Tag Archive: Celtic cult


Býčí skála intro illust

 

Probably the most enigmatic and mysterious archaeological site in Europe, the Býči Skála/Bull Rock cave in the Křtiny Valley (Czech Republic), was first investigated in 1867 by a local doctor, Jindřich Wankel, who initially discovered traces of a Paleolithic settlement.

 

x - Entrance Býčí Skála, translated from Czech to Bull Rock cave enterance

The Entrance to Bull Rock Cave

 

 

Two years later, interest in the site intensified when two young brothers discovered a bronze Celtic bull statue, dated to ca. 560 BC, in the entrance hall of the cave.

 

Býčí Skála, translated from Czech to Bull Rock cave Clay jar 6th c. BC

The Bronze Bull discovered in the entrance hall of Bull Rock Cave (ca. 560 BC)

 

 

Subsequent investigation has established that the cave was occupied, for short periods, during the Palaeolithic, Eneolithic, Hallstatt, La Têne, and Medieval periods. However, the most spectacular discoveries at the site, dating to the 6th c. BC, came during a 2-month amateur excavation in 1872.

During the course of this campaign, under a layer of stones and burned limestone, locals discovered a fireplace with pieces of pottery, tools, bronze and gold ornaments, jewelry, swords, armour and glass beads. A number of jars that still contained flour, millet and meat were also found; at the back of the entrance a Celtic Iron Age metal workshop and tools were discovered.

 

 

 

The “Chieftain’s Burial”

 

Most spectacular was the scene in the entrance hall where about 40 human bodies, some of them missing their head, hands and feet, were found; one of the skulls had been placed in a bucket. On a stone altar, adorned with stalks of grain, lay two arms with bracelets and gold rings, next to which was a skull that was spliced in half. Deeper in the cave, the remains of a chariot with bronze fittings and the skeleton of a man were discovered. Based on the artifacts, Dr. Wankel concluded that he had found the grave of a Celtic chieftain, buried with his jewelry, weapons, food, sacrificed horses and young maidens.

 

 AlTAR - Býčí Skála - Bull Rock Cave - 6 th c. BC - crowned skull - 40 bodies Altar

The stone altar on which was displayed severed arms with bronze bracelets and gold rings

 

Býčí Skála - Bull Rock Cave - 6 th c. BC - crowned skull - 40 bodies 3

Skull and decorated bronze headband/crown discovered in 1872 inside the Býčí Skála (Bull Rock) Cave

 

 


However,
the local doctor’s rather ‘romantic’ view of the archaeological evidence has not borne up to scientific scrutiny. More recent investigation has illustrated that the funeral chariot in which the supposed chieftain lay buried was actually not one, but three different chariots. Furthermore, the human remains were not all female as initially thought, and subsequent analysis has indicated that most were men and women aged between 30 and 45 years old, while the remains of children were also identified.  

 

 

Chariot 1

Chariot 2

Chariot 3

Chariot and detail of decoration from Bull Rock Cave (Reconstruction by the Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna)

See also:

https://www.academia.edu/15170255/THE_TETRASKELION_SWASTIKA_IN_IRON_AGE_CELTIC_CULTURE

 

 

 

 The nature of the ‘massacre’ in the cave has also remained unclear, with subsequent examination of the bones providing more questions than answers. For example, anthropologists have hitherto failed to establish whether the individuals were sacrificed or murdered, and while some of the wounds discovered appear to be fatal, inflicted upon living persons, others have proved to have been inflicted after death.

Archaeological research at the site has also been complicated by the fact that, although the skulls have been preserved, the rest of the human remains from the 19th century ‘excavations’ were buried in an unknown location, and have never been recovered. Furthermore, during World War II the German army planned to use Bull Rock cave as a weapons factory, and the entrance hall was paved, thereby burying all remaining evidence under a thick layer of concrete.

