Tag Archive: Celtic ritual


Fascinating article by Andrej Gaspari, University of Ljubljana, on the ritual deposition of Celtic weapons in the Ljubljanica River:

 

 

 

https://www.academia.edu/24157678/Celtic_warriors_and_the_Ljubljanica

 

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UD: March 2017

 

Karabur sp

 

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of Iron Age European society is the deposition of weapons and other artifacts in various ritual contexts. This is particularly true of spearheads which have been found in Celtic burials and religious sites across the continent. In fact, such ritual deposition can be traced back to the European Bronze Age, with numerous examples recorded from across the continent.

 

 

a - -a -a -a Copper alloy socketed spearhead. Blade rapier-shapedBuckinghamshire,Taplow, river Thames - rapier shp rare - only 3 Brit 7 Irel - 1390 BC -1000 BC MBA

Socketed spearhead with rapier-shaped blade deposited in the River Thames at Taplow (Buckinghamshire), England. (Dated ca. 1,200 BC)

(See also Gibson G. (2013) Beakers Into Bronze: Tracing Connections Between Western Iberia And The British Isles 2800-800. In: Celtic From The West 2. Oxford 2013. pp. 71-100)

 

Spear water type 3

Celtic spearheads discovered in the River Sava between Slavonski Šamac, Croatia and Šamac, Republika Srpska/Bosnia and Herzegovina (2/1 c. BC)

On Celtic material from the Sava River see also:

https://www.academia.edu/5463297/The_Power_of_3_-_Some_Observations_On_Eastern_Celtic_Helmets

 

 

 

Another phenomenon frequently associated with such deposition is the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ – the deliberate breaking or bending of objects before deposition. While this custom is to be observed throughout the European Bronze and Iron Ages, its exact significance remains unclear, as does the question of why some objects are ‘killed’ while others in the same context are deposited intact.

 

srem

Ritually ‘killed’ spearhead and other artifacts from the burial of a Celtic (Scordisci) cavalry officer at Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia (1 c. BC)

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

 

Ritually 'killed' iron spear (soliferreum) from the Celtiberian necropolis of El Altillo (Guadalajara), Spain 5-4 c. BC

Ritually deformed iron spear (soliferreum) from the Celtiberian necropolis of El Altillo (Guadalajara), Spain (5/4 c. BC)

On ‘Killing The Objects’:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/killing-the-objects-3/

 

 

 

“STABBING DEATH”

 

In terms of weaponry, although all manner of Celtic military equipment is found in such ritual contexts most common are spearheads registered in numerous Iron Age Celtic warrior burials across Europe.

 

zvon

Ritually ‘killed’ sword/scabbard and spearheads in a Celtic warrior burial (LT 96) at Zvonimirovo (Croatia) (2nd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/the-celtic-burials-at-zvonimirovo-croatia/

 

 

 

A fascinating phenomenon to be observed among the Balkan Celts in the later Iron Age, i.e. the period of the Scordisci Wars against Rome, is the custom of ‘stabbing’ spears into the warrior burials. The main assault weapon of the Balkan Celtic warrior, numerous cases of spears being stabbed into burials in this distinctive fashion have been recorded throughout the region, particularly among the Scordisci tribes in eastern Croatia, southwestern Romania, Serbia and northern Bulgaria.

 

 

zvon stabbed

Spearhead ‘stabbed’ into a Celtic warrior burial (LT 48) at Zvonimirovo (Croatia) (2nd c. BC)

 

Karabur sp

Celtic spear ‘stabbed’ into a Celtic warrior burial (#11) at Karaburma (Belgrade), Serbia (1st c. BC)

 

 

 

The spear treated in this fashion from burial #11 at Karaburma is of a very specific Balkan Celtic type (Drnić type 3), dating to the 1st century BC, with two grooves on both sides of the blade. Examples of such have been discovered in Celtic (Scordisci) warrior burials stretching from Slavonski Šamac and Otok near Vinkovci in eastern Croatia (Map #1,2), through Serbia and southwestern Romania to Borovan and Tarnava in northwestern Bulgaria (Map # 11,12)*.

