Tag Archive: Celtic cult of the head


UD: April 2018

 

2 - 2 - 1 - 1 - 1 - La Tarasque de Noves 1 c. BC - The Tarasque de Noves anthropophagous statue, displayed in the Musée Calvet in Avignon, is attributed to the Cavares.

 

 

“Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world.”

 (Jacobsthal 1944)

 

 

“… they hang the heads of their enemies from the necks of their horses, and, when they have brought them home, nail the spectacle to the entrances of their homes”.
(Strabo IV, 4:5)

“Trophy Skull” from the Celtic settlement at  Kobern-Gondorf ( Rhineland-Palatinate), Germany

(1st c. BC)

 

Human head (sandstone) discovered at the gate of the Celtic hillfort / oppidum at Závist in southern Prague. (Analysis has shown that the sculpture is complete, i.e. the head did not come from a statue). Such stone heads have been discovered in Celtic settlements and cult sites across Europe.

(2-1 c. BC)

 

 

 In the year 1904 a rather strange artifact was discovered at an ancient burial site near the village of Deta (Timiş county), Romania. The ceramic head (0.30 – 0.35 cm in height) represents a bald male with neither facial hair nor eyebrows, a straight nose and a pointed chin (fig. 1).

 

Deta 2

Fig. 1 – The Deta Head

(after Rustoiu 2012)

 

 

 Initially interpreted as part of a statue, and identified as ‘Prehistoric’ and ‘Bronze Age’, it has subsequently emerged that the Deta head, now dated to the late Iron Age (LTC1), comes from a Celtic kantharos of the ‘Danubian Type’, and represents one of many such Celtic anthropomorphic decorative elements / artifacts from this period recorded in south-eastern Europe.

The Danubian kantharoi represent a ceramic category adopted by the eastern Celts from a range of vessels specific to the Mediterranean region, and appear to have had special religious functions. 3 main types of Celtic kantharoi developed during this period (LTB2 – C1) – the 1st type consisting of close copies of Hellenistic originals, the 2nd type resembling local bowls to which 2 handles were added, and a 3rd type of large bi-truncated vessels, also with added handles (loc cit).

 

 

Bland. B

 

Bland 1

Fig. 2 – Celtic kantharos with anthropomorphic decoration from Blandiana, Alba County, Romania

(after Rustoiu, Egri 2010)

 

 

a - Csepel Island pseudo-Kantharos - warrior burial 3rd c. BC - good

Kantharos with anthropomorphic handles from a Celtic warrior burial (#149) at Csepel Island, Budapest

(3rd c. BC)

 

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/celtic-budapest-the-burial-complex-from-csepel-island/

 

 

 

   Variants of such vessels continued to be produced by the Balkan Celtic population right up to the Roman conquest at the end of the 1st c. BC, as has recently  been confirmed by examples such as that used as a funeral urn in the female Celtic burial (#10) at the Bratya Daskalovi site (Stara Zagora region) in south-central Bulgaria which has been dated to the late 1st c. BC (Tonkova et al 2011). Such kantharoi, dating to the late 2nd/ 1st c. BC, have also been recorded at cult centres in Thrace, such as that at Babyak in the western Rhodope mountains of s.w. Bulgaria. At the latter site the kantharoi, along with other artefacts including metal objects and zoomorphic cult firepots, were ritually ‘killed’ in the typical Celtic fashion.

Other Celtic vessels with anthropomorphic decoration from s.e. Europe include examples such as the kantharos from burial #23 at Belgrad-Karaburma, and vessels from Kósd, Kakasd, Csepel Island, Balatonederics, Rogvágy, Levice, Blandiana, etc. The Deta head has particularly close stylistic parallels in 2 heads from vessels discovered at Kósd (Hungary) and a head from a limestone stele discovered at Ciulniţa (Romania), while the stone ‘Janus’ heads from the Roquepertuse site in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur région of southern France bear distinct similarities to these eastern Celtic examples (Rustoiu op cit.).

 

 

Baslatonederocs – Keszthely, Hungary, III century BC kantharos antropomorphic decoration

Upper end of handle on a pot from Balatonederics (Hungary) – 3rd c. BC

 

Kosd n.

Fig. 3 – Anthropomorphic representations on the beakers from Kósd

(after Rustoiu 2012)

 

 

Ciuln hed

Fig. 4 – Head from a Limestone stele from Ciulniţa

(after Teleagă 2008)

 

Roque.

Fig. 5 – ‘Janus’ Heads from Roquepertuse

 

 

J

The two-faced pre-Christian deity on Boa Island (Fermanagh), Ireland

 

Winged head on the obverse of a Celtic tetradrachm from western Hungary (late 2nd c. BC)

 

 

Further stylistic analogies to the ceramic heads from Deta, Kósd, and the stone head from Ciulniţa  have been identified (Rustoiu 2012) in a gold ‘Janus’ head pendant from the Schumen region of north-eastern Bulgaria, and a ceramic head dated to the same period (late 4th/ 3rd c. BC) from Seuthopolis in the so-called ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’, as well as in the glass ‘face beads’ which became common in eastern Europe during the same period (loc cit; fig. 7 – 9).

 

 

Fig. 6 – Gold Celtic ‘Janus Head’ pendant from Schumen region, north-eastern Bulgaria

(3 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/%ce%ba%cf%8c%cf%81%ce%b1%ce%bb%ce%bb%ce%bf%ce%b9-the-celts-in-eastern-bulgaria/

 

C T. 1

Fig. 7 – Celtic ‘Face Beads’ from Romania

1: Mangalia 2: Pişcolt

 

Such glass ‘face beads’ have been unearthed in recent years during excavations at a number of sites in Bulgaria, such as Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region), Appolonia Pontica (Sozopol), Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region), Burgas, Kavarna (Dobruja region), etc.

 

Th. gl. 1

Fig. 8 – Glass ‘Face Bead’ from Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region, Bulgaria)

 

 

Th. g 2

Fig. 9 – Glass ‘face bead’ from Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region, Bulgaria)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/the-celtic-evil-eye/

 

 

 Previously ascribed to contact between the Hellenistic areas and the Celts of the Tyle state in eastern Bulgaria (Szabó 2000:11), it has subsequently emerged that in fact these appear earlier in the Celtic environment, as has been conclusively proven by examples discovered in burials # 191 and 202 (LT B1) or # 1, 16, 191, and 194 (LTB2) from Piscolţ in Romania (Rustoiu 2012).

 

 

2 - 2 - 1 - 1 - 1 - La Tarasque de Noves 1 c. BC - The Tarasque de Noves anthropophagous statue, displayed in the Musée Calvet in Avignon, is attributed to the Cavares.

La Tarasque de Noves. Anthropophagous statue from Noves in the Bouches-du-Rhône, France.

A dismembered limb hangs from its snarling mouth, and clutched in each front claw is a human skull. The statue is attributed to the Cavares tribe (/tribal federation), meaning “The Giants”.

(1st century BC)

 

 

Bronze applique in the form of a human head from a Celtic chariot burial at Roissy (Val-d’Oise), France

(3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Jacobsthal P. (1944) Early Celtic Art. Oxford

Rustoiu A., Egri M. (2010) Danubian Kantharoi – Almost Three Decades Later. In: Iron age Communities in the Carpathian Basin. Proceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureş, 9-11 October 2009.Cluj-Napoca 2010. P. 217-287

Rustoiu A. (2012) The Ceramic Human Head from Deta (Timiş County). About the La Têne Vessels with Anthropomorphic Decoration from the Carpathian Basin. In: Analele Banatului, S.N., Arheologie-Istorie, XX, 2012. Pp. 57-72

Teleagă E. (2008) Griechische Importe in den Nekropolen an der unteren Donau. 6 Jh. – Anfang des 3 Jh. v. Chr., Marburger Studien zur Vor- und Frügeschichte, Bd. 23, Rahden/Westf.

Тonkova, Gotcheva (2008) = Тонкова, М. и Гоцевa  A.. Тракийското светилище при Бабяк и неговата археологическа среда. София

Tonkova et al (2011) = Трако-римски династичен център в районна Чирпанските възвишения Тонкова M. (ed.) София

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

(Revised July 2012)

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

  Glass is a medium not often associated with ‘barbarian’ craftsmen, yet from the Hallstatt period onwards glass becomes an important medium in Celtic art. By the middle and late La Têne period, bracelets in translucent blue, green, yellow and clear glass are known, some with elaborate mouldings, fluting or inlaid ornament around their edges (1).

  In Bulgaria such La Têne glass braclets have recently been discovered in the Celtic habitation layers at the hillforts of Arkovna (Dalgopol district, Varna region)(2) and Zaravetz (Veliko Tarnovo) dating from the 3rd c. BC onwards (3).  Similar glass bracelets have recently been discovered along with other La Têne material at other sites across Bulgaria, from Kavarna on the Black Sea coast (4) to Babyak in the Rhodope mountains (5), as well as at the ancient city of Helis (Sboryanovo archaeological reserve, Razgrad region) (See: New Celtic material in Bulgaria – Part 1).

