Games and Gaming Pieces in Celtic Europe

UD: Jan. 2020

 

 

“What is extraordinary, they play at dice, when sober, as a serious business: and that with such a desperate venture of gain or loss, that, when everything else is gone, they set their liberties and persons on the last throw”.

(Tacitus, Germania 24)

 

 

As in the modern world, gambling and gaming played a central role in Iron Age European society. Extensive archaeological evidence from Celtic settlements and burials, from the British Isles in the west to Kalnovo in eastern Bulgaria, attests to the fact that these activities were common to all Celtic tribes across the continent.

 

Dice Naintre

Bone dice from the Celtic settlement at Naintré (Poitou-Charentes), France

(mid 1st c. BC)

 

Dice Acy Romance

Bone dice found at the Celtic settlement at Acy-Romance (Ardennes), France 

(1 c. BC)

Dice Roseldorf

Bone dice from the sanctuary area of the Celtic settlement at Roseldorf  in Lower Austria. The finds come from an area of the sanctuary believed to have been dedicated to the Horse Goddess Epona.

(3/2 c. BC)

 

Indeed, such was the popularity of gaming among the Celts that by the late Iron Age gaming pieces were being produced on an industrial scale. Archaeological evidence of this phenomenon has been documented in central/eastern Europe at sites such as Manching (Pfaffenhofen District) and Berchung-Pollanten (Neumarkt District) in Germany; in Bohemia at sites such as Stradonice; in Moravia, at the settlements in Drnholec (Břeclav District), Křenovice (Přerov District) and Mistřín (Hodonín District). In the western Celtic sphere workshops manufacturing dice have been discovered at sites in France such as Villeneuve-Saint-Germain (Aisne) in Picardy, at Levroux (Indre Department) in Centre-Val de Loire, and at Aulnat-Gandaillat (Puy-de-Dôme Department) in Auvergne.

 

Dice Stradonice

Bone, antler and sandstone dice / gaming pieces, from the Celtic oppidum at Stradonice (Bohemia) in the Czech Republic

(2/1 c. BC)

While gaming pieces used by the general Celtic population were produced from bone, antler or stone, naturally the wealthier class could afford sets produced from more expensive material. Particularly wonderful examples of such pieces are those fashioned in glass, the production of which reaches a high level of technical sophistication among the Celtic population from the middle La Tène period onwards. 
Glas Perugia

Glass gaming pieces from Celtic warrior burials at Perugia, Italy

(4th c. BC)

Glas Wel

 

Glas Wel 2Complete set of glass gaming pieces from a rich Celtic burial at Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire), England

(ca. 30 BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

THE DRUID CROWNS

UD: December 2018

“To you alone ’tis given the heavenly gods
To know or not to know; secluded groves
Your dwelling-place, and forests far remote”.

(Pharsalia Book 1:453-456)

200-150 BC - Deal

Recently published material from the Celtic settlement at Roseldorf, situated on the Sandberg in the western Weinviertel in Lower Austria, has furnished a wealth of new archaeological material pertaining to the Iron Age inhabitants of this area in particular, and pan-Celtic cult/religious practices in general.

 Excavations at Roseldorf, the largest La Tène settlement in Austria, have uncovered a Celtic settlement of supra-regional economic and cultural importance, as attested to by the discovery of coins of the Vindelici Manchinger type and Buschl-quinars from Lower Bavaria, as well as coinage produced by Gaulish and Balkan Celtic tribes. Furthermore, many small zoomorphic figurines from Roseldorf have parallels especially in the northeast, in the Celtic settlements at Nowa Cerekwia in Poland and Němčice in Moravia (Holzer 2014).

 

In the present context, of particular interest at Roseldorf are 3 cult districts with seven sanctuaries which played a major role in the functional orientation of the complex. Although evidence of human sacrifice has not been identified at the site, evidence of post-mortem manipulation of the bodies has been established, consistent with the Celtic practice of exhumation.

 

Roseldorf - antler 1

Carved and pierced deer-antler,  believed to have been attached to a statue of the Celtic God Cernunnos

(After Holzer V. (2014) Roseldorf – An Enclosed Central Settlement of the Early and Middle La Tène Period in Lower Austria. In: Paths of Complexity. Centralization and Urbanization in Iron Age Europe. Oxford/Philadelphia 2014. p. 122-131)

From the first sanctuary area (object 1), the antler shows signs of complex artificial treatment. The natural coronet has been removed and a new one cut to extend the pedicle in order to fix it more easily with an iron nail or pin. It is believed to have formed part of the statue of a deity, probably Cernunnos.

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

Rosel Skulls

Fragments of human skulls found at the second large sanctuary (object 30) at Roseldorf.

(On Celtic Excarnation see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/excarnation/ )

Rosel horses

Remains of horse sacrifices in the second large sanctuary at Roseldorf

The numerous horse harnesses, horse skeletons and chariot parts etc. discovered in this area have led archaeologists to interpret it as a sanctuary to the Celtic horse-goddess Epona

On the Celtic Horse Goddess:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/09/11/epona-the-celtic-horse-goddess-in-thrace/

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THE DRUID CROWN

Perhaps the most interesting artifact to come from the site is an iron ‘Druid’s Crown’ discovered in the first large sanctuary at Roseldorf. The crown has been ritually ‘killed’ before deposition – i.e. deliberately bent/deformed, according to Celtic religious ritual.

1 - a - a -a - Roseldorf-Ensemble Druids crown etc.

Ceramic, antler, bone, weapons and other artifacts from the sanctuary area of the Celtic settlement at Roseldorf

 

Roseldorf - Druid crown GOOD

The Roseldorf Druid Crown

(after Holzer 2014)

The Roseldorf Druid Crown corresponds to Parfitt’s type I, with an encircling headband and two bands crossed at the apex (Holzer 2009b: 175–177, 182; Parfitt 1995: 72–82; see Holzer 2014). The best example of such a crown was discovered in the burial of a Celtic ‘warrior-priest’ at Mill Hill Cemetery in Deal (Kent), England. Dating to the early 2nd century BC, the Deal Crown was found on the head of a warrior buried with his sword and shield, and consisted of two sheets of bronze, decorated in La Tène style, held together with rivets. The metal was worn directly on the head (i.e. not padded or strengthened with leather); when discovered impressions of human hair remained in the corrosion on the inner surface.

Deal skeleton

Burial of the Deal Priest-Warrior with weapons and Druid Crown

Also found in the grave were: an iron sword with bronze scabbard fittings and suspension rings for holding the sword on a belt; bronze parts from a wooden shield, and a bronze brooch decorated with applied coral studs.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pe_prb/s/skull__crown_of_deal_warrior.aspx

Although not as elaborate as the Deal Crown, and incomplete, the Roseldorf example is particularly significant as it represents the first such found in an archaeological context in mainland Europe, and the oldest Druid Crown yet discovered.

200-150 BC - Deal

The Deal Crown

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Mac Congail