 

 

Map

Distribution of recorded finds of Balkan Celtic Type 3 spearheads in eastern Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria (1st century BC)

https://www.academia.edu/19901603/La_T%C3%A8ne_spearheads_from_south-eastern_Pannonia_and_the_northern_Balkans_typology_chronology_ritual_and_social_context

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Celtic / La Têne material within the modern borders of Bulgaria and Romania is still attributed by many Thracologists to the ‘Padea-Panagjurski Kolonii group’ – a pseudo-culture invented by communist scientists in the 1970’s as part of the Protochronism process.

See:

https://www.academia.edu/27923462/On_Communism_Nationalism_and_Pseudoarchaeology_in_Romania_and_Bulgaria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

The use of rattles in folk dances and rituals is recorded in cultures throughout the world, either hand-held or attached to ceremonial costumes to dictate the rhythm of ritual dances, and to summon or repel supernatural beings or demons.

 

 

 

irish rattles g

Globular or pear-shaped rattles from Dowris (Co. Offaly), Ireland  (c. 850 BC)
These three rattles, or ‘crotals’, were part of a large find of bronze metalwork made in Dowris bog in the mid-nineteenth century, which included weapons, tools and elaborate sheet metal vessels.
(See Eogan E. (1983), The hoards of the Irish Later Bronze Age (Dublin)

 

 

a - a -a - Late Bronze Age rattle ceramic vogelförmige Tonrassel aus Ichstedt, Ldkr. Kyffhäuserkreis

Bird-shaped ceramic rattle from Ichstedt (Ldkr. Kyffhäuserkreis), Germany (Late Bronze Age)

 

 

In Celtic Europe rattles appear in the Bronze Age, and by the La Têne period are recorded at sites throughout the continent. Logically, regional variations are to be observed in decoration and form, and rattles of both ceramic and metal have been discovered.

 

Spanish

Decorated ceramic rattle from a Celtic (Vaccean) burial at the necropolis of Las Ruedas (Pintia), north-central Spain (2 c. BC)

Celtic rattles discovered in the Vaccean environment from the northern Iberian plateau have been dated between the end of the 3rd century BC and the beginning of the 1st century AD.

(see: Sanz Minguez C., Romero Carnicero F., De Pablo Martinez, R., Górriz Gañán C., Vaccean
Rattles. Toys or Magic Protectors?, in Jiménez Pasalodos Raquel, Till R., Howell M. (eds.),
Music and Ritual: Bridging Material and Living Cultures, Berlin, p. 257–283)

 

 

With eastern expansion, from the 4th century BC onwards, rattles also begin to appear at Celtic sites across eastern Europe. Examples include those from Bucsu in Hungary, Hanska-Toloacă in the Republic of Moldova, Buneşti-Avereşti in eastern Romania, Novo Mesto in Slovenia, Zvonimirovo in Croatia, Čurug in northern Serbia and Kabyle in Bulgaria (Rustoiu A., Berecki S. (2015). A further example of such has recently been published from a Celtic burial at Fântânele – Dâmbu Popii in Romania, dating to the 3rd c. BC.

 

 

 

rattle fan romania

The egg-shaped ceramic rattle from a Celtic burial at Fântânele

(After: Rustoiu A., Berecki S. (2015) The Magic of Sounds. A Ceramic Rattle from the La Tène Grave No. 1 at Fântânele – Dambu Popii and Its Functional and Symbolic Significance. In: Representations, Signs and Symbols. Proceedings of the Symposium on Religion and magic. Cluj-Napoca 2015. p. 259-274)

 

 

Ceramic rattle from the Celtic (Scordisci) settlement at Čurug (Vojvodina), Serbia (2-1 c. BC)

 

 

Rattles have been discovered in the burials of both Celtic adults and also in funerary contexts belonging to children or youngsters, logically indicating that they were regarded as having a protective and preventive function, regardless of the gender or age of the entombed.
An example of the manner in which such metal rattles were used in Celtic music and dance is provided by the modern custom of “Căluş” or “Căluşari” from Romania, which is a male dance related to pre-Christian solar cults. In this case, the rattles are strapped to the legs of the dancers and dictate the dance rhythm (op cit). Metal rattles quite similar to those used in today’s folk costumes have been discovered in Balkan Celtic funerary inventories, for example in Celtic warrior burials # 4 and 12 from Zvonimirovo in Croatia in which the rattles were, as in modern Romanian and Bulgarian folk dances, attached to the garment or the belt.

