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: April 2020
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.
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)
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:
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.
Ritually ‘killed’ spearhead and other artifacts from the burial of a Celtic (Scordisci) cavalry officer at Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia (1 c. BC)
Ritually deformed iron spear (soliferreum) from the Celtiberian necropolis of El Altillo (Guadalajara), Spain (5/4 c. BC)
On ‘Killing The Objects’:
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.
Ritually ‘killed’ sword/scabbard and spearheads in a Celtic warrior burial (LT 96) at Zvonimirovo (Croatia) (2nd c. BC)
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.
Spearhead ‘stabbed’ into a Celtic warrior burial (LT 48) at Zvonimirovo (Croatia) (2nd c. BC)
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)*.
Distribution of recorded finds of Balkan Celtic Type 3 spearheads in eastern Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria (1st century BC)
*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.
UD: Jan. 2019
“The other order is that of the knights. These, when there is occasion and any war occurs …, are all engaged in war. And those of them most distinguished by birth and resources have the greatest number of vassals and dependents about them”.
(Caesar. Gallic War. 6.15)
Iron Age European artistic compositions are populated by a vast array of fantastic and impossible creatures. These include a wide variety of dragonesque beasts which appear on Celtic jewelry, coinage and weapons throughout the La Tène period.
Celtic bronze brooch from Pilsen in the Czech Republic (5th century BC)
Bronze brooch from a Celtic burial at Arbedo (Ticino), Switzerland (4th c. BC)
Celtic potin (Bituriges Cubi tribe – early 1 c. BC) from Central France
One of the genuinely pan-European elements in early La Tène art is the dragon-pair motif, which is found on the upper end of the front-plate of Celtic scabbards from south-eastern Britain to the Balkans, with further examples from south of the Alps and Iberia (Stead, 1984, Megaw 2004, Megaw and Megaw 1989, Ginoux 1995). Comprising a pair of opposed S-shapes with zoomorphic heads facing inwards, the beasts represented are highly schematic, and have sometimes been thought of as griffons rather than dragons.
Dragon-pair decoration on a Celtic iron scabbard discovered in the nineteenth century in the river Thames at Battersea and Hammersmith, London (Stead:1984). A further example was also found in the Thames, and a derivative of the dragon-pair motif at Fovant (Wiltshire), also in England (Jope 2000:278).
Scabbard fragment with Dragon Pair decoration discovered in the Celtic hillfort at Ensérune (near Nissan-lez-Ensérune), France
Although earlier studies (Jacobsthal (1944:46, De Navarro 1972:229) saw these motifs as evidence of orientalizing influences in early Celtic art, or even as a direct Scythian introduction into eastern Central Europe, subsequent discoveries in the west have now rendered this view obsolete. The earliest incidence of a dragon-pair has conventionally been the example from an old and never fully published burial from Saint Jean-sur-Tourbe in the Marne, which should belong to an early La Tène phase (Harding 2007).
Celtic sword in scabbard with dragon-pair motif, and detail of decoration – from a recently discovered Celtic warrior burial at Chens-Sur-Léman (Haute-Savoie), France (late 4th/early 3rd c. BC)
(after Landry, Blaizot 2011)
Celtic scabbard with dragon-pair motif recently discovered in a warrior burial at Wöllersdorf-Steinabrückl (Niederösterreich), Austria (3rd c. BC)
Dating to the late 4th/3rd century, dragon-pair scabbards are also well represented in Eastern Europe, in association with the Hungarian scabbard style, as at Halimba, Jutas 3, Kosd, and Szob (Harding 2007). Other examples have been registered at Celtic warrior burials in Plovdiv, Bulgaria and Pisçolt in Romania (Megaw 2004, Szabó and Petres, 1992, Pl. 96). Interestingly, a variant of the ‘Dragon Pair’ motif is also to be found on a bronze Celtic chariot fitting from Bobata Fortress (Schumen region) in north-eastern Bulgaria, also dating to the 3rd c. BC.
Bronze chariot fitting with ‘dragon-pair’ motif from Bobata fortress (Schumen), Bulgaria
*2 Dragon-pair scabbards were also found during excavations in the 1990’s of Celtic burials in the center of Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Sadly, these have subsequently been stolen / disappeared from the Regional Museum in Plovdiv.