 

 

Thus, although many theories have been advanced as to the function of Bull Rock cave during this period, and the dramatic events that occurred in the mid 6th century BC, the full truth about this enigmatic site will probably never be known…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On ‘Human Sacrifice’among the Celts see also:

https://www.academia.edu/5275216/Multiple_Burials_And_The_Question_of_Celtic_Suttee

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/the-wicker-man/

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/the-witch-of-cliffs-end-human-sacrifice-or-execution/

 

External links for further reading on Bull Rock Cave:

http://www.byciskala.com/index.php?page=5&art=J.%20Wankel%27s%20famous%20discovery%20of%20the%20Hallstatt%20culture

https://www.academia.edu/6981237/Peter-R%C3%B6cher_Die_B%C3%BD%C4%8D%C3%AD_sk%C3%A1la-H%C3%B6hle_in_M%C3%A4hren_Opfer_Ahnenkult_und_Totenritual_in_der_Hallstattzeit (in German)

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UD: September 2017

 

 

 

Neu bo

 

Extensive archaeological data clearly indicates that the wild boar had a special significance in Bronze and Iron Age European society, and the importance of the animal in Iron Age society and religion is well attested to by numerous depictions in Celtic works of art from across the continent.

 

60-worked-bones-and-boar-tusks-from-the-garment-of-a-shaman-chieftain-burial-at-upton-lovell-wiltshire-england-the-grave-goods-included-four-axeheads-inca-prestigious-battle-axe-made-of-black

60 worked bones and boar tusks from the garment of a shaman-chieftain, discovered in a  burial at Upton Lovell (Wiltshire), England. Other grave goods included four axe0heads and a prestigious battle-axe made of black dolerite.

(ca. 1,800 BC)

 

bronze-pendants-mounted-on-boar-tusks-grave-of-woman-and-child-hueneburg-s-germany-583-bce

Bronze pendants mounted on decorated boar tusks, discovered in the double burial of a Celtic woman and child at the Heuneburg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

(583 BC)

 

 

lictt - cluj

Celtic bronze boar figurines from (left) the Gutenberg Votive Deposit, Lichtenstein (2-1 c. BC), and (right) Luncani (Cluj), Romania (1st c. BC)

 

2-1-jh-v-chr-wurde-in-den-1970er-jahren-bei-altenburg-rheinau-an-der-deutsch-schweizerischen-grenze

Bronze boar figurine from the Celtic settlement at Altenburg-Rheinau, on the German/Swiss border

(2/1 c. BC)

 

 

Boars occur everywhere in Celtic Europe – as figurines, helmet crests, on war trumpets (carnyxs) and on coins, confirming their particular association with power and warfare.

 

gund houn

Bronze boar attachments from Celtic helmets from Hounslow, England (left), and (right) warrrior helmet with boar attachment depicted on the Gundestrup cauldron (both late 2nd/early 1st c. BC).

 

 

Obverse of a Celtic silver coin from Esztergom, Hungary (early 1st c. BC)

Celtic helmet with boar attachment depicted on the obverse of a Celtic silver coin from Esztergom, Hungary (early 1st c. BC)

 

 

 

 

On that most distinctive of Celtic musical instruments, the Carnyx (war trumpet), it is once again the boar that is the most frequently portrayed animal (see ‘The Boar Headed Carnyx’ article). Also particularly impressive are a number of life-sized bronze statues of boars discovered in Celtic burial contexts and sanctuaries such as that from the Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Bulgaria, or those found in the sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias (Loiret) France.

 

 

Neu bo

Bronze boar statue from the Celtic sanctuary at Neuvy-en-Sullias (1st c. BC)

 

 

mezek j

Bronze boar statue from the Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/the-mezek-syndrome-bogdan-filov-and-the-celtic-chariot-burial-from-mezek-in-southern-bulgaria/

 

 

While the pig is the most common animal placed in Iron Age burials as food for the afterlife, the remains of boars are rarely found in such contexts, indicating that the wild boar, as opposed to domestic pigs, was not viewed solely as a food source. The religious significance of the animal is confirmed by its portrayal on artifacts such as the Celtiberian cult-vehicle from Mérida (Spain), or the ‘Boar Warrior’ statue from Euffigneix, (Haute-Marne) France, the latter probably a representation of the Celtic boar god Moccos.