 

 

zvonimirovo rattle and romania g

Metal rattle strapped on the leg of a modern “Căluşar” dancer from Romania, and a similar rattle discovered in a warrior burial (# 4) from the Celtic cemetery at Zvonimirovo, Croatia (2 c. BC)

 

( On the Celtic burials from Zvonimirovo see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/the-celtic-burials-at-zvonimirovo-croatia/ )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: September 2017

 

 

Intro - Horné Orešany 1

 

 

The Celtic hillfort at Horné Orešany is situated in the Trnava district in western Slovakia, in the Little Carpathian mountains above the village. The double rampart ring of the hill fort with an area of 2 ha was discovered in the early part of this century by ‘treasure hunters’ and greatly damaged by illegal excavations.

 

 

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Archaeologically confirmed early La Têne sites in western Slovakia

(On the early La Têne chieftain’s burial from Stupava see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/the-burial-of-a-celtic-chieftain-from-stupava-slovakia/ )

 

 

Research studies at the Horné Orešany site subsequently identified a massive amount of material dating from the Hallstatt to middle La Têne periods, with the vast majority pertaining to the early La Têne era (5/4 c. BC). From the interior of the hillfort evidence of blacksmith activities and jewellery production was identified, including 11 animal- and human-headed brooches, 10 bird-headed brooches and dozens of box-shaped belt hooks. Further discoveries (mostly by ‘treasure hunters’) have included 3 hoards of iron artifacts and two deposits of bronze ornaments, as well as at least 8 Celtic swords and 60-80 spearheads.

 

 

 

brooch 1 GOOOD

brooch 2 GOOOD

Bronze brooches from the Celtic hillfort at Horné Orešany (late 5th / early 4th c. BC)

(after Pieta 2010; see also Megaw 2012)

 

 

Bronze hybrid/sphinx creature, from the Celtic settlement at Horné Orešany (5/4 c. BC)

 

 

Among the most significant finds from the site are two bronze decorated axes, also dating to the early La Têne era. Although in prehistory and the Hallstatt period axes were among the most popular weapons, in the La Têne period their use is recorded only in isolated cases (Guštin 1991: 58/59, Schumacher 1989; Todorović 1972:Taf. 18:6). In Slovakia, while there is no evidence of the use of axes as weapons during this period (Pieta 2005:49), a number of bronze axes, believed to have had a ritual purpose, have been recorded. The ceremonial/religious function of the Horné Orešany axes is also clearly indicated by the intricate triskele decoration on the blade, and the depiction of a bearded deity who appears on both examples.

 

Ritual bronze axe from the Celtic settlement on Žeravica Hill, near Stupné (Trenčín region), in northwestern Slovakia

 

(5/4 c. BC)

 

 

Horné Orešany 1

 

 

Horné Orešany 2

 

Celtic ritual/ceremonial axes from Horné Orešany (Width of blades 95/ 67 mm.) – Late 5th c. BC (after Pieta 2014)

 

 

 

The Face of Esus ?

 

In the Celtic pantheon the axe has no clearly defined role, except in the case of the God Esus. The two statues on which the name of Esus appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii, and a pillar from Trier in the territory of the Treveri tribe. In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting branches with an axe.

