1

Fig. 8 – Depiction of the Goddess on the Reverse of a Celtic Thasos type issue from Bulgaria

(after Mac Congail/Krusseva 2010)

 

 

In fig. 9 the obverse portrays the central theme of transformation of the goddess, while the reverse is packed with religious symbolism, including  the triskele symbol and Celtic inscription. The central image again portrays the mother-goddess in her personification as the war raven  – Badhbh Chatha.

pae. mo.

(Gobl 436; BMC 131)

 

 

 

 

THE THREE REALMS – Reverse of a Celtic tetradrachm from southern Hungary (2nd c. BC), depicting a horseman, child and bird of prey; representing the 3 phases of life in Celtic belief – childhood, adulthood and death/transition. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Modern) Sources Cited

 

Brunaux J.L. (2004) Guerre et religion en Gaule. Essai d’anthropologie celtique. Paris: Errance.

Churchin L.A. (1995) The Unburied Dead at Thermopylae (279 BC) In: The Ancient History Bulletin 9: 68-71

Soprena Genzor G. (1995) Ética y ritual. Aproximación al estudio de la religiosidad de los pueblos celtibéricos. Zaragosa.

Mac Congail B., Krusseva B.  (2010) The Men Who Became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv. (In Bulgarian)

Mackillop, James (2004) A dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford University Press

Marco Simón F.  (2008) Images of Transition. The Ways of Death in Celtic Hispania. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008. Pp. 53-68.

Matasović R. (2009) Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden and Boston

Megaw V., Megaw R. (2001) Celtic Art from its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. London.

Ó hÓgáin D. (2002) The Celts – A Chronological History. Cork.

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 Mac Congail

 

UD – June 2013

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most interesting artifacts discovered in recent decades on the Balkans is a large gold ring found in the Schumen area of north-eastern Bulgaria, engraved with a number of enigmatic symbols on its face and edges (fig. 1 / 2 – after Mac Congail 2009). Archaeological and numismatic evidence from this part of Thrace testifies to significant Celtic settlement in this area in the late Iron Age, and a closer analysis of the ring reveals that the symbols correspond to a Celto-Etruscan alphabet, or more specifically its Cisalpine Gaulish variants (loc cit; on this alphabet see also ”Celtic Graffiti” article).

 

 

 

 

 Fig. 1

 

 

Fig. 2

 

 

 

 

The symbols themselves appear to be engraved in no particular order, indicating that it is the symbols/letters themselves which are of significance. Considering the nature of the object, and its intrinsic value, it obviously belonged to a person of high status in Celtic society, and it appears most likely that the ring belonged to a religious leader, i.e. a druid, the alphabet/symbols representing druidical control over this sphere of knowledge, which would have been viewed as having magical properties by a population uninitiated into the ‘mysteries’ of writing – a symbol of a field of knowledge known only to the spiritual/religious leaders.

  A limited number of other Celto-Etruscan inscriptions have been recorded in south-eastern Europe from the late Iron Age, particularly on Celtic coinage and other artifacts from Thrace and Pannonia:

 

 

 

Fig. 3 –  Mould for the production of lead amulets bearing a Celto-Etruscan inscription

Branya Stena, Pernik region, Western Bulgaria

(after Mac Congail 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 4 –

The Grad (A) and Posočje (B) inscriptions in the Celto-Etruscan script (on a cremation urn and a situla fragment)

(After Turk et al 2009; see ‘Celtic Graffiti’ article, with cited lit.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of particular interest is an inscription which appears on thousands of Celtic ‘Philip III type’ drachms (fig. 5) :

 

Fig. 5 – Celtic AR Drachma – central Bulgaria (late 2nd c. BC)

(After Mac Congail 2009)

 

 

 

 

Poduced at the end of the 2nd  c. BC in the area of today’s Bulgaria, these coins bear the symbols:

 

Analysis indicates that the inscription corresponds to the (Celto-) Etruscan symbol ‘San’ followed by the symbols for E and G (see Lejeune 1971, 1988; also de Marinis 2000; analysis Mac Congail 2009) giving phonetically – ŠEG- which may correspond to the Proto-Celtic sego– meaning ‘victory’, ‘strength’, derived from an Indo-European root *seĝh– meaning ‘to conquer’, ‘to vanquish’ (sego- ‘victory, force’: DLG 269; GPN 254-7; KGP 266; AILR; Ptol.; ACP-N 107-9; OPEL iv.62; NPC 231 Delamarre, 2003, pp. 269-270 ; Lambert, 1995, pp. 31-32 ; Lajoye, 2006, p. 79).

 

 

 Of course, one can only guess at the exact significance of such an inscription on Celtic coinage from this period in Thrace. However, chronologically the coins were minted at the end of the 2nd c. BC in Thrace, and one possible connection is the events of 114 BC in today’s south-western Bulgaria where the Celtic tribes in this region destroyed an invading Roman army led by the consul Gaius Porcius Cato (Liv. Per. 63′a; Flor. 1.39, 1-4; Dio Cass fr. 88’1; Eutrop. 4.24.1; Amm. Marc. 27.4.4), and subsequently massacred the Roman garrison at Heracleae Sintica (Front. Strat. 3,19,7; on these events see ‘The Scordisci Wars’ article). It is therefore quite possible that the inscription on the Celtic ‘Victory Coins’ from Bulgaria were produced to celebrate the double victory over the Roman forces of Porcius Cato and Lucullus in 114 BC. If so, these would represent the first inscriptions on Celtic coins relating to an actual historical event.

