The use of curved single-edged swords – μαχαιρα/machaira* (and variants thereof) – developed during the Bronze Age in south-eastern Europe, with both the Iapodic and Liburian groups on the eastern Adriatic coast using variants of the machaira during this period (Batović 1983:314; Dreschler-Bižić 1983:383-384). Machaira type swords also appear…
UD: June 2016
A small selection of Celtic warrior burials from Eastern Europe (5 – 1 century BC). This post will be updated periodically, as further discoveries/publications come to light.
Stupava (Malacky District), Slovakia
(Late 5th c. BC)
Srednica (Ptuj/ancient Poetovio), Slovenia
(late 4th / early 3rd c. BC)
Csepel Island (Budapest), Hungary
(Late 4th – 3rd c. BC)
Also: Warrior burial #149 (3rd c. BC):
Ciumeşti (Satu Mare), Romania
(mid 3rd c. BC)
Lychnidos/Ohrid, FYR Macedonia
(mid 3rd c. BC)
(late 3rd c. BC)
Szabadi (Somogy County), Hungary
(Late 3rd/early 2nd c. BC)
Kalnovo (Schumen Region), Bulgaria
(Early 2nd c. BC)
Zvonimirovo (Podravina province), Croatia
(2nd c. BC)
Slana Voda (Zlatibor district), southwestern Serbia
(mid 2 c. BC)
Desa (Dolj County), Romania
(Late 2nd c. BC)
(late 2nd. / 1st c. BC)
Koynare (Pleven Region), Bulgaria
(Late 2nd/1st c. BC)
Sremska Mitrovica (Syrmia), Serbia
(Late 2nd/ early 1st c. BC)
UD: May 2019
Among the most interesting artifacts related to the Celtic culture on the Balkans are curved iron daggers discovered in burials and other sites from the later Iron Age (3rd c. BC – 1st c. AD). These daggers, adopted from the local sica type, are most often found in warrior graves as part of their weapons – together with La Têne swords, shield umbos, etc. (see below).
A large number of these have also been discovered in the territory of the Scordisci in today’s Serbia, which, as in the case of the Bulgarian daggers outlined below, mostly date from the 2nd c. BC to the 1st c. AD (Majnarić-Pandžić 1970, pl. 24/10, 28/5, 46/6; Todorović 1972 pl. 11/1, 13/1, 17/4, 29/2, 34/6, 36/1; Božić 1981 p. 328, no. 75-76 pl. 3/36, 37, 9/9; Dizdar, Potrebica 2005 p. 60-62, map 1). These come particularly from the Iron Gates region, but also from other Celtic sites such as the mass burial at Slana Voda in south-western Serbia.
Celtic (Scordisci) curved daggers (sica) with Rayed Suns and Triangle motifs from Mala Vrbica (Serbia)
Examples of similar curved daggers have also been discovered at Celtic sites in the western Balkans. For example, the prehistoric section of the archaeological museum in Zagreb has a number of Celtic (La Têne) daggers whose mutual characteristic is the curved blade. These curved daggers in Croatia (Sisak, Zagreb and Prozor) have analogies from the Obrovac area, Strtemec near Bela Cerkev and Ljubljanica in Slovenia and among the examples from the necropolis Jezerine in Pritoka on the Una river, south of Bihać in Bosnia (Belen-Latunić 2006). Further examples have also been found in Celtic burials in Slovakia (Nešporova 2002, p. 141, 314, fig. 101/2). Recent discoveries from Celtic burials at Mali Bilač in the Pozega Valley in Croatia have close analogies in those from the cemeteries of the Scordisci, who controlled the eastern part of the Požega Valley, which was connected with the central Sava Valley (Dizdar, Potrebica 2014). At the Scordisci necropolis at Karaburma (Belgrade) 7 such curved daggers, dating from the LT C2-D1 period, have been registered (burials 13, 25, 32, 35, 66, 97 and 112) (Todorović 1972).
On the Balkan Celtic Machaira:
The typical Balkan Celtic warrior burial of this period was accompanied by a La Têne sword/scabbard (in the La Têne C2 period of the Belgrade 2 – Mokronog 2-4 types, and in the La Têne D period of the Belgrade 3 – Mokronog 5-6 types), either one or two spearheads, a shield, belt buckle, and spurs.