 

 

Limestone pillar statue from Euffigneix, (Haute-Marne) France (1st c. BC)

 

 

 

merida-cult-add

‘The Boar Hunt’ – Bronze Celtiberian cult-vehicle from Mérida (Spain) (1st c. BC)

 

Bronze statue of a Goddess riding a Wild Boar, from the Jura area of northwestern Switzerland. (1 c. BC/ 1c. AD)

 

 

 

The fact that the wild boar is, besides birds of prey, the most frequently depicted animal in Celtic art, logically indicates that it had a special significance in society. The available archaeological and numismatic evidence also strongly suggests that boar hunts may have played an important role in Iron Age warrior initiations, forming part of the ‘rite of passage’ rituals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UD November 2014

 

 

FPt R1

 

 

Since the first half of the 20th century a series of strange ceramic objects, consisting of zoomorphic representations of animal heads – snakes, horses, rams, etc., have been discovered at sites across Bulgaria (Mikov 1932-33, Gerasimov 1960). These artifacts, associated with other Celtic material (‘eye beads’, glass bracelets, daggers, fibulae etc.; see below), and decorated with familiar La Têne motifs – herring-bone, concentric circles/solar symbols, s-scrolls etc., appear most often at cult complexes and burials – indicating that they had a religious function.

Recent excavations in southwestern and south-central Bulgaria have enabled us to definitively date these objects, and the associated ‘Zepina’ type pottery to the 3rd – 1st c. BC (Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008, Tonkova et al 2011), and to finally determine the real function of these mysterious ‘cult objects’.

 

 

 

BD c.

Celtic ‘Zepina Type’ ceramic from Bratya Daskalovi (Stara Zagora reg.), south-central Bulgaria (see http://www.academia.edu/4107842/The_Celts_in_Central_Thrace)

 

 

Sl fp

Zoomorphic ‘Cult Object’ from Sliven region, Bulgaria

(Sliven regional Museum)

 

 

 

 

Information from these latest excavations have also enabled us to clarify the real nature of these artifacts. It has transpired that they are not in fact ‘cult objects’, but zoomorphic attachments from the lids of small portable fire-pots, which were used to carry fire to the cult complex. The significance of this practice is still unclear, but they appear to have been found mostly in areas of the sanctuaries where artifacts associated with women (household objects, jewelry, etc.) predominate (Tonkova, Gotcheva op cit.).

 

 

 

 

P fp

Celtic zoomorphic Ram figurine/attachment from Boznik (Pernik region), western Bulgaria (History Museum of Pernik)

 

 

 

 

From a geographical perspective most of these firepots come from the upper Maritza and Struma/Mesta river valleys, and the Sofia plain, i.e. the zoomorphic fire-pots and associated ‘Zepina’ pottery are concentrated in sites in western and south-western Bulgaria: Batak, Belovo, Sv. Ilia and Ostretz Peak (both near Velingrad), Streltcha, Zepina fortress (Dorkovo), and Patelenitza (Pazardjik region); Babyak, Belitsa, and Kochan in the Blagoevgrad region; Kyustendil, Boznik (Pernik region); Poduaine, Muchovo and Jana in the Sofia region. Other finds of these zoomorphic lids and the ‘Zepina type’ pottery from other areas of Bulgaria include examples from Kazanlak/Seuthopolis, Targovischte, Plovdiv, Rousse, Skalsko (Gabrovo region), and Sliven (Mikov 1932-33, Gerasimov 1960, R a d o n o v, 1965, Domaradski 1984, Katincharova 2005). The latter examples, while fewer in number, confirm that these were not confined to the Celtic tribes of western Bulgaria, but were in use in other parts of the region.

 

 

 

Bd urn

Ceramic vessel of the ‘Zepina Type’ used as a funerary urn in a Celtic female burial at Karakochovata Tumulus, Bratya Daskalovi, south-central Bulgaria

(see http://www.academia.edu/4107842/The_Celts_in_Central_Thrace)

 

 

 

Recent finds of Celtic ceramic of this type in Thrace include examples from the Unatzi site (Pazardjik reg.), also in central Bulgaria, which was, as at Bratya Daskalovi, found together with a bronze La Têne fibula of the Jezerine type, and from the Celtic chieftain’s burial at Sashova Tumulus near the Shipka Pass, where this type of ‘Cult’ ceramic was discovered together with a gold fibula, torc, Celtic sword, etc. (see http://www.academia.edu/4126512/Sevtopolis_and_the_Valley_of_the_Thracian_Kings).

 

 

Bd fib.

Bronze La Têne Fibula of the Jezerine type from the central Celtic burial at Karakochovata Tumulus, Bratya Daskalovi.

