“The Gauls, who had been left behind by their general Brennus, when he marched into Greece, to defend the borders of their country, armed fifteen thousand foot and three thousand horse (that they alone might not seem idle), and … routed the forces of the Getae and Triballi…”.
(Justinus, Prol. XXV,1)
In the Sboryanovo Archaeological Reserve in northeastern Bulgaria are situated the remains of an ancient city which became the political and religious center of the powerful Thracian Getae tribe during the 4th century BC. The most spectacular of a number of ancient tombs at the site, which has been identified by Bulgarian archaeologists as “Dausdava” – The City of Wolves….
Glass is a medium not often associated with ‘barbarian’ craftsmen, yet from the Hallstatt period onwards glass becomes an important medium in Celtic art. By the middle and late La Têne period, bracelets in translucent blue, green, yellow and clear glass are known, some with elaborate moldings, fluting or inlaid ornament around their edges (1).
Celtic glass bracelet of the “Érsekújvár” type from Komját (Nitra) in south-western Slovakia
(3rd c. BC)
In Bulgaria such La Têne glass bracelets have recently been discovered in the Celtic habitation layers at the hillforts of Arkovna (Dalgopol district, Varna region)(2) and Zaravetz (Veliko Tarnovo), dating from the 3rd c. BC onwards (3). Similar glass bracelets have recently been discovered in association with other La Têne material at verious sites across Bulgaria, from Kavarna on the Black Sea coast (4) to Babyak in the Rhodope mountains (5), as well as at the ancient city of Helis (Sboryanovo archaeological reserve, Razgrad region; See below).
THE EVIL EYE
The belief in the ‘Evil Eye’ is present in many ancient cultures, and literary evidence attests to it in the eastern Mediterranean for millennia starting with Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. It is also represented in Celtic mythology, notably in the form of the Fomorian giant Balor of the Evil Eye (Dundes (1992). Evil Eye: Folklore Casebook. Madison, Wis. University of Wisconsin Press; Kinahan G.H. (1894) ”Donegal Folk-lore: Ballor of the Evil Eye.” In: The Folk-Lore Journal. Volume 5). Of interest in the present context are the glass nazars, or ‘magical’ charms, used to ward off the evil eye, particularly popular in the Balkans and todays Turkey, and generally believed to be originally of Turkish origin.
Modern Turkish Nazar Beads
‘Nazar trees’ in modern Cappadocia, Turkey
Disks or balls, consisting of concentric blue and white circles (usually, from inside to outside, dark blue, light blue, white, dark blue) representing an evil eye are common apotropaic talismans in the Middle East today, found on the prows of Mediterranean boats and elsewhere; in some forms of the folklore, the staring eyes are supposed to bend the malicious gaze back to the sorcerer.
Known as nazar (Turkish: nazar boncuğu or nazarlık), this talisman is most frequently seen today in Turkey, Bulgaria and other southeastern European countries, found in or on houses and vehicles or worn as beads.
In fact, recent evidence from archaeological sites in Bulgaria suggests that this particular kind of glass ‘evil eye’ charm has its origins not in the east, but in the west. In each case the aforementioned glass La Têne bracelets discovered at archaeological sites in Bulgaria have been found together with glass ‘Eye Beads’, which in turn have direct parallels from earlier Celtic sites across Europe. It should also be borne in mind that the Celts who settled in the Balkans during this period also established the Celtic state of Galatia in present day Turkey from 277 BC onwards.
Necklace of glass eye beads from Kapiteljska Njiva (grave XIV-41) Novo Mesto, Slovenia (5th c. BC)
Glass ‘Eye Beads’ from the eastern and western Celtic sites at Novo Mesto, Slovenia and Bucy-le-long (Aisne), France
(5/4 century BC)
Eye Beads from a Celtic chariot burial at Mezek in southern Bulgaria (3 c. BC)
Necklace of blue glass beads, including many ‘eye beads’, from the Celtic burial complex at Giubiasco (Ticino), Switzerland.