 

 

 

  The inscriptions outlined above are just a few examples of the use of a variation of the Celto-Etruscan script on the Balkans, of which there are many others (see Mac Congail 2009, Mac Congail Krusseva 2010), which testify to a limited, but significant, use of this script in the region in the late Iron Age, a phenonenon which deserves further detailed study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: April 2017

 

 

 

 

“Part of this region (Thrace) was inhabited by the Scordisci … a people formerly cruel and savage, and, as ancient history declares, accustomed to offer up their prisoners to Bellona and Mars, and from their hollowed skulls greedily to drink human blood. By their savageness the Roman state was often sorely troubled…”

 

(Ammianus Marcellinus Book 27: iv,4)

 

 

 

PAX ROMANA

 

After the defeat of Macedonia in the 3rd and 4th Macedonian Wars, and the ease and speed with which Rome had destroyed the Achaean League, it appeared that the Roman conquest of southeastern Europe was unstoppable. The utter destruction of the city of Corinth in 146 BC, and the mass looting and enslavement which accompanied the establishment of the Roman province of Macedonia, were a clear warning to those who would oppose the empire.

It was therefore logical to expect that the barbarian tribes of the central and northern Balkans would quickly succumb to the Roman military machine, and the ‘Pax Romana’ which accompanied it. In fact, the conquest of Thrace would develop into a brutal and prolonged conflict which was to rage for over 150 years.

 

 

 

The first military encounter between the Balkan Celts and the Roman empire occurred in 156 BC (Obsequens 16), but the extent or location of this clash remains unknown, and it is not until the establishment of the Roman province of Macedonia in 146 BC that this conflict intensifies. In 141 BC a Roman offensive in Thrace was repulsed by the Celts, as was a Scordisci counter-attack on Macedonia (see Kazarov 1919:75 – Кацаров Г. Келти в стара Тракия и Македония СпБАН 18, кл. ист. фил. 10. София 1918, 41 – 80). This resulted in a period of apparent stalemate which was broken in 135 BC when an imperial force defeated the Scordisci in Thrace (M. Cosconius praetor in Thracia cum Scordiscis prospere pugnauit – Livy Periocha LVI).

 

karab-weapons

Military equipment from from the Scordisci burial complex at Karaburma in the Balkan Celtic settlement of Singidunum (today’s Belgrade), Serbia
(3/2 c. BC)

 

anthro-sword-pommel-celtic-scordisci-kupinovo-syrmia-serbia-late-3rd-c-bc

 

kupinovo-hung-sword-style-scabbard-3-c-bc-check

Detail of anthropomorphic decoration on the pommel of an iron sword, and scabbard decorated in the “Hungarian Sword Style”, from the Scordisci burial complex at Kupinovo (Syrmia), Serbia (3rd c. BC)

(after: Drnić I. (2015) Groblje latenske culture/A La Têne Culture Cemetery. Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu, 2015)

 

 

 

In the 20’s of the 2nd c. BC the Scordisci also came under attack from the north. An expansion of the Germanic Cimbri tribe was finally repulsed near the Celtic settlement of Singidunum (Belgrade), and the Cimbri migrated further west (Rankin D. Celts and the Classical World. New York 1987:19). It is likely that it was during these events that the most famous of Scordisci treasures, the Gundestrup cauldron, was looted and carried off by the Cimbri (Bergquist A.K., Taylor T.F. The Origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron, Antiquity, vol. 61, 1987. 10-24).

 

 

                                           THE GUNDESTRUP CAULDRON

(National Museum of Denmark – Copenhagen)

See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/the-gundestrup-ghosts-hidden-images-in-the-gundestrup-cauldron/

 

zid jew

Celtic (Scordisci) jewelry box with ‘Foxtail’ chain from the Zidovar treasure (Serbia, 2/1 c. BC)

See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/barbarian-masterpieces-celtic-jewelry-boxes/

 

 

 

It should be borne in mind that all the information that we have at our disposal concerning this conflict comes from the Romans themselves, who tended to be rather selective in what they reported. For example, the victory of Cosconius should logically have led to territorial gains by the Romans in Thrace. However, the victory in 135 BC is followed by an ominous silence in Roman sources which is eloquent in itself. By the time of the next report relating to 119 BC (Kazarov (op cit) puts these attacks in 117 BC) the Celts have pushed all the way to the Aegean coast where the Roman governor Pompeius was killed during an attack on Argos. The Scordisci were finally pushed back by a force commanded by Quaestor Marcus Annius, (SIG 700 Sherk 1 48 R.K. Sherk Rome and the Greek East to the Death of Agustus (1993); CAH 9’32 = Cambridge Ancient History 2nd Edition 1984 -1989) who also succeeded in repulsing a subsequent attack soon afterwards by the Scordisci, in alliance with the Thracian Maidi tribe.

  The participation of the Maidi (the tribe of Spartacus, who would be captured by Rome during a latter phase of this conflict – see below) in the second attack on Macedonia in 119 BC is particularly noteworthy, because it marks the beginning of a new pattern which would continue for the next 100 years of this conflict. While the Thracian Celts continued to be the main element in the resistance to Roman expansion on the Balkans, from this point onwards they are frequently accompanied by other Balkan tribes, notably the Bastarnae, Dardanii, and the Free Thracian tribes (Maidi, Triballi, Denteletes, and Bessi).