Grave goods from the Scordisci warrior burial at Montana, North Western Bulgaria
(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42301/01-08)
Detail of the Celtic curved dagger (Sica) from the Montana burial. Note the mirrored ravens and solar motifs
(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42302/04)
Ritually ‘killed’ iron Celtic dagger recently discovered by treasure hunters at Bulbuc (Alba County), Transylvania (late 2nd/early 1st c. BC)
From a typological perspective, the Celtic curved daggers from the northern Balkans are uniform. They vary between 25 and 35 cm. in length, and in all cases have a ‘blood channel’. The only slight variation is that in some cases (e.g. Altimir, Komarevo, Barkachevo, Sofronievo, Panagurischte Kolonii and Prisovo in Bulgaria, and Piatra Craivii, Izvoru, Radovanu or Dubova in Romania) the blood channel is deeper.
Although in many cases the blade’s decoration has been erased as a result of the advanced state of degeneration, a significant number are well enough preserved to allow us to document the most frequent symbols. The basic decorative elements on the daggers are triangles, the punched circle (‘RA’ symbol), rayed sun symbols, opposed birds of prey (ravens) and the spoked wheel – all common elements on Celtic artifacts and coins on the Balkans in the late Iron Age (See Balkancelts ‘Taranis’ and ‘Catubodua’ articles). It should also be observed that in the Celtic burials these daggers are often found among the bones of sacrificed animals, indicating a ritual/sacrificial function. This would appear to be confirmed by the fact that the religious symbols – rayed suns, ravens, etc. are to be found exclusively on the same edge of the blade as the ‘blood channel’.
Hoard of Celtic (Scordisci) jewelry and weapons, including a curved dagger/sica decorated with conjoined solar symbols, recently discovered on the southern slopes of the Rtanj mountain, near Vrmdza in eastern Serbia
(After Милојевић П., Милановић Д. 2015)
The spatial distribution of these daggers in Bulgaria is particularly significant. From the northeast of the country examples have been found at Kamburovo (Targovischte region) (Borangic 2009), Ezerche (Razgrad region) (Radoslavova 2005), Varna (Georgieva 1992), and at Veliko Tarnovo, as well as Prisovo and Vinograd in the Veliko Tarnovo region (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2008, 2010). The Kamburovo and Vinograd daggers were associated with La Têne swords, spearheads, spurs and Celtic H-shaped horse bits similar to those found at Celtic burial such as those from Montana or Pavolche (Vratza region).
Further examples of Celtic curved daggers from central and western Bulgaria have been discovered at sites such as Pautalia, Plovdiv, Bogomilovo (Stara Zagora region), Panagurischte Kolonii (Pazardjik region), and Ravno Pole (Sofia Region) (Torbov 1997, 2005, Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010). As well as in Celtic burials, such daggers have been found as votive offerings at cult sanctuaries such as Babyak in the w. Rhodope mountains – ritually ‘killed’ in the distinctive Celtic fashion. Particularly interesting is the case of the Byalata Chishma and Atanasza sites in the Taja area of the Balkan (Stara Planina) mountains where curved daggers have been found in Celtic burials together with La Têne swords, shield umbos, spearheads etc., the majority again ‘killed’ in the typical Celtic fashion. At the Taja sites curved daggers have been found in burials dating from the 3rd – 1st c. BC, but also in later Celtic burials from the 1st – 2nd c. AD, i.e. the Roman period.
It is from northwestern Bulgaria that the vast majority of Celtic curved daggers have originated. From the area of northern Bulgaria between the Timok and Iskar rivers 82 of these curved knives have so far been found, the majority associated with other La Têne material – swords, shields, spearheads, etc. Over 60 La Têne swords have been found in the same area of north-western Bulgaria (see https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria).
Finds from this region include examples from Karpachevo (Lovech region) (Popov, 1928-1929, p. 282, fig. 146/a), Lom, Montana, Stubel and Kriva Bara (Montana region), Teteven (Lovech region), as well as Pleven, Chomakovzi, Gigen (ancient Oescus), Rezeletz and Koynare, all in the Pleven region (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010). Particularly noteworthy is the concentration of such daggers in the Vratza region of present day Bulgaria, where examples in have been recorded from sites such as Oryachovo, Osen, Mezdra, Kostalevo, Vratza, Vurbeschnitza, Ohoden and Pavolche. (Nikolov 1965; Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010).
