Tag Archive: Scordisci Wars


coin-ill

 

Discovered by accident on a rocky ridge on the southern slopes of the Ruy mountain near the village of Turokovski (Tran area, Pernik region), in western Bulgaria, the Turokovski Hoard represents the latest in a large number of ancient Plunder hoards discovered on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, relating to raids by the Celtic Scordisci federation and allied Free Thracian tribes on Roman territory during the late 2nd and 1st century BC.

 

turok

The Turokovski area where the hoard was discovered

 

The Turokovski treasure consisted of a large hoard ofMacedonian” tetradrachms produced by the Romans after the region fell under Roman rule, specifically First Region /Meris/ (ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ / ΠΡΟΤΗΣ) coinage, depicting a Macedonian shield ornamented with stars in double crescents & grouped dots between; draped bust of Artemis right, / MAKEΔONΩN ΠΡΩTHΣ above & below horizontal club, all in oak wreath, thunderbolt outside wreath to left.  

mak-coin-hoard

                           Tetradrachms from the Turokovski Hoard

After: Пayнов E., Прокопов  И. (2006) Едно разпиляно монетно съкровище от Трънско – опит за реконструк-ция и датиране. In: Известия на Регионален исторически музей Перник ІІ(5-и регионални археологически четения, Перник’ февруари 2006)

 

When discovered, the hoard was split into two parts, totaling 199 coins, placed in two similar gray pottery jugs, and deposited close to each other; the vessels contained respectively 89 and 110 tetradrachms. Unfortunately, as with so many such ancient hoards in Bulgaria, the majority of the coins were stolen and dispersed shortly after discovery*. 71 examples were subsequently rescued and recorded, allowing the Turokovtsi hoard to be dated to ca. 120/119 BC.

The aforementioned dating of the hoard, and its discovery in an area of Thrace which at this time was controlled by the Celtic Scordisci and the Free Thracian Tribes (notably the Dantheleti and Maedi), has also enabled experts to conclude that this, as with many other such hoards of Roman coinage discovered in Thrace dating to this period, reached the region as a result of barbarian raids on Roman Macedonia (Prokopov, Paunov, op. cit.).

Celtic presence in the Pernik region during this period, which should be attributed to the Serdi branch of the Scordisci, has been confirmed by the identification of Celtic settlements such as Magaris, Magimias and Loukonanta (the Valley of Lugh), all in the Tran district where Turokovtsi is situated, as well as extensive archaeological data (Duridanov 1997:135; Mac Congail 2008:39; Falilevev 2009:281).

 

ram

Celtic zoomorphic Ram figurine/attachment from a cult fire-pot – Breznik, (Pernik region) (2/1 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/serdiserdica/

 

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/aes-mac.jpg?w=640

Roman First Macedonian Region and Aesillas issues from the numismatic collection of the Kyustendil Regional Museum, Western Bulgaria 

(After Filipova S., Ilya Prokopov I., Paunov E. The Numismatic Collection of the Regional Historical Museum at Kyustendil (Ancient Ulpia Pautalia) Part 1: Greek, Thracian, Macedonian, Roman Republican and Roman Provincial Coins. (CCCHBulg) Volume II. Sofia 2009)

 

In the area of Bulgaria in question further such Plunder Hoards, notably those issued by the Roman quaestor Aesillas, include examples found in the villages of Zhabokrut and Krumovo (Kyustendil region, Western Bulgaria), and near the village of Chepino, Pernik region (IGCH 646). Tetradrachm hoards of the First Macedonian Region have been found in the village of Skrino, Kyustendil region, in the village of Kralev Dol, Pernik region (IGCH 894), in the village of Studena, Pernik region as well as that from the village of Turokovtsi outlined above.

 

 

Analysis of the coinage from the Turokovtsi hoard indicates that the tetradrachms had been minted only a short time before being looted by the Celts, and transferred to Thrace where they were subsequently buried. This would logically relate the treasure to raids on Roman territory by the Scordisci who by 119 BC had advanced all the way to the Aegean coast where the governor Pompeius was killed during an attack on Argos, before the Celts were finally repelled by a Roman force commanded by Quaestor Marcus Annius, who also succeeded in repulsing an further attack soon afterwards by the Scordisci, in alliance with the Thracian Maedi tribe (SIG 700 Sherk 1 48 R.K. Sherk Rome and the Greek East to the Death of Agustus (1993); CAH 9’32 = Cambridge Ancient History 2nd Edition 1984 -1989).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*On the systematic theft of Ancient Coins from Bulgaria see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/10/17/little-metal-men-a-statistical-analysis-of-cultural-vandalism/