 

  In the aftermath of the events of 119 BC, the empire finally seems to have realized the gravity of the barbarian threat. In 115 BC Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus, who had been consul in 116 BC, was sent to Macedonia. Eburnus was renowned as a strict authoritarian figure who had sentenced his own son to death for ‘immorality’, and it appears that it was he who drew up the plans for the Roman conquest of Thrace (Valerius Maximus 6.1.5–6; Pseudo-Quintilian, Decl. 3.17; Orosius 5.16.8). As part of this strategy a Roman fortress was established at Heraclea Sintica (at today’s Rupite near Petritch in s.w. Bulgaria) under a commander called Lucullus. This garrison was situated in the strategic Struma river valley, the only practical route for a large military force to move into western Thrace. The culmination of the Roman strategy was the invasion of Thrace in 114 BC by a Roman army led by Gaius Porcius Cato.

 

 

Depiction of a Celtic (Scordisci) chieftain on a sliver/gilt plate from the Jakimovo treasure (Northwestern Bulgaria) II – I c. BC 

 

 

sco good

Inscribed cult relief bearing a dedication to the Celtic tribal God Scordus (Sofia region, Bulgaria 4th – 3rd c. BC) (After Manov 1993)

( See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/serdiserdica/ )

 

 

 

 

 

THE STRUMA MASSACRES

 

 

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

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

 

struma

 

 

 

The events of 114 BC were to prove catastrophic for the Romans. As mentioned, a Roman fortress was established on the upper Struma river at Heracleae Sintica, and two cohorts of Roman soldiers were stationed there under a commander called Lucullus (Front. Strat. 3,10,7). This fortress was on the border of, or even possibly within, the territory of the Celtic tribes in Thrace, and appears to have been intended as a staging post for further Roman expansion northwards. In 114 BC a Roman army, led by the consul Gaius Porcius Cato, marched along the Struma Valley into Thrace (Liv. Per. 63′a; Flor. 1.39, 1-4; Dio Cass fr. 88’1; Eutrop. 4.24.1; Amm. Marc. 27.4.4). The purpose of this attack appears to have been twofold – to eradicate the barbarian threat to Roman Macedonia, and to expand the empires power into the territory of today’s western Bulgaria.

 

 

 

 The western Rhodope mountains

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

( See also : https://www.academia.edu/4067834/Bandit_Nation_-_The_Bogolin_Hoard )

 

 

 

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

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

 

https://www.academia.edu/26277623/A_CELTIC_SCORDISCI_CAVALRY_OFFICER_FROM_MONTANA_BULGARIA_

See also: https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria

 

 

 

 

 QUI VENTUM SEMINAT …

 

 

The Scordisci victories of 114 BC brought a predictable reaction. The Celts were attacked in Thrace in 112 BC by the Consul Livius Drusus (Liv. Per 63′a; Flor. 1.39’5; Dio Cass. fr. 88’1; Festus Brev 9’2; Amm. Marc. 27.4’10), but the real retaliation for the events of 114 BC came three years later. In 109 BC a Roman army entered Thrace commanded by Minucius Rufus and, according to Roman sources (Flor. 1.39.5; Liv. Per. 65′a; Frontin Strat. 2. 4’3; Festus Brev 9’2; Eutrop 4.27’3; Amm. Marc. 27.4’10) and an inscription from Delphi (probably raised by Rufus himself), defeated the Scordisci and the Thracian Bessi tribe.

 

 

 

 Inscription from Delphi mentioning the victory over the Scordisci and Bessi in 109 BC

(Dittenberger SIG 3, 348)

 

 

 It is interesting to note that the campaign of 109 BC was launched, not along the Struma valley where Cato’s army had been destroyed, but along the Maritza (Hebrus) river valley, a route more suitable for a Roman army. Furthermore, this campaign appears not to have been directed at a specific military target, but at the ‘barbarian’ population in general. Thus, while the Scordisci are again mentioned as the focus of the Roman campaign, it was the Thracian Bessi tribe along the Hebrus river who bore the brunt of the Roman attacks. In fact, until this point the Bessi tribe had taken no part in attacks on Roman forces on the Balkans, nor had they played any role in the Celtic campaign against Rome. It would appear that the Thracian tribe simply happened to be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

 

 In terms of Roman expansion in the Balkans, Rufus’ victory in 109 BC did not lead to any territorial gains, and the Roman forces retreated south into Macedonia, indicating again the punitive nature of the campaign. During their homeward march a large part of the Roman army was drowned when the ice on the Hebros (Maritza) river cracked underneath them (Flor. 1.39.5).

 

 In the long term, the events of 109 BC did not significantly affect the geo-political situation in the Balkans. Rome had still not achieved a foothold in Thrace, and the attack on the Bessi tribe had the effect of turning this tribe into one of Rome’s most bitter enemies. In the ensuing conflict the Bessi became one of the most enthusiastic participants in attacks on Roman Macedonia, and continued to resist the Romans in Thrace even after the end of the Scordisci Wars. These events also forged closer links between the Bessi tribe and the Celts in Thrace.

The Roman campaign of 109 BC also appears to have had another long term effect. While encounters in this conflict prior to this had largely been confined to attacks on military targets, in subsequent ‘barbarian’ attacks on Roman occupied areas of the Balkans brutal tactics similar to those used by the Romans along the Hebros valley are recorded.

