POSTCARDS FROM THE PAST – The Art of Celtic Scabbards

UD: Mar. 2019



Some of the finest examples of Iron Age European art are to be found on Celtic scabbards of the middle/late La Têne period – fantastic compositions born of anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and geometric motifs, or a combination thereof.



Detail of scabbard with Triskele decoration, from a Celtic burial at Novajidrány-Sárvár, Hungary. The triskele is a particularly common motif on Celtic scabbards and other protective military equipment.

(3rd c. BC)




Scabbard with Triskele decoration from a Celtic warrior burial at Srednica (Ptuj), Slovenia

(Late 4th / early 3rd c. BC)



Geometric and Anthropomorphic decoration on scabbards from a Celtic hoard discovered at Förker Laas Riegel (Carinthia), Austria.

(3rd c. BC)



Bronze front plate of a Celtic scabbard with incised symmetrical curvilinear decoration, discovered in Lisnacroghera Bog (Antrim), Ireland (ca. 250 BC)


Celtic art draws its inspiration from all aspects of the natural world, and the artistic compositions on middle-late La Têne scabbards are no exception, with creatures of all kinds, both real and imaginary, appearing in the decoration of such scabbards.



Fantastic aquatic/serpentine creatures depicted in the decorative composition of a Celtic scabbard from Cernon-sur-Coole (Marne), France

(ca. 280 BC)


Beasts portrayed on Celtic scabbards range from highly stylized examples, such as those which appear on Dragon-Pair scabbards, to comparatively naturalistic portrayals.


Celtic scabbard with dragon-pair motif from a Celtic warrior burial at Chens-sur-Léman in eastern France

(Late 4th/early 3rd c. BC)




Geometric/zoomorphic composition on a Celtic scabbard from the Förker Laas Riegel hoard


A particularly interesting example of the diversity of creatures used to decorate Celtic scabbards of this period is a bronze sword scabbard mount discovered in Lincolnshire, England, the zoomorphic decoration on which bears a striking resemblance to a horse-fly complete with large protruding eyes and proboscis…




The Lincolnshire bronze scabbard mount (3 c. BC)

(Illustrations thanks to Adam and Lisa Grace)



Head of a Horse-Fly (Tabanus Atratus)



Postcards From The Past…


Celtic art functions on a number of levels (often simultaneously), merging reality, the subconscious and the absurd. While the modern mind may never fully comprehend the exact messages being conveyed, the artistic symphonies portrayed on Celtic scabbards provide a unique glimpse into the framework of religious and cultural values which motivated the Iron Age European population.



Trio of dancing deer in the artistic composition on a Celtic scabbard from La Tène, Switzerland

(2 c. BC)
















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THE CROSS AND THE SPIRAL – On the Triskele in Early Christian Art

Breadalbane Brooch 1 full - Silver-gilt pseudo-penannular D-shaped brooch


Discovered in Perthshire, Scotland in the 19th century the magnificent Breadalbane Brooch is an intricately designed, silver-gilt dress fastener that is closely related to a select group of brooches that were produced during the ‘golden age’ of late Celtic art…



Full Article:


Breadalbane - 4 -  Disc with spiral ornament on the reverse of the brooch, left-hand terminal - 8th century -














A Celtic Warrior Burial from Srednica (Northeastern Slovenia)

UD: Feb. 2019



srednice 3 good



The area of the modern city of Ptuj (ancient Poetovio) in eastern Slovenia has yielded a massive amount of material pertaining to the Celtic culture, uncovered at multiple sites around the city. While the majority of this archaeological material has hitherto tended to relate to the immediate pre-Roman and Roman periods, recent discoveries have also furnished fascinating information regarding the earlier phases of Celtic settlement in this part of Europe.


ptuj map

( after Lubšina Tušek M., Kavur B. 2009 = )



Relief of the Celtic Matres from Ptuj/Poetovio (LIMC, vol. 6.2, p. 620, n°4)


The Brogdos Pot from Poetovio
The most extraordinary Celtic inscription to be found at Poetovio is undoubtedly that found on a beaker at the site. Dated to the 2nd/3rd c. AD, and written in a Celto-Etruscan script, this inscription reads ARTEBUDZ BROGDUI which has been translated as ‘Artebudz for Brogdos’. Both names are Celtic, and the vessel was a votive offering to Brogdos – a deity guarding the border between the world of the living and the after-world.





In 2007 four Early La Tène (LT B2) graves were discovered in Srednica on the outskirts of Ptuj, three female burials and that of a warrior. The most interesting of these burials (#9) was that of the Celtic warrior, dating to the late 4th/ early 3rd c. BC, which was accompanied by ceramic vessels, a Middle La Téne iron fibula, socketed spearhead, knife and a Hatvan-Boldog/Münsingen type sword.


srednice grave 9 warrior cremation late 4th - early 3rd c. BC

Celtic Warrior Burial (#9) from Srednica


spearhead knife fibula irin Srednica b. 9 lare 4 ear 3 c. bc.

Spearhead, knife and fibula from burial #9


The most spectacular discovery in the burial is undoubtedly the sword/scabbard, richly decorated with tendrils, s-scrolls and triskele motifs, combining many Celtic stylistic elements of this period.


srednice 1 x

Upper plate of the Srednica scabbard


srednice 3 good

Suspension loop of the Srednica scabbard

(After Kavur B. (2014) =

(The sword is 69 cm long with the blade measuring 56 and the handle 13 cm. The scabbard is up to 4.4 cm broad. The clamps of the scabbard reinforcement are 5.3 cm broad and 1.8 cm long. The discs on the frontal reinforcement are 1.5 cm broad. The suspension loop is 7.4 cm long. The loop plates are 2.6 and the arch is 1.5 cm broad. The chape is 10.3 cm long and 5.9 cm wide)



From a wider perspective, the Srednica burials represent the first phase of Celtic migration into this part of Europe. In the initial phase only a few inhumation burials are known, such as burials 63 and 111 at Karaburma /Belgrade from Scordisci territory, to which we may add one of the female burials from Srednica, indicating that by the late 4th century BC eastern Slovenia was already settled by Celtic populations (Lubšina Tušek, Kavur 2009). While it has traditionally been thought that the initial Celtic settlement in the Central Balkans was connected with the ‘Brennos Invasion’ of 280/279 BC, it is becoming increasingly clear that this campaign was only the culmination of an ongoing migration which had begun decades earlier.












(On the initial phase of Celtic expansion on the Balkans see also: )








Mac Congail















PUPPETRIDERS – Celtic Coinage of the “Zichyújfalu” types

UD: April 2019


puppt intro


The most fascinating and enigmatic of late Iron Age European coinage, the Celtic Puppetrider tetradrachms were produced from the early 3rd c. BC onwards by the Pannonian Celtic tribes. The coinage itself features a male laureate head on the obverse, the subjects eye being represented on a number of issues by an arrowhead.


PR eyear

Obverse of Celtic tetradrachm of the Puppetrider/Triskele type (Hungary, late 3rd c. BC)


The reverse depicts a horseman with left arm raised, of whom only the upper part of the body is represented. Behind the riders head and in front of the horse is a Celtic inscription while below the horse, on the majority of such coins, is a triskelion/triskele, a common symbol on late Iron Age Celtic coins and other artifacts. The triskele variants date from the mid 3rd c. BC onwards, while rarer issues which feature a monogram from the coinage of the Paeonian king Audoleon, from which the Celtic puppetrider types are believed to have evolved, date to a slightly earlier period.


tri and mono

Puppetrider tetradrachm with triskele, and the earlier type with Audoleon monogram

(both from the Zichyújfalu hoard; see below)





As mentioned, the vast majority of puppetrider coins are of the aforementioned triskele type. Based on the recorded finds of such, the epicentre of production and distribution lay in the area of today’s central Hungary where, besides numerous single finds, two major hoards of such have been found in close proximity – those from Zichyújfalu, which included 268 Celtic coins, 262 of the triskele type, and Dunaújváros (also in Fejér county) (Kerényi 1960; Göbl 1972: 51-52) which included a similar, slightly larger, hoard of such coinage (see map 1 below).




zichy ho

Puppetrider/Triskele tetradrachms from the Zichyújfalu hoard

(after Torbágyi 2012)