On Celtic “Plunder Hoards” from Thrace see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/the-currency-of-plunder/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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KALE AIR

The Kale (Turkish for fortification) at Krševica near Bujanovac in southern Serbia is situated at a strategic location where the slopes of the Rujen mountain descend towards the Vranje basin and Južna Morava valley. This exceptional strategic position had been used in the Late Bronze and Early Iron ages, but the Hellenistic settlement with acropolis was established at the turn of the 5/4 century BC. Finds of coins of Philip II, Alexander III, Cassander, and Demetrios Poliorketes correspond in general to the chronological span of the Hellenistic settlement which was the northernmost Ancient Macedonian city, and has been identified with the ancient city of Damastium, mentioned in classical sources (Popović P. 2006).

 

 

 

map k.

Location of Krševica

 

 

 

KALE acropolis

The Acropolis at Krševica – Central plateau with complex of buildings

 

(Illustrations after Popović 2006 = Popović P. (2006) Central Balkans Between the Greek and Celtic World: Case Study Kale-Krševica. In: In Homage to Milutin Garašanin. SASA Special Editions. Belgrade 2006. P 523-536)

 

 

 

 

Extensive archaeological excavations at the Krševica site have revealed a unique site in the Južna Morava valley where the significant remains of two civilizations – Greek and Celtic – have been encountered. The most massive layers with buildings, ramparts and other structures, as well as abundant finds of imported and local pottery made after Greek prototypes, date from the 4th and early 3rd  century BC.

 

Suburbium x

Suburbium, platform with ramparts and buildings at Krševica

 

hellen cer m Kale 4th-early 3rd c. BC

Hellenistic Ceramic from Krševica – 4th / early 3rd century BC

 

 

 

With the Celtic expansion into the central Balkans during the late 4th /early 3rd century BC, and the resulting collapse of the Macedonian state, the settlement at Krševica fell under Celtic control (Popović 2006, Mac Gonagle 2015). Archaeological evidence from the site indicates that this transition was a relatively peaceful one, and no significant economic or social disruption is to be observed.

 

 

 

On the Celtic Conquest of the Central and Eastern Balkans see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/the-celtic-conquest-of-thrace-280279-bc/

 

 

Celtic 1 Kale - 2-1 c. BC

La Tène Ceramic from the Celtic/Scordisci layers at Krševica (2/1 century BC)

 

A considerable amount of the ceramic consists of vessels characteristic of the late La Tène production from the territory of the Celtic Scordisci tribes. Besides standard forms, like ‘S’ shaped bowls, pseudo-kantharoi  etc., excavations also uncovered vessels traditionally referred to by Bulgarian and Romanian archaeologists as ‘Thracian-Dacian types of cups’ (bottom left above), which are actually Celtic lamps (Vagalinski 2011:204).

 

See also:

https://www.academia.edu/5992553/Late_La_T%C3%AAne_Ceramic_from_Bulgaria

 

 

 

la tene pits Kale Krsevica

Excavation of one of the Celtic ritual pits at Krševica

 

Celtic 2 Kale Krševica -pits - 2-1 c. BC - near Bujanovac (southeast Serbia)

La Tène ceramic from one of the ‘ritual’ pits at Krševica

The pits were of cult character and according to the main characteristics of the finds they date from the final decades of the second and the beginning of the first century BC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the gradual Roman expansion into this region during the late 2nd / 1st century BC, and the resulting war of resistance by the local tribes, Krševica became of particular strategic importance. During this brutal conflict, the fortress was used by the Scordisci Federation, in conjunction with other members of the ‘barbarian coalition’, including the Free Thracian tribes and Dardanians, as a staging-post for frequent attacks/raids on Roman occupied territory to the south. This final phase ended with the defeat of the anti-Roman coalition led by the Scordisci towards the end of the 1st century BC, and the subsequent consolidation of Rome’s control in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Scordisci Wars see also:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/the-scordisci-wars/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

strtri in

 

Celtic Strymon/Trident Coinage:

https://www.academia.edu/6355583/Celtic_Strymon_Trident_Coinage

 

 

 

3 map Fin.

 

 

 

 

 

UD:April 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

“To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a solitude and call it peace”.

 

Words of the Celtic Chieftain Calgacus

(Agricola (30)

 

 

 

 

 

In the year 1971 an extraordinary archaeological discovery was made at the locality of Slana Voda (Salty Water), near the village of Krajčinovići, in southwestern Serbia. A mass burial containing 25 partially burnt skeletons was found, along with a wealth of archaeological material, including pottery, bronze dishes, jewelry, 60 iron swords, and other weaponry (Zotović R. Social and Cultural Aspects of the Burial Krajčinovići –Slana Voda (South-West of Serbia, Middle of II c. BC. In: Acta Terrae Septemcastrensis, VI, 1, 2007. Pp. 199-205).