 

The Celtic deity Esus as represented on Le pilier des Nautes (Musée National du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny)

The Celtic deity Esus as represented on Le pilier des Nautes, discovered in a temple at the Gallo-Roman civitas of Lutetia (modern Paris/ Early 1 c. AD)

 

If the deity on the Horné Orešany axes is indeed Esus, it is interesting to note the sharp contrast between the Gallo-Roman depictions which present the God in human form, i.e. as an axeman, and the earlier Celtic examples in which the fusion of form and decoration culminates in the deity literally becoming one with the weapon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited
Guštin M. (1991) Posočje in der jüngeren Eisenzeit. Ljubljana
Megaw V. (2012) ‘Go East Young Man!’ Antipodean thoughts on the earliest La Tène art in Slovakia (with particular reference to the fortified settlement of Horné Orešany) In: Archeológia Na Prahu Histórie. K životnému jubileu Karola Pietu. Nitra 2012, 447 – 460.
Pieta K. (2005) Spätlatènezeitliche Wafen und Ausrüstung im nördlichen Teil des Karpatenbeckens. Slovenská archeológia 53, 35-84.
Pieta K. (2012): Die keltishe Besiedlung der Slowakei. arh. Slov. Mon. Studia 12, Nitra 2010.
Pieta K. (2014) Rituelle Beile aus dem Frühlatène-Burgwall in Horné Orešany/Rituálne sekery z včasnolaténskeho hradiska Horné Orešany. In: MORAVSKÉ KŘIŽOVATKY . Střední Podunají mezi pravěkem a historií. Moravské zemské muzeum, Brno 2014. P. 717-727
Schumacher F. J. (1989) Das frührömische Grab 978 mit Beil und Axt. Wafen oder Werkzeuge? In: A.Hafner (Hrsg.): Gräber – Spiegel des Lebens. Zum Totenbrauchtum der Kelten und Römer am Beispiel des Treverer-Gräberfeldes Wederath-Belginum. Mainz. 247-254
Todorović J. (1972) Praistorijska Karaburma. Beograd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: Jan. 2018

 

 

 

 

“To these men death in battle is glorious,
And they consider it a crime to bury the body of such a warrior;
For they believe that the soul goes up to the gods in heaven,
If the body is exposed on the field to be devoured by the birds of prey”.

(Silius Italicus (2nd c. AD) Punica 3:340-343)

 

 

 

It is becoming increasingly clear that the vast majority of sensationalist reports about “human sacrifice” and “horrible rituals” carried out by the ancient European populations have been derived from a fundamental failure by generations of academics to understand their religious beliefs and complex burial customs. In fact, recent discoveries have confirmed that the practice of excarnation and ritual manipulation of the dead was a common one throughout the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and continued across Europe into the late Iron Age.  

 

Human remains from a Passage Tomb at Carrowkeel (Sligo), Ireland. Research undertaken at the site has confirmed excarnation and post-mortem manipulation of corpses, dating from 3,500 – 2,900 BC, which involved a funerary rite which placed a particular focus on the “deconstruction” of the body.

http://irisharchaeology.ie/2017/09/evidence-for-prehistoric-human-dismemberment-found-at-carrowkeel/

See also:

https://www.rte.ie/news/connacht/2018/0119/934518-neolithic-discovery-mayo/

 

Detail of an elderly woman buried in pit #3666, dated to the late Bronze Age, discovered at Cliffs End in Kent, England
In the same pit, in association with the woman’s body, were placed 2 children and a teenage girl, the teenager’s head and upper body placed over the head and neck of a cow (!). The manipulated body parts of an adult male were also discovered

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/slaughter-of-the-innocents-human-sacrifice-and-execution-in-iron-age-europe/

 

 

 

 

EXCARNATION IN CELTIC EUROPE

 

From the later period, recent excavations, such as those at Ham Hill in England and Roseldorf in Austria, have provided further evidence of the Celtic practice of excarnation – the ritual exposure of corpses to the elements and scavengers and the resulting defleshing of the body.

Excarnation may be precipitated through natural means, involving leaving a body exposed for animals to scavenge, or it may be purposefully undertaken by butchering the corpse by hand. The finds at Ham Hill include ritualistic burials – arrangements of human skulls as well as bodies tossed into a pit, left exposed and gnawed by animals. At the site “hundreds, if not thousands of bodies”, dated from the 1st or 2nd century AD, have been found treated in this fashion.

