CERNUNNOS AND THE RAM-HEADED SERPENT

UD: April 2019

 

 

Ram intor

 

 

In contrast to other creatures, depictions of the ram in Celtic art are comparatively rare. For example, on fibulae with zoomorphic decoration less than 2% feature the ram, and in the vast majority of cases where the animal is represented it is most often the head alone, naturalistic or schematically, which is portrayed (see: Cluytens M. (2009) Réflexions sur la symbolique du bélier chez les Celtes protohistoriques à travers les représentations figurées, Lunula. Archaeologia protohistorica 17, 201-206).

 

Fibule ajourée en bronze et corail découverte dans la sépulture d'une princesse gauloise à Orainville (Aisne), datée des années 300-275 DOUBLE V.

Fibula from the burial of a Celtic woman at Orainville (Aisne), France (bronze/coral) decorated with ram head motif (300-275 BC)

 

Pernik Ram

Zoomorphic/ram head attachment from a Celtic (Scordisci) firepot from Boznik (Pernik region), Bulgaria (late 2nd / early 1st century BC)

https://www.academia.edu/5046182/Zoomorphic_Cult_Firepots

 

 

Danubian kantharos with ram heads from Csobaj, Kom. Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén - grave of a woman discovered at Csobaj

Danubian kantharos with ram head handles from the burial of a Celtic woman at Csobaj, (Kom. Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén), Hungary

(3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/the-archaeology-of-heads/

 

a-stekleni-jagodi-v-obliki-ovnovih-glavic-novo-mesto-kapiteljska-njiva-grob-vii-28-5-4-st-pr-n-st

Glass beads in the form of ram heads from burial VII-28 at Kapiteljska Njiva (Novo Mesto), Slovenia

(5/4 c. BC)

 

The head of the creature is also frequently present in anthropomorphic and zoomorphic representations of hybrid ‘monsters’, most notably the ram-horned serpent which is a well-attested cult image throughout Celtic Europe both before and during the Roman period and which appears, for example, three times on the Gundestrup Cauldron.

The antlered deity of the Gundestrup cauldron, commonly identified with Cernunnos, holding a ram-horned serpent and a torc.

The antlered deity of the Gundestrup cauldron, identified with Cernunnos, holding a ram-horned serpent and torc.

 

As in the Gundestrup case, the enigmatic hybrid creature is often associated with the horned or antlered god Cernunnos, in whose company it is regularly depicted. This pairing is found as early as the fourth century BC, for example in Northern Italy, where a huge antlered figure with torcs and a serpent was carved on the rocks in Val Camonica. Other examples include a carving at the curative sanctuary at Mavilly (Cote d’Ôr), carvings at Beauvais (Oise) and Néris-les-Bains (Allier) in Gaul, or on an altar at Lypiatt (Gloucestershire), England (Green M. (2002) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. Routledge). Perhaps the best known example of this hybrid creature is the ram-horned serpent represented on the cheek-piece of the Agris Helmet (dated to the 4th century BC), which was discovered in 1981 during archaeological excavations in Perrats Cave (Agris, southwestern France).

 

Detail of the Ram-Horned Serpent on the Cheek-piece of the Agris Helmetated from the 4th century BC. which was found in 1981 during archaeological excavations in Perrats Cave

Detail of the Ram-Headed serpent on the Agris Helmet

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/02/14/the-mechanism-of-dreams-vegetal-style-and-the-silivas-helmet/

 

rinovantes & Catuvellauni. Cunobelin. Circa AD 10-43. AE Unit (2.01 g). Struck ca AD 10-15. Coiled serpent with ram’s head obverse

Coiled serpent with ram’s head on the obverse of a Celtic bronze issue (Trinovantes or Catuvellauni) from southern England (struck AD 10-15)

 

Sliven RAm Good

Horned serpent attachment from a Celtic firepot discovered at Sliven, Bulgaria (1st c. BC)

https://www.academia.edu/5046182/Zoomorphic_Cult_Firepots

 

Other such images include those from a bronze statuette from Étang-sur-Arroux (Saône-et-Loire; below) and a stone sculpture at Sommerécourt (Haute-Marne; both in France) which depicts Cernunnos’ body encircled by two horned snakes that feed from bowls of fruit and corn-mash in the god’s lap, while at Cirencester in Gloucestershire (England)  two snakes, eating fruit or corn, rear up on each side of the deity.

 

Cernunnos comes from Cirencester, England. This find shows a man grasping two horned serpents by the neck

Depiction of Cernunnos, grasping two horned serpents, from Cirencester

 

Another such relief, from Vendoeuvres (Indre, France) depicts Cernunnos wearing a sagum; he holds between his legs a large round object, and has two antlers on his head, the tines are held by two putti standing on either side above large serpents.

 

stone - Cernunus with putti serpents. Gallo-Roman Stone. Vendoeuvres, Indres. France.