 The next phase of this war was to be marked by a spiral of atrocities on both sides. If the Roman strategy had been to terrorize the Celtic and Thracian tribes into submission, they had failed miserably. There is a proverb coined by the Romans themselves – ‘Qui ventum seminat, turbinem metet’ (He who sows the wind, will reap the whirlwind). In the decades which followed, the Romans on the Balkans were about to reap the whirlwind.

 

 

 

Celtic Thasos type tetradrachma from central Bulgaria   (1st c. BC).

 

The deteriorating political situation and the growing brutality of the conflict is accompanied by an increasing abstractionist tendency in Celtic art in the region

( https://www.academia.edu/6144182/Celtic_Thasos_Type_Coinage_from_Central_Bulgaria )

 

 

Attacks on Roman Macedonia by the Scordisci and their Thracian allies, notably the Maidi tribe, continued throughout the final years of the 2nd c. BC, and the first decade of the 1st c. BC (St. Jerome, (Hieronymus) 170.1; Obseq. 43; Hieron. Chron. 1917; Flor. XXXVIIII, iii, 4; Cic. Pis. 61; Festus. Brev. 9’2). The militarization of Celtic society in Thrace during this period is evident from the dramatic increase in finds of La Têne weaponry from this period compared to earlier phases. The turbulent events are also reflected in mass ‘war’ burials such as that at Slana Voda, and in the numerous hoards of Hellenistic and Roman ‘plunder coinage’ from Thrace found together with Celtic issues from this period, which bear clear testimony to the ‘barbarian’ attacks on Roman Macedonia and Greece ( see: https://www.academia.edu/4963636/Plunder_Coinage_from_Thrace ).

 

 nw map

Distribution of Celtic weapons in northwestern Bulgaria – 2nd – 1st c. BC (See: https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria )

 

 

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The Balkan Celtic fortress at Krševica near Bujanovac in southern Serbia

 

With the gradual Roman expansion into this region during the late 2nd / 1st century BC, and the resulting war of resistance by the local tribes, Krševica became of particular strategic importance. During this brutal conflict, the fortress was used by the Scordisci Federation, in conjunction with other members of the ‘barbarian coalition’, including the Free Thracian tribes and Dardanians, as a staging-post for frequent attacks/raids on Roman occupied territory to the south.

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/the-balkan-celtic-fortress-at-krsevica-southern-serbia/

 

 

 

By the beginning of the 1st c. BC the Roman forces on the Balkans were feeling the strain of the apparently endless attacks from the north. In 90 BC the dam finally burst and, confronted by yet another Celtic/Maidi attack, the Roman borders disintegrated (Kazarov op cit.). The events which followed are described by the Roman historian Florus (Epitome of Roman History XXXVIIII, iii, 4). The Celtic tribes, now joined by the Maidi and Denteletes, as well as the Dardanii, swarmed through Macedonia, Thessaly and Dalmatia, even reaching Epirus on the Adriatic coast. According to the Roman historian:

“Throughout their advance they left no cruelty untried, as they vented their fury on their prisoners; they sacrificed to their gods with human blood; they drank out of human skulls; by every kind of insult inflicted by burning and fumigation they made death more foul; they even forced infants from their mother’s wombs by torture”.

 In this litany of evil atrocities committed by their enemies, special mention is reserved by the Romans for the Celts – “The cruelest of all the Thracians were the Scordisci, and to their strength was added cunning as well” (loc cit.).

While much of the above account may be put down to Roman hysteria and exaggeration, it is clear that from 90 BC onwards the empire had lost de facto control over large parts of the Balkans and northern Greece. By 88 BC, i.e. 2 years after the collapse of the Roman borders in Macedonia, the Scordisci and their allies had swept through northern Greece and reached Dodona in Epirus where they, according to Roman accounts, destroyed the temple of Zeus (Kazarov 1919 with relevant lit). How exactly the barbarians ‘destroyed’ a temple which the Romans had already destroyed (by the army of Aemilius Paulus in 167 BC) is unclear. Presumably the Scordisci destroyed what the Greeks had managed to rebuild in the interim period. One of the repeating phenomena during this period is Roman reports of the ‘barbarians’ destroying Greek temples/sacred sites which had already been destroyed and looted by the Romans themselves (see below).

 

 

The Theatre at Dodona

 

 

 

It was not until 3 years later (85 BC) that Sula led a Roman army against the Scordisci and ‘punished’ the barbarians (Granius Licinianus 27-28; Appian Mith. 55 c; Livy Per 83’a). Although the exact nature of this ‘punishment’ is unclear, Florus gives us an account of the fate of those who fell into Roman hands:

 

“Severe cruelties were inflicted upon the captives by fire and sword, but nothing was regarded by the barbarians as more horrible than they should be left with their hands cut off and forced to survive”. (Flor. XXXVIIII, iii,4)

 

 

Bust of Sulla in the Munich Glyptothek

 

 

 

Instead of containing the situation, Sulla’s campaign produced the same vicious reaction as Minucius Rufo’s had in the previous century. No sooner had Sula left for Asia, than the Celts and their allies stormed south once more. Overrunning the southern Balkans and northern Greece, they swept through the Peloponnese. By the winter of 85/85 BC they had reached Delphi where, two centuries after Brennos’ army, they once more ‘destroyed’ the most sacred of Greek religious sites. (Plut. Num. 9; App. Illy. 5; Eusub. II; Eutrop. V, 7,1; Plut. Sula 23).

