Feasting played a central role in Iron Age European society, as attested to in numerous classical sources, and by extensive archaeological evidence. Such tribal feasts appear to have had a socio-religious significance but, in true Celtic fashion, often developed into quite ‘energetic ’ affairs:
“And it is their custom, even during the course of the meal, to seize upon any trivial matter as an occasion for keen disputation and then to challenge one another to single combat, without any regard for their lives; 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”.
(Diodorus V.28:5-6; see also Poseidonius (cited in Ath. 4:36)
Probably the most iconic objects associated with these feasts are lavishly decorated ceremonial ‘buckets’, which were used to serve alcoholic beverages in large quantities. Many of these vessels are exquisite works of art in themselves, indicating that they represented objects of high social prestige within the tribe.
Lavishly decorated yew stave ‘bucket’ from Goeblingen-Nospelt, Luxembourg (1st century BC)
Goeblingen-Nospelt grave B produced the sheet bronze coverings for 2 four-footed wooden stave buckets. One bears a geometric design while the other has a typically late Celtic curvilinear pattern (see Megaw M.R. and J.V.S. (2001) Celtic Art from its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. Thames and Hudson. pp. 184-187, fig. 315).
The most spectacular examples of such buckets come from the area of northern Gaul, coinciding chronologically and geographically with the area of circulation of Gallo-Belgic type coinage.
Restored bucket from the Celtic settlement at Acy-Romance in the Champagne-Ardennes region of northern France (2nd century BC)
The bronze bands are decorated with fantastic creatures, s-scrolls and solar wheels – elements which are also typical of the artistic compositions of Gallo-Belgic coinage of this period.
Gallo-Belgic A gold stater minted by the Ambiani tribe in northern Gaul (2nd century BC)
Gallo-Belgic A type stater produced in northern France or Belgium, and recently discovered by ‘treasure hunters’ at Fenny Stratford near Milton Keynes, England (mid 2nd c. BC)
(After Mac Gonagle B. (2015)
During the 2/1 century BC such Celtic ceremonial buckets, as with Gallo-Belgic coinage, also appear in the area of today’s southern England. The first of these was discovered in 1807 in a Celtic cremation burial at St. Margaret’s Mead, Marlborough in Wiltshire – an import from northern Gaul (Megaw op cit), and two three-footed buckets were recorded in 1967 in another Celtic burial at Baldock in Hertfordshire. The best known of these vessels is the Aylesford bucket, excavated in 1886 by Arthur Evans in a Celtic (Belgic) cremation burial at Aylesford in Kent, which also included imported Italian bronze drinking vessels.
The Aylesford bucket contained cremated human bones, and was found with a pan and bronze jug for preparing wine, 3 bronze brooches and ceramic vessels. (See: Cunliffe B. (2005) Iron Age Communities in Britain. 4th edition. London: Routlege, pp.152-9)
The fact that the area of distribution of such buckets corresponds chronologically and geographically with the distribution of Gallo-Belgic coinage is certainly no coincidence and is logically to be associated with the well recorded migration of Celtic tribes of the Belgic group into this area during the period in question, and the resulting Belgic cultural influence in southern England.
Die for a Gallo-Belgic B quarter stater discovered by ‘treasure hunters’ at Alton (Hampshire) England. (late 2nd c. BC)
(After Mac Gonagle 2015)
Bronze mount for wooden stave bucket from Marlborough (Wiltshire), England
(1c. BC/ 1 c. AD)
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