(late 6th/5th c. BC)
THE SIBERIAN PRINCESS
Particularly interesting is a necklace of identical glass eye beads executed in the same ‘millefiori technique’ discovered recently in a ‘princess’ burial in the Altai mountains region of Russia. This so-called ‘Cleopatra Necklace’, a unique find this far east, most probably reached the Altai region through trade with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes in eastern Europe, and is particularly valuable for our understanding of trade and the spread of technology between Europe and Asia in the late Iron Age.
The Altai ‘Princess Necklace’ which, according to Russian archaeologists, belonged to a 25 year old ‘Virgin Priestess’.
Common Celtic patterns employed in the creation of glass artifacts are for the most part very simple and geometric. One of the most common patterns are those consisting of concentric circles. These resemble eyes and may have been used as protection against misfortune; as in the ‘evil eye.’ Triskels, s-scrolls, running-dog patterns, and chevrons (all indicators of the La Têne style) are also quite commonly found among Celtic glass artifacts of this period.
Eye beads, and the wheels of a Celtic war chariot, discovered at Sboryanovo in northeastern Bulgaria (3 c. BC)
Claims by Bulgarian archaeologists (6) that these eye beads first ‘appear’ in Thrace in the 2/1century BC are logically contradicted by their discovery at Celtic sites across Europe from the 5th c. BC, and at Celtic sites in Bulgaria, such as Mezek, Sboryanovo, Arkovna and Zaravetz, from the beginning of the 3rd c. BC onwards. It would appear that these eye beads had religious significance for the Celts, as they are often found as votive offerings. This is confirmed by their discovery at cult sanctuaries such as that at Babyak in the Rhodope mountains. Evidence from such sites also suggests that these ‘evil eye’ beads were primarily worn by women, as they are generally found in parts of the complexes together with typically female articles such as female torcs, bracelets and ‘cult’ firepots.
It has long been noted that the cult of the head ‘constitutes a persistent theme throughout all aspects of Celtic life spiritual and temporal, and the symbol of the severed head may be regarded as the most typical and universal of their religious attitudes’ (Ross A. Pagan Celtic Britain. London 1967:163).Strabo informs us that ‘when they depart from the battle they hang the heads of their enemies from the necks of their horses, and when they have brought them home, nail the spectacle to the entrance of their houses…’ (Strabo IV, 4,5).Amongst the Celts the human head ‘was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions, as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world’ (Jacobstahl P. Early Celtic Art. Oxford. 1944; see also Mac Congail 2010: 173-175). The severed head is also one of the main core symbols on Celtic artifacts and coins from the Balkans in the 3rd – 1st c. BC.
In this context, perhaps the most interesting glasswork produced by the Celts, apparently from Phoenician prototypes, were the ‘Face/Head Beads’. These have been found at a number of Celtic burials and other sites from central (Germany, Switzerland etc.) and eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria etc.) (7).
Celtic glass ‘Janus’ Face Bead from Mezönyarad (Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén), Hungary (3rd c. BC)
A wonderful example of this type of face bead from Bulgaria comes from the Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region)(fig. 4), which has direct parallels in examples discovered at Celtic sites in the Czech Republic and Romania (8). Similar artifacts have been unearthed in recent years during excavations at other sites in Bulgaria such as Appolonia Pontica/Sozopol (9), Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region)(10), Burgas(11), Kavarna (Dobruja region)(12), etc.
‘Face Bead’ and other glass articles from Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region, Bulgaria)
Glass bead and ‘face bead’ from Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region, Bulgaria)
Also interesting, from an artistic perspective, is a gold ‘Janus head’ pendant (fig. 6) executed in a repossé technique and decorated filigreé and granulation, discovered in the Shumen region of northeastern Bulgaria, and dated to the same period. From a morphological and stylistic perspective the closest analogies are the Celtic ‘bead heads’ found among the Celts of central and eastern Europe, examples of which come from sites such as Mangalia, Piscolt and Vác (Rustoiu 2008), as well as from sites in Bulgaria such as the aforementioned Appolonia Pontica (Sozopol), Mogilanska Tumulus (Vratza region), Mavrova Tumulus (Starosel, Plovdiv region), Burgas, Kavarna (Dobruja region), etc.
