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: September 2018
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)
Burial of a young Celtic warrior with iron sword at Pocklington (East Yorkshire), England. 5 spears were also discovered in the grave, the positioning of which indicate that they had been thrown at the body in the grave. 23 such “speared corpse burials” have been recorded in this region of England.
(4th c. BC)
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 Kale (Turkish for fortification) at Krševica near Bujanovac in southern Serbia is situated at a strategic location where the slopes of the Rujen mountain descend towards the Vranje basin and Južna Morava valley. This exceptional strategic position had been used in the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages, but the Hellenistic settlement with acropolis was established at the turn of the 5/4 century BC. Finds of coins of Philip II, Alexander III, Cassander, and Demetrios Poliorketes correspond in general to the chronological span of the Hellenistic settlement which was the northernmost Ancient Macedonian city, and has been identified with the ancient city of Damastium, mentioned in classical sources (Popović P. 2006).
Location of Krševica
The Acropolis at Krševica – Central plateau with complex of buildings
(Illustrations after Popović 2006 = Popović P. (2006) Central Balkans Between the Greek and Celtic World: Case Study Kale-Krševica. In: In Homage to Milutin Garašanin. SASA Special Editions. Belgrade 2006. P 523-536)
Extensive archaeological excavations at the Krševica site have revealed a unique site in the Južna Morava valley where the significant remains of two civilizations – Greek and Celtic – have been encountered. The most massive layers with buildings, ramparts and other structures, as well as abundant finds of imported and local pottery made after Greek prototypes, date from the 4th and early 3rd century BC.
Suburbium, platform with ramparts and buildings at Krševica
Hellenistic Ceramic from Krševica – 4th / early 3rd century BC
With the Celtic expansion into the central Balkans during the late 4th /early 3rd century BC, and the resulting collapse of the Macedonian state, the settlement at Krševica fell under Celtic control (Popović 2006, Mac Gonagle 2015). Archaeological evidence from the site indicates that this transition was a relatively peaceful one, and no significant economic or social disruption is to be observed.
On the Celtic Conquest of the Central and Eastern Balkans see:
La Tène Ceramic from the Celtic/Scordisci layers at Krševica (2/1 century BC)
A considerable amount of the ceramic consists of vessels characteristic of the late La Tène production from the territory of the Celtic Scordisci tribes. Besides standard forms, like ‘S’ shaped bowls, pseudo-kantharoi etc., excavations also uncovered vessels traditionally referred to by Bulgarian and Romanian archaeologists as ‘Thracian-Dacian types of cups’ (bottom left above), which are actually Celtic lamps (Vagalinski 2011:204).
Excavation of one of the Celtic ritual pits at Krševica
La Tène ceramic from one of the ‘ritual’ pits at Krševica
The pits were of cult character and according to the main characteristics of the finds they date from the final decades of the second and the beginning of the first century BC.
With the gradual Roman expansion into this region during the late 2nd / 1st century BC, and the resulting war of resistance by the local tribes, Krševica became of particular strategic importance. During this brutal conflict, the fortress was used by the Scordisci Federation, in conjunction with other members of the ‘barbarian coalition’, including the Free Thracian tribes and Dardanians, as a staging-post for frequent attacks/raids on Roman occupied territory to the south. This final phase ended with the defeat of the anti-Roman coalition led by the Scordisci towards the end of the 1st century BC, and the subsequent consolidation of Rome’s control in the area.
On the Scordisci Wars see also:
UD: June 2016
A small selection of Celtic warrior burials from Eastern Europe (5 – 1 century BC). This post will be updated periodically, as further discoveries/publications come to light.