 

 

 

THE EVIL EYE

 

 

  The belief in the  ’Evil Eye’ is, of course, present in many ancient cultures and literary evidence attests to the belief in the evil eye in the eastern Mediterranean for millennia starting with Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius, and is represented in Celtic mythology, notable in the form of the Fomorian giant Balor of the Evil Eye (see Dundes (1992). Evil Eye: Folklore Casebook. Madison, Wis. University of Wisconsin Press; Kinahan G.H. (1894) ”Donegal Folk-lore: Ballor of the Evil Eye.”  In: The Folk-Lore Journal. Volume 5). Of interest in the present context are the glass nazars, or ‘magical’ charms, used to ward off the evil eye, particularly popular in the Balkans and todays Turkey, and generally believed to be originally of Turkish origin.

 

 

Modern Turkish Nazar Beads

 

 

In fact, recent evidence from archaeological sites in Bulgaria suggests that this particular kind of glass ‘evil eye’ charm has its origins not in the east, but in the west. In each case the aforementioned glass La Têne bracelets discovered at archaeological sites in Bulgaria (dating from the Late Iron Age – 3rd c. BC) have been found together with glass ‘Eye Beads’, which in turn have direct parallels from earlier Celtic sites across Europe (Fig. 1). It should also be borne in mind that the Celts who settled in the Balkans during this period also established the Celtic state of Galatia in persent day Turkey from 277 BC onwards (see main ‘Galatia’ article’).

 

 

 

 

Fig 1 – Glass ‘Eye’ beads from the Celtic burial at Necropole de Prosnes – Marne.

Museé Saint Remi – Reims. (5th c. BC)

 

 

 

Common Celtic patterns employed in the creation of glass artifacts are for the most part very simple and geometric. One of the most common patterns are those consisting of concentric circles. These resemble eyes and may have been used as protection against misfortune; as in the ‘evil eye.’ Triskels, s-scrolls, running-dog patterns, and chevrons (all indicators of the La Têne style) are also quite commonly found among Celtic glass artifacts of this period.

 

 

Celtic ‘Eye Beads’ from the tomb in tumulus 18 at Helis/Sboryanovo, northeastern Bulgaria (4th – 3rd c. BC)

(Drawing after Gergova D., Katevski I. Archaeology and Geophysics in the Sboryanovo National Reserve (North-East Bulgaria). In: Geoarchaeology and Archaeomineralogy (Eds. R. I. Kostov, B. Gaydarska, M. Gurova). Proceedings of the International Conference, 29-30 October 2008, 374-379; see also ‘New Material from Bulgaria 1′ article)

 

 

 

Claims by Bulgarian archaeologists (6) that these first ‘appear’ in Thrace in the 2nd – 1st c. BC are logically contradicted by their discovery at Celtic sites across Europe from the 5th c. BC, and at Celtic sites in Bulgaria, such as Arkovna and Zaravetz, from the beginning of the 3rd c. BC onwards. It would appear that these eye beads had religious significance for the Celts, as they are often found as votive offerings. This is confirmed by their discovery at  cult sanctuaries such as that at Babyak in the Rhodope mountains. Evidence from such sites also suggests that these ‘evil eye’ beads were primarily worn by women, as they are generally found in parts of the complexes together with typically female articles such as female torcs, bracelets and ‘cult’ firepots (See ‘Killing the Objects’ and ‘Cult Firepots’ articles).

 

 

 

Fig. 2 Reinheim “Princess” Necklace. Reinheim (Saarland), Germany

Mid. 4th c. BC

 

 

 

 

 

‘Nazar trees’ in modern Cappadocia, Turkey

Disks or balls, consisting of concentric blue and white circles (usually, from inside to outside, dark blue, light blue, white, dark blue) representing an evil eye are common apotropaic talismans in the Middle East today, found on the prows of Mediterranean boats and elsewhere; in some forms of the folklore, the staring eyes are supposed to bend the malicious gaze back to the sorcerer.

Known as nazar (Turkish: nazar boncuğu or nazarlık), this talisman is most frequently seen today in Turkey, Bulgaria and other southeastern European countries, found in or on houses and vehicles or worn as beads.

