FANTASTIC BEASTS – The Sphinx and other Hybrid Creatures in Iron Age European Art

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you?”.

(Golding; Lord of the Flies)

 

 

Iron Age European Art is populated by a multitude of impossible creatures, ranging from the Ram Headed Serpent associated with the God Cernunnos, to fantastic hybrid serpentine and human headed beasts depicted on artifacts throughout the La Tène period.

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Hybrid creatures with the body of a horse, neck of a giraffe (!) and bird heads; executed in ceramic and discovered at Römerstein (Baden-Württemberg), Germany

(8/7 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/detail-of-the-ram-horned-serpent-on-the-cheek-piece-of-the-agris-helmetated-from-the-4th-century-bc-which-was-found-in-1981-during-archaeological-excavations-in-perrats-cave.jpg?w=820

The Ram Headed Serpent depicted on a a Celtic helmet from Agris, France (4 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

 

From the early La Tène period (i.e. 5th century BC) onwards,  a particularly interesting development is the appearance of the Sphinx, and variants thereof, in European art. Such representations can be roughly divided into 2 main categories, the first of which is a group which is obviously derived from examples to be found in the Ancient Greek and Etruscan spheres. 

 

Sphinxes depicted on a gold applique from a drinking horn, discovered in the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Weiskirchen, Germany (late 6 – early 5th c. BC)

 

Bone sphinx with amber face discovered in the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Asperg (Baden-Württemberg), Germany. Two sphinxes, of bone and ivory, both with amber faces, were discovered in the burial.

(ca. 500 BC)

 

Such representations continue throughout the Iron Age, and are to be found on Celtic jewelry and other artifacts across Europe. Depictions of sphinxes are particularly common on late Iron Age Celtic coinage.

 

Reverse of a Celtiberian bronze issue from Castro (Andalusia), Spain (2-1 c. BC)

Sphinx springing right – reverse of a silver issue of Cunobelinus, chieftain of the Catuvellauni tribe in southern England (Early 1 c. AD)

 

A second group of hybrid creatures represented in Iron Age European art is perhaps even more interesting. These take a wide variety of forms, combining anthropomorphic and zoomorphic features in a multitude of combinations, resulting in fantastic creatures drawing from elements of both real and imaginary beings.

 

Sphinx-like creatures depicted on a bronze flagon, from a Celtic burial at Glauberg (Hesse) Germany (ca. 420 BC)

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Humanoid and sphinx-like creatures on a Celtic bronze brooch (maskenfibel / 5 c. BC) from Parsberg in Bavaria.

 

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Fantastic sphinx-like creatures on a Celtic bronze belt plate with coral inlay, from Weiskirchen (Saarland), Germany.

(ca. 400 BC)

Hybrid creature depicted on a Celtic bronze flagon from Dürnberg, Austria

(5 c. BC)

Fantastic creature from the Dürrnberg Flagon

 

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Bronze hybrid/sphinx creature, from the Celtic settlement at Horné Orešany, western Slovakia. The creature was most likely mounted on a large ceremonial vessel.

(5/4 c. BC)

 

 

Thus, while the first category of creatures is clearly influenced by / drawn from prototypes borrowed from other ancient cultures, the latter group is born of the experimentation and surrealistic fantasy typical of Iron Age Celtic art, a phenomenon which is continued and expanded upon, culminating in images to be observed in later Insular Ultimate La Tène art. 

 

Winged Ox depicted on Folio 27 V (detail), one of a large number of fantastic / hybrid creatures represented in the Book of Kells (ca. 800 AD)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FACE OF THE LORD – The Celtic God Esus in Iron Age European Art

The Celtic deity Esus (aspirated Hesus) has hitherto been known only from a small number of images and epigraphic material dating from the Roman period and later…

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/37459609/FACE_OF_THE_LORD_The_Celtic_God_Esus_in_Iron_Age_European_Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OF SWANS AND SWASTIKAS – Avian Creatures in Celtic Artistic Compositions

UD: October 2018

 

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“In order to arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water in itself, and this knowledge will be a step enabling us to arrive at the knowledge of beings that fly between the air and the wind”.