 

The fibula is of great importance for the dating of the complex. This type of late La Têne fibula first appears between 40-30 BC and is most common in the period between 30 and 10 BC (Rustoiu 1997). It is worth noting that the other jewelry from the burial is of types typical of the Scordisci and other Balkan Celts during this period (Tonkova op cit).

 

 

 

It should also be noted that the concentration of the firepots in the western Rhodope mountains/Mesta Valley region also corresponds with the circulation of Celtic Strymon/Trident coinage which dates to the same period  (http://www.academia.edu/4067834/Bandit_Nation_-_The_Bogolin_Hoard) – logically indicating that they were produced by the same tribes.

 

 

 

 

FP reconst.

 

Zoomorphic lid, and reconstructed  fire-pot from Babyak (Blagoevgrad region), s.w. Bulgaria) (after Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Download Pdf. version of this file:

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources Cited

 

 

Gerasimov T. (1960) Keltski kultovi figuri ot Bulgariia. Izvestiia na Arkheologicheskiia institut (IAI) 23. Sofia: BAN, pp. 165–204.

Катинчарова Д. (2005) Аpхеологически проучвания на обект “Свети Илия” край  Велинград през 2004. In: Археологически Институт с  Музей – БАН. Археологически Открития и Разкопки през 2004 г. XLIV. Национална Археологически Конференция София 2005

Mikov V. (1932–1933). Keltski nakhodki u nas. Bulgarska istoricheska biblioteka V: 1. Sofia

R a d o n o v  Z. (1965) Kultovi pametnici v Okryzhnija muzej v Pernik. Arheologia,VII, № 4, 47 – 53

Rustoiu A. (1997) Fibulele din Dacia Preromana (sec. I i.e.n. – I e.n). Bucuresti .

Тонкова, М. и Гоцев  A. (2008) Тракийското светилище при Бабяк и неговата археологическа среда. София.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: March 2017

 

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With its origins in the Bronze Age, one of the most mysterious phenomena in Celtic Europe is the practice of ‘Killing the Objects’ – the deliberate bending, breaking or otherwise deforming of weapons and other artifacts before depositing them in burials or as votive offerings at religious sanctuaries (on this practice see also Pleiner R., Scott, B. G. (1993); Kurz, G. (1995); Bradley R. (1998); Megaw J.V. (2003).

 

 

Glen Gorget

The Gleninsheen Gorget from the Burren (Clare), Ireland (800-700 BC)

 

Ridges on the right hand side of the dazzling gold collar show that it was roughly bent in two before it was thrust into a rock fissure. Most of the other eight surviving examples of such collars were “decommissioned” in a similar fashion before being deposited.

 

 

Swords bro

Ritually ‘killed’ swords recorded in the British Isles and Iberia from the late Atlantic Bronze Age

https://www.academia.edu/22189046/Beakers_into_Bronze_Tracing_connections_between_Iberia_and_the_British_Isles_2800-800_BC

 

ritually-killed-sword-iron-with-gold-inlay-from-an-early-iron-age-celtic-chieftains-burial-at-oss-in-the-southern-netherlands-ca-700-bc

Ritually killed sword (iron with gold inlay) from an early Iron Age Celtic chieftain’s burial at Oss in the southern Netherlands. (ca. 700 BC)

 

 

gaulk 2

Sacrificed Iron weapons from the sanctuary at Gournay-sur-Aronde (France) (3rd c. B)

Musée Antoine-Vivenel (Oise, France)

 

 

 

The ritual of Killing the Objects appears on the Balkans with the Celtic eastwards expansion of the late 4th – 3rd c. BC, with numerous examples recorded from Celtic burials stretching from the Adriatic Sea in the west to the Black Sea in the east. Examples have also been found north of the Carpathians at sites such as Korytnica in southeastern Poland and Mala Kopanya hillfort (7 ritually ‘killed’ late La Têne swords – Kazakevich 2012) in western Ukraine.