Sword / scabbard, decorated with dragon-pair motifs, from a Celtic warrior burial at Pişcolt (Satu Mare) in Transylvania
(3rd c. BC)
Celtic scabbard with Dragon-Pair motif from the Celtic (Scordisci) site at Osijek Ciglana-Zeleno polje in eastern Croatia
(3 c. BC)
The pan-tribal nature of the dragon-pair scabbards, a unique phenomenon in Celtic Europe, logically raises the question of whether this motif had a significance beyond simply an artistic device. That a distinct warrior class/elite existed in Celtic society is a well documented fact, and the possibility exists that the dragon-pair insignia, which cross geographical and tribal borders, represented a special group within this warrior class, i.e. a pan-European order of elite warriors.
De Navarro, J. M. (1972) The Finds from the Site of La Tène, Vol. 1, Scabbards and the Swords Found in Them, London, British Academy, Oxford University Press.
Ginoux, N. (1995) ‘Lyres et dragons, nouvelles données pour l’analyse d’un des principaux
thèmes ornementaux des fourreax latèniens’, in J. J. Charpy (ed.) (1995): 405–12.
Harding D.W. (2007) The Archaeology of Celtic Art. Routledge
Jacobsthal, P. (1944) Early Celtic Art, 2 vols, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Jope, E. M. (2000) Early Celtic Art in the British Isles, Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Landry C., Blaizot F. (2011) Une Sépulture De Guerrier Celte À Chens-Sur-Léman (Haute-Savoie). In: Revue Archéologique de l’Est, t. 60-2011, p. 147-171
Megaw, R. and Megaw, J. V. S. (1989) ‘The Italian Job: Some Implications of Recent Finds of Celtic Scabbards Decorated with Dragon-pairs’, Mediterranean Archaeology, 2: 85–100.
Megaw J.V.S (2004) In The Footsteps of Brennos? Further Archaeological Evidence for Celts in the Balkans. In: Zwischen Karpaten und Agais. Rahden /Westf. p. 93-107
Stead, I. M. (1984) ‘Celtic Dragons from the River Thames’, AntJ, 64: 269–79.
Szabó, M. and Petres, É. F. (1992) Decorated Weapons of the La Tène Iron Age in the Carpathian Basin, Budapest, Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum.
UD: May 2019
“The kings of the east then carried on no wars without a mercenary army of Gauls; nor, if they were driven from their thrones, did they seek protection with any other people than the Gauls. Such indeed was the terror of the Gallic name, and the unvaried good fortune of their arms, that princes thought they could neither maintain their power in security, nor recover it if lost, without the assistance of Gallic valour”.
(Marcus Junianus Justinus. Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus XXV, 2)
Although the first Celtic mercenary activity in southeastern Europe is recorded in 367 BC, when Dionysios of Syracuse took a band of them into his service and sent them to the aid of the Macedonians against Thebes (Justin. XX, 5,6; Diod. XV, 70,1), it is not until the expansion into the Balkans and Asia-Minor at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd c. BC that Celtic mercenary forces become a vital political and military factor in the Hellenistic world…
(UD: November 2018)
Of the later Celtic material from Thrace, most remarkable is a dense concentration of La Têne C/D swords recorded over the last 100 years between the Timok and Iskar rivers in today’s northwestern Bulgaria (Popov 1922, 1924; Mikov 1932/33, 1933; Velkov 1957; Milchev 1958; Nikolov 1965, 1981, 1990, 1993; Alexandrov 1975, 1983; Wozniak 1975; Werner 1977; Petrov 1978; Tacheva-Hitova 1978; Domaradski 1984; Torbov 2000 with cited lit.; see also Paunov 2012). By the end of the 20th century over 60 of these swords had been registered in this area of northwestern Bulgaria alone – the largest concentration of such Celtic material in Europe….
UD: June 2019
Best associated with the spectacular chieftain’s helmet with Bird of Prey attachment, in fact the Celtic settlement at Ciumeşti (Satu Mare) in Transylvania has yielded a wealth of archaeological information on Iron Age settlement and society in southeastern Europe, and the Celtic warrior culture during this period.