(da Vinci)

 

 

The enigmatic bronze objects known as ‘Horn Caps’ were produced exclusively by the Celtic tribes in England and Wales during the mid-late Iron Age (ca. 300 – 43 BC). Despite various theories defining them as ceremonial staff-heads, a finial for ceremonial seats or chariot elements (although no examples have ever been discovered in chariot burials), the exact purpose of such objects remains unclear…

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/29157809/OF_SWANS_AND_SWASTIKAS_A_Celtic_Horn_Cap_with_Zoomorphic_Swastika_Decoration_from_Essex_England

 

 

 

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THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY – Celtic Plastic Metamorphosis Art

UD: May 2017

 

 

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One of the most interesting Celtic artifacts to have recently ‘wandered’ into the Varna Museum in northeastern Bulgaria is a bronze zoomorphic head, executed in the Celtic ‘Plastic Metamorphosis’ style common across Europe in the La Têne B1 – C2 period*.

 

 

 

Var 1

 

The head is a fragment of a bronze mount, in all probability cast by the cire perdue method. Triangular in form, the face, probably of a bull judging by the fragment of a horn on the left side, consists of two almond-shaped eyes and a muzzle of 2 spirals. The patina, quite well preserved, indicates that the bronze head had been preserved in an enclosed atmosphere, i.e. a Celtic tomb, prior to being plundered by local ‘treasure hunters’.

 Var 2

The Bronze Celtic Zoomorphic head from Varna

 

 (After Anastassov J., Megaw V., Megaw R., Mircheva E. Walt Disney Comes to Bulgaria. In: L’âge du Fer en Europe: mélanges offerts à Olivier Buchsenschutz. Bordeaux : Ausonius, 2013, p. 551-565)

 

 

 

PLASTIC METAMORPHOSIS

 

The plastic metamorphosis style in Celtic art is characterized by the blending of human, animal, plant, and abstract forms; complex compositions incorporating various forms of symmetry, resulting in stylized, often grotesque, images.

 

Bronze Bird of Prey heads (with traces of red enamel) from the linch-pins of a Celtic chariot at Manching, Germany. 2 c. BC Celtic Plastic Metamorphosis style.

Bronze Bird of Prey heads (with traces of red enamel) from the linchpins of a Celtic chariot at Manching, Germany. Executed in the Plastic Metamorphosis style

(2nd century BC)

 

Lynchpin gaul double post rest

inchpin from the Celtic chariot burial at Orval, Normandy. - 300-250 BC post rest

Linchpins (Iron/Bronze) executed in the Plastic Metamorphosis style,  from a Celtic chariot burial at Orval, Normandy. ( 300-250 BC)

 

 

 

The forms appear more three-dimensional than earlier incised works and illustrate the ability of the Celtic artisan to sculpt high relief decorative objects.  A highpoint of this “plastic” style is marked by numerous höhlbuckelringe / anklets found in flat graves ranging from Bavaria and Moravia to the Balkans and Asia-Minor. All of the anklets are dated to the third century BC.

 

Detail of a bronze hohlbucklering from Plaňany (Kolín District), Czech Republic (3rd c. BC)

Detail of a bronze Celtic hohlbuckelring executed in the ‘plastic’ style – from Plaňany (Kolín District), Czech Republic (3rd c. BC)

 

Such anklets first appear among the Celtic tribes in the early 3rd c. BC, and include both plain and richly decorated examples. They first emerge in the area of today’s southern Germany and the historically identified territory of the Boii tribe – roughly the area of the present-day Czech Republic, and spread eastwards during the Celtic expansion of this period.

 

https://www.academia.edu/7212191/On_Hohlbuckelringe_as_a_Marker_of_Celtic_Eastwards_Expansion

 

 

Bronze linchpin, executed in the “Plastic Metamorphosis” style, from a Celtic chariot burial at Roissy (Val-d’Oise), France

(3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

Among the Balkan Celts, one of the largest groups of objects executed in the ‘Plastic Metamorphosis’ style are the chariot fittings discovered in a Celtic chieftains burial at the tholos tomb of Mal Tepe, Mezek (Haskovo  reg.) in southern Bulgaria. Other notable examples of this Celtic art style come from sites such as Roissy-en-France (France), Manching (Germany) and Brno (Czech Republic).

 

Mezek plastic 3 c. BC chariot

Bronze terret /rein-ring, executed in the ‘plastic’ style – from a Celtic chariot burial at Mezek, Southern Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)

 

Bronze disc executed in the Plastic Metamorphosis style (3 c. BC). From a Celtic chariot burial at Roissy-en-France (Val-d’Oise), France

(3rd c. BC)

 

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Bronze open-work mount from a wooden pitcher found at Brno-Malomerice, Czech Republic (3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*While the publication of the bronze mount from Varna is an important step forward, a large number of Celtic artifacts still remain unpublished in Varna museum. These include a Celtic chariot mount whose spiral ornamentation and domed form have parallels in decorative roundels on shields and spears dated to the La Têne B2 and found in warrior graves in France and the Czech Republic, and examples of Celtic artifacts executed in the so-called ‘false filigree technique’ which have parallels among the Celts of Central Europe, particularly from Bohemia to Hungary. Also in the Varna museum, again unpublished, is a Celtic zoomorphic brooch with a foot in the form of a curved-beaked monster, a specifically Hungarian form of the La Têne B1 Münsingen-Duchov horizon (Megaw et al, op cit). Publication of these, and hundreds of other Celtic artifacts gathering dust in museums across the country, will undoubtedly shed further light on the significant Celtic presence on the territory of modern Bulgaria.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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EASTERN CELTIC WARRIOR BURIALS

UD: June 2016

 

warrior b

 

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)

 

a - stup

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/the-burial-of-a-celtic-chieftain-from-stupava-slovakia/

 

 

 

 

a - sred

Srednica (Ptuj/ancient Poetovio), Slovenia

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

 

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/a-celtic-warrior-burial-from-srednica-northeastern-slovenia/

 

 

 

Csepel Island (Budapest), Hungary

(Late 4th – 3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/celtic-budapest-the-burial-complex-from-csepel-island/

Also: Warrior burial #149 (3rd c. BC):

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/a-danubian-warrior-celtic-burial-149-from-csepel-island-budapest/

 

 

Ciumeşti (Satu Mare), Romania

(mid 3rd c. BC)

 

a - cium

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/prince-of-transylvania/

 

 

 

 

Lychnidos/Ohrid, FYR Macedonia

(mid 3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/lychnidos-golden-masks-and-mercenaries/

 

 

Ljubljana, Slovenia

(late 3rd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/melted-warriors-la-tene-burials-from-the-auersperg-palace-in-ljubljana/

 

 

Szabadi (Somogy County), Hungary

(Late 3rd/early 2nd c. BC)

 

a - hun

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/brothers-in-arms-the-double-warrior-burial-from-szabadi-hungary/

 

 

 

 

Kalnovo (Schumen Region), Bulgaria

(Early 2nd c. BC)

https://www.academia.edu/4096257/The_Celtic_Burials_From_Kalnovo_Eastern_Bulgaria_

 

 

Zvonimirovo (Podravina province), Croatia

(2nd c. BC)

 

a - cro

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/the-celtic-burials-at-zvonimirovo-croatia/

 

 

Slana Voda (Zlatibor district), southwestern Serbia

(mid 2 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/death-at-salty-water-the-mass-grave-from-slana-voda/

 

 

Desa (Dolj County), Romania

(Late 2nd c. BC)

a - rom

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/scordisci-warrior-burials-from-desa-romania/

 

Montana, Bulgaria

(late 2nd. / 1st c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/a-celtic-cavalry-officer-from-montana-bulgaria/

1 -  ILLUST FRNT

 

 

 

Koynare (Pleven Region), Bulgaria

(Late 2nd/1st c. BC)

https://www.academia.edu/7888751/A_Late_La_Tene_Warrior_Burial_From_Koynare_Bulgaria_

 

 

 

Sremska Mitrovica (Syrmia), Serbia

(Late 2nd/ early 1st c. BC)

a - serb

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/the-warrior-and-his-wife-a-scordisci-burial-from-serbia/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celtic (Scordisci) Bird Pendants

UD: June 2017

 

 

 

Zid intor.

 

 

 

The importance of birds in Celtic culture and religion is well attested to by their frequent appearance on artifacts and coins, with birds by far the most commonly depicted creatures in Celtic art. For example, of the more than 500 Celtic brooches with representational decoration now known, from Bulgaria in the east to Spain in the west, more than half depict birds (Megaw 2001: 87).

 

 

 

sc.c mon. dag dec.

A = Reverse of a Scordisci tetradrachm depicting a bird behind the riders right shoulder (Serbia II c. BC) (see ‘Catubodua’ article)

B = Detail of a Celtic dagger decorated with mirrored bird symbols from a Scordisci warrior burial at Montana, northwestern Bulgaria (late II/early I c. BC)

 

 

 

In this context, particularly interesting are recently discovered hoards of Celtic jewelry among the Scordisci in Serbia which contain a large number of silver ornithomorphic beads/pendants (Ruševljan, Jevtić 2006; Popovic 2011). The first of these hoards came from the village of Hrtkovci in the Syrmia District (Vojvodina province) of Serbia. The Hrtkovci hoard contained, in addition to a large amount of Celtic fibulae and other items, 6 silver ornithomorphic beads/ pendants. The heads are triangular in shape and sheaves of slanting, ribbed channels are used to decorate the short tail while the rather broad neck is denoted by two concentric ribs. The lower segment of the birds are funnel-shaped and also decorated with sheaves of narrow channels arranged in a herringbone pattern. On top and bottom of the birds are openings for them to be laced through a cord/chain  (Ruševljan, Jevtić op. cit).

 

 

 

Hrtkovici brds f.

Silver Scordisci bird bead/pendants from Hrtkovci
(Length of the beads 22-32 mm.; width 12-17 mm.; weight range = 3.43 g. – 1.68 g.)

 

 

 

hrt. fib

Silver La Têne fibulae from the Hrtkovci hoard

 

 

 

Hrtkovici gld fib

Gilded Silver Hinged Type Fibula from the Hrtkovci hoard

 

 

 

The finds from Hrtkovci (with the exception of the gilded hinged fibula which is earlier) date to the late La Têne period (2/1 c. BC), and the latest discoveries of Celtic jewelry from this area of Serbia confirm the existence of a local Celtic workshop connected to the Scordisci settlement in Sremska Mitrovica (loc cit).

Also dating to the late La Têne period are a number of exquisite Scordisci silver bird pendants discovered in the Celtic hillfort at Zidovar near Vršac (Banat region), also in the Voivodina province of Serbia. In 2001 during the systematic archaeological excavations on the Celtic hillfort at Zidovar near Vrsac a rich hoard of silver jewelry and amber was discovered, dating to the first half of the 1st c. BC (Popovic 2011; on the Scordisci hillfort at Zidovar see also Todorović 1974: 50, 181; Brukner, Jovanović, Tasić 1974).

The spectacular Scordisci hoard from Zidovar consisted of 163 silver items, 134 amber beads, two brass rings and two pendants from Brown Bear teeth. Also among the items in the hoard were 22 bird shaped silver pendants.

 

 

zidovar brds 3

Zidovar 2

Silver Scordisci bird pendants from the Zidovar hoard

 

 

 

As in the case of the Hrtkovci ‘beads’ the Zidovar bird pendants ranged significantly in dimensions and weight (length = 34 – 25.5 mm.; width 9-20 mm.; weight 1.98-1.08 g.). Interesting also is the fact that, unlike the majority of Celtic ornithomorphic depictions where birds of prey are generally represented, the Scordisci beads/pendants from Hrtkovci and Zidovar both portray smaller birds (sparrows?), indicating that these were items of Celtic female jewelry.

 

 

 

 

Zidovar 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On birds in Celtic art and religion see also: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/catubodua-queen-of-death/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Brukner B., Jovanović B., Tasić N. (1974) Praistorija Vojvodine, Institut za izučavanje istorije Vojvodine, Savezarheoloških društava Jugoslavije, Novi Sad

 

Megaw V., Megaw R. (2001) Celtic Art from its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. London

 
Popovic I. (2011) The Zidovar treasure and roman jewellery from the Balkan provinces of the empire. In: The eastern Celts : the communities between the Alps and the Black Sea, p. 179-188. Koper-Beograd: Univerzitet u Beogradu, 2011. (Annales Mediterranei)

 
Ruševljan V.D., Jevtić M. (2006) Silver Jewelry of Hellenistic and Celtic Type from Hrtkovci in Srem. In: Starinar LVI/2006. P. 291-307

 
Todorović, J. (1974) Skordisci: istorija i kultura, Institut za izučavanje istorije Vojvodine, Savezarheoloških društava Jugoslavije, Novi Sad, Beograd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE MECHANISM OF DREAMS – Vegetal Style and the ‘Silivaş’ Helmet

UD: Sept. 2018

 

 

 

 

“…the mechanism of dreams where things have floating contours and pass into other things”.

(Jacobsthal 1941)

 

 

 

SILIVAS hel

 

The Celtic helmet from Silivaş (Transylvania) was first published in 1925 as part of the inventory of a warrior burial which also included two spearheads, a sword, dagger, brooch and a ‘sickle’ (actually a curved dagger), all of which had previously been in the private collection of Count Teleki Dromokos of Transylvania.

 

roska 1925

Inventory of the Celtic Burial from ‘Silivaş’, after Róska 1925*

 

The helmet itself is of a type with neck-guard (eisenhelme mit angesetztem Nackenschutz) common among the Celts at the end of the 4th/beginning of the 3rd c. BC (LT B2). Finds of such helmets are concentrated in the alpine region of western Austria and northern Italy, from where they circulated to the east and west (Rustoiu 2013). The most spectacular examples of such helmets include those from Agris and Amfreville in France, decorated with gold and coral.

Agris helmet

a - a a- -a det agris helmet

The Agris Helmet and detail of decoration

a - a a- -a det MECHANISM

Detail of the Ram-Horned Serpent on the cheek-piece of the Agris Helmet

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

amfreville 1

The Amfreville Helmet

 

 

amfreville det.

Detail of the decoration on the Amfreville helmet

 

 

VEGETAL / WALDALGESHEIM STYLE

 

The helmet from “Silivaş”* is ornamented on the neck-guard with vegetal elements specific to the so-called Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Style.

The Waldalgesheim Style is named after a princely burial in the middle Rhine, and displays an independence of interpretation and confidence in execution that marks the culmination of achievement of the early La Tène period (Jacobsthal 1944). The descriptive term ‘Vegetal’ has been proposed in place of Jacobsthal’s type-site to denote the new style, reflecting in particular its use of plant-derived tendril motifs, although the style is not characterized exclusively by vegetal motifs, nor are vegetal motifs exclusive to it (Harding 2007:70). The Vegetal Style is often regarded as the high point of La Tène curvilinear ornament because it is in this style that derivative classical motifs are deconstructed and re-emerge with the ‘assured irrationality’ of a vibrant and independent Celtic creation (Harding 265).

 The vegetal decorative details on the neck-guard of the helmet from Silivaş belong to the late phase of the aforementioned style, similar to the ornamentation of the helmets from  Förker Laas Riegel, in Carinthia, discovered in 1989 (Schaaff 1990).

Siliv. ng detail

The neck-guard of the Silivaş helmet. Detail of decoration

A further fine example of the vegetal style decoration on the Balkans is to be observed on the Celtic gold torc from Gorni Tsibar (Montana region) in north-western Bulgaria, which dates from the same period as the Silivaş helmet.

 

Danube Torc Bulgaria

Celtic gold torc decorated in the Vegetal Style, from Gorni Tsibar, northwestern Bulgaria

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

 

Celtic bronze torc, beautifully decorated in the Vegetal Style, from the Laon area (Picardy) of France (3 c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*In the interest of accuracy, it should be noted that the most recent research on the Silivaş burial has indicated that the helmet and associated material did not in fact originate from Silivaş, but was most probably discovered in a Celtic burial in the Turda area, also in Transylvania, while the brooch and curved dagger came from a Celtic burial either in another part of Transylvania, or from the Scordisci area in today’s northern Bulgaria (for discussion see Rustoiu 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Eastern Celtic helmets of the Novo Mesto type see:

https://www.academia.edu/5463297/The_Power_of_3_-_Some_Observations_On_Eastern_Celtic_Helmets

On Celtic helmets of the Montefortino type in Eastern Europe see:

https://www.academia.edu/4835555/Gallo-Scythians

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

Harding D.W. (2007) The Archaeology of Celtic Art. Routledge.

Jacobsthal P.F. (1944) Early Celtic Art. Oxford.

Roska M. (1925) Keltisches Grab aus Siebenbürgen.  In:  PZ, 16, 1925, p. 210-211.

Rustoiu A. (2013) Wandering Warriors. The Celtic Grave from “Silivaş” (Transylvania) and Its History. In: Terra Sebus. Acta Musei Sabesiensis, 5, 2013, p. 211-226

Schaaff U. (1990) Keltische Waffen. Mainz.

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