 

 

 

Ritually killed La Têne sword from Mala Kopanya in western Ukraine (1st c. BC/1 c. AD)

 

scor. sp

Ritually ‘Killed’ Spearhead from the Celtic (Scordisci) burial at Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia

see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/the-warrior-and-his-wife-a-scordisci-burial-from-serbia/

 

 

 

polsw

Ritually ‘Killed’ Sword from Korytnica, (Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship), south-central Poland (1st c. BC)

see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/the-celts-in-poland/

 

 

 

 This practice was a common one in Thrace with examples of ‘killed’ weapons having been recorded in numerous Celtic warrior burials discovered on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, ranging from the 3rd c. BC onwards, such as those at Plovdiv (Bospacheva 1995), Kalnovo (Shumen region) (Ananasov 1992), Sofia (Kazarow 1926:41), or Kazanlak/Sevtopolis (Getov 1962). A particular high concentration of burials with ‘killed’ weapons comes from Scordisci territory in north-central and north-western Bulgaria (see: https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria ).

 

 

 The latest recorded evidence of this practice comes from the Stara Planina (Balkan) mountains of central Bulgaria where the ritual is to be observed at sites such as Taja (Stara Zagora reg.), where ritually killed La Têne swords and other Celtic weapons have been found in burials dating to the 3rd/4th c. AD (Domaradski 1993), indicating that in certain parts of Thrace some Celtic groups retained their independence and identity into the late Roman period.

 

 

varwe.

Celtic burial goods including ritually ‘killed’ weapons from northeastern Bulgaria.

(Varna Archaeological Museum)

 

 

 

 Ritually 'killed' Celtiberian La Tène sword from the Celtiberian necropolis at Quintanas de Gormaz, Soria, Castile and León, Spain, 4th-3rd century BC

 

Ritually ‘killed’ Celtiberian La Tène sword from the Celtiberian necropolis at Quintanas de Gormaz, Soria, Castile and León, Spain (4/3 century BC)

 

kupinovo-syrmia-3-c-bc

Ritually killed iron sword from a Balkan Celtic warrior burial at Kupinovo (Syrmia), Serbia

(3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

CULT SITES

 

Besides weapons and other artifacts found in Celtic burials, the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ is also to be observed at Celtic cult sites across Europe.

 

 

G2 1G2 2

Sacrificed weapons and lead votive ‘Taranis Wheels’ (see Taranis article) from Nanteuil-Sur-Aisne in the territory of the Remi tribe in Gaul (2nd/1st c. BC)

http://www.gaulois.ardennes.culture.fr/accessible/en/uc/05_01_01-Nanteuil-sur-Aisne

 

 

In about 200 BC, damaged weapons, hammered and broken on purpose, were placed in a geometric pattern on the ground at the edges of the sacred site, and buried immediately. The large oval ditch surrounding the temple also contained the remains of weapons, belt buckles and tools, as well as human bones. In the early 1st century BC, such votive wheels, made of gold, silver, potin, bronze and especially lead, replaced the deposits of weapons.

 

 

 

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Ritually ‘killed’iron sword from the  Gaulish sanctuary at Gournay-sur-Aronde, France (2 c. BC)

 

 

 

 

In Thrace the custom of ‘Killing the Objects’ is to be observed particularly at cult sites in the Rhodope and Stara Planina (Balkan) mountains of central and southern Bulgaria. Recent publications of excavations from the Rhodope mountains provide conclusive proof that this Celtic practice was common among the local population there in the 3rd – 1st c. BC. Votive offerings (Torcs, ceramic vessels, fibulae, daggers etc.) at cult sites such as Tsruncha (Smolyan region), Koprivlen and Babyak (both Blagoevgrad region) (Christov 1999; Kisyov 1990;Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008) etc. show clear evidence of having been ‘killed’ in the typical Celtic fashion.

 

 

 

babfp

Reconstruction of a ritually killed Celtic ‘cult’ fire-pot found at Babyak, Rhodope mountains (Southwestern Bulgaria)

(see: https://www.academia.edu/5046182/Zoomorphic_Cult_Firepots  )

 

 

 

 

 

Thousands of examples of this practice have been recorded across Europe, indicating that it was a ritual common to all the pan-Celtic tribes. However, although many theories have been postulated, for now the exact significance of this mysterious custom remains unclear. 

