The belief in the ‘Evil Eye’ is present in many ancient cultures, and literary evidence attests to it in the eastern Mediterranean for millennia starting with Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. It is also represented in Celtic mythology, notably in the form of the Fomorian giant Balor of the Evil Eye . 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 today’s Turkey…
While the production of glass jewelry had been a feature of Celtic culture since the Bronze Age, from a technological and artistic perspective the middle La Tène period, specifically from the 3rd century BC onwards, marked a revolution in European glass production. High quality glass jewelry, particularly bracelets, which has been found at all the better investigated Celtic sites of the middle and late La Tène period, displays a wide typological variety hitherto unseen in Europe.
Bowl of clear glass from the burial of a Celtic aristocrat at Ihringen (Baden-Württemberg), Germany
(ca. 500 BC)
Archaeological evidence clearly indicates that during the latter period Celtic glassmakers mastered to perfection not only the skill of creating ready-made products, but also how to control the chemical composition of the raw material in order to achieve the optimum quality, transparency and colour (Karwowski 2012).
Fragments of glass bracelets from the Celtic settlement at Erkelenz-Westfalen (Nordrhein-Westfalen), Germany (3-1 century BC)
(After Karwowski 2012)
Bracelet of blue glass beads from the Balkan Celtic settlement at Osijek in eastern Croatia.
(2 c. BC)
While evidence of glass production has been discovered at a large number of sites, it is interesting to note that the vast majority of these are not oppida, but large settlements of an open character dating to the middle La Tène period, i.e. date to the period before the oppida emerged. Notable examples of such include Nìmèice in Moravia (Venclová 2006, Venclová et al 2009), Etzersdorf in Lower Austria (Karwowski 2004, 46),Egglfing in Bavaria (Uenze 2000, 17–20), the settlement complex at Dürrnberg inSalzburg (Brand 2002, 110–113), and the open settlement on the site where the oppidum at Manching in Bavaria later emerged (Gebhard 1989).
Bracelets of light green glass from Celtic burials at Palárikovo and Maòa, Slovakia (3/2 c. BC)
(After Karwowski 2012)
Fragments of glass bracelets from the Celtic settlement at Pelczyska, southern Poland (2-1 c. BC)
Celtic bracelet of blue and yellow glass from Saliceta San Giuliano (Modena), Italy (ca. 200 BC)
Bracelet of blue glass from Biskupice in eastern Czechia (2 c. BC)
Glass bracelets from the Celtic settlement of Epomanduodurum (Mandeure-Mathay (Doubs), France (2/1 c. BC)
Probably the most exquisite example of such Middle LaTène arm rings are the “Érsekújvár” type, produced by the Eastern Celts. Such bracelets are of high quality blue glass with white opaque glass used to further highlight the relief; the composition, based on triangular/rhomboid forms with zig-zag/spiral decoration, thus creating the impression of human eyes.
Érsekújvár type bracelet from Komját/Komjatice (Nitra Region), Slovakia
(after Karwowski M., Prohászka P. 2014)
Bracelets of the Érsekújvár type were popular among all the eastern Celtic tribes. Besides Hungary and Slovakia, where the most intense concentration of such arm rings has been registered, examples have been found in Celtic settlements and burials in eastern Austria, the Czech Republic and southern Poland, as well as among the Balkan Celts, notably the Scordisci. The easternmost example yet recorded was discovered during excavations at the Greek colony of Tyras – today’s Bilhorod-Dnistrowskyj in the Odessa region of Ukraine (Karwowski, Prohászka 2014).
Érsekújvár type bracelet from an unspecified location in Hungary (Hungarian National Museum)
(After Karwowski M., Prohászka P. (2014)
Mac Congail / Krusseva
Brand C. (2002) Graphitton und Glas: Studien zur keltischen Keramik- und Armringproduktion vor dem Hintergrund Dürrnberger Siedlungsfunde. In: Claus Dobiat/Susanne Sievers/Thomas Stöllner (Hrsg.), Dürrnberg und Manching. Wirtschaftsarchäologie im ostkeltischen Raum. Kolloquien zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte 7 (Bonn 2002) 107–116.
Gebhard R. (1989) Der Glasschmuck aus dem Oppidum von Manching. Ausgr. Manching 11 (Stuttgart 1989).
Karwowski M. (2012) Die Glastechnik und ihre Entwicklung in der Latène-Kultur – fremder Einfluss oder eigene Kreativität?. In: Technologieentwicklung und –transfer in der Hallstatt- und Latènezeit. Beiträge zur Internationalen Tagung der AG Eisenzeit und des Naturhistorischen Museums Wien, Prähistorische Abteilung – Hallstatt 2009. pp. 243 – 252
Karwowski M., Prohászka P. (2014). Der mittellatènezeitliche Glasarmring von Komjatice/Komját. BemerkunGen zu Den Keltischen armringen Der Form „Érsekújvár” AAC 49: 231–248.
Uenze H. P. (2000) Die jüngerlatènezeitliche Siedlung von Egglfing. Bayerische Vorgeschichtsbl. 65, 2000, 1–38.