The Iron Age settlement at Ciumeşti was a small rural community, of which 8 houses have been excavated. These were spread over a large area, and the general pattern was of houses organized in groups of 3 or 4, each group also having a larger central structure with two rooms. The spatial distribution of the dwellings indicates that the settlement was organized on a clan system (Zirra 1980:69-70, Rustoiu 2006:66). Finds from the settlement include Celtic wheel-made ceramic, as well as local hand-made pottery, again indicating a symbiotic relationship between the newly arrived Celts and the local population – a phenomenon to be observed throughout the eastern Celtic migration.
A large La Têne funerary complex was discovered at the site, of which 33 burials have been excavated. The cemetery has been broadly dated to the La Têne B2b – C1 period, which in Transylvania corresponds to the period between 280/277 – 175 BC (Horedt 1973:32, 2006:43). Three of the excavated graves were warrior burials indicating that the percentage of warriors in this community during the period in question was circa 9%.
THE CHIEFTAIN’S BURIAL
The Ciumeşti Chieftains burial was discovered on 10 August 1961 in a circular pit with a diameter of 1.2 – 1.5 m. Initially only part of the artifacts from the cremation burial were published, including the ‘Falcon’ helmet, two bronze greaves, an iron spearhead, and iron chainmail:
Subsequently other artifacts from the burial have come to light, and a review of all the material published over the past 50 years reveals that the complete inventory consisted of the following:
The pottery from the burial consisted of a large pot and a bowl, both wheel-made. Vessels of this type are frequent in Celtic burials from the La Têne B2b – C1 period from the Carpathian basin, and analogies have been found in other burials at Ciumeşti, as well as at sites such as Pişcolt, Apahida, etc. (Zirra 1976:143-144; Rustoiu 2006:44).
2. BELT CHAIN
The iron belt chain was of elements of bent wire fitted in the middle with a ring. The buckle of the belt had a lanceolated form. Such belts are well known among the Carpathian Celts and to the west in Moravia and Bohemia. In the sub-Danubian region they have also been found in Celtic burials at Komarevo, Montana, Panagurischte Kolonii and Stoikite in Bulgaria (Rustoiu 1996:113-114). They were still in use among the Thracian Celts in the LT D period (1st c. BC).
3. “SPEARHEAD” – JAVELIN
With an elongated blade and an angular median nervure, its dimensions (legnth 22 cm., socket 8 cm., blade 14 cm., socket diameter 1.7 cm.) indicate that it is in fact a javelin and not a spear as originally identified (Rustoiu 2006:47). This is the only offensive weapon among the graves inventory.
Chainmail and Bronze ‘Triskele’ Discs from the Burial
(after Borangic, Paliga 2013)
Diodorus (v,30:3), Strabo (II, 3:6), Appianus (Syriaca 32, 1-3), Livy (37:40) and Varro (De Ling. Lat. V, 24:116) all mention that the Celts used chainmail, with the latter explicitely stating that they invented it. Chainmail from central and western Europe, with the exception of a piece from Vielle-Tursan (Aubagnan) dated circa 200 BC (Boyrie-Fénié, Bost 194:160), refer to the late La Têne period. In the Carpathian Basin the earliest chainmail has been found at a burial in Horný Jatov (Slovakia) dated to the LT B2 period (first half of the 3rd c. BC) (Rustoiu 2006:50), while numerous examples of Celtic chainmail have been recorded in Romania – Ciumeşti, Cugir, Cetăţeni, Poiana-Gorj, Popeşti etc. (Rustoiu op cit 49, with cited lit), and in Bulgaria from sites such as Kalnovo, Kyolmen, Jankovo, in the so-called ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ (Sashova, Slavchova and Tziakova tumuli), as well as from Tarnava, Varbeschnitza, Mezdra, Smochan, Dojrentsi, Panagurischte Kolonii, Rozovetz, Ravnogor, Matochina and Arkovna.