 

 

 

 

R. Dagger

Ritually ‘killed’ iron Celtic dagger recently discovered by treasure hunters at Bulbuc (Alba County), Transylvania (late 2nd/early 1st c. BC)

(see : https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/curved-sacrificial-daggers/ )

 

 

 

a - late 1 c. BC - River Lea at Waltham Abbey, Essex - rit. killed - anvil, tongs, sledge hammer, chisel and poker

Ritually ‘killed’ blacksmiths tools (anvil, tongs, sledge hammer, chisel and poker) found deposited in the River Lea at Waltham Abbey (Essex), England (1st century BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources Cited

 

Atanassov 1992 = Атанасов Г., Съорьжени от III– II в. Пр. н.е. от околностите на с. Кълново, Шуменско – ИИМШ,VII, 1992, с. 5-44

Bospacheva 1995 = Боспачиева М. Погилно погребение от елинистическия некропол на филипопол – Исвестия на музеите в Южна България 21, 43-61

Bradley R. (1998): The passage of arms. An archaeological analysis of prehistoric hoard and votive deposits. (2ed.) Oxford

Christov Iv., Rock Sanctuaries of MountainThrace. V. Tarnovo. 1999

Domaradski 1993 = Домарадски М., Могилен Некропол В М. Атанасца При С. Тъжа. In: Първи Международен Симпозиум “Севтополис”, Надгробните Могили в Югоизточна Европа. Казанлък, 4-8 юни 1993 г., Pp. 267 – 306.

Getov 1962 = Гетов Л., Нови данни за въорежението у нас през латенската епоха – Археология, IV, 1962, 3, c. 41-43, обр. 1-3.

Kazakevich G. (2012) Celtic Military Equipment from the Territory of Ukraine: Towards a new Warrior Identity in the pre-Roman Eastern Europe. In: Transforming Traditions: Studies in Archaeology, Comparative Linguistics and Narrative. Studia Celto-Slavica 6. p. 177- 212. Lódź.

Kazarow 1926 = Кацаров Г., България в древността. Историко-археологически очерк. Популярна археологическа библиотека, No. 1. София 1926

Kisyov 1990 = Кисьов К., Скални светилища в Родопите и Горнотракийската низина, представени с археологически материали и обкети от Смолянско и Пловдивско – Тракийската култура в Родопите е горните течения на реките Марица, Места и Струма. Смолян, 1990, 64-74

Kurz G. (1995) Keltische Hort- und Gwässerfunde in Mitteleuropa. Deponierungen der Latènezeit. Material hefte zur Archäologie in Baden-Würrtemberg 33. Stuttgart

Megaw J.V. Celtic Foot(less) Soldiers? An icongraphic note, Gladius XXIII, 2003, pp. 61-70

Pleiner R., Scott, B. G. (1993): The Celtic sword. Oxford.

Tonkova, Gotcheva 2008 = Тонкова, М. и Ал. Гоцев (eds.) Тракийското светилище при Бабяк и неговата археологическа среда. София 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: August 2017

 

 

epo 1

 

 

 

The Celtic goddess Epona is specifically identified by her horse symbolism. Her name is etymologically related to a Celtic word for horse, and is defined iconographically by the presence of one or more horses, being generally depicted either riding side-saddle on a mare or between two ponies or horses. Epigraphic dedications and images of Epona indicate her immense popularity within the Celtic world, and she was venerated particularly in the east of Gaul and the Rhineland, but known also across the continent from Britain to the Balkans (Green 1992. P. 204 – 207).

 

Relief plate devoted to the Celtic goddess Epona, found 1583 in the ruins of a Roman villa rustica at Freiberg am Neckar (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

 

 

ETYMOLOGY

 

The name of the goddess derives from the Proto-Celtic *ekWo- ‘horse’, Gaulish Epos – ‘Horse’ (Olr. ech, Ogam EQO-DDI, W: MW ebawl ‘foal’ [m] (GPC ebol) BRET: OBret. eb ‘horse’, ebol ‘foal’, MBret. ebeul [m] CO: OCo. ebol gl. Pullus  CELTIB: Ekua-laku [PN] (A.63). Gaulish Equos – ‘name of the ninth month’ (Coligny) may be an archaic form (with preserved qu < *kw). The Brit. forms (except OBret. eb) are from a derivative *ekwalo- (cf. also Celtib. ekualaku and ekualakos, which has been interpreted as a Nom. sg. of an adjective ‘belonging to ekuala’; Matasovic (2009).