Stupava (Malacky District), Slovakia
(Late 5th c. BC)
Srednica (Ptuj/ancient Poetovio), Slovenia
(late 4th / early 3rd c. BC)
Csepel Island (Budapest), Hungary
(Late 4th – 3rd c. BC)
Also: Warrior burial #149 (3rd c. BC):
Ciumeşti (Satu Mare), Romania
(mid 3rd c. BC)
Lychnidos/Ohrid, FYR Macedonia
(mid 3rd c. BC)
(late 3rd c. BC)
Szabadi (Somogy County), Hungary
(Late 3rd/early 2nd c. BC)
Kalnovo (Schumen Region), Bulgaria
(Early 2nd c. BC)
Zvonimirovo (Podravina province), Croatia
(2nd c. BC)
Slana Voda (Zlatibor district), southwestern Serbia
(mid 2 c. BC)
Desa (Dolj County), Romania
(Late 2nd c. BC)
(late 2nd. / 1st c. BC)
Koynare (Pleven Region), Bulgaria
(Late 2nd/1st c. BC)
Sremska Mitrovica (Syrmia), Serbia
(Late 2nd/ early 1st c. BC)
A number of exceptional archaeological discoveries from southeastern Europe have thrown new light on the social and cultural relations between the various ‘barbarian’ peoples who inhabited this region in the pre-Roman period…
UD: November 2019
Some of the most spectacular Celtic archaeological discoveries in recent years have come from the Scordisci hillfort at Zidovar (Banat region) in north-eastern Serbia, which has yielded a vast array of artifacts of various materials, mostly dating to the 2/1 centuries BC.
The hill at Zidovar – site of an important Celtic (Scordisci) hillfort from 3-1 century BC
Silver finger rings, brown bear tooth talisman, and silver bird pendants from the Zidovar hillfort (2/1 c. BC)
(See also: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/celtic-scordisci-bird-pendants/)
Among the most exquisite artifacts from Zidovar are 2 lavishly decorated silver jewelry boxes, and the lid of a third such box decorated with 4 spokes, thus constituting a solar/Taranis wheel.
Silver lid of a jewelry box from Zidovar (2/1 c. BC)
Silver jewelry box from Zidovar
Construction of the complete jewelry box from Zidovar
All 3 jewelry boxes have a high percent of silver (average values over 95 wt%). Copper is the main alloying element (average values from 1.5–4 wt%). Lead contributes less then 1 wt%, and tin was not detected in the metal of any of the boxes.
(after Živković J., Rehren T., Radivojević M., Miloš Jevtić M. and Jovanović D. (2014) XRF characterisation of Celtic silver from the Židovar treasure (Serbia). In: UNDER THE VOLCANO. Proceedings of the International Symposium on the Metallurgy of the European Iron Age (SMEIA) held in Mannheim, Germany, 20–22 April 2010. p. 157-174)
The chain used on the jewelry box is also noteworthy. These are of the ‘Foxtail’ type, similar examples of which are to be found in a number of necklaces from Zidovar and other Balkan Celtic sites.
Scordisci ‘Foxtail’ necklaces from Zidovar
(see also: https://www.academia.edu/7915664/Celtic_Foxtail_Necklaces )
Such chains are believed to have developed from Hellenistic prototypes, and the merging of Hellenistic and Celtic artistic models and influences on the Balkans from the late 4th century BC onwards resulted in a spectacular fusion of forms culminating in unique compositions in glass, ceramic and metal.
Celtic kantharos of the ‘Danubian Type’ with anthropomorphic decoration from Blandiana, Alba County, Romania (3rd c. BC). Such kantharoi were developed by the Balkan Celts from Hellenistic prototypes.
Celtic gold ‘Janus Head’ pendant from Schumen region, Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)
Full view of the Celtic jewelry box with ‘Foxtail’ chain from Zidovar (2/1 c. BC)
The sheer amount and diversity of artifacts discovered at Zidovar logically indicates that this area was one of the key centers for the production of Balkan Celtic jewelry in the late Iron Age. From a wider perspective, the level of technical accomplishment and craftsmanship to be observed on these and other recently discovered Balkan Celtic works of art is on a par with anything produced by ‘classical’ cultures, and the treasures from the Scordisci hillfort at Zidovar once again testify to the artistic and material sophistication which had been achieved by European Celtic society prior to its systematic destruction by Rome.
Ud: July 2019
As all animals, the bear held a special significance in Iron Age European society, encapsulating the qualities of strength and potency, and portrayed in numerous works of Celtic art and attested to in inscriptions from across the continent.
Group of 3 sandstone bear statues found at Armagh, Ireland (the smallest now missing)
(pre-christian period, i.e. pre-5th c.)
