The Celtic chariot burial from the Mal Tepe tomb at Mezek in the Haskovo region of southern Bulgaria is one of the most significant Celtic finds from the Balkans, in terms of the artifacts themselves, and the nature and chronology of the burial. However, from the outset the site has also been a prime example of the ugliest aspects of archaeology on the Balkans…
While communist regimes on the Balkans may have fallen almost three decades ago, the legacy of political manipulation during that dark period in European history continues to undermine and distort archaeological research in the region…
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)
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)
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 (Drnićtype 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.
Decebalus (originally Diurpaneus), is rightly remembered as the greatest of Dacian leaders, who led his peoples’ prolonged resistance to Rome, which would eventually lead to him making the ultimate sacrifice. The tragic death of this exceptional ruler in 106, after almost 20 years of struggle, marked the end of Dacian statehood.
However, who was Decebalus, and where did he come from? An analysis of this leader’s name and ancestry reveals evidence which casts new light on Decebalus himself, and once again poses the question – who were the “Dacians”?
The first fact to consider is that the name Decebalus, besides sources referring to the Dacian leader, is recorded in a large number of inscriptions from the Roman period – from Italy (CIL 6, 25572 (Roma): Decibalus; AE 1954,83 (Roma): Decibal(us); AE 1989,299 (Asisium=Assisi, Umbria): Decibalo; AE 1945,35 (Ostia): Decibali; CIL 15,2797 (Roma): Deceb[alus]), Thrace (CIL 3,7477 (Durostorum=Silistria, Moesia Inf.): Decibalm; AE 1998, 01141: (Sacidava, Moes.Inf.): Decibali; CIL 3,7437 (from Lăžen near Nicopol): Decebali; IGLNovae nr.82 (Novae, Moesia Inf.): Decebalo), Macedonia (AE 1985, nr.721 (Philippi): Decebalu(m), Pannonia (CIL 3,4150 (Savaria=Szombathely, Pannonia Sup.): Decibalus), Gaul (1964, 144f (Blain, Lugdunensis): Decibal(us) 1964, 144f (Blain, Lugdunensis, Franţa): Decibal(us), and Britain (CIL 13,10013: Decibal(us), i.e. with the exception of the famous Dacian leader, all recorded examples of the name Decebalus come from outside Dacia.
Another fact to consider is that names ending in the element –balus occur only twice in the Balkans in the pre-Roman period. The first example is encountered in Cambaules, a Celtic chieftain who led a raid in Thrace at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC (Paus. X 19:5), and the second – Kersebaules, a king of the Celtic Tyle state in eastern Thrace in the first half of the 3rd c. BC. (cf. also Celtic : Άνδοβάλης, Άνδοννόβαλλος, etc. – Evans 1967: 147-148, and Balanus, Balarus, Balio etc. Holder AC 1 334-336; the first element in the name of Decebalus has long been attributed to the PIE *dekm- (‘ten’) (cf. Sanskrit daśabala); Cf. PC *dekam ‘ten’, Olr. deieh, MW deg, MBret. dek, MoBret. Deg; Matasovic 94). Thus, this ‘Dacian’ element occurs in the pre-Roman period in the region exclusively in the names of Celtic leaders.
The key to the ethnic origin of Decebalus is to be found on the famous inscription on a large ceremonial vessel, discovered at Sarmizegetusa. This is the only ‘Dacian’ inscription, and reads: “DECEBALUS PER SCORILO” – meaning ‘Decebalus, son of Scorilo’ (Nandris 1976, Georgiev 1977, Duridanov 1985; Asenova 1999; Boïadjiev 2000).
The Decebalus per Scorilo inscription
The Decebalus inscription was stamped on a huge vase twenty-four inches (0.6 meter) high and forty-one inches (1 metre) across. It is stamped in mirror-writing, in the Latin alphabet.
In the case of the name of Decebalus’ father, Scorilo (Scorylo dux Dacorum – Front 1. 10.4, from which Iord. Get. Coryllus rex Gothorum – Detschew 1957:460; on the variant Scorus, see Mac Congail 2008), further examples of the name are found exclusively beyond Dacia. The first example comes from Kostolac in eastern Serbia, in the territory of the Celtic Scordisci (Scorilo – CIL 3, 14507), while in the second example (from Pannonia) (CIL 3, 2328) – Scorilo Ressati libertus – not only Scorilo, but also Ressatus, who was a potter of the Eravisci tribe (Maróti 1991), are both Celtic names (Holder AC 2, 1405).
Recent research by Romanian academics has found no evidence of a separate Dacian anthroponomastic system, i.e. distinct from Thracian and Celtic (Varga 2010), and the evidence outlined above indicates that the only ‘Dacian’ inscription is actually comprised of two names of Celtic origin, providing further proof that research into the ancient Thracian/Dacian language(s) since the communist period has systematically included Celtic data, logically rendering all such research invalid.
In the present context the linguistic evidence, chronological context, and spatial distribution of the names of both Decebalus, and his father Scorilo, clearly indicate that both were of Celtic (or Celto-Scythian/Bastarnae) origin, and is further proof that the concept of a separate ‘Dacian’ ethnicity and language is largely the product of 1970’s protochronism/nationalism.*
*On the political manipulation of Romanian (/Bulgarian) archaeology see:
Asenova, P. (1999). Bulgarian in Handbuch der Südosteuropa-Linguistik. Wiesbaden
Boïadjiev D. (2000) Les Relations Ethno-Linguistiques En Thrace Et En Mesie Pendant L’Epoque Romaine. Sofia
Du Nay A. (1996): The origins of the Rumanians: the early history of the Rumanian language, Buffalo
Duridanov I. (1985) Die Sprache der Thraker, Neuried: Hieronymus
Detschew D. (1957) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. ÖAW, Phil.- hist. Kl. Schriften der Balkankomission, Linguist. Abteilung XV. Wien
Duridanov I. (1997) Keltische Sprachspuren in Thrakien und Mösien. Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. Band 49-50
Evans D.E. (1967) Gaulish Personal Names: A Study of some Continental Celtic Formations. Oxford
Felecan O. A Diachronic Excursion into the Anthroponymy of Eastern Romania. Philologica Jassyensia, An VI, Nr. 1 (11), 2010, p. 57–80
Georgiev V. (1977) Trakite i techniat ezik. Sofia. = Георгиев, Вл. 1977. Траките и техният език. София
Georgiev V. (1983) “Thrakish und Dakisch”, in: Temporini, Hildegard (ed.), Aufstieg und Niedergang der romischen Welt. Geschichte und Kultur Roms im Spiegel der neueren Forschung, 1148–1194, Berlin / New York
Holder A. (1896-1907). Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, Bd. I-III – Nachdruck Graz 1961-1962
Mac Gonagle B. (2008) Thracian and Celtic Anthroponymy – A comparative study. In: Mac Congail B. Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Celtic expansion in south-eastern Europe and Asia-Minor – 4th – 3rd c. BC. Plovdiv. P. 131-163
Mac Gonagle B. (2012) https://www.academia.edu/3292310/The_Thracian_Myth_-_Celtic_Personal_Names_in_Thrace
Maróti É. (1991) A római kori pecsételt kerámia és a Resatus kérdés. Studia Comitatensia 21. 365-427
Nandris, J. (1976) The Dacian Iron Age A Comment in a European Context in Festschrift für Richard Pittioni zum siebzigsten Geburtstag. Wien
Varga R. (2010) The Military Peregrini of Dacia: Onomastical and Statistical Considerations. Analele Universităţii Creştine „Dimitrie Cantemir”, Bucureşti, Seria Istorie – Serie nouă, Anul 1, Nr. 4, 2010, p. 108-116
The Valley of the Thracian Kings is an area of south-central Bulgaria situated to the west of the ancient Hellenistic polis of Seuthopolis / Σευθόπολις (near modern day Kazanlak), on the southern slopes of the Haemus (Balkan) mountains. Over the past decades this area has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria, with thousands of visitors from all over the world coming to see such cultural treasures as the UNESCO listed Kazanlak tomb and other sites in the area. According to Bulgarian archaeologists, this remarkable archaeological complex was established by the Thracian priest-king Seuthes III at the end of the 4th c. BC, and was the capital of the ‘Great Odrysae state’ and its ruling elite – the immortal bearers of the esoteric faith-doctrine of orphism, until the Roman period (Fol et al, Ancient Thrace 2000:120-121).
However, behind the fairy tales and golden masks lies another reality, a reality which, for reasons best known to Bulgarian archaeologists, is conspicuously absent from their glossy tourist brochures and history books…