The Cernunnos relief from Vendoeuvres (2nd c. AD)

 

Despite being described by most commentators as a ‘monster’, in fact in most iconography the ram-headed serpent is depicted as a beneficent beast, evocative of plenty and fertility  – representing a dualistic scheme illustrating the interdependence of life and death, and encapsulating the theme of regeneration intrinsic in Celtic religious belief. 

 

A bronze image at Étang-sur-Arroux - Cernunnos

Bronze statue of Cernunnos from Etang-sur-Arroux (cavities at the top of his head indicate that the statue was horned). The deity is depicted with torcs at the neck and on the chest, and two ram-headed serpents encircle him at the waist.

 

GUND RAM 2

Ram-Headed serpent and other fantastic beasts depicted on interior plate C of the Gundestrup cauldron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

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THE MECHANISM OF DREAMS – Vegetal Style and the ‘Silivaş’ Helmet

UD: Sept. 2018

 

 

 

 

“…the mechanism of dreams where things have floating contours and pass into other things”.

(Jacobsthal 1941)

 

 

 

SILIVAS hel

 

The Celtic helmet from Silivaş (Transylvania) was first published in 1925 as part of the inventory of a warrior burial which also included two spearheads, a sword, dagger, brooch and a ‘sickle’ (actually a curved dagger), all of which had previously been in the private collection of Count Teleki Dromokos of Transylvania.

 

roska 1925

Inventory of the Celtic Burial from ‘Silivaş’, after Róska 1925*

 

The helmet itself is of a type with neck-guard (eisenhelme mit angesetztem Nackenschutz) common among the Celts at the end of the 4th/beginning of the 3rd c. BC (LT B2). Finds of such helmets are concentrated in the alpine region of western Austria and northern Italy, from where they circulated to the east and west (Rustoiu 2013). The most spectacular examples of such helmets include those from Agris and Amfreville in France, decorated with gold and coral.

Agris helmet

a - a a- -a det agris helmet

The Agris Helmet and detail of decoration

a - a a- -a det MECHANISM

Detail of the Ram-Horned Serpent on the cheek-piece of the Agris Helmet

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

amfreville 1

The Amfreville Helmet

 

 

amfreville det.

Detail of the decoration on the Amfreville helmet

 

 

VEGETAL / WALDALGESHEIM STYLE

 

The helmet from “Silivaş”* is ornamented on the neck-guard with vegetal elements specific to the so-called Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Style.

The Waldalgesheim Style is named after a princely burial in the middle Rhine, and displays an independence of interpretation and confidence in execution that marks the culmination of achievement of the early La Tène period (Jacobsthal 1944). The descriptive term ‘Vegetal’ has been proposed in place of Jacobsthal’s type-site to denote the new style, reflecting in particular its use of plant-derived tendril motifs, although the style is not characterized exclusively by vegetal motifs, nor are vegetal motifs exclusive to it (Harding 2007:70). The Vegetal Style is often regarded as the high point of La Tène curvilinear ornament because it is in this style that derivative classical motifs are deconstructed and re-emerge with the ‘assured irrationality’ of a vibrant and independent Celtic creation (Harding 265).

 The vegetal decorative details on the neck-guard of the helmet from Silivaş belong to the late phase of the aforementioned style, similar to the ornamentation of the helmets from  Förker Laas Riegel, in Carinthia, discovered in 1989 (Schaaff 1990).

Siliv. ng detail

The neck-guard of the Silivaş helmet. Detail of decoration

A further fine example of the vegetal style decoration on the Balkans is to be observed on the Celtic gold torc from Gorni Tsibar (Montana region) in north-western Bulgaria, which dates from the same period as the Silivaş helmet.

 

Danube Torc Bulgaria

Celtic gold torc decorated in the Vegetal Style, from Gorni Tsibar, northwestern Bulgaria

(late 4th/ early 3rd c. BC)

 

Celtic bronze torc, beautifully decorated in the Vegetal Style, from the Laon area (Picardy) of France (3 c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that the most recent research on the Silivaş burial has indicated that the helmet and associated material did not in fact originate from Silivaş, but was most probably discovered in a Celtic burial in the Turda area, also in Transylvania, while the brooch and curved dagger came from a Celtic burial either in another part of Transylvania, or from the Scordisci area in today’s northern Bulgaria (for discussion see Rustoiu 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Eastern Celtic helmets of the Novo Mesto type see:

https://www.academia.edu/5463297/The_Power_of_3_-_Some_Observations_On_Eastern_Celtic_Helmets

On Celtic helmets of the Montefortino type in Eastern Europe see:

https://www.academia.edu/4835555/Gallo-Scythians

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

Harding D.W. (2007) The Archaeology of Celtic Art. Routledge.

Jacobsthal P.F. (1944) Early Celtic Art. Oxford.

Roska M. (1925) Keltisches Grab aus Siebenbürgen.  In:  PZ, 16, 1925, p. 210-211.

Rustoiu A. (2013) Wandering Warriors. The Celtic Grave from “Silivaş” (Transylvania) and Its History. In: Terra Sebus. Acta Musei Sabesiensis, 5, 2013, p. 211-226

Schaaff U. (1990) Keltische Waffen. Mainz.

Mac Congail