To the west, a total of eleven knives of this type, dating to the Late Têne period have been recorded in four sites identified with the settlement of the Celtic Taurisci. Four specimens belong to the rich collection of items recovered from the river Ljubljanica near the locality Bevke in Inner Carniola. Others surfaced in cemeteries of Lower Carniola: two at Bela Cerkev-Vinji Vrh and, one each, at Novo Mesto-Okrajno Glavarstvo119 and at Podzemelj. A further example has been recently recorded on the Celtic hillfort at Oberleiserberg in Lower Austria, which is believed to be further evidence of trade and cultural links between the population in this area and the Balkan Celts.(Karwowski 2015).
The Curved Dagger from Oberleiserberg (after Karwowski 2015)
The archaeological data clearly illustrates that the local curved dagger (sica) was rapidly adopted by the Celtic tribes upon their arrival in the Balkans, and their presence in numerous Celtic burials from this period (3rd c. BC – 1st c. AD, in isolated cases later), accompanied by La Têne swords, scabbards, shields etc. provides irrefutable proof that the sica became an intricate element of Balkan Celtic weaponry. Its spatial distribution – from Croatia in the west to the Black Sea in the east, and from Transylvania in the north to Galatia in the south – indicates that it was popular among the diverse Celtic tribes across southeastern Europe and Asia-Minor. Furthermore, the decoration and typology of these weapons indicate that they had not only a practical purpose, but also a ritual/religious significance.
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UD: Jan. 2020
The “accidental” discovery of a Celtic warrior burial from Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia has shed new light on the Scordisci tribes who inhabited large areas of today’s eastern Croatia, southwestern Romania, Serbia, and northern/western Bulgaria in the late Iron Age. The burial, which was disturbed by a local farmer, was found in the Syrmia region, most probably close to the modern town of Sremska Mitrovica.
(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011 = Tapavički-Ilić M., Filipović V., A Late Iron Age Grave Find from Syrmia. In: Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Poceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureş, 7–9 October 2011. 453-559)
The cremation burial was accompanied by a bronze ‘kettle’, a bronze simpulum, a pair of iron snaffle-bits, a bronze fibula, an iron knife, a belt buckle of the Laminici type, a scabbard decorated with geometric ornaments, and two spears (one ritually killed). A sword from the grave had been removed, and presumably sold, before the material was presented to archaeologists. There is no information about the sword itself, so one cannot tell whether it was a long one, typical of the Late Iron Age, or a shorter one, developed during the last decades of the 1st century BC by the Balkan Celts. Examples of the latter have been found at sites in Serbia and in Bulgaria, such as the Taja site in the Balkan mountains where burials contained examples of both types of late Iron Age Celtic swords.
A number of interesting features are to be noted in the Sremska Mitrovica burial. All of the finds have close parallels with material from Balkan Celtic burials from the same period (late 2nd / 1st c. BC). Two iron spurs with button-shaped endings, which belong to the first variant of the La Tène spur type 1 in Serbia, chronologically belong to the 1st century BC. What makes this find of spurs special is that so far in the Central Balkans only one more pair of Celtic spurs have discovered as grave goods – from a Celtic burial at Popica in Bulgaria. Usually, only a single spur is encountered (Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović op cit.). The bronze kettle discovered has analogies in Scordisci territory along the Danube in Serbia and in examples from Romania (Tigănesti, Bobaia, Vedea, Costești and Pescari), all dated to the 1st century BC.
An iron knife with a straight blade is also noteworthy. This knife is in contrast to the typical Celtic/Scordisci fighting knives (daggers), which possess a massive bent blade and a short handle. Thus, the type of knife found at Sremska Mitrovica was not a fighting knife/dagger, and the bronze earring-like ornament on its handle indicates that it belonged to a female.
Also noteworthy in this burial is the deliberate bending/deformation of the spearhead before being placed in the grave – once again confirming that the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ was a common religious practice among the Balkan Celts in the late Iron Age ((see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/killing-the-objects-3/).
Ritually ‘Killed’ Spearhead from the Sremska Mitrovica burial
(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Celtic burial under discussion is the presence of female articles in the grave. Objects such as the knife, ‘Laminci’ belt buckle and fibula belong to a woman, in contrast to the weapons and spurs which are obviously from a male burial. This has led archaeologists to conclude that we may be dealing with the double cremation burial of a warrior accompanied by his wife. The circumstances which could have led to such a double burial, which dates to the period of the Scordisci Wars, can only be guessed at.
Reconstruction of the Celtic Burial from Sremska Mitrovica
(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)