Gold Celtic ‘Janus Head’ pendant from Schumen region, northeastern Bulgaria (4th/3rd c. BC)
(after Rustoiu A. (2008) ‘Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde’ – A double faced gold pendant from the History Museum of Schumen (Bulgaria) and the glass masked-beads. In: Instrumentum. No. 27. June 2008. P. 10-12)
(Modern) Sources Cited
1. Harding D.W. The Archaeology of Celtic Art. London/New York. 2007. P. 7-8.
2. Lazarov 2010:105 and figs. 5/4 – 5/6; see also New Celtic Material from Bulgaria articles 1 + 2.
3. Kvinto 1985 = Квинто Л., Келтски материали от III– I в. пр. н.е. в тракийското селище на Царeвец – ВТУ, XI пролетен колоквиум, юбилеен сборник на възпитаници от ИФ, т. II, 1985.
4. BAS (Bulgarian Academy of Science) Reports, 2005 = Археологически Институт с Музей – БАН. Археологически открития и разкопки през през 2004 г. XLIV Национална Археологическа Конференция. София 2005 P. 136 – 137
5. See ‘Killing the Objects’ article.
6. Tonkova, Gotzev 2008. See ‘Killing the Objects’ article with relevant cites.
7. Harding op cit; See also Megaw V, Megaw R. Celtic Art : From Its Beginnings to the Book of Kells. London 1989.
8. V. Megaw, personal communication. I would like to express my gratitude to Prof. Megaw for his expert opinion on this issue.
9. Konova L. = Конова Л. 2005. Магия и погребален обред. Глинени култови фигури от некропола на Аполония Понтика – In: HEROS HEPHAISTOS. Studia in Liubae Ognenova-Marinova, Veliko Tarnovo, 148-164.
10. Dimitrova 2003 = Димитрова Д. 2003. Маврова могила при Старосел – In: Пътят. Сборник научни статии, посветен на живота и творчеството на д-р Г. Китов, 73-87
11. Karayotov 1976 = Карайотов И. 1976. Могилни погребения в района на Нефтохимическия комбинат край Бургас – Известия на музеите от Югоизточна България, т.І, 51 – 71
Over the past few years a large amount of new archaeological material has been found in Bulgaria which sheds new light on Celtic settlement in this region. This includes a variety of metal, glass, and ceramic artifacts from sites across the country which, according to Prof. L. Vagalinski (Vice Director of the Bulgarian National Archaeological Institute and Museum), once again raises serious questions about the Celtic presence in today’s Bulgaria (Vagalinski 2002, 2007).
The Roman historian Justinius (Pomp. Trog) xx v 1-3) informs us that in the wake of the main Celtic invasion led by Brennos a second wave of Celts arrived on the territory of today’s Bulgaria. Consisting of 15,000 infantry and 3,000 horse, this army, according to Justinius, destroyed the forces of the Thracian Getae and Triballi tribes.
The capital of the aforementioned Getae tribe in the 4th / 3rd c. BC was situated at Helis (now part of Sboryanovo archaeological reserve) in northeastern Bulgaria, famous for the spectacular Thracian tombs discovered in the area (Fig. 1). Recently published Celtic material from this site includes ceramic vessels (Fig. 2) which were found in a pit by the fortification wall. A Sinope amphora stamp from 273 BC lay at the bottom of the pit which was covered by ruins of the curtain wall which collapsed in the earthquake in circa 250 B.C. The Celtic ceramic can therefore be dated to the second quarter of the 3rd c. B.C. (Vagalinski 2007: P74; cat. # 18-19) Further Celtic finds from the site such as a bronze La Téne B2/C Hohlbucklering discovered in 1987 and a further example 11 years later (Megaw 2004, 98) (Fig. 3), bracelets, glass ‘Eye Beads’ (Fig. 4 – see also ‘Little Glass Men’ article) as well as evidence of on-site production of La Têne double-spring brooches (Megaw 2004: 103 and fig. 9, 7 – 11,13) provide further archaeological evidence of Celtic presence in this area.