 

 

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Slana Voda b.

 The Mass Grave from Slana Voda

(after Zotović 2007)

 

 

 

 

The site is remarkable for a number of reasons, foremost among them the fact that it had previously been thought that his part of western Serbia was uninhabited in the late Iron Age, i.e. this was the first archaeological material to be found in the area dating between the 5th c. BC and the Roman period (loc cit.). Therefore, the site provided the first confirmation that western Serbia was indeed inhabited in the pre-Roman period.

 

The material from the burials is also particularly noteworthy, consisting of mostly Celtic material (with older Illyrian influences to be observed in some of the pottery), and imported Hellenistic pottery and jewelry, which illustrates trade contacts between the Celtic population in this area and the Hellenistic world. Two further Celtic burials across the border in modern Bosnia Herzegovina were excavated in the 20th c. at Mahrevići by Čajniče (Truhelka,  Ć. 1909. Gromila latenske dobe u Mahrevićima kod  Čajniča,  Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja u Sarajevu XXI, p. 425-442) and Vir by Posušje (Marić, Z. 1962. Vir kod Posušja, Glasnik Zemaljskog muzeja u Sarajevu N.S. XVII, p. 63-72). At both of these sites the burial rituals (positioning of the bodies etc.) and archaeological material uncovered were similar to the Slana Voda burial.

 

 

 

 

Sl. We

Weaponry from the Slana Voda Burial

(after Zotović 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

Till Death Do Us Part

 

 

  The positioning of the bodies, burial ritual, and accompanying archaeological material at Slana Voda indicate that this a war burial carried out at the middle of the 2nd c. BC (Zotović op. cit.), which coincides chronologically with the first historical accounts of conflict between the Roman Empire and the Balkan Celtic tribes (see ‘Scordisci Wars’ article). From a human perspective, perhaps most noteworthy about the Slana Voda burial (as is the case with the mass graves at Mahrevići and Vir) is the fact that the bodies are of male and female ‘warriors’, i.e. of both men and women, arranged together with their weapons.

 

 

 

Sl. j.

 

Jewelry from the Slana Voda Burial

(after Zotović 2007)

 

 

 

 

 

The archaeological evidence from Slana Voda illustrates that the burial was carried out under conflict conditions, yet time was taken to give the dead an ordered burial, and no distinction was made between the men and women, who had apparently died together. Chronologically, this burial coincides with the first phases of Roman expansion in the region, and the mass grave at Slana Voda would appear to mark the arrival of ‘Pax Romana’ in this part of the Balkans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Celts in southern Serbia see also:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/the-balkan-celtic-fortress-at-krsevica-southern-serbia/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: November 2016

 

 

 

abst

 

“The more horrifying the world becomes, the more art becomes abstract”.

(Paul Klee)

 

 

 

It is said that art mirrors life, and nowhere is this to be more clearly observed than in the art produced by the ‘barbarian’ tribes during the Scordisci Wars of the late 2nd / 1st c. BC.

 

Fig. 1 – Original Thasos AR tetradrachm, 164/160 BC.

Wreathed head of Dionysos right. HPAKΛEOYΣ ΣΩTHPOΣ ΘAΣIΩN, M inner left field, Herakles standing left, holding club and lion skin

 

 

 

The original Greek issues (fig. 1) depict typical examples of Hellenistic art – static and anatomically accurate images of Greek Gods, in this case Dionysos and Herakles. In the original Thasos images idealization of the subject is to be observed, a trait typical of Hellenistic art.

 In the second half of the 2nd c. BC the ‘barbarian’ tribes of today’s Bulgaria began to copy the Thasos coins. Early imitations (Fig. 2/3) remain very close to the Greek original, both in terms of imagery and the use of Greek inscriptions on the coins. Indeed, some of the early copies are so close to the originals that experts have great difficulty distinguishing them from the Hellenistic originals.

 

 

Fig. 2

 

 

 

Fig. 3

 

 

 

However, even at this early stage certain divergences from the originals are to be observed. These coins, while remaining true to the Greek iconography and continuing to use the Greek inscription/alphabet, begin to show clear distinguishing characteristics. For example, the head of Dionysos on the obverse begins to take on more masculine characteristics – square chin, larger nose, etc., which is at variance with the effeminate features of the Greek deity on the originals.

 

 

In the early decades of the 1st c. BC the real process of artistic metamorphosis begins. The subjects take on a more abstract aspect, and attempts to ‘copy’ the Hellenistic images and inscriptions are abandoned.