Venclová N. (2006) Le verre celtique de Nemcice nad Hanou. In: V. Kruta (Hrsg.), Les Celtes en Bohême, en Moravie et dans le nord de la Gaule. Dossiers d’Arch. 313, 2006, 50–55.
Venclová et al. (2008) Venclová N., Drda P., Michálek J., Vokolek V., Výrobní areály a activity. In: N. Venclová (Hrsg.), Archeologie pravìkých Èech 7 – Doba laténská (Praha 2008) 53–82.
The village of Szabadi (Somogy county) is situated on the Kapos river in southern Hungary, circa 2.5 km. from the Iron Age oppidum at Szalacska. South of the village a Celtic burial site, used from the end of the 4th – early 2nd c. BC, yielded 12 cremation burials including 3 female graves and 5 warrior burials (# 1,4,5,11 and 12).
Location of the site
During rescue excavations at the site in 1981 a wealth of archaeological material was uncovered, including ceramic, bronze and iron fibulae, decorated iron, bronze and glass bracelets, ankle rings and weaponry. The most significant find at the site came from grave # 11, where a double warrior burial dating to the late 3rd/early 2nd c. BC was discovered. Material from the burial included 3 swords in their sheaths, 3 spearheads, 2 sword belts, 2 shield umbos, bracelets (iron and glass), and fibulae (Horváth, Németh 2011).
Shield umbo from warrior burial #11 at Szabadi
(after Horváth, Németh 2011)
One of the decorated scabbards from burial #11. Although badly corroded, at the opening of the sheath a simple symmetrical carved decoration can be observed, composed of tendrils and two drops, known as the Hungarian Sword Style (phase 2, after Szabó, Petres 1992; illustration after Horváth, Németh 2011)
In the south-west and south-eastern parts of the grave meat (chicken and pork) for the afterlife had been placed in bowls. A further notable find in the warrior burial was a small glass bracelet, much smaller than the iron bracelets of the warriors. Such glass bracelets are characteristic for Celtic female burials of this period; a significant marker of Celtic eastwards expansion, they have been found in 3rd c. BC contexts as far east as Celtic sites such as Arkovna, Kalnovo, Sevtopolis and Zaravetz in e. Bulgaria. It is believed that the bracelet in burial #11 at Szabadi was a present to one of the warriors from his girlfriend or wife, which he also carried with him into the afterlife (loc cit).
Glass bracelets from various Celtic female burials in Hungary (late 4th – early 2nd c. BC)
(after Tanko 2006)
The double burials in grave #11 at Szabadi were performed at the same time, and it has thus been assumed that the warriors fell in battle (Horváth, Németh 2011). Although the nature of the cremation process makes forensic confirmation impossible, this indeed appears the most plausible explanation for such a phenomenon. Finally, it is noteworthy that similar burial assemblages to those at Szabadi are common in the territory of the Scordisci (loc cit), logically indicating a close relationship between the Celts of the Kapos Valley and those in Serbia and n. Bulgaria.
Full inventory of warrior burial #11
(after Horváth, Németh 2011)
Horváth L., Németh P. (2011) Celtic warriors from Szabadi (Somogy County, Hungary) In:The Eastern Celts. The Communities between the Alps and the Black Sea. Koper–Beograd 2011. p. 20-30.
Szabó M., Petres É. F. (1992) Decorated Weapons of the La Tène Iron Age in the Carpathian Basin. Inventaria Praehistorica Hungariae 5, Budapest.
Tankó K. (2006) Celtic Glass Bracelets in East-Hungary. In: Thracians and Celts. Proceedings of the International Colloquium from Bistriţa, 18-20 May 2006. p. 253-263
Pelczyska (Świętokrzyskie province) is situated in the western part of the loess uplands of Little Poland, circa 55 km. north-east of Kraków, on the right bank of the Nida river. 7 archaeological sites have hitherto been located in the vicinity of the village, which have yielded significant evidence of Celtic (La Têne) culture in this region during the La Têne B2 – D2 periods (3rd – 1st c. BC).
Archaeologically confirmed areas of Celtic settlement in Poland
By the later phase of Celtic settlement in this region, as in other parts of central and eastern Europe, cremation had replaced inhumation as the dominant burial custom (see ‘Celtic Death’ article). Thus, for example, the earliest Celtic graves from Silesia, dating to the La Têne C1 period, are cremation burials (Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005). Excavations at Pelczyska over the past decade have revealed that this was also the case in this area of Poland. A number of late La Têne graves revealed southwest of the village are all cremation burials – with one notable exception.
(after Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005)
In grave # 9 was discovered a well preserved inhumation burial, dating from the same period as the aforementioned cremation burials, i.e. – La Têne D2/late 1st c. BC. The body, lying on its right side, orientated west, was found with 2 pots placed on either side of the head. According to anatomical analysis, the skeleton is that of a mature female (adultus maturus), circa 30-35 years of age (loc cit).
The discovery of the female inhumation burial at Pelczyska is the latest in a series of cases from late Iron Age eastern Europe of women from different ethnic groups buried in a Celtic environment. A notable example of this phenomenon is the Thracian woman buried in the Celtic cemetery at Remetea Mare in Romania. As in the Polish case, the female burial in Romania was the only inhumation burial in the Celtic cemetery, the other burials all being cremations.