Fig 1 Interior of one of the 4th/ 3rd c. BC tombs at Helis (Sboryanovo archaeological reserve)
Fig. 2 Celtic Pottery from Helis (After Vagalinski 2007)
Fig. 3 Bronze Celtic Hohlbucklering from Helis (after Megaw 2004)
Fig. 4 Celtic ‘Eye Beads’ from the tomb in tumulus 18 at Helis (After Gergova, Katevski
What is not present at Helis, however, nor any other Thracian settlement in Bulgaria during this period, is evidence of destruction which would indicate conflict between the local Thracian population and the newly arrived Celts. Indeed, archaeological evidence from Helis and throughout Eastern Bulgaria indicates a period of economic prosperity after the Celtic arrival in the area. At present archaeological data would appear to contradict the dramatic version described by Justinius. Instead it appears to show a more gradual and largely peaceful Celtic migration into the area. (Lazarov 2010)
The situation at the Arkovna hillfort near Dalgopol (Varna region) is even more clear. Due to the commendable and objective work of the Bulgarian archaeologists L. Lazarov and Dr. M. Manov, Celtic settlement in the Dalgopol area, and in particular at the Celtic hillfort at Arkovna, is the best documented in the region. (See Manov 2010, Lazarov 2010 with cited lit.) The wealth of Celtic material published from this area over the decades has recently been augmented by further numismatic and archaeological evidence. This includes Celtic coinage of the Cavaros type (Fig. 6), La Têne fibulae, finger rings, belt elements, golden ornaments with filigree, parts of helmets, chain-mail, glass bracelets, ‘Eye Beads’, knives, and Celtic ceramic. (Fig. 7 – 10) The Arkovna site was certainly the centre (or at least one of the centers) of the Celtic ‘Tyle’ state which controlled most of today’s eastern Bulgaria in the 3rd c. BC.
To the west this Celtic kingdom certainly controlled the region of Veliko Tarnovo as far as the Jantra river; the southern border was somewhere to the south of Kabyle and near Appolonia on the Black Sea coast; in the north it reached to the Danube and had contact with Celtic groups north of the river. This state undoubtedly had a significant Thracian content, with the Celtic cultural and military element remaining dominant. (Lazarov 2010)
Fig. 5 Arkovna hill – Centre of the Celtic ‘Tyle’ state in eastern Bulgaria
Fig. 6 Bronze coins of the Celtic king Cavaros (220’s – 210’s BC) from Arkovna/ Dalgopol and surrounding region. (After Lazarov 2010)
Fig. 7 Celtic fibulae and bracelets from Arkovna/ Dalgopol and surrounding area (After
Fig. 8 Celtic finger rings, belt elements and golden ornaments with filigree from Dalgopol and surrounding area (After Lazarov 2010)
Fig. 9 Celtic weapons and armour (helmet cheek guard, chain-mail and knife) from Dalgopol (After Lazarov 2010)
Fig. 10 – Celtic ceramic, glass ‘eye beads’ and glass bracelets from the Celtic hillfort at Arkovna (After Lazarov 2010)
BIZONE / KAVARNA
Further recent finds of Celtic material again come from northeastern Bulgaria – from the Black Sea colony of Bizone (modern Kavarna, Dobruja region). Celtic ceramic from the Bizone / Kavarna site includes jugs, pots and other table pottery with the same technical characteristics – brown to grey-black clay with significant sand inclusions, rough external surface, and burnished decoration. (Fig. 11)
Fig. 11 Celtic ceramic from Bizone/ Kavarna (After Vagalinski 2007)
The Kavarna ceramic has a number of parallels in Celtic complexes along the Serbian part of the Danube and has been dated to the 1st c. BC / 1st c. AD. Other Celtic material found at the site as well as substantial Celtic numismatic material found in the Kavarna area dating from the 3rd – 1st c. BC confirm Celtic settlement in this area in the pre-Roman and Roman period. (See numismatics section and ‘Little Glass Men’ article)
Other finds of La Têne pottery from the early Roman period are concentrated in the northwestern part of Bulgaria – in the Vidin and Montana regions – an area traditionally associated with the Scordisci tirbes. The finds include bowls, jugs, pots and dolia (fig. 12 )
Examples have so far been published from three Celtic settlements:
Under the Roman fortification Castra Martis (today’s Kula, Vidin region)
Near the village of Jakimovo (Montana region)
Near the village of Valchedrum (Montana region)
It is interesting to note that both Jakimovo and Valchedrum lie on the small Tsibiritza river, the same river on which the village of Gorni Tsibir, where the gold Celtic torc dating from the 4th c. BC was found, is situated. (See ‘The Danube Torc’ article) All of the recently published Celtic ceramic from this area has been dated to the 1st c. BC / 1st c. AD. (Vagalinski 2007)
Fig. 12 Celtic ceramic from Valchedrum, Jakimovo (After Vagalinski 2007)
The Celtic pottery recently found in north-central Bulgaria comes from a location 2 km. northeast of the village of Krivina, Russe region. The site lies 1 km. south of the Danube. A large vessel found is of late La Têne slip decorated pottery which was popular among Celtic tribes from Normandy and southwest Germany to the west, up to Serbia in the east and particularly in the Danube region. It was used primarily by Celtic aristocracy and is often found, as in the case of the Krivina find, together with late La Têne burnished ceramics. Any question that this was imported into Thrace is ruled out by the fact that the Krivina ceramic was found together with the kiln in which it was produced. Тhe kiln itself was unusually large (max diameter 2.30 – 2.40 m.). Together with the luxury Celtic ceramic was found hand-made ‘Thracian’ vessels which indicates influence of the coexistence of Celts and Thracians in this part of Bulgaria. The same phenomenon is to be observed along the Serbian part of the Danube. (Vagalinski op cit)
The Krivina kiln, a two-part kiln with two fireplaces and a diametrical grate, is of a typical Celtic type. The use of slip dates the Bulgarian pottery because this technique first appeared among the Balkan Celts at the end of the 1st c. BC under Roman influence. This Celtic pottery is thus dated to the end of the 1st c. BC / beginning of the 1st c. AD. (Loc cit)
Fig. 13 Celtic ceramic from Krivina (After Vagalinski 2007)
The above data clearly shows Celtic ceramic production on the territory of today’s Bulgaria from the 3rd c. BC until the Roman period. The same is the case with production of Celtic metal objects (see Part 2 of this study). In spite of this, and all the other numismatic and archaeological evidence, some Bulgarian academics continue to insist that there was never a Celtic political or ethnic presence on the territory of today’s Bulgaria. Such claims, in the face of аll the scientific evidence to the contrary, cast serious doubt on the objectivity of those concerned. In conclusion, one can only echo the sentiments of Prof. Vagalinski (2002, 2007) who has repeatedly called for a thorough and, above all, impartial evaluation of this ever increasing body of evidence.
Gergova, Katevski 2008 = Gergova D. Katevski I. Archaeology and Geophysics in the Sboryanovo National Reserve (North-East Bulgaria). In: Geoarchaeology and Archaeomineralogy (Eds. R. I. Kostov, B. Gaydarska, M. Gurova). Proceedings of the International Conference, 29-30 October 2008, 374-379.
Lazarov 2010 = Lazarov L. The Celtic Tylite State in the time of Cavaros. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. B.C.). Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Colloquium arranged by the Archaeological Institute and Museum at Sofia and the Welsh Department, Aberystwyth University held at the National Archaeological Institute and Museum. Sofia 2010. P. 97 – 114.
Megaw 2004 = Megaw J.V.S. In the Footsteps of Brennos? Further Archaeological Evidence for Celts in the Balkans. In: Hӓnsel B., Studenikova E. (eds.) Zwischen Karpaten und Ӓgӓis. Neolithikim und ӓltere Bronzezeit. Gedenkschrift für Viera Nemejcova–Pavukova. Rahden/Westf. 93 – 107.
Vaglinski 2002 = Vaglinski L. F., Burnished Pottery from the first century to the beginning of the seventh century AD from the region of the lower Danube (Bulgaria) Sofia 2002.
Vagalinski 2007 = Vagalinski L. F., Celtic Pottery in Northern Bulgaria. In: The Lower Danube in Antiquity (VI c. B.C. – VI c. A.D.). International Archaeological Conference. Bulgaria – Tutrakan, 6-7.10.2005. p. 72-83. Sofia 2007.