 

 

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

 

 

 

 

At the end of the 80’s of the 1st c. BC the central Balkans again became the focus of large scale Roman military action. Presenting themselves as protector of the Greeks, the Romans launched yet another campaign to ‘punish’ the barbarians, this time for the sacrilege at Delphi (although again the temple had been plundered by Sula’s Roman forces long before the barbarians got there). The campaign of 81 BC, led by Cornelius Scipio (App. Ill. 5 a-b) appears, like those of Minucius Rufo and Sula in 114 and 85 BC, to have been punitive in nature and, like the previous ones, had no real long term geo-political effect.

 

 

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The Druids Cave – Part of a large hoard of Celtic (Scordisci) material (14 sets of weapons, harness gear, jewellery… ) discovered in a cave on the Juhor Mountain in central Serbia.

 

 

 

 

 

COME INTO MY PARLOUR … 

 

 Five years after Scipio’s campaign Rome once more attempted a large scale invasion of Thrace. In 76 BC Appius Claudius Pulcher, who had been governor in Macedonia since the previous year, led a large Roman army against the Celts in southwestern Thrace. (Liv. Epit. XCI; Flor. II, 39.6; Eutrop. VI,2; Oros. V 23.19; Amm. Marc. XXVII, 4.10) It should be noted that in this case the term Scordisci is applied by the Romans to the tribes of today’s southwestern Bulgaria who lived in the Rila/Rhodope mountains area. This once again clearly illustrates that the term was used by the Romans to refer to all the Celts of Thrace, whether in today’s Serbia, northern Bulgaria or, as in the present case, southwestern Bulgaria. Thus, the tribes targeted by Pulcher’s army were the same ones who had destroyed the army of Porcius Cato, and massacred the Roman garrison at Heraclea Sintica, in 114 BC.

 

 The Celtic tactics in 76 BC, however, were very different to those which had been employed 40 years earlier. Instead of engaging in a full-scale military confrontation with what was probably a superior military force, the Scordisci employed a more subtle course of action. Pulcher’s force encountered no major resistance as they advanced into the Thracian mountains. However, as Cato’s army had learned in the previous century, entering the Rhodope mountains was one thing – getting out again was a completely different story.

 

 A prolonged and vicious conflict developed in the mountains of Thrace between the Romans and the local population. Roman sources speak of a series of ‘small battles’ and ‘skirmishes’ which are consistent with a guerilla campaign in which the Celts, familiar with the terrain, gradually wore down the Roman force. This conflict, which is reminiscent of the Roman campaign in northern Britain in the 2nd c. AD, finally took its toll, not only on the Roman army, but on its commander. After months of illness and military failure, Pulcher himself died, and the remains of the Roman army once more withdrew from western Thrace.

 

 

Celtic Strymon/Trident coin from s.w. Thrace (late 2nd/ 1st c. BC)

( See: https://www.academia.edu/6355583/Celtic_Strymon_Trident_Coinage )

 

 

 

Despite the latest failure in the Rhodope mountains, Rome was gradually making advances in other parts of Thrace. During the campaigns of Cnaeus Scribonius Curio in w. Thrace from 75 BC the Romans finally penetrated the Struma valley and reached the Danube (Liv. Per. 92’a; Front. Strat. 4.1’43; Flor. 1,39’6; Festus Brev. 3’2, 7’5; Eutrop. 6.2’2). During the Curio campaign large numbers of the native population were enslaved by the Romans, one of whom was a chieftain of the Maidi tribe – Spartacus. In this case, however, it appears that Rome had taken the vipers to her bed. In 73 BC a number of Thracian and Celtic slaves, led by Spartacus and the Celt Crixus, rose against the empire in a rebellion that would shake the very foundations of Rome. (Cic. Att. 6.2’8; Sall: Hist. 3’60-61; Liv. Per. 92’a; Vell. 2.30’5; Tac. Ann. 15’46; Plut. Crass. 8, 1-3; Flor. 2.8’3; Appian B. Civ. 116’a-b; Eutrop. 6. 7’2; August De Civ. 3.26’b, 5.22’a; Oros. 5.24’1)

 In Thrace itself, however, Curio’s campaign, and that of Lucullus in 72/71 BC in eastern Thrace, in which the latter conquered the Pontic cities and the central Thracian Valley, meant that the local tribes were now fighting an increasingly defensive war. Ironically, in the decades which followed it would not be Roman military force alone which would finally achieve the conquest of Thrace but, as with so often in Balkan history, treachery from within.

 

 

 

 

THE DACIAN DISASTER

 

For over 100 years the unity of the Balkan peoples – Thracians, Celts, Dardanii and Bastarnae – had held back the tide of Roman expansion in southeastern Europe. In the mid 1st c. BC this unity was torn asunder by the greed and ambition of one of these tribes, who unleashed an orgy of violence and destruction on its neighbors which would create the conditions for final conquest that Rome herself had failed to achieve.

 

 The Thracian Getae tribe who inhabited the area of today’s s.e. Romania and n.e. Bulgaria had been one of the main components in the barbarian resistance to Rome from the 2nd c. BC onwards. In 61 BC they were again part of the force which, led by the Bastarnae, delivered a humiliating defeat on the Roman army of G. Antonius Hybrida (‘The Monster’) at the Battle of Histria (Dio Cass. 38. 10. 1-3; Liv. Per. 103’b; Obseq. 61’a; see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/akrosas-the-king-who-scared-a-monster/).

 

 However, after Histria the relationship between the Getae (referred to in Roman sources by the geographical term ‘Dacians’) and their neighbors changed radically. From 60/59 BC the Getae tribe, under a leader called Burebista, who was apparently guided by a wizard called Deceneus, launched a series of brutal attacks on their former allies. The territory of the Celtic Boii and Taurisci in the west and the Scordisci in Thrace were laid waste and Burebista also ‘conquered’ the territory of his recent allies the Bastarnae in Dobruja, as well as the largely defenceless western Greek Pontic cities (Strabo 7.3.5, 7.3.11, 16.2.39;  Jordanes Getica 67; Suetonius, Caesar 44.6). Towns such as Olbia, Histros and Mesambria which resisted him were destroyed. Burebista subsequently declared himself ‘King of all Thrace’ as attested to by the Dionysopolis decree (ψήφισμα) (lines 22–23; dated to June-August 48 BC -Mihailov, IGBulg I2, 13 = V, 5006; Dittenberger, Sylloge inscriptionum Graecarum, II, 762).

  

In his quest for personal power, the brutality of Burebista’s attacks on his neighbors had reached genocidal proportions (Strabo VII 3:2, 11). For example, the territory of the Boii tribe after Burebista’s expansion was known as the deserta Boiorum (deserta meaning ’empty or sparsely populated lands’). The period of Burebista’s attacks also coincides with the end of local (Celtic and Bastarnae) coin production in this area, indicating that the economic and cultural status quo in the area was fatally disrupted during this period. Archaeological data from today’s southern Dobruja region also indicates the nature of Burebista’s ‘Dacian’ expansion. Of 70 late Iron Age settlements in today’s northeastern Bulgaria, only 29 survived into the Roman period and even at those there is no certainty of continuous habitation (Torbatov S. The Getae in Southern Dobruja in the Period of the Roman Domination: Archaeological Aspects. In: Actes 2é Symposium International Des Etudes Thraciennes, Komotini 1997. P. 512-51).

 

 

   From a geo-political perspective, Burebista had destroyed the unity of the native population and severely weakened the very tribes who had for so long constituted the main opposition to Roman expansion. By the end of his reign the ‘Great Dacian King’ had created optimum conditions for Rome to complete her conquest of southeastern Europe – including Dacia itself.

   In the 40’s of the 1st c. BC the fortunes of the Getae turned. Supporting Pompey in the Roman civil war, Burebista became the target for the victorius Caesar (Strabo VII:3.5). However, before the Romans could reach them the Getae became the subject of revenge attacks from their old allies, particularly the Bastarnae. In 44 BC Burebista was murdered by his own people and, in the face of repeated Bastarnae attacks, the Getae turned for help to their only remaining ‘friend’ in the region – Rome.

 

   As Roman expansion in Thrace gathered pace, the Bastarnae crossed the Danube in 29 BC to come to the aid of the Scordisci tribes in today’s northwestern Bulgaria. The Roman forces, led by the proconsul of Macedonia M. Licinius Crasus, and helped by the Getic king Roles, defeated the Bastarnae and forced them back across the Danube. Roman sources tell us that the Bastarnae were ‘destroyed’ by Crassus (Dio Cass. 51,25-27), but, as with so often in Roman accounts, this is a gross exaggeration. In fact, the Bastarnae would continue to be a major thorn in Rome’s side for centuries, and an enthusiastic participant in every major ‘barbarian’ attack on Roman Dacia and Thrace right up to the collapse of the empire.

 

 

 

 

TWILIGHT

 

  Crassus’ campaign of 29 BC and a subsequent one the following year in which he ‘punished’ the Scordisci tribes of northwestern Bulgaria (the Serdi, Meldi and Artacoi) (Dio Cass. 51. 26-27), marked a watershed in the history of Thrace. Soon afterwards a Thracian puppet government, drawn from members of the Odrysae tribe who had collaborated with Rome (loc cit), was installed to preside over the Romanization of Thrace. This so-called Sapaioi dynasty had little or no popular support in Thrace and Roman armies had to repeatedly intervene to save the new Thracian ‘kings’ from their own people.

 (On the Odrysae Puppet Kings : https://www.academia.edu/4126512/Sevtopolis_and_the_Valley_of_the_Thracian_Kings )

 

 

 

Bronze issue of the Thracian ‘King’ Rhoemetalkes.

Laureate head of Caligula left / diademed & draped bust of Rhoemetalkes III left

see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-thracian-puppet-kings/

 

 

 

 In the final decades of the 1st c. BC the Roman conquest of Thrace, after almost exactly 150 years of resistance by the native tribes, had finally been achieved. Or had it ?

 

Before the dust settled on Roman Thrace there was one more surprise in store for the empire.  In 16 BC, as the new imperial order was gradually being imposed, Celtic tribes swooped from the Thracian mountains, swarmed into Macedonia, and laid waste to the Roman province once again (Dio Cass. 54.20). This attack, which can only have come from the Celts of the Rhodope area of today’s southwestern Bulgaria, was a brutal reminder to Rome that although the cities and plains may have been ‘civilized’, in the mountains of central and western Thrace the ‘wolves’ still roamed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethnic Cleansing?

Mac Congail

 

  

Much of the territory occupied by the Celts in the area of todays’ Serbia / northern Bulgaria had previously been controlled by the Thracian Triballi tribe. Of all the Thracians, the Triballi had been most affected by the Celtic migrations of the 4th / 3rd c. BC. This tribe had previously inhabited an area which extended from the Morava river in the west, where Herodotus located the Triballian plain, to the Oescus (Iskar) river in the east. The Triballi appear to have been a formidable force and in 329 BC, for example, defeated Philip II’s Macedonian army as he returned from his Scythian campaign.

  In the wake of the Celtic ‘invasion’ of 279/278 BC Roman authors inform us that the Triballi suffered greatly at the hands of the newly arrived Celts (Justinius XXV,1; Appian Illyr. 3) Indeed, Appianus informs us that the Thracians were ‘destroyed’ and that the remnant of the Triballi took refuge with the Getæ on the other side of the Danube (Appian op. cit). However, the accuracy of these Roman accounts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Thracians during this period has recently been called into question by a number of factors.

   Firstly, the supposition that the Celts first arrived in Triballi territory at the time of the Brennos ‘invasion’ (279/278 BC) is contradicted from a chronological perspective by Celtic archaeological and numismatic material from this area dating to the second half of the 4th c. BC (for example material from Gruia in Oltenia which V. Pârvan dated to the second half of the 4th c. BC indicating that the Celts were already present in the Middle Danube area between Belgrade and Vidin during this period (Pârvan 1924, Considération sur les sépultures celtiques de Gruia , Dacia I, 1924, p. 35-50), the golden Celtic torc from nearby Gorni Tsibar, again dating to the same period (see ‘The Danube Torc’ article), or Celtic Paeonia model coins from the 4th c. BC found in northwestern Bulgaria (see ‘Paeonia’ in numismatics section – forthcoming). In addition to mounting archaeological and numismatic evidence we also have clear and direct historical testimony to the presence of Celtic tribes as far south as the Haemus (Balkan) mountains at the turn of the 4th/3rd centuries BC (Seneca nat. quaest. 3.11.3; Pliny N.H., XXXI, 53)  – i.e. two decades before the ‘Great Invasion’.

  Secondly, in contrast to the aforementioned Roman reports, archaeological evidence from the region indicates a symbiotic relationship between the newly arrived Celtic tribes and the Illyrian and Thracian population of this region. Celtic settlement in the aforementioned Morava river valley is well attested to by archaeological material. Thus, for example, the investigation of the flat cemetery in the region of Pecine near Kostalac, a town situated on the lower Morava valley and close to the  Danube in n.e. Serbia (Jovanović 1985, 1992 – Jovanović B., Necropola na Pechinama i starije gvozdeno doba Podunavlya. Starinar n.s. 36, 13-18; 1992 – Celtic Settlements of the Balkans. In N. Tasić (ed.), Scordisci and the Native  Population in the Middle Danube Region. Belgrade. P. 19-32), provides a good illustration of the ethnic changes that took place in the wake of the Celtic arrival in the region. On this site a number of Celtic cremation and inhumation graves, the earliest dating to the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd century BC, are situated around nine earlier graves belonging to the Illyrian Autariatae tribe. The continuity observable on this burial site clearly indicates that the new Celtic settlers did not destroy the Autariatae, but assimilated with the indigenous population and mixed ethnically with them.

 Therefore, from the end of the 4th century BC onwards, the Morava river valley and the surrounding region became a Celto-Illyro-Thracian interaction zone.  A similar situation existed in the Oltenia region of today’s s.w. Romania (See Nicolăescu-Plopşor 1945-1947,  – Antiquités celtiques d’Olténie, Dacia XI-XII, (1948), p. 17-33; Popescu D. (1963)  Două descoperiri celtice din Oltenia, SCIV 14, 2, p. 403-412; Zirra Vl., (1971) Beitrage zur Kentnnis der Keltischen Latene in Rumanien, Dacia N. S. XV, p. 171-238, Also 1976, p. 181 –  Le problème des Celtes dans l’espace du Bas-Danube.  Thraco-Dacica I, p.175-182.; Sîrbu V.,1993, p. 25  – Credinţe şi practici funerare, religioase şi magice în lumea geto dacilor, Brăila-Galaţi.) and northern / western Bulgaria where Celto-Thracian cultural zones developed. (On Celtic material form these areas of Bulgaria see Archaeology and Numismatics sections)

 

 

                               Location of the Oltenia region of Romania

 

 

                   Celtic material from Oltenia (after Nicolăescu – Plopşor 1945-1947)

                Celtic material from Oltenia (after Nicolăescu – Plopşor 1945-1947)

 

 

Destruction layers pertaining to the period of the Celtic migration have not been found at Thracian settlements in Bulgaria. The only evidence of such destruction has been recorded at Macedonian fortresses in Thrace, such as Krakra and Pisteros. Therefore, if any ‘ethnic cleansing’ was carried out by Brennos’s Celts, it was directed at Macedonian forces in Thrace, rather than the native Thracians (see also ‘Behind the Golden Mask’ article).

 As far as the ‘destruction’ of the Thracian Triballi  by the Celts is concerned, it is interesting to note that during the Scordisci Wars of the II – I c. BC a number of Thracian tribes joined the Celts in the war with Rome. These included the Bessi, Maidi, Denteletes, and the aforementioned Triballi –  who were one of the main Scordisci allies during this conflict (On the Scordisci Wars see article by the same name).

 

 

 

               Scordisci settlements and weapon finds from N.W. Bulgaria

                   (see ‘Sacrificial Daggers, Swords and Settlements’ article)

 

 

By the beginning of the II c. BC the area of Celtic influence in today’s Bulgaria stretched from the Danube to the Sofia plain. Archaeological, topographic and numismatic data, as well as testimony in ancient sources, particularly pertaining to the events of 114 BC, also clearly indicate Celtic settlement in the Struma Valley / western Rhodope area of today’s s.w. Bulgaria (see especially Numismatics section 6). Whether this occurred during the initial migration or was part of the later expansion mentioned by Strabo (‘and they (the Scordisci) increased  to such an extent that they advanced as far as the Illyrian, Paeonian and Thracian mountains’ – Strabo vii, 5,12)  is unclear, but the Struma Valley had been the main route for the Celtic invasion of Greece at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC, and it is probable that the Celts who settled here did so during this period. This also pertains to Celtic settlement in Macedonia itself around the towns of Edessa, Pela and Beroe (Livy XLV, 30).

 

 

Inscribed cult relief bearing a dedication to the tribal God Scordus (Sofia region 4th – 3rd c. BC)

(After Manov 1993)

The relief contains a short incised inscription –  ΣΚΟΡ∆Ο (= genitive: ‘belonging to Scordus’) i.e. the tribal eponym and ancestor-god Scordus, attested as Scordiscus in the sources (Appianus,  Illyr. 2)

 

 

 In 179 BC, as part of his campaign against Rome, Philip V of Macedonia entered into an alliance with the Celto-Germanic Bastarnae tribes. Referring to the Bastarnae, Livy (XL, 57) informs us that, ‘The way to the Adriatic and to Italy lay through the Scordisci; that was the only practical route for an army, and the Scordisci were expected to grant a passage to the Bastarnae without any difficulty, for neither in speech nor in habits were they dissimilar’. This testimony is particularly valuable because it clearly illustrates that the Bastarnae at this early stage were a predominantly Celtic people with the same language and customs as the Scordisci. This is also indicated by Plutarch who informs us, ‘He also secretly stirred up the Gauls on the Danube, who are called Bastarnae, an equestrian host and warlike’ (Plut. Aem. 9.6). From a geographical perspective Livy’s testimony (loc cit) also clearly indicates that by 179 BC the Thracian Celts controlled the Sofia Plain and the Upper Struma Valley – ‘the only practical route for an army’ from the Bulgarian Danube to the Adriatic.

 

 Celtic control of the Struma Valley was to prove an important factor in the century which followed. The repeated failure of the empire to secure this strategic route into western Thrace was to make the Roman conquest of Thrace a slow and painful process (See main ‘Scordisci Wars’ article).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

In order to tell of the Scordisci Wars of the 2nd – 1st c. BC, it is first necessary to understand why this story has hitherto remained untold.

 

For history to be manipulated, it is not necessary for lies to be told; it is sufficient that vital elements of the truth be omitted. A perfect example of this appears in the official history of Thrace published by the Alexander Fol Institute of Thracology, in which the Roman conquest of Thrace is described thus:

“After Macedonia became a Roman province in 148 BC, Thracian combat groups started penetrating there, but the Romans chased them away, without following them into the interior of Thrace, because they intended to conquer it from the Pontus. Therefore, they waited for the right moment, which occurred in the late 70’s of the 1st century BC, after the defeat of the Pontic ruler, Mithridates VI, and they undertook their first invasion”.

(Jordanov K. (Director of the Institute of Thracology) In: Ancient Thrace. Fol A., Jordanov K., Porozhanov K., Fol V. Published by the Institute of Thracology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Sponsored by the International Foundation ‘Europa Antiqua’. Sofia 2000. P. 124)

 

  This simplistic and distorted version of history is most remarkable in that it omits the direct testimony of a multitude of ancient authors to a bitter and prolonged struggle in Thrace between the Roman empire and the native population – Thracians, Bastarnae and Celts – during this period. Compare, for example, the statement that the Romans did not enter Thrace before 72/71 BC, with the clear and unambiguous testimony of ancient Roman authors:

 

M. Cosconius praetor in Thracia cum Scordiscis prospere pugnavit

 (135 BC) Livy (Per. 56’a)

 

C. Porcius cos. in Thracia male adversus Scordiscos pugnavit

(114 BC) Livy Per. 63’ a; Cf. also Diod. 34.30a’1-30c’1, Flor. 1.39’1-4, Dio. Cass. Fr. 88’1, Eutrop. 4.24’1, Amm. Marc. 27.4’4)

 

Livius Drusus cos. adversus Scordiscos, gentem a Gallis oriundam, in Thracia feliciter pugnavit

(112 BC) Livy Per. 63’a; Cf. also Flor. 1.39’5, Dio Cass frg. 88’1, Festus: Brev. 9’2, Amm. Marc. 27.4’10)

 

 

  The glaring contradiction between fact and fiction outlined above is only one example of a systematic pattern of distortion which has manifested itself in certain ethnic groups being erased from this period of history at the expense of a simplistic ‘Thracian’ version based on a mixture of  ‘mythology’, censored historical facts, and manipulated archaeological evidence – a discipline which has become known as ‘Thracology’.

 

 

 

(To be continued)