The element is common in Celtic names such as Epacus, Epasius, Eppius, Eppia, Επηνοσ (Epenos), Epomeduos, Eporedorix, and the names of tribes such as the Επίδιοι (Epidii) in Scotland, or in placenames such as Epomanduodurum in France (Delmarre pp. 163-164 and pp. 355-389), while Indo- European cognates of Gaulish epo- are frequent in PN’s over a wide area.

 

Gaulish coin of the Meldi tribe (60-50 BC), bearing the abbreviated legend ΕΠΗΝΟ

Marble relief from Saint-Béat (Haute-Garonne) France, depicting Epona, the Celtic horse Goddess (enthroned), surrounded by geometric symbols and fantastic aquatic/hybrid creatures.

(1/2 c. AD)

 

 

 It should be noted, however, that the supposed autonomy of Celtic civilization in Gaul suffered a major setback with Fernand Benoit’s study of the funereal symbolism of the horseman with the serpent-tailed (“anguiforme”) daemon, which he established as a theme of victory over death, and Epona; both he found to be late manifestations of Mediterranean-influenced symbolism, which had reached Gaul through contacts with the east (Benoît 1950).

Unusually for a Celtic deity, most of whom were associated with specific localities, the worship of Epona, one of the few Celtic divinities worshiped in Rome itself, was widespread in the Roman Empire between the first and third centuries AD (see below).

Epona’s name is known through dedicatory inscriptions (mostly in Latin or Greek), and through passing references in Latin literature. Although the name Epona is Celtic, no inscriptions to the goddess have been found in the Celtic languages, as the custom of setting up dedications was introduced by the Romans. The most northerly Epona inscription comes from Auchendavy (Strathkelvin District, Strathclyde Region) in Scotland.  The altar was unearthed in 1771 during excavations of the Forth and Clyde canal and is now in the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow.

 

The altar from Auchendavy (Strathkelvin District, Strathclyde Region, Scotland)

Marti /
Minervae /
Campestri/bus Herc(u)l(i) /
Eponae /
Victoriae /
M(arcus) Coccei(us) /
Firmus /
|(centurio) leg(ionis) II Aug(ustae)

The altar is dedicated to Mars, Minerva, the Goddesses of the Parade Ground, Hercules, Epona, and Victory by Marcus Cocceius Firmus, a centurion of the 2nd Legion, and most likely a member of the emperor Marcus Aurelius’ bodyguard.

Epona Enthroned on a sandstone relief from the temple area of the ancient settlement of  Brigantium / Bregenz (Vorarlberg), Austria

(1-2 c. AD)

epona-dish

Silver plate depicting Epona enthroned, from the Petrijanec Hoard in northern Croatia (Dated to 294 AD)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/epona-enthroned-the-celtic-horse-goddess-on-a-roman-silver-plate-from-petrijanec-croatia/

 

 

 

 

EPONA IN THRACE

 

 The earliest evidence for the worship of Epona in Thrace comes from  a small inscribed cult relief, discovered in the Sofia area of western Bulgaria. Dated to the late 4th/ 3rd c. BC, the carved ‘Scordus’ stone illustrates well the religious beliefs of the Celtic Scordisci who obviously worshiped Epona, the tribal ancestor-god and the warrior hero. The ritual function of the object is unclear, but carved stones displaying various imagery were widely used in Celtic cult practices. On one side of the relief a mare is depicted, which has been interpreted as a hippomorphic personification of Epona (Green 1986: 91-94, 173-174; 1992: 90-92; 1995: 479; Manov 1993 with cited lit.).

As mentioned, Epona was known as a deity of fertility and prosperity but she was also associated with beliefs relevant to death and the underworld. The other side of the carved stone shows a man in a fight to the death with an enormous snake.  On the edge of the Sofia relief, a second snake is depicted together with a male facing to the front contiguous to a short incised inscription – ΣΚΟΡΔΟ (= genitive: ‘belonging to Scordus), i.e. the tribal eponym and ancestor-god Scordus, attested as Scordiscus in the sources (Appianus, Illyr. 2) (Manov 1993).

