The Celtic Burial Complex at Zvonimirovo (Croatia)

UD: April 2019


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The late Iron Age burial complex at Zvonimirovo-Veliko Polje (central Podravina province) in Croatia is rapidly developing into one of the most significant archaeological sites of its kind, with each excavation season uncovering new material which increases our understanding of the Celtic population who inhabited this region of Europe.


Map z

Location of the Zvonimirovo-Veliko Polje site


The site was discovered in 1992, when artifacts of the early medieval Bijelo Brdo culture were found during ploughing. However, rescue excavations at the Medieval cemetery in 1993 produced a surprise when a Celtic cremation burial was also discovered. During 1994, two more Celtic burials were found, one of which was a warrior burial. Based on the typological characteristics of the finds from three graves dated to the second century BC, the La Tène cemetery at Veliko Polje in Zvonimirovo has been ascribed to the territory of the Balkan Celtic Taurisci tribe.


Shield boss94

(Illustrations after Dizdar 2013)


So far the Celtic cremation burials discovered at Zvonimirovo date from the early 3rd – late 2nd c. BC. These include a number of multiple burials, and several individual finds from destroyed graves have been documented, indicating that the number of graves was considerably greater.

Zn g 11

Burial LT 11 from Zvonimirovo which contained the remains of a man and a young girl

Zvon. gbead

(After Dizdar 2004; on multiple burials from the site see also:

(Burnt) bronze belt from burial LT 29 Zvonimirovo


A further 6 cremation burials (LT 94-LT 99) were excavated during the 2012 season at Zvonimirovo. The most interesting of discoveries from these excavations included warrior burials with weapons – ritually bent swords in scabbards (associated with belt sets and long spears), a long tanged iron knife, and shield bosses.

The toiletry items in the burials consist of scissors and razors, while the costume is represented by iron fibulae of Middle La Tène type. A female burial contained costume and jewellery items, while ceramic vessels and animal bones were found as goods in graves of both sexes. Based on the weapons and costume items, the latest burials have been dated to the Mokronog IIb/La  Tène C2 phase.

pot 96

The pot from grave LT 96 is decorated with stamped concentric circles, connected with garlands executed by a series of tiny impressions.





Further rescue excavations at the Zvonimirovo-Veliko polje site in 2014 uncovered 6 more La Têne cremation burials (LT 102- 107). Apart from warrior burials, most interesting was a double female burial (LT 103).

a - a - a - Kantharos LT104 Zvonimirovo

Kantharos discovered in a Celtic burial (LT 104) during the 2014 excavations at Zvonimirovo (3rd c. BC)

(After Dizdar 2015)



Excavations during the 2015 season revealed 6 further Celtic cremation burials (LT 108 – LT 113). Noteworthy were the deep, larger pits of female graves LT 109 and LT 110; in the LT 110 grave, a bowl was placed on the bottom of the pit, with the burnt remains of the deceased placed on top of it with a bronze fibula and probably a burnt bracelet.


Detail of burial LT 110 with the burnt remains of the deceased laid above the pot


Next to a warrior burial (LT 112), which included weapons and toiletries, graves were found which, based on the clothing and jewellery features, belonged to female burials. Grave goods consisted of ceramic vessels (pots and bowls), and the burials dated to the LT C2, i.e. Mokronog IIb phase.



Warrior burial LT 112 at Zvonimirovo

(after Dizdar 2016)


A further recently discovered phenomenon at the complex was identified in female burial LT29, where a wooden burial chamber was constructed. Wooden “coffins” like that from the Zvonimirovo cemetery have recently been documented at many eastern Celtic burial complexes, notably in Hungary and Slovakia.



Zvonimirovo-Veliko polje: Reconstruction of female grave LT 29 with wooden burial chamber (3/2 c. BC)

After Dizdar M.(2016) Late Iron Age Funerary Practice in Southern Pannonia. In:Proceedings of the 14th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology in Čačak, Serbia 24th – 27th September 2015. Beograd – Čačak, 2016. pp. 293-312











For a full report on the 2012 excavations (in Croatian) see:

2014 Report:

Report on the 2015 Campaign:











Mac Congail








THE WARRIOR ON THE HILL – An Extraordinary Burial from the Tribanjska Draga canyon in western Croatia

UD: Feb. 2019




From the hills east of the Tribanjska Draga canyon in western Croatia, not far from the Adriatic coast, comes one of the most enigmatic ancient burials from Eastern Europe.


Discovered by local shepherds in 2006, the cremation burial in the Sveta Trojica area yielded a Roman sword (Gladius of the ‘Mainz’ type), a spearhead, shield boss and nails, as well as a ceramic urn and ‘chalice’ – the nature of the weapons and Roman caligae type nails indicating that the burial was that of a Roman soldier, and dated to the early 1st c. AD. However, it also became clear from the geographical context and the burial ritual that this was no ordinary ‘Roman’ burial.


Sveta weapons
Weapons from the Warrior Burial at Sveta Trojica
(after Tonc et al 2010: Tonc A., Radman-Livaja I., Dizdar M. The Warrior Grave from Sveta Trojica near Starigrad Paklenica. In: Proceedings of the International conference Weapons and Military Equipment in a Funerary Context. Zagreb 2010. pp. 245 – 258)


Sveta m.

Location of the Site



In the late Iron Age this area was inhabited by an Illyrian Liburnian population, the burial rite practiced by whom was inhumation, thus ruling out the possibility that this was a local individual who had served in the Roman army. Furthermore, in the area where the burial was discovered no evidence has been found of a garrison or other Roman military presence which would explain the burial of a Roman soldier at this location. A further surprising twist is that the sword from the burial shows clear evidence of having been ritually ‘killed’, indicating that the deceased was actually of Celtic origin (loc cit).
Sveta urn
The Funerary Urn from the Burial at Sveta Trojica
(after Tonc et al 2010)

So how does one explain the burial of a Celtic warrior with Roman weapons in an area inhabited by Illyrians?

It is a well documented fact that a large proportion of Roman forces on the Balkans, and other parts of the empire, consisted of soldiers of Celtic origin. For example, recent research from Romania shows that circa 25% of the Roman peregrine population in Dacia were Celts:


Ethnic origin of Roman auxiliary troops in Dacia


In the western Balkans, a number of other cases have been registered of Roman soldiers buried according to Celtic ritual. Such is the case, for example, with ‘Roman’ burials at sites such as Novo Mesto – Beletov Vrt and Verdun pri Stopičah in Slovenia, where the weapons were also deformed in the distinctive Celtic fashion (Tonc et al 2010).


Thus, in light of the available archaeological evidence it appears that the warrior from Sveta Trojica was part of a Roman military unit which passed through this region of Croatia at the beginning of the 1st century. The fact that he was buried according to Celtic ritual further indicates that this Roman force also contained other individuals from this ethnic group and represents further evidence that, although formally ‘Romans’, these warriors retained their own religious traditions and sense of ethnic identity.













̾Mac Congail