The Celtic word for bear – *artos (OIr. Art, MW arth , OBret. Ard-, Arth-, MoBret. Arzh; Masasovic ELPC) is reflected in numerous Celtic personal names – in simple names such as Artos, Artus (Delamarre 2007:27; CIL XIII 10008,7: Artus Dercomogni (from Maar, near Trier), derivatives such as patronyms, e.g. Galatian Artiknos, and hypocoristica of the type Artillus, Artilla. A fine example of the latter has been found in Trier (CIL XIII/1.1, no. 3909):
HIC QUIESCIT IN PACE URSULA . . . ARTULA MATER TIT(ULUM) POSUIT
In this case mother and daughter have the same name, the mother still in Celtic, the daughter already in the Roman tongue. This is typical for the language switch implied in Romanization throughout the empire.
‘Bear’ is also found in Celtic nominal compounds, cf. Comartio-rix ‘king of [men] comparable to bears’, or Artebudz (Ptuj, Slovenia), which appears to be a late form of *Arto-buððos ‘having a bear’s penis’ (according to Eichner et al. 1994; see also Zimmer 2009). In the insular sphere a number of names continue the Old Celtic formations. Cf.:
Old Irish Artbe = Old Welsh Artbeu = Old Breton Arthbiu, all < Old Celtic *Arto-biu̯o- = ‘quick as a bear’;
Old Irish Artgal = Old Welsh Arthgal, Middle Welsh Arthal, < *Arto-galno- = vigorous like a bear’ (see Zimmer op cit).
The Brogdos Inscription from Poetovio
(after Istenič 2000; see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/between-birth-and-death-celtic-graffiti/)
The most extraordinary Celtic inscription to be discovered at Poetovio, Slovenia was found on a beaker at the site. Dated to the 2nd/3rd c. AD, and written in a Celto-Etruscan script, the 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 (Eichner et al 1994:137; Egri 2007).
Other artifacts from south-eastern Europe, such as a ceramic bowl decorated with a zoomorphic/bear handle from the pre-Roman layers at Viminacium or brown bear teeth used as pendants/talismans from the Celtic hillfort at Zidovar (both Serbia), indicate that the bear was particularly revered by the Balkan Celtic tribes.
Celtic (Scordisci) zoomorphic bowl from Viminacium, Serbia (1 c. BC)
Brown bear teeth talismans from Zidovar, Serbia (2/1 c. BC)
In Celtic culture the bear was associated with the Bear Goddess Artio – attested to in inscriptions such as those from Daun (CIL 4203), Stockstadt (CIL XIII 11789), Heddernheim (CIL 13, 7375) (all Germany), as well as Weilerbach (Luxembourg) (CIL XIII 4113) and Muri (near Bern) in Switzerland (CIL 13, 05160). The latter inscription comes from a bronze sculpture which depicts a large bear facing a woman seated in a chair, with a small tree behind the bear. The woman seems to hold fruit in her lap, apparently feeding the bear.
The goddess Artio from the Muri statuette group, a noted collection of Gallo-Roman bronze figures found in Muri bei Bern, Switzerland in 1832
The Muri sculpture bears the inscription Deae Artioni / Licinia Sabinilla = To the Goddess Artio (or Artionis), from Licinia Sabinilla, and is valuable evidence that the cult of the Celtic Bear Goddess survived into the Roman period.
Delamarre, X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. 2ème éd. Paris: Errance.
Delamarre, X. (2007) Noms de personnes celtiques dans l’épigraphie classique. Paris: Errance.
Egri M. (2007) Graffiti on Ceramic Vessels from the Western Cemetery at Poetovio. In: Funerary Offerings and Votive Depositions in Europe’s 1st Millennium AD. Cluj-Napoca 2007. P. 37 – 48.
Eichner, H., Janka, I., Milan, L. (1994) Ein römerzeitliches Keramikgefäß aus Ptuj (Pettau, Poetovio) in Slovenien mit Inschrift in unbekanntem Alphabet und epichorischer (vermutlich keltischer) Sprache. Arheoloski Zbornik 45, 131–42.
Istenič J. (2000) Poetovio, the western cemeteries II. Ljubljana.
Matasovic R. (2009) An Etymological Lexicon of Proto-Celtic. University of Leiden = ELPC
Šašel Kos (1999) Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic – Situla 38, Ljubljana.
Zimmer S. (2009) The Name of Arthur – A New Etymology. JCeltL, 13 (2009), 131–6
On animals in Celtic culture see also:
On Celtic personal names see: