GOD IN THE AXE – Celtic Ceremonial Axes from Horné Orešany (Slovakia)

UD: September 2019

 

 

Intro - Horné Orešany 1

 

 

The Celtic hillfort at Horné Orešany is situated in the Trnava district in western Slovakia, in the Little Carpathian mountains above the village. The double rampart ring of the hill fort with an area of 2 ha was discovered in the early part of this century by ‘treasure hunters’ and greatly damaged by illegal excavations.

 

map

Archaeologically confirmed early La Têne sites in western Slovakia

(On the early La Têne chieftain’s burial from Stupava see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/the-burial-of-a-celtic-chieftain-from-stupava-slovakia/ )

 

 

Research studies at the Horné Orešany site subsequently identified a massive amount of material dating from the Hallstatt to middle La Têne periods, with the vast majority pertaining to the early La Têne era (5/4 c. BC). From the interior of the hillfort evidence of blacksmith activities and jewellery production was identified, including 11 animal- and human-headed brooches, 10 bird-headed brooches and dozens of box-shaped belt hooks. Further discoveries (mostly by ‘treasure hunters’) have included 3 hoards of iron artifacts and two deposits of bronze ornaments, as well as at least 8 Celtic swords and 60-80 spearheads.

 

brooch 1 GOOOD

brooch 2 GOOOD

Bronze brooches from the Celtic hillfort at Horné Orešany (late 5th / early 4th c. BC)

(after Pieta 2010; see also Megaw 2012)

 

Bronze hybrid/sphinx creature, from the Celtic settlement at Horné Orešany (5/4 c. BC)

 

Among the most significant finds from the site are two bronze decorated axes, also dating to the early La Têne era. Although in prehistory and the Hallstatt period axes were among the most popular weapons, in the La Têne period their use is recorded only in isolated cases (Guštin 1991: 58/59, Schumacher 1989; Todorović 1972:Taf. 18:6). In Slovakia, while there is no evidence of the use of axes as weapons during this period (Pieta 2005:49), a number of bronze axes, believed to have had a ritual purpose, have been recorded. The ceremonial/religious function of the Horné Orešany axes is also clearly indicated by the intricate triskele decoration on the blade, and the depiction of a bearded deity who appears on both examples.

 

Ritual bronze axe from the Celtic settlement on Žeravica Hill, near Stupné (Trenčín region), in northwestern Slovakia

(5/4 c. BC)

 

Horné Orešany 1

 

Horné Orešany 2

 

Celtic ritual/ceremonial axes from Horné Orešany (Width of blades 95/ 67 mm.) – Late 5th c. BC (after Pieta 2014)

 

The Face of Esus ?

In the Celtic pantheon the axe has no clearly defined role, except in the case of the God Esus. The two statues on which the name of Esus appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii, and a pillar from Trier in the territory of the Treveri tribe. In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting branches with an axe.

 

The Celtic deity Esus as represented on Le pilier des Nautes (Musée National du Moyen Age, Thermes de Cluny)

The Celtic deity Esus as represented on Le pilier des Nautes, discovered in a temple at the Gallo-Roman civitas of Lutetia (modern Paris/ Early 1 c. AD)

 

If the deity on the Horné Orešany axes is indeed Esus, it is interesting to note the sharp contrast between the Gallo-Roman depictions which present the God in human form, i.e. as an axeman, and the earlier Celtic examples in which the fusion of form and decoration culminates in the deity literally becoming one with the weapon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited
Guštin M. (1991) Posočje in der jüngeren Eisenzeit. Ljubljana
Megaw V. (2012) ‘Go East Young Man!’ Antipodean thoughts on the earliest La Tène art in Slovakia (with particular reference to the fortified settlement of Horné Orešany) In: Archeológia Na Prahu Histórie. K životnému jubileu Karola Pietu. Nitra 2012, 447 – 460.
Pieta K. (2005) Spätlatènezeitliche Wafen und Ausrüstung im nördlichen Teil des Karpatenbeckens. Slovenská archeológia 53, 35-84.
Pieta K. (2012): Die keltishe Besiedlung der Slowakei. arh. Slov. Mon. Studia 12, Nitra 2010.
Pieta K. (2014) Rituelle Beile aus dem Frühlatène-Burgwall in Horné Orešany/Rituálne sekery z včasnolaténskeho hradiska Horné Orešany. In: MORAVSKÉ KŘIŽOVATKY . Střední Podunají mezi pravěkem a historií. Moravské zemské muzeum, Brno 2014. P. 717-727
Schumacher F. J. (1989) Das frührömische Grab 978 mit Beil und Axt. Wafen oder Werkzeuge? In: A.Hafner (Hrsg.): Gräber – Spiegel des Lebens. Zum Totenbrauchtum der Kelten und Römer am Beispiel des Treverer-Gräberfeldes Wederath-Belginum. Mainz. 247-254
Todorović J. (1972) Praistorijska Karaburma. Beograd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Burial of a Celtic Chieftain at Stupava and early La Têne settlement in southwestern Slovakia

UD: Jan. 2020

Belt Buckle detail

 

The town of Supava (Malacky district) is situated in the Záhorie lowland, under the Little Carpathians, around 15 km (9 m.) north of the Slovakian capital Bratislava. In 1929 industrial work in the area uncovered an Iron Age necropolis, which has provided invaluable information on the early phases of Celtic settlement in this area of Europe.

 

Stupava map

Location of Stupava, and main early La Têne settlements and finds in southwestern Slovakia (LT A – LT B1; after Čambal 2012).

 

H st art 1

Bronze hybrid creature with cat-like body and bird head. from the Celtic settlement at Horné Orešany, western Slovakia

(5-4 c. BC)

H st art 1 axe

Celtic ritual/ceremonial axe from Horné Orešany

(Late 5th c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/god-in-the-axe-celtic-ceremonial-axes-from-horne-oresany-slovakia/?fbclid=IwAR2DCV5aPX4cah2v-3LdmhI-n1MBx2aSFlAfjKJqN9xIRsafxU842faZxno

 

 

Among the 10 graves discovered at the Celtic necropolis in Stupava, which dates to the La Têne A – Lt A2/B1 period, the most outstanding was the male inhumation burial (dated to c. 400 BC) located at the highest point of the cemetery. The situation of the burial, and the grave inventory – which included a sword, lance, iron knife, bronze armlet, stamped pottery decorated with bull horns, and a bronze belt-plaque with human mask – clearly indicate that the individual was of high standing in the community, i.e. a tribal leader/chieftain.

stupava c.400 BC

Metal finds from the Stupava Chieftain’s burial
(c. 400 BC)

stupava 1

Stamped ceramic bowl decorated with bull horns from the Stupava burial

Another fascinating find associated with the burial is a decorated bronze belt-plate with human mask. The Stupava belt-plate is a highly decorated type of a general class with rectangular plate which extend from the Middle Rhine to Slovakia (Megaw/Megaw/Neugebauer 1989; Frey 1996:202, 203, abb. 5, 6; Pieta 2007:307, abb. 10), and is an important example of the development of early La Têne art in this part of Europe. The anthropomorphic element/ face mask on the Stupava belt has many parallels in Celtic compositions of this period, notably those to be observed on a bronze fibula and belt hook  from tomb #1 at Glauberg (Hesse), Germany.

Belt Buckle

Bronze Belt-Plate from the Celtic Chieftain’s Burial at Stupava

retrouvee-dans-la-tombe-n1-de-glauberg-en-hesse-allemagne-datant-du-ve-s-av-j-c-bronze-and-coral-2

Celtic fibula (bronze with coral) with zoomorphic/anthropomorphic decoration, from Glauberg (5th c. BC)

bronze-belt-hook-grave-mound-1-glauberg-ca-500-bc

Bronze belt hook with zoomorphic, anthropomorphic and geometric decoration from Glauberg

.

 

 

Literature Cited

Čambal R. (2010) Keltské nálezy zo Stupavy. Stupava 7, 2010 – 2011, 3 – 7
Čambal R. (2012) Frühlatènezeitlihes gräberfeld in Stupava. ausgrabungen in Jahr 1929, Zbor. SNM 106. arh. 22, 2012, p. 87 – 119

Eisner J. (1930) Raně latènské památky na Slovensku a v Podkarpatské Rusi. Zvláštní otisk z ČSPSČ 38, Praha 1930, 1-8

Megaw J.V.S. (2010) A world turned upside down: the bronze plaque from Stupava, okr. Malacky. in: J. Šuteková et al. (eds.): Panta Rhei. Studies in chronology and cultural development of Southeastern and central europe in earlier prehistory. Stud. arch. et Med. 11. Bratislava 2010, 607 – 622

Pieta K. (2007) Der frühlatènezeitlihe Burgwall in Horné Orešany, westslowakei.Vorbericht. Slov. arh. 55, 2007, 295 – 310

 

 

Mac Congail

A Late La Tene Warrior Burial from Koynare (Bulgaria)

koinare - Copy

 

 

 

 

The village of Koynare (Pleven region) is situated on the left bank of the Iskar river in north-western Bulgaria, an area which over the past century has yielded probably the highest concentration of Iron Age warrior burials in Europe – the vast majority discovered ‘accidentally’ by the local population (Domaradski 1984, Torbov 2000, Mac Gonagle 2013).

 

 

 

Koyn map

Finds of Celtic weapons and location of Koynare in north-western Bulgaria

(afte Paunov 2013)

 

 

 

The late Iron Age burial at Koynare has been dated to the La Tene D1 period (1st c. BC), and included material typical of a Balkan Celtic warrior burial of this period – La Tene sword/scabbard, circular shield umbo, spearheads, dagger (sica), and a H-shaped horse bit (Luczkiewiez, Schonfelder 2008).

 

 

 

SWORD/SCABBARD

 

Discovered together with fragments of its scabbard, the Koynare sword is one of over 60 examples of Celtic La Tene C2/D swords to have been discovered in the area of north-western Bulgaria between the Timok and Iskar rivers alone. These swords are identical to the Belgrade 2 / Mokronog 2-4, and Belgrade 3 / Mokronog 5-6 type Celtic swords from Scordisci burials in neighboring Serbia (Torbov 2000, Mac Gonagle 2013).

 

 

SHIELD UMBO

 

The circular shield umbo from Koynare is of the Novo Mesto type. Further examples of this specific type of Celtic shield have been recorded in north-western Bulgaria at Montana, Kriva Bara (Vratza reg.), Pleven etc. (Luczkiewiez, Schonfelder 2008).

 

 

Mon shield

Celtic (Scordisci) shield umbo from Montana, north-western Bulgaria (late 2nd c.  BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPEARHEADS

 

In terms of typology, the spearheads from Koynare have direct parallels in Balkan Celtic burials at Turnava and Biala Slatina (both Vratza reg.), and Montana in north-western Bulgaria, as well as an example from Portilor de Fier (Mehedinti) Romania – all similarly dated to the La Tene D1 period (loc cit). Spearheads are found in the vast majority of Balkan Celtic burials from this period. The presence of two examples, as at Koynare, is exceptional, but by no means unique. Such is the case, for example, with the recently discovered Scordisci warrior burial from Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia), which included two spearheads, one ritually ‘killed’.

 

 

 

Rit serb

 

(Ritually ‘killed’) spearhead from a Scordisci burial at Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia/1st c. BC)

 

(see Balkancelts ‘The Warrior and His Wife’ article, with relevant lit.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CURVED DAGGER

 

 

Curved daggers (sica) are a frequent part of the inventory of late Iron Age Scordisci warrior burials from the territory of modern Serbia, southern Romania and northern Bulgaria. For example, at the Scordisci necropolis at Karaburma (Belgrade) 7 such curved daggers, dating from the La Tene C2-D1 period, have been registered (burial nos. 13, 25, 32, 35, 66, 97, 112) (Todorovic 1972). Decorated daggers of this type, as the Koynare example, are most commonly found in Celtic burials from northern Bulgaria and Oltenia (southern Romania) (Luczkiewiez, Schonfelder 2008).

 

 

 

mon dagg

Celtic dagger (sica) from Montana, n.w. Bulgaria, decorated with mirored bird symbols

 

(See Balkancelts ‘Sacrificial Curved Daggers’ article)

 

 

 

 

 

HORSE BIT

 

The H-shaped horse bit discovered at Koynare suggests that, as in the case of Celtic burials such as those from Pavolche and Montana in north-western Bulgaria, or the recently discovered Scordisci burials from Desa in Romania, the individual in the Koynare burial was a Celtic cavalry officer.

 

Desa h-b

H-Shaped horse bit and circular shield umbo from the Scordisci burials at Desa, Romania

(See Balkancelts ‘Desa’ article)

 

 

 

 

 

As at Koynare, the vast majority of Celtic burials from north-western Bulgaria date to the La Tene C2/D period – i.e. from the time of the Scordisci Wars with Rome in the late 2nd/1st c. BC, reflecting the high level of militarization in Celtic society in this area during the period in question.

 However, the fact that only warrior burials have been discovered from this period, and those ‘accidentally’ by the local population, reflects a chronic lack of research at Celtic sites in the area, resulting in a continuing distortion in Bulgarian archaeological science.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cited Literature

 

 

Luczkiewiez P., Schonfelder M. (2008) Untersuchungen Zur Ausstattung Eines Spateisenzeitlichen Reiterkriegers Aus Dem Sudlichen Karpaten Oder Balkanraum. Sonderdruch aus Jahrbuch des Romisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz 55. Jahrgang 2008. p. 159-210

Mac Gonagle B. (2013) https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria

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

Paunov E. (2013) From Koine To Romanitas: The Numismatic Evidence for Roman Expansion and Settlement in Bulgaria in Antiquity (Moesia and Thrace, ca. 146 BC –AD 98/117) Phd.Thesis. School of History, Archaeology and Religion. Cardiff University. 2013)

Szabó M., Petres E. (1992) Decorated Weapons of the La Têne Iron Age in the Carpathian Basin. Inv. Praehist Hungariae 5 (Budapest 1992)

Todorović J. (1972) Praistorijska Karaburma, I, Beograd.

Tорбов Н. (2000) Мечове от III- I в. пр. Хр. открити в сиверосападна България. In: Исвестия на музеите в сиверосападна България. т. 28. 2000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Celtic Burial Complex at Zvonimirovo (Croatia)

UD: April 2019

 

intr. ill

 

The late Iron Age burial complex at Zvonimirovo-Veliko Polje (central Podravina province) in Croatia is rapidly developing into one of the most significant archaeological sites of its kind, with each excavation season uncovering new material which increases our understanding of the Celtic population who inhabited this region of Europe.

 

Map z

Location of the Zvonimirovo-Veliko Polje site

 

The site was discovered in 1992, when artifacts of the early medieval Bijelo Brdo culture were found during ploughing. However, rescue excavations at the Medieval cemetery in 1993 produced a surprise when a Celtic cremation burial was also discovered. During 1994, two more Celtic burials were found, one of which was a warrior burial. Based on the typological characteristics of the finds from three graves dated to the second century BC, the La Tène cemetery at Veliko Polje in Zvonimirovo has been ascribed to the territory of the Balkan Celtic Taurisci tribe.

RkS

Shield boss94

(Illustrations after Dizdar 2013)

 

So far the Celtic cremation burials discovered at Zvonimirovo date from the early 3rd – late 2nd c. BC. These include a number of multiple burials, and several individual finds from destroyed graves have been documented, indicating that the number of graves was considerably greater.

Zn g 11

Burial LT 11 from Zvonimirovo which contained the remains of a man and a young girl

Zvon. gbead

(After Dizdar 2004; on multiple burials from the site see also:

https://www.academia.edu/5275216/Multiple_Burials_And_The_Question_of_Celtic_Suttee)

(Burnt) bronze belt from burial LT 29 Zvonimirovo

 

A further 6 cremation burials (LT 94-LT 99) were excavated during the 2012 season at Zvonimirovo. The most interesting of discoveries from these excavations included warrior burials with weapons – ritually bent swords in scabbards (associated with belt sets and long spears), a long tanged iron knife, and shield bosses.