Among the Turkish Celts (Galatians) the use of chainmail is attested to by Appian (Syriaca 32, 1-3) and Livy (37:40) and included in the depiction of Celtic military equipment at Pergamon (Rustoiu 2006:55). Archaeological confirmation of this has been recorded at the royal cemetery of the Galatian Tolistobogi (-boii) tribe at Karalar (Turkey) (Arik, Coupry 1935:140).
Celtic shields and chainmail depicted on the ‘weapons frieze’ from Pergamon
The Ciumeşti chainmail was closed with a system made from a horizontal iron plaque with decorated bronze discs. Similar bronze ‘triskele discs’ from Celtic chainmail have been found at Targu Mureş in Transylvania and Matochina in southern Bulgaria.
Bronze ‘Triskele’ appliqués from the Târgu Mureş chainmail (after Berecki 2010)
5. ‘FALCON’ HELMET
“On their heads they put bronze helmets which have large embossed figures standing out from them and give an appearance of great size to those who wear them; for in some cases horns are attached to the helmet so as to form a single piece, in other cases images of the fore-parts of birds or four footed animals”.
Diodorus Siculus (on Celtic helmets) (History V.30.2)
Bronze Celtic fibula from Ingelfingen-Criesbach in southern Germany (5/4 c. BC), depicting a human head crowned by a bird of prey. Birds of Prey had a special significance in Celtic culture and religion.
The best known of the Ciumeşti artifacts, the Bird of Prey (falcon) helmet belongs to a type with reinforced calotte. Such helmets had lateral triangular elements fitted with rivets from which were hung mobile cheek pieces. Similar Celtic helmets have been found at sites such as Batina (Croatia) and Mihovo (Slovenia) (Rustoiu 2006:48), but what distinguishes the Ciumeşti helmet is the bronze falcon which decorated the calotte. Besides the testimony of Diodorus, such Celtic helmets are depicted on Celtic coins and artifacts like the Gundestrup Cauldron.
From an historical perspective, the most informative artifacts from the chieftain’s burial are a pair of bronze greaves. Similar pieces appeared in Greece at the end of the Archaic Age, and were used during the classical and Hellenistic periods. The better preserved right greave had a length of 46 cm., which indicates that the warrior was of large stature – between 1.80 – 1.90 m. in height.
The Greaves from the Ciumeşti Burial
(Baia Mare History and Archaeology Museum)
Manufacture of such greaves logically requires the exact measurement of the warrior’s legs. Two golden greaves from the so-called Philip II grave at Vergina, which are of different sizes and designed for a crippled man, are a significant example (Andronicos 1984:186-189). It therefore appears that the Ciumeşti warrior had these made at a Greek workshop in the Mediterranean area, which is only possible if the warrior was himself present there (Rustoiu op. cit). Celtic mercenary activity in Hellenistic armies in Greece and Asia-Minor is recorded throughout the 3rd c. BC, and we can conclude with a great degree of certainty that the Transylvanian chieftain was the leader of one such Celtic mercenary force.
Andronicos M. (1984) Vergina. The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City. Athens.
ArikR.O., Couprey J. (1935) Les tumuli de Karalar et la sépulture du roi Déotarus II. In: Revue archéologique 6, Paris 1935. P. 133-151.
Berecki S. (2010) Two La Tène Bronze Discs from Târgu Mureş, Transylvania In: Marisia, Studii Şi Materiale, XXX Arheologie. Targu Mureş 2010. P. 69 – 76
Borangic C., Paliga S. (2013) Note pe marginea originii şi a rolului armurilor geto-dacilor în ritualurile funerar. In: Acta Centri Lucusiensis, I, 2013, p. 5-23.
Bohn R. (1885) Das Heligtum der Athena Polias Nikephoros. Mit Beitrag H. Droysen, Die Balustradenreliefs. Altertümer von Pergamon II. Berlin.
Boyrie-Fénié B., Bost J.P (1994) Les Landes. In: M. Provost (ed.), Carte archeologique de la Gaule 40. Paris
Horedt K. (1973) Interperpretări arheologice II. SCIV 24, 2, 1973. P. 299-310
Rustoiu A. (1996) Metalurgia bronzului la daci (sec. II î Chr. – sec. I d. Chr.) Tehnici, ateliere şi produse de bronz. Bibliotheca Thracologica 15. Bucharest.
