CELTIC SYRMIA

 

 

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Syrmia region of modern Serbia*, a fertile area of the Pannonian Plain situated between the Danube and Sava rivers, has yielded a massive amount of archaeological material pertaining to the Celtic Scordisci Federation who inhabited this region in the pre-Roman period. These discoveries include some of the most spectacular Balkan Celtic hoards, such as those from the Celtic hillfort at Židovar and the Scordisci settlement at Čurug, as well as extensive finds from Celtic sites such as Kupinovo.

 

The spectacular Celtic hoard from Židovar, a Celtic oppidum on the eastern border of the Deliblato Sands (Deliblatska Peščara). (2-1 century BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/the-balkan-celtic-treasure-from-zidovar-serbia/

 

 

The Balkan Celtic silver hoard from Čurug

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/curug-a-balkan-celtic-treasure-from-vojvodina-northern-serbia/

 

Detail of anthropomorphic decoration on the pommel of an iron sword, and scabbard decorated in the “Hungarian Sword Style”,  from a Scordisci burial complex at Kupinovo (Syrmia), Serbia (3rd c. BC)

(after: Drnić I. (2015) Groblje latenske culture/A La Têne Culture Cemetery. Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu, 2015)

 

 

While the aforementioned finds, discovered during regulated excavations, clearly indicate the economic and political importance of the Syrmia region within the territory of the Scordisci Federation, other discoveries made in a less professional manner suggest that the officially documented data is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. As with all areas of the Balkans, the vast majority of archaeological material registered in this region has been uncovered ‘accidentally’ by locals, providing invaluable evidence concerning the Scordisci tribes who inhabited large areas of today’s Serbia, eastern Croatia, south-western Romania and northern/western Bulgaria in the late Iron Age.

A good example of this phenomenon is the case of a Celtic warrior burial disturbed by a local farmer close to the modern town of Sremska Mitrovica in Syrmia.

 

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011 = Tapavički-Ilić M., Filipović V., A Late Iron Age Grave Find from Syrmia. In:  Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Poceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureş, 7–9 October 2011. 453-559)

 

In this case, the cremation burial was accompanied by a bronze ‘kettle’, a bronze simpulum, a pair of iron snaffle-bits, a bronze fibula, an iron knife, a belt buckle of the Laminici type, a scabbard decorated with geometric ornaments, and two spears (one ritually killed). A sword from the grave had been removed, and presumably sold, before the material was presented to archaeologists. There is no information about the sword itself, so one cannot tell whether it was a long one, typical of the Late Iron Age, or a shorter one, developed during the last decades of the 1st century BC by the Balkan Celts. Examples of the latter have been found at sites in Serbia and in Bulgaria, such as the Taja site in the Balkan mountains where burials contained examples of both types of late Iron Age Celtic swords.

A number of interesting features are to be noted in the Sremska Mitrovica burial. All of the finds have close parallels with material from Balkan Celtic burials from the same period (late 2nd / 1st c. BC). Two iron spurs with button-shaped endings, which belong to the first variant of the La Tène spur type 1 in Serbia, chronologically belong to the 1st century BC. What makes this find of spurs special is that so far in the Central Balkans only one more pair of Celtic spurs have discovered as grave goods – from a Celtic burial at Popica in Bulgaria. Usually, only a single spur is encountered (Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović op cit.). The bronze kettle discovered has analogies in Scordisci territory along the Danube in Serbia and in examples from Romania (Tigănesti, Bobaia, Vedea, Costești and Pescari), all dated to the 1st century BC.

An iron knife with a straight blade is also noteworthy. This knife is in contrast to the typical Celtic/Scordisci fighting knives (daggers), which possess a massive bent blade and a short handle. Thus, the type of knife found at Sremska Mitrovica was not a fighting knife/dagger, and the bronze earring-like ornament on its handle indicates that it belonged to a female. Also noteworthy in this burial is the deliberate bending/deformation of the spearhead before being placed in the grave – once again confirming that the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ was a common religious practice among the Balkan Celts in the late Iron Age.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Celtic burial under discussion is the presence of female articles in the grave. Objects such as the knife, ‘Laminci’ belt buckle and fibula belong to a woman, in contrast to the weapons and spurs which are obviously from a male burial. This has led archaeologists to conclude that we may be dealing with the double cremation burial of a warrior accompanied by his wife. The circumstances which could have led to such a double burial, which dates to the period of the Scordisci Wars, can only be guessed at.

 

Ritually ‘killed’ sword from a Celtic warrior burial at Kupinovo (3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On “Accidental Archaeology” and Celtic material from this part of the Balkans see also: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/scordisci-swords/

 

*This article only covers the Serbian part of Syrmia. Celtic/Scordisci finds from the  Vukovar-Srijem area of Eastern Croatia are dealt with elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS – Killing the Objects in Celtic Europe

UD: April 2019

 

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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. BC)

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)

Folded iron sword Grave 59 at Gyöngyös

Ritually killed – bent / folded iron sword from Celtic warrior burial #59 at Gyöngyös in northeastern Hungary

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/09/02/expansion-and-symbiosis-a-major-celto-scythian-settlement-and-burial-complex-from-the-matra-mountains-in-north-eastern-hungary/

 

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