 

 

a - a - a epona sof

Inscribed cult relief bearing a dedication to the Celtic tribal God Scordus (Sofia region, w. Bulgaria. 4th – 3rd c. BC)

(After Manov 1993)

See:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/the-scordisci-wars/

 

 

 

The survival and popularity of the cult of the Celtic horse goddess in Thrace in the Roman period is testified to by a number of inscriptions and depictions of Epona during this period:

An example from Aptaat (Kruschari district, Dobrich region, northeastern Bulgaria) is one of the few inscriptions in Greek (Reinach 1902 p.237; Magnen & Thévenot #33 (inscription), #219 (depiction). It does not name Epona explicitly, but is carved on an imperial type stone bas-relief of Epona seated between two horses which face inwards, offering them food from her lap. Passers by were thus expected to recognize the goddess by her attributes alone, the name being considered superfluous.

Θεαν έπηχοον Αίλιος Πανλίν [ος άνεθη]

‘Aelius Paulinus has given this image of the auspicious goddess’.

The inscription is dated to the beginning to the 2nd century A.D. (100 – 122) when the Celtic Cohors II Gallorum equitata was stationed in Moesia.

 

exquisite example of a plaque depicting the ‘Danubian Horsemen’ and their central goddess… seemingly a version of Epona.

Lead cult plaque from Thrace (2/3 century) depicting Epona and the ‘Danubian Horsemen’ –  a magnificent example of the synthesis of Thracian and Celtic religious beliefs during the Roman period.

for discussion see: http://atlanticreligion.com/2014/08/23/epona-and-the-cult-of-the-danubian-horsemen/; also https://www.academia.edu/4004264/Contribution_to_the_Study_of_the_Danubian_Horsemen_Cult_Iconographic_Syncretism_of_the_Danubian_Goddess_and_Celtic_Fertility_Deities

 

 

An altar with an inscription to the Celtic Goddess Epona (Deae Eponae Reginae) by Valerius Rufus, beneficiaries consularis legionis of the XI legion confirms Celtic presence in the Roman forces at the Abritus military complex, also in northeastern Bulgaria. The inscription has been dated to 215 AD (Иванов, Р. 1993:29). Other evidence for the worship of the Celtic horse Goddess in Thrace comes from Augustae (modern Hurletz, Koslodui district, Vratza region) in northwestern Bulgaria where a marble votive tablet to the Celtic Goddess has been discovered (Reinach S. Rép. Des reliefs II, 153, nr. 3; Seure, Arch. Thrace II, 177; Kazarow  1938: P. 85. Inv no. 399. Fig. 224), and a bas-relief of the goddess from Plovdiv (Magnen, Thévenot 1953; Tudor 1997).

 

 

Marble relief of the Celtic goddess with the Thracian horseman – from Augustae (mod. Hurletz) near Koslodui on the Danube in NW Bulgaria. (1st – 2nd c. AD)

After G. Kazarow 1938, p. 84, Abb. 224. Now at National Archaeological Museum in Sofia, inv. No. 7518. (Thanks to Dr. E. Paunov)

 

 

 

Thus, the Epona cult continued to be popular in both northern and southern Thrace even after the Roman conquest, the influence of Celtic legions of the Roman army being instrumental in this phenomenon (see also Botoucharova 1949).

 

 

1907, fouilles de la ville gallo-romaine d'Alésia.

Statuette of Epona, 2/3rd century AD, from Alesia, Gaul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Celtic legions in Thrace see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/hounds-of-the-empire-celtic-roman-legions-on-the-balkans/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Benoît F. (1950) Les mythes de l’outre-tombe. Le cavalier à l’anguipède et l’écuyère Épona. Brussels, Latomus Revue d’études latines

Botoucharova L. (1949) Un nouveaux monument de la deese celto-romaine Epona. – In: RA, 1949, t. XXXIII

Green M. (1992) Animals in Celtic Life and Myth. London/New York

Kazarow  (1938) Die Denkmaler des Thrakischen Reitergottes in Bulgarien I-II. Budapest, 1938 = Dissertationes Pannonicae ser. 2 fasc. 14.

Matasovic R. (2009) Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden/Boston

Magnen R. and E. Thévenot (1953). Epona: déesse Gaulois des chevaux protectrice des cavaliers. Bordeaux

Tudor D. (1997) Corpus Momentorum Religionis Equitum Danuvinorum: The Analysis and Interpretation.