Rustoiu A. (2006) A Journey to Mediterranean. Peregrinations of a Celtic Warrior from Transylvania. In: Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai, Historia 51, no. 1 (June 2006). P. 42-85
Rusu M. (1969) Das Keltische Furstengrab von Ciumeşti in Rumänien. Germania 50, 1969: 167 – 269
Zirra V. (1976) La nécropole La Téne d’Apahida. Nouvelles considerations. Dacia N.S, 20. P 129-165
Zirra V. (1980) Locuiri din a doua vărstă a fierului în nord-vestul României (Aşezarea contemporană cimitirului La Têne de la Ciumeşti şi habitatul indigen de la Berea). In: StComSatu Mare 4, 1980. P. 39-84.
UD: May 2019
“The other order is that of the knights. These, when there is occasion and any war occurs …, are all engaged in war. And those of them most distinguished by birth and resources, have the greatest number of vassals and dependents about them”.
(Caesar. Gallic War. 6.15)
The warrior class was a crucial element in Celtic culture and, along with the druids, formed the backbone of the social structure in Iron Age European society. Their military aptitude and ability to mobilize significant numbers of troops is evident from accounts of their struggles with the classical world, and confirmed by the profusion of weapons found in their burials. The warrior class also played a central political role as participation in tribal councils was reserved for those who bore arms (Kruta V. 2004:190).
Burial goods from the grave (Benacci 953) of a Celtic warrior/chieftain in Bononia/Bologna, Italy
(early 3rd c. BC)
However, what has hitherto remained unclear is exactly what proportion of Celtic society this warrior class represented. An analysis of burials sites in southeastern Europe allows us to throw some light on this question.
Excavation of a Celtic warrior burial at Dubník, Slovakia. (late 5th c. BC)
During the initial migration phase into southeastern Europe in the late 4th/early 3rd c. BC the proportion who bore arms was logically quite high. For example, of the 20,000 Celts who crossed into Asia-Minor in 277 BC (subsequently known as the Galatians) 10,000, or 50%, bore arms. In the immediate post-migration phase this figure remains high. For example, at the Celtic cemetery at Belgrad-Karaburma (Serbia) the percentage of warrior burials from the LT B2b period (i.e. 2nd quarter of the 3rd c. BC) is 70% – an exceptionally high proportion. However, in the subsequent decades this figure falls dramatically, and by the LT C1 period (post 250 BC) warrior burials at the site constitute only 35% of the graves:
Graves with weapons = 7
Graves without weapons = 3
Warriors = 70 %
Graves with weapons = 6
Graves without weapons = 11
Warriors = 35.29 %
(Tables adapted after Rustoiu 2006)
Weaponry from Celtic (Scordisci) Warrior Burials at Karaburma (3/2 c. BC)
Similar statistics are to be observed at other Celtic burial sites in the region such as Ižkovce in eastern Slovakia or Apahida in Romania (Zirra 1976, Rustoiu 2006). An analysis of burial complexes in the Carpathian basin reveals that while warrior graves constituted 18% of the total burials (Bujna 1982), once again a rapid transition from the highly militarized society of the first quarter of the 3rd c. BC to ‘peacetime’ conditions is to be observed in the decades which follow. For example, at Remetea Mare in Transylvania in the burial complex from the LT B2b period warrior graves represented 35% of the total burials, while at Ciumeşti, also in Transylvania, by the LT C1 period – i.e. a few decades later, warrior graves constitute only 9% of the total burials:
Graves with weapons = 7
Graves without weapons = 13
Warriors = 35%
Graves with weapons = 3
Graves without weapons = 30
Warrior graves = 9.09 %
Thus, the above data indicates that the number of warriors in Celtic society was not fixed, and varied greatly depending on the geo-political conditions pertaining at the time. In peacetime this figure appears to have been constant at circa 10 %, which probably indicates the core warrior class in Celtic society. However, there existed an ability to expand these numbers dramatically, which illustrates an intrinsic flexibility in society capable of rapidly mobilizing a large proportion of the population in times of conflict. This also logically indicates that besides the ‘warrior elite’ substantial numbers who were normally engaged in other professions, also had basic combat training.