A second concentration of puppetrider/triskele coinage has been identified around the villages of Sióagárd/Baranyamágócs, slightly to the south. These coins, however, are artistically and technically inferior to the aforementioned issues, and should therefore be seen as contemporary Celtic imitations of the latter.


sig tds


Puppetrider/Triskele tetradrachms from Sióagárd

(after Torbágyi 2012)


Although Celtic coinage of the Puppetrider/Triskele types circulated chiefly in the aforementioned area of Central Hungary, finds such as those from Diex in southern Austria, Batina in eastern Croatia, Bač in northern Serbia, as well as Bratislava and Görgő in Slovakia, and Ungvár in western Ukraine (loc cit), indicate that this type of coinage circulated widely among the Celtic tribes of Eastern Europe during the period in question.



Distribution of recorded finds of Celtic Puppetrider/Triskele type coinage (3rd/2nd c. BC)





Literature Cited


Göbl R. (1972) Neue technische Forschungsmethoden in der keltischen Numismatik. Anzeiger der phil.-hist. Klasse der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften 109/1972: 49-63.

Kerényi A. (1960) Sztálinvárosi kelta éremlelet. (Trouvaille de médailles celtiques à Sztalinváros /Intercisa/) Numizmatikai Közlöny 58-59/1959-1960: 3-6, 83.
Torbágyi M. (2008) Der „Zichyújfalu” Typ mit Audoleon Monogramm. Festschrift für Günther
Dembski zum 65. Geburtstag. NZ 116-117/2008: 87-93.

Torbágyi M. (2012)Der Münzfund von Zichyújfalu 1873, In: VAMZ, 3. s., XLV (2012) p. 537-552









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Κυρμιληνός – The Celtic God of Beer

UD: March 2019



a - a - a - Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd bog tankard - of bronze and (wood) yew - Cast Bronze handle - S shaped triskele motifs - ca. 50 BC



Alcohol, especially beer, played a particularly important role in Celtic society. While imported wine was favoured among the richer classes, the common drink of the Celts was a form of beer called kormi /korma (*PC Kormi, OIr cuirm, OW curum, Gaul. Curmi; Matasovic EDPC:217; Diosc. De mat. Med. 2):


“And the liquor which is, among the rich, wine brought from Italy or from the country around Massalia; and this is drunk unmixed, but sometimes a little water is mixed with it. But among the poorer classes what is drunk is a beer made of wheat prepared with honey, and oftener still without any honey; and they call it Κορμα” (Ath. IV:36).


Classical authors and archaeological finds paint a fascinating picture of Celtic banquets. Even allowing for the exaggeration common to classical depictions of the ‘barbarians’, enormous vessels like the Vix Krater or Gundestrup Cauldron, attest to the immense scale and lavishness of some of these occasions.



Vix k.


 (late 6th c. BC)


At Vix, where the Celts settled in the 6th century BC, a fortress was erected, and in a circle of around 10 km. are dotted dozens of burial sites. On the southern side of these mounds the most spectacular tomb, that of the Lady of Vix, was discovered in 1953. The Celtic Princess was buried with a number of remarkable artifacts including a magnificent bronze krater of Etruscan or Greek origin, 1.63 m. in height, weighing 208 kg., and made to contain 1,100 liters (290 gallons) of liquid; it is the largest known metal vessel from antiquity.



The Gundestrup Cauldron


Made by Thracian craftsmen for the Celtic Scordisci, the Gundestrup cauldron is the most spectacular of Celto-Thracian artifacts, and the finest example of late Iron Age European silverwork.

On the Gundestrup Cauldron see also:



In terms of archaeological data, particularly interesting is recently published archaeobotanical evidence for beer-making in southeastern France, which confirms classical accounts of the importance of beer among the Celts. An archaeological sample from a fifth century BC Celtic house at the site of Roquepertuse produced a concentration of carbonized barley (Hordeum vulgare) grains. The sample was taken from the floor of the dwelling, close to a hearth and an oven.

 The barley grains are predominantly sprouted and the assemblage represents the remains of deliberate malting, related to beer-brewing. An oven was discovered nearby which was used to stop the germination process at the desired level by drying or roasting the grain (Bouby et al 2011).



The carbonized barley grains from the Celtic site at Roquepertuse


Langstone 1

 Celtic beer tankard (bronze/wood) from Langstone (Newport), Wales (1st c. AD)

The Langstone tankard is a Celtic from of drinking vessel used for communal drinking of beer and cider and especially prevalent across western Britain


a - a - a - Trawsfynydd, Gwynedd bog tankard - of bronze and (wood) yew - Cast Bronze handle - S shaped triskele motifs - ca. 50 BC

Celtic tankard of wood (yew) and bronze discovered in a bog at Trawsfynydd (Gwynedd), Wales (ca. 50 BC). The cast bronze handle of the vessel is decorated with triskele motifs, indicating that it had a ceremonial/religious function.

On the significance of the triskele in Celtic culture:


Bronze bowls and wine strainer with triskele motif in the perforation pattern, from Langstone (Newport), Wales (ca. 50 AD)





The Celtic custom of drinking neat wine and large quantities of beer was alien to the classical Greek and Roman cultures. Poseidonius (cited in Ath. 4:36) describes their ‘shocking’ dining habits:

“and they drink it (beer) out of the same cup, in small draughts, not drinking more than a cythus at a time, but they take frequent draughts”. When enough refreshment had been partaken of, mealtimes often became quite energetic occasions – “The Celts sometimes engage in single combat at dinner. Assembling in arms they engage in a mock battle drill”. Although mostly good natured, these ‘games’ could often escalate and become deadly:

“Sometimes wounds are inflicted, and irritation caused by this may lead even to the slaying of the opponent unless by-standers hold them back” (Ath. op cit).


Diodoros (1st c. BC) attempts to explain this ‘insane’ custom by reference to Celtic belief in metempsychosis:

“And it is their custom, even during the course of the meal, to seize upon any trivial matter as an occasion for keen disputation and then to challenge one another to single combat, without any regard for their lives; for the belief of Pythagoras prevails among them, that the souls of men are immortal and that after a prescribed number of years they commence upon a new life, the soul entering into another body”.

(Diodorus V.28:5-6)


On the Celtic belief in Metempsychosis see:


Aylesford better

The Aylesford ‘Bucket’

This sort of receptacle, with a capacity of 3-5 liters (6-9 pints), formed part of a drinking service for wine, which was imported in quantity and drunk during feasts, probably linked to religious ceremonies.

(1st c. BC)




The Celts also ‘exported’ their beer to Thrace during the eastern expansion of the 4th/ 3rd c. BC, and the fact that the liquid nectar was ‘worshipped’ among the Balkan Celts is testified to in the name of the local God (epithet of Apollo)Κυρμιληνός – in an inscription from Ezerovo, Bulgaria (KDP 236; Detschew 1957:271), the Celtic epithet of the Greek God being yet another example of the synthesis of cultures in Thrace during this period (Detschew op cit.). Besides Κυρμιληνός, the element also occurs in many Celtic personal names such as Curmillus, Curmissus etc. (Holder AC 1: 1203), indicating that these individuals were probably brewers by profession.

The last word on this subject undoubtedly belongs to a Pannonian Celt called Curmi-Sagius (Meid 2005), whose name literally means ‘The Beer Seeker’ / ‘He Who Searched For Beer’ – apparently a particularly devoted disciple of the Great Beer God…
























(Modern) Literature Cited


Bergquist A.K., Taylor, T. F. (1987). The origin of the Gundestrup cauldron. In:  Antiquity 61: 10-24.

Bouby L. Boissinot P., Marinval P. (2011). Never Mind the Bottle. Archaeobotanical Evidence of Beer-brewing in Mediterranean France and the Consumption of Alcoholic Beverages During the 5th Century BC. In: Human Ecology, June 2011, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 351-360

Detschew D. (1957) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. Wien

Haywood J. (2004). The Celts: Bronze Age to New Age.

Holder A. Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz. B. 1–3. Leipzig 1896-1910

Kruta V. (2004)The Celts – History and Civilization.

Meid W. (2005). Keltische Personennamen in Pannonien, Archaeolingua, Budapest.

Taylor  T. (1992). The Gundestrup cauldron. In:  Scientific American, 266: 84-89.










Mac Congail