The toiletry items in the burials consist of scissors and razors, while the costume is represented by iron fibulae of Middle La Tène type. A female burial contained costume and jewellery items, while ceramic vessels and animal bones were found as goods in graves of both sexes. Based on the weapons and costume items, the latest burials have been dated to the Mokronog IIb/La  Tène C2 phase.

pot 96

The pot from grave LT 96 is decorated with stamped concentric circles, connected with garlands executed by a series of tiny impressions.

b97

 

 

Updates: 

Further rescue excavations at the Zvonimirovo-Veliko polje site in 2014 uncovered 6 more La Têne cremation burials (LT 102- 107). Apart from warrior burials, most interesting was a double female burial (LT 103).


a - a - a - Kantharos LT104 Zvonimirovo

Kantharos discovered in a Celtic burial (LT 104) during the 2014 excavations at Zvonimirovo (3rd c. BC)

(After Dizdar 2015)

 

 

Excavations during the 2015 season revealed 6 further Celtic cremation burials (LT 108 – LT 113). Noteworthy were the deep, larger pits of female graves LT 109 and LT 110; in the LT 110 grave, a bowl was placed on the bottom of the pit, with the burnt remains of the deceased placed on top of it with a bronze fibula and probably a burnt bracelet.

lt-110

Detail of burial LT 110 with the burnt remains of the deceased laid above the pot

 

Next to a warrior burial (LT 112), which included weapons and toiletries, graves were found which, based on the clothing and jewellery features, belonged to female burials. Grave goods consisted of ceramic vessels (pots and bowls), and the burials dated to the LT C2, i.e. Mokronog IIb phase.

 

lt-112

Warrior burial LT 112 at Zvonimirovo

(after Dizdar 2016)

 

A further recently discovered phenomenon at the complex was identified in female burial LT29, where a wooden burial chamber was constructed. Wooden “coffins” like that from the Zvonimirovo cemetery have recently been documented at many eastern Celtic burial complexes, notably in Hungary and Slovakia.

 

lt-29

Zvonimirovo-Veliko polje: Reconstruction of female grave LT 29 with wooden burial chamber (3/2 c. BC)

After Dizdar M.(2016) Late Iron Age Funerary Practice in Southern Pannonia. In:Proceedings of the 14th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology in Čačak, Serbia 24th – 27th September 2015. Beograd – Čačak, 2016. pp. 293-312

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a full report on the 2012 excavations (in Croatian) see:

https://www.academia.edu/5747104/Rezultati_zastitnih_istrazivanja_groblja_latenske_kulture_Zvonimirovo_-_Veliko_polje_u_2012._godini_The_Results_of_the_2012_Rescue_Excavations_of_the_La_Tene_Culture_Cemetery_in_Zvonimirovo_-_Veliko_polje

2014 Report:

https://www.academia.edu/19608223/Research_results_from_the_La_T%C3%A8ne_cemetery_at_Zvonimirovo-Veliko_polje_in_2014

Report on the 2015 Campaign:

https://www.academia.edu/29047308/Research_results_of_the_La_T%C3%A8ne_culture_cemetery_at_Zvonimirovo_Veliko_polje_in_2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACCIDENTAL ARCHAEOLOGY – Celtic Swords from Northwestern Bulgaria

(UD: November 2018)

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/wp-2-nw.jpg

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….

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria

 

A Celtic Warrior Burial from Sremska Mitrovica (Serbia)

 UD: Jan. 2020

 

 

The “accidental” discovery of a Celtic warrior burial from Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia has shed new light on the Scordisci tribes who inhabited large areas of today’s eastern Croatia, southwestern Romania, Serbia, and northern/western Bulgaria in the late Iron Age. The burial, which was disturbed by a local farmer, was found in the Syrmia region, most probably close to the modern town of Sremska Mitrovica.

(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)

 

 

 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 ((see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/killing-the-objects-3/).

 

 

Ritually ‘Killed’ Spearhead from the Sremska Mitrovica burial

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)

 

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.

 

Reconstruction of the Celtic Burial from Sremska Mitrovica

(after Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović 2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHIELDS

Mac Congail

 

 

“One must have evidence, because knowledge is not mere true belief”.

 

(Butcharov. The Concept of Knowledge)

 

 

 

Perhaps the most iconic of Celtic Iron Age weapons, in its classic form the Celtic shield consisted of an ovoid shield board with a long, spindle-shaped umbo with a spine extending vertically along the shield board. Both Greek and Roman art depicted the oval shield with the spindle boss as an identifying feature of the ‘barbarian’ Celt’s shield (see ‘Shield Coins’ article). Since the main components of these shields are organic, surviving archaeological evidence is limited.

Such shields are known from approximately the 6th century BC to the early centuries AD through artwork, scattered remains of fittings, and in a few rare instances, wholly preserved shields, such as those from the site of La Têne itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The earliest evidence for Celtic shields on the territory of today’s Bulgaria dates to the second half of the 4th c. BC when warriors on the friezes of the Kazanlak / Seuthopolis tomb are depicted with the distinctive oval Celtic shields (Domaradski 1984, Mac Congail 2008, Emilov 2010). Celtic presence in this area at this early stage is confirmed by La Têne B artifacts from the villages of Ivanski, Malomir, Sveschtari (Dom. 1984:134, 138; Mac Congail 2010:51) and from the Schumen/Veliko Tarnovo areas (see ‘New Material 1 + 2’ articles). Depictions of Celtic oval shields also appear on a number of coins minted by the Celtic ‘Tyle’ state in eastern Thrace in the 3rd c. BC (See ‘Shield Coins’ article).

  Such shields have been registered in eastern Bulgaria at sites such as Kamburovo (Targovischte region – Novo Mesto 169 type) (Domaradski 1984; Emilov 2010), the Celtic warrior burials at Kalnovo (Schumen region) (Atananassov 1992; Megaw 2004), and in the chieftains burials at Sashova and Fomus tumuli near the Shipka pass (Manov 2010). Further La Têne shields, but dating to the Roman period, have been found at the Taja site, to the west of Sevtopolis (See below).

 

  As with finds of La Têne swords, scabbards, chainmail etc., the majority of Celtic shields found in Bulgaria have been discovered in the west of the country. At Gorna Malina in the Sofia region a Celtic shield of the Karaburma type has been registered (Emilov 2010). Also from the Gorna Malina area (Bailovo) comes the earliest Celtic sword from Bulgaria, which dates to the La Têne B2 period (see ‘Sacrificial daggers, Swords and Settlements’ article). To the southwest of the Bulgarian capital an oval Celtic shield was found in 1989 in a burial at Dolna Koznitza (Pernik region) which had been disturbed by ‘treasure hunters’. Associated with this Celtic shield was an inscribed Macedonian shield, suggesting that the burial is related to the first phase of Celtic expansion into the area at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd c. BC. (Manov, Staikova 1992).

  Also noteworthy from the aforementioned Dolna Koznitza site is a bronze frontlet and other artifacts executed in the distinctive Celtic Plastic style common from the 4th c. BC. The frontlet with a 3 dimensional head above opposing rams heads, as with other Celtic works of art from this period found in Bulgaria, such as the Mezek chariot attachments or the golden Janus heads from Schumen, conforms exactly to the definition of this Celtic art style – ‘protruding, non-representational relief ornament cast in bronze and demonstrating a particular type of abstraction of human and animal heads’ (Megaw 2001: 139, 140-141,144).

 

 

 

Celtic Bronze frontlet from Dolna Koznitza (Pernik region, Bulgaria)

 

 

 

NORTHWESTERN BULGARIA

 

 

As with the majority of La Têne material dating to the II – I c. BC, it is northwestern Bulgaria which has yielded the majority of finds of Celtic shields. Novo Mesto 169 type shields have been found at Koynare (Pleven reg.) and at Smochan and Dojrentsi in the Lovech region (Emilov 2010; on other Celtic material from these sites see ‘Sacrificial daggers, Swords and Settlements’ and ‘Chainmail’ articles) In the Montana/Vratza regions Celtic shields (umbos), all accompanied by La Têne D swords of the Belgrad 3/Mokronog 5-6 type (Torbov 1997, 2000), and other La Têne material consistent with similar Scordisci burials across the border in Serbia, have been recorded at Kriva Bara (Montana region), where the recent publication of La Têne ceramic confirms Celtic settlement until at least the 1st c. AD (Vagalinski 2007), as well as at Dobruscha, Varbeschnitza, Galiche and Tarnava in the Vratza region (Torbov op cit).

 Particularly interesting is the Germanic (Bastarnae) influence in the construction of the Tarnova shield (Domaradski 1984: 144), which may relate this burial to the battles between the Roman forces of Crassus and his ‘Dacian’ allies and the Bastarnae/Scordisci in 29/28 BC. The presence of the Bastarnae in this area of northern Bulgaria is also confirmed by other archaeological evidence (e.g. from the Panagurischte Kolonii site – see  ‘Sacrificial daggers, Swords and Settlements’ article), topographical traces (see  ‘Celtic Settlements in Northern Bulgaria’ article), as well as extensive finds of Bastarnae coins of the Huşi Vovrieşti type found in north-central and north-western Bulgaria (See Numismatics section, and Mikolajczyk 1984). Thus, while the majorty of Celtic material from this part of Bulgaria is connected to the Scordisci tribes (Serdi, Meldi, Artacoi), some of it, such as the Tarnova burial, may be associated with the Celto-Germanic Bastarnae tribes (see Bastarnae article).

    Besides the aforementioned burials, Celtic Novo Mesto 169 type shields are also depicted on the silver Scordisci treasures from Galiche and Jakimovo (Emilov op. cit.). At the latter site recent publication of La Têne ceramic, similar to that found at Kriva Bara and underneath the Roman Castra Martis at Kula in the Montana region, confirms Celtic settlement at that site until at least the 1st c. AD. (Vagalinski 2007). The Scordisci treasures from Jakimovo and Galiche will be dealt with separately.

 

 

 

 

Depiction of a Celtic (Scordisci) chieftain on a sliver/gilt plate from the Jakimovo treasure (Northwestern Bulgaria) II – I c. BC

 

 

 

TAJA

 

 The latest Celtic shields found on the territory of today’s Bulgaria have been discovered at the Atanasza site near the village of Taja in the Balkan mountains. Celtic presence in this area of the central Balkans from the 3rd c. BC until the 3rd / 4th c. AD is testified to by a large amount of Celtic material from the Sevtopolis/Kazanlak area, as well as from the villages of Kran, Dolno Sahrane, and from the Shipka Pass area to the northwest of Sevtopolis (e.g. Sashova and Fomus tumuli) (Manov 2010). This material is to be related to the Celtic Artacoi tribe who inhabited this area from the late Iron Age until the Early Christian period (see Artacoi article – forthcoming).

 

 At the Taja site two La Têne shield umbos were found in ‘rich’ warrior burials (Tumulus # 3, burial # 1 + 3; other burials yielded typically only ceramic or ceramic and a single spearhead). The shield umbo from burial # 3 was associated with a Middle La Têne sword and scabbard (Group B according to De Navarro’s classification) (Domaradski 1993), while the shield itself is characteristic for the La Têne D period, similar to the aforementioned examples from northwestern Bulgaria. Associated ceramic dates this burial to the 1st / 2nd c. AD. Burial # 1 yielded a further La Têne iron shield umbo, as well as a La Têne sword and accompanying scabbard of the Noric tradition (Werner 1977; Domaradski op cit.). Both the Celtic sword and shield show modifications based on Roman models of the 1st / 2nd c. AD, while the burial itself dates to the late 2nd / 3rd c. AD (Domaradski op cit). Weaponry and other material from the site were killed in the distinctive Celtic fashion, a custom also to be observed in this area at Celtic burials from Sevtopolis, and at sites such as Skalsko and Chervenvruh (see ‘Killing the Objects’ article) from the 3rd c. BC until the Early Christan period (3rd / 4th c. AD).

 Settlement at the Taja site began not earlier than the late 2nd / 1st c. BC, i.e. within the framework of the Scordisci Wars, and the movement of a Celtic population into this mountainous area during this period is to be related to the Roman advance into western Thrace. Two separate Roman campaigns were undertaken against the Celtic Artacoi tribe in this area, in 29/28 BC by Crassus and in 23/24 AD by Sabinius (see ‘Artacoi’ article – forthcoming), but archaeological evidence from the central Balkan mountains of Bulgaria indicates the survival of a Celtic population in this area into the Early Christian period.

 

 

 

Map Sh. 1

Distribution of Recorded Celtic Shields in N.W. Bulgaria

 

 

* Provisional (April 2012). Map includes only La Têne weaponry, other Celtic material from this area will be dealt with separately

** Celtic coinage does not include Celtic Paeonia issues or Bastarnae coins

 

 

 

 

 

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