 

 

 

 

 

FACE/HEAD BEADS

 

 

It has long been noted that the cult of the head ‘constitutes a persistent theme throughout all aspects of Celtic life spiritual and temporal, and the symbol of the severed head may be regarded as the most typical and universal of their religious attitudes’ (Ross A. Pagan Celtic Britain. London 1967:163). Strabo informs us that ‘when they depart from the battle they hang the heads of their enemies from the necks of their horses, and when they have brought them home, nail the spectacle to the entrance of their houses…’ (Strabo IV, 4,5). Amongst the Celts the human head ‘was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of  the emotions, as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world’ (Jacobstahl P. Early Celtic Art. Oxford. 1944; see also Mac Congail 2010: 173-175). The severed head is also one of the main core symbols on Celtic artifacts and coins from the Balkans in the 3rd – 1st c. BC (see archaeology (particularly ‘The Letnitza Treasure’ and ‘The Mezek Chariot Burial’ articles) and numismatics sections).

 

In this context, perhaps the most interesting glasswork produced by the Celts were the ‘Face/Head Beads’ (Fig. 2) These have been found at a number of Celtic burials and other sites from central (Germany, Switzerland etc.) and eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria etc.) (7).

 

 

 

Fig 3 Celtic glass ‘Face Beads’ from burials in Eastern Europe (After Megaw 1989)

 

 

 

A wonderful example of this type of face bead from Bulgaria comes from the Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region)(fig. 4), which has direct parallels in examples discovered at Celtic sites in the Czech Republic and Romania (8). Similar artifacts have been unearthed in recent years during excavations at other sites in Bulgaria such as Appolonia Pontica (Sozopol) (9), Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region)(10), Burgas(11), Kavarna (Dobruja region)(12), etc.

 

Fig 4. ‘Face Bead’ and other glass articles from Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region, Bulgaria)

 

 

 

 

Fig 5 –  Glass bead and ‘face bead’ from Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region, Bulgaria)

 

 

 

 

Also interesting, from an artistic perspective, is a gold ‘Janus head’ pendant (fig. 6) executed in a repossé technique and decorated filigreé and granulation, discovered in the Shumen region of northeastern Bulgaria, and dated to the same period. Executed in the same ‘plastic style’ as the Mezek chariot artifacts from southern Bulgaria (see the Mezek Chariot Burial’ article), from a morphological and stylistic perspective the closest analogies are the Celtic ‘bead heads’ found among the Celts of central and eastern Europe, examples of which come from sites such as Mangalia, Piscolt and Vác (Rustoiu 2008), as well as from sites in Bulgaria such as the aforementioned Appolonia Pontica (Sozopol), Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region), Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region), Burgas, Kavarna (Dobruja region), etc.

 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 6 – Gold Celtic ‘Janus Head’ pendant from Schumen region, northeastern Bulgaria (4th/3rd c. BC)

(after Rustoiu A. (2008) ‘Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde’ – A double faced gold pendant from the History Museum of Schumen (Bulgaria) and the glass masked-beads. In: Instrumentum. No. 27. June 2008. P. 10-12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Modern) Sources Cited

 

1. Harding D.W. The Archaeology of Celtic Art. London/New York. 2007. P. 7-8.

2. Lazarov 2010:105 and figs. 5/4 – 5/6; see also New Celtic Material from Bulgaria articles 1 + 2.

3. Kvinto 1985 = Квинто Л., Келтски материали от III– I в. пр. н.е. в тракийското селище на Царeвец – ВТУ, XI пролетен колоквиум, юбилеен сборник на възпитаници от ИФ, т. II, 1985.

4. BAS (Bulgarian Academy of  Science) Reports, 2005 = Археологически Институт с Музей – БАН. Археологически открития и разкопки през през 2004 г. XLIV Национална Археологическа Конференция. София 2005 P. 136 – 137

5. See ‘Killing the Objects’ article.

6. Tonkova, Gotzev 2008. See ‘Killing the Objects’ article with relevant cites.

7. Harding op cit; See also Megaw V, Megaw R. Celtic Art : From Its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. London 1989.

8. V. Megaw, personal communication. I would like to express my gratitude to Prof. Megaw for his expert opinion on this issue.

9. Konova L. = Конова Л. 2005. Магия и погребален обред. Глинени култови фигури от некропола на Аполония Понтика – In: HEROS HEPHAISTOS. Studia in Liubae Ognenova-Marinova, Veliko Tarnovo, 148-164.

10. Dimitrova 2003 = Димитрова Д. 2003. Маврова могила при Старосел – In: Пътят. Сборник научни статии, посветен на живота и творчеството на д-р Г. Китов, 73-87

11. Karayotov 1976 = Карайотов И. 1976. Могилни погребения в района на Нефтохимическия комбинат край Бургас – Известия на музеите от Югоизточна България, т.І, 51 – 71

12. See note 4