Grave goods from the Celtic (Scordisci) warrior burial at Montana, northwestern Bulgaria
(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42301/01-08; see: https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria )
Bujna J. (1982) Spiegelung der Sozialstruktur auf latenzeitlichen Grăberfeldern im Karpatenbecken. In: PamArch, 73, 1982. P. 312-431.
Kruta V. (2004) The Celts: History and Civilization. London.
Rustoiu A. (2006) A Journey to Mediterranean. Peregrinations of a Celtic Warrior from Transylvania. In: Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai, Historia 51, no. 1 (June 2006). P. 42-85
Zirra V. (1976) La nécropole La Téne d’Apahida. Nouvelles considerations. Dacia N.S, 20. P 129-165
UD: May 2018
“To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace”.
Words of the Celtic Chieftain Calgacus
In the year 1971 an extraordinary archaeological discovery was made at the locality of Slana Voda (Salty Water), near the village of Krajčinovići, in southwestern Serbia. A mass burial containing 25 partially burnt skeletons was found, along with a wealth of archaeological material, including pottery, bronze dishes, jewelry, 60 iron swords and other weaponry (Zotović 2007).
The Mass Grave from Slana Voda
(after Zotović R. Social and Cultural Aspects of the Burial Krajčinovići –Slana Voda (South-West of Serbia, Middle of II c. BC. In: Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis, VI, 1, 2007. Pp. 199-205).
The site is remarkable for a number of reasons, foremost among them the fact that it had previously been thought that his part of western Serbia was uninhabited in the late Iron Age, i.e. this was the first archaeological material to be found in the area dating between the 5th c. BC and the Roman period (loc cit.). Therefore, the site provided the first confirmation that western Serbia was indeed inhabited in the pre-Roman period.
The material from the burials is also particularly noteworthy, consisting of mostly Celtic material (with older Illyrian influences to be observed in some of the pottery), and imported Hellenistic pottery and jewelry, which illustrates trade contacts between the Celtic population in this area and the Hellenistic world. Two further Celtic burials across the border in modern Bosnia Herzegovina were excavated in the 20th c. at Mahrevići by Čajniče (Truhelka, Ć. 1909. Gromila latenske dobe u Mahrevićima kod Čajniča, Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja u Sarajevu XXI, p. 425-442) and Vir by Posušje (Marić, Z. 1962. Vir kod Posušja, Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja u Sarajevu N.S. XVII, p. 63-72). At both of these sites the burial rituals (positioning of the bodies etc.) and archaeological material uncovered were similar to the Slana Voda burial.
Weaponry from the Slana Voda Burial
(after Zotović 2007)
Till Death Do Us Part
The positioning of the bodies, burial ritual, and accompanying archaeological material at Slana Voda indicate that this a war burial carried out at the middle of the 2nd c. BC (Zotović op. cit.), which coincides chronologically with the first historical accounts of conflict between the Roman Empire and the Balkan Celtic tribes (see ‘Scordisci Wars’ article). From a human perspective, perhaps most noteworthy about the Slana Voda burial (as is the case with the mass graves at Mahrevići and Vir) is the fact that the bodies are of male and female ‘warriors’, i.e. of both men and women, arranged together with their weapons.
Jewelry from the Slana Voda Burial
(after Zotović 2007)
The archaeological evidence from Slana Voda illustrates that the burial was carried out under conflict conditions, yet time was taken to give the dead an ordered burial, and no distinction was made between the men and women, who had apparently died together. Chronologically, this burial coincides with the first phases of Roman expansion in the region, and the mass grave at Slana Voda would appear to mark the arrival of ‘Pax Romana’ in this part of the Balkans.
On the Celts in southern Serbia see also:
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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In the tide of nationalism and revisionism which has marked the last century, our common European Celtic heritage has been systematically deconstructed, manipulated and denied. To balance this phenomenon, the BALKANCELTS organization presents the archaeological, numismatic, linguistic and historical facts pertaining to the Celts in Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor, within the context of the pan-European Celtic culture – a heritage which belongs to no nation, yet is common to all.