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)