The past few decades have witnessed the discovery of a large number of Iron Age Celtic chariots across Europe, including a number of examples from the island of Britain.
Celtic chariot from Newbridge (Edinburgh), Scotland. (5th century BC)
Cast bronze enameled terret with multi-colored glass inlay, from Suffolk, England (1 c. BC / 1 c. AD)
Of particular interest are a large number of Celtic chariot elements uncovered on the territory of modern Wales. Mostly dating from the late period (1st c. BC / 1 c. AD), these artifacts, decorated in the distinctive La Tène style, represent wonderful examples of late Insular Celtic art.
Chariot terret of fine bronze with striking red enamel inlay, executed in classic late La Tène style – discovered at Lesser Garth (near Pentyrch), Wales. (1 c. BC)
Cast bronze harness fitting (strap union; bronze/enamel), decorated in the La Tène style – from a Celtic chariot (1 c. AD) discovered at Pen yr Alltwen in the Swansea Valley of Wales
Bronze strap union from Nant-y-cafn in southern Wales (mid 1st century AD). The replica illustrates the original appearance of the strap union, and the colours of the enamels used.
Bronze harness fitting, decorated with red and yellow enamel in the La Tène style (late 1st / early 2nd century AD), from Maindy Camp Hillfort, near Aberdare
Particularly fascinatingis the recent discovery of a Celtic chariot burial uncovered by a ‘treasure hunter’ at a (still undisclosed) site in the south Pembrokeshire area of Wales. While individual elements of Celtic chariots have previously been uncovered in western Britain, this discovery represents the first example of a complete Celtic chariot to be found on the territory of today’s Wales.
Terret decorated with red enamel, from the recently discovered Celtic chariot burial in south Pembrokeshire
Bridle fitting from the south Pembrokeshire chariot
Despite initial media reports dating the chariot burial to the 6th century BC (!!!), the decorative compositions and distinctive use of red enamel clearly date this chariot to the same period as similar discoveries from southern Britain, i.e. 1st century BC – 1st century AD.
Bronze element from the Pembrokeshire chariot, lavishly decorated with red enamel
Although a systematic archaeological excavation of the burial has not yet been carried out, and is planned for later this year, initial research has revealed a number of interesting facts. The use of ground penetrating radar in the area has indicated a pattern of buried ditches and walls, indicating an important Celtic settlement in the area.
Perhaps most fascinating is the fact that a trial excavation has revealed that the chariot was buried in an upright position, a rare phenomenon in Britain, but one which has been observed in continental Celtic chariot burials in Gaul and on the Balkans, most recently the discovery at Sboryanovo in Bulgaria.
“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)
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.
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.
Glass gaming pieces from Celtic warrior burials at Perugia, Italy
(4th c. BC)
Complete set of glass gaming pieces from a rich Celtic burial at Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire), England
The recent chance discovery of a significant Iron Age burial complex in eastern Slovenia has uncovered important new evidence pertaining to the population who inhabited this region of Europe in the immediate pre-Roman period.
The site, at Pezdirčeva Njiva in Podzemelj, is situated in the White Carniola area of southeastern Slovenia, near the border with Croatia.
Excavation of the site at Pezdirčeva Njiva
One of the graves uncovered at thePezdirčeva Njiva site
Initial investigations at the site have uncovered 15 burials, dating to the late 4th – early 3rd century BC, thus placing these latest finds in the same chronological framework as other early Balkan Celtic burials from eastern Slovenia, notably those from Srednica near Ptuj. The location of the latest discovery at Podzemelj places the burial complex in the territory of the Celtic Taurisci tribe.
Bronze scabbard from a Celtic warrior burial at Srednica, eastern Slovenia (late 4th – early 3rd c. BC)
Material from the Celtic burials at Pezdirčeva Njiva
Perhaps the most interesting find so far from the Pezdirčeva Njiva burials is a Celtic gold stater based on the Greek Athena / Nike prototype, which was discovered attached to a belt in one of the burials (3 c. BC). The gold coin indicates that the burial is one of the later graves at the site. Coins are very rarely found in Celtic burials, and this example, only the third Celtic gold coin to have been found in an archaeological context on the territory of modern Slovenia, provides invaluable data concerning the dating of the burial.
Gold stater discovered in one of the Balkan Celtic burials at Podzemelj