 

HAM HILL
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/exclusive-slaughtered-bodies-stripped-of-their-flesh–a-gruesome-glimpse-of-ironage-massacre-at-uks-largest-hill-fort-8798680.html#!

The last 25 years of archaeological research have revealed how interments were the culmination of previous very complex rituals. The removal of flesh before interment is also clearly attested at Celtic sanctuaries like Ribemont (Brunaux 2004: 103-24), but the enormous deficit of interments, especially in the late La Têne period, can be partially explained by the exposure of corpses with the consequent destruction of most of the skeleton. Such practices are also recorded among the Balkan Celts (Churchin 1995:68-71; Mac Congail/ Krusseva 2010) and were particularly common among the Belgae tribes, from whom the Bastarnae and Galatians also originated (Mac Congail/Krusseva op cit; Soprena Genzor 1995; Brunaux 2004: 118-24).

 

̾Fallen wr.

Reverse of a Celtic coin (Boii tribe 2nd/1st c. BC) depicting a fallen warrior being devoured by a bird of prey

(Bohemia – Collection of the Hypo-Bank, Munich)

 

Celtic coin of the Bratislava type; the obverse depicting a fallen warrior being devoured by a wild dog or wolf, the reverse a ram headed serpent

(Western Slovakia/ 1 st c. BC)

On the Ram headed serpent: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

 

a - a -a -a rosel skulls

Fragments of human skulls and other remains from the second large sanctuary (object 30) at Roseldorf, Austria.

At Roseldorf  3 cult districts with seven sanctuaries which played a major role in the functional orientation of the complex have been identified. Although evidence of human sacrifice has not been found at the site, evidence of post-mortem manipulation of the bodies has been established, consistent with the Celtic practice of exhumation.

See:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/the-druid-crowns/

 

 

 

 

 

THE MASSACRE AT RIBEMONT-SUR-ANCRE

 

 

Rieb. B

Graphic reconstruction of the Ribemont-Sur-Ancre ‘Tower of Silence’

This shrine/sanctuary was erected on the site of the Battle at Ribemont, where around 1,000 Celtic warriors are believed to have died. The victorious Belgae erected this shrine to celebrate the great battle, decapitated the bodies of the defeated warriors taking the heads home with them as trophies. The headless corpses and thousands of weapons collected from the battle field were hung from a large wooden platform (‘Tower of Silence’). 

Evidence of weathering and dismemberment of the dead at the site, and others such as Ham Hill, is consistent with the well documented Celtic religious practice of exposing corpses after death to be devoured by birds of prey and carnivores. The removal of flesh from corpses, which is well documented in the Celtic world, had a mortuary significance that differed greatly from the Greco-Roman practices (Soprena Genzor 1995: 198 ff.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Modern) Sources Cited

 

Brunaux J.L. (2004) Guerre et religion en Gaule. Essai d’anthropologie celtique. Paris: Errance.

Churchin L.A. (1995) The Unburied Dead at Thermopylae (279 BC) In: The Ancient History Bulletin 9: 68-71

Soprena Genzor G. (1995) Ética y ritual. Aproximación al estudio de la religiosidad de los pueblos celtibéricos. Zaragosa.

Mac Congail B., Krusseva B.  (2010) The Men Who Became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv. (In Bulgarian)

Mackillop, James (2004) A dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford University Press

Marco Simón F.  (2008) Images of Transition. The Ways of Death in Celtic Hispania. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008. Pp. 53-68.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Warrior on the Hill

UD: March 2017

 

 

 

 

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:

 

 
alegion-piechart

Ethnic origin of Roman auxiliary troops in Dacia

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UD: Jan. 2018

 

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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)

 

 

Ritually killed weapons (sword/scabbard and spearhead), razor and shears, from a Celtic warrior burial at St. Johann (Württemberg) in southern Germany (3-2 c. BC)

 

 

 

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