Female Inhumation Burial (#3) from Remetea Mare, Romania
So, who was the woman from grave # 9 at Pelczyska ?
The complex cultural situation in this part of Poland in the late Iron Age makes conclusive ethnic attribution difficult, but a number of facts from the site provide strong indications as to the woman’s origin. Firstly, anthropological analysis of the skull indicates the southern origin of the woman (Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005). Furthermore, inhumation burials from eastern Europe from this period where the pot is placed by the head, as is the case at Pelczyska, have been recorded among the (Celto-Scythian) Bastarnae tribes (Babeş 1993: 34=-35). It is therefore particularly significant that a close economic and cultural relationship between the Celts in this part of Poland and the Bastarnae has been confirmed at Pelczyska by the discovery of a large amount of Bastarnae coinage at the site.
Bastarnae ‘Huşi-Vovrieşti type’ tetradrachms from Pelczyska
(after Rudnicki 2003)
Thus, the available numismatic, archaeological and anthropological evidence strongly indicates that the woman buried in grave #9 at Pelczyska originated from the Bastarnae tribes and, as is the case with the Thracian woman from Remetea Mare, probably came to live among the Polish Celts as a result of a marriage agreement between the latter and the Celto-Scythians to the south-east. The fact that the woman was buried according to her own tribal customs once again highlights the mutual respect for cultural diversity observed by the pre-Roman tribes of eastern Europe.
Facial Reconstruction of the Female from Burial # 9 at Pelczyska
Babeş M. (1993) Die Poieneşti-Lukaševka-Kultur. Ein Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte im Raum östlich der Karpaten in den letzten Jahrhunderten vor Christi Geburt, Saarbrücker Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 30, Berlin.
Rudnicki M. (2003) Celtic Coin Finds from a Settlement of the La Têne period at Pelczyska. In: Polish Numismatic News VII, 2003. P. 1-24.
Rudnicki M., Piasecki K. (2005) A Late La Téne Inhumation Grave from Pelczyska: Comments on the Cultural Situation in the Upland Area of Little Poland (with an analysis of the anatomical remains by Karol Piasecki). In Celts on the Margin – Studies in Euopean Cultural Interaction 7th Century BC – 1st Century AD. Krakow 2005. p. 195 – 206
Rustoiu A. (2011) The Celts from Transylvania and the eastern Banat and their Southern Neighbours. Cultural Exchanges and Individual Mobility. In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities between the Alps and the Black Sea. Koper–Beograd 2011. p. 163-171
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 moldings, fluting or inlaid ornament around their edges (1).
Celtic glass bracelet of the “Érsekújvár” type from Komját (Nitra) in south-western Slovakia
(3rd c. BC)
In Bulgaria such La Têne glass bracelets 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 in association with other La Têne material at verious 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 below).
THE EVIL EYE
The belief in the ‘Evil Eye’ is present in many ancient cultures, and literary evidence attests to it in the eastern Mediterranean for millennia starting with Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. It is also represented in Celtic mythology, notably in the form of the Fomorian giant Balor of the Evil Eye (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
‘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.
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 have been found together with glass ‘Eye Beads’, which in turn have direct parallels from earlier Celtic sites across Europe. 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 present day Turkey from 277 BC onwards.
Necklace of glass eye beads from Kapiteljska Njiva (grave XIV-41) Novo Mesto, Slovenia (5th c. BC)
Glass ‘Eye Beads’ from the eastern and western Celtic sites at Novo Mesto, Slovenia and Bucy-le-long (Aisne), France
(5/4 century BC)
Eye Beads from a Celtic chariot burial at Mezek in southern Bulgaria (3 c. BC)
Necklace of blue glass beads, including many ‘eye beads’, from the Celtic burial complex at Giubiasco (Ticino), Switzerland.
(late 6th/5th c. BC)
THE SIBERIAN PRINCESS
Particularly interesting is a necklace of identical glass eye beads executed in the same ‘millefiori technique’ discovered recently in a ‘princess’ burial in the Altai mountains region of Russia. This so-called ‘Cleopatra Necklace’, a unique find this far east, most probably reached the Altai region through trade with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes in eastern Europe, and is particularly valuable for our understanding of trade and the spread of technology between Europe and Asia in the late Iron Age.
The Altai ‘Princess Necklace’ which, according to Russian archaeologists, belonged to a 25 year old ‘Virgin Priestess’.
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.
Eye beads, and the wheels of a Celtic war chariot, discovered at Sboryanovo in northeastern Bulgaria (3 c. BC)
Claims by Bulgarian archaeologists (6) that these eye beads first ‘appear’ in Thrace in the 2/1century 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 Mezek, Sboryanovo, 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.
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.
In this context, perhaps the most interesting glasswork produced by the Celts, apparently from Phoenician prototypes, were the ‘Face/Head Beads’. 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).
Celtic glass ‘Janus’ Face Bead from Mezönyarad (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén), Hungary (3rd c. BC)
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.
‘Face Bead’ and other glass articles from Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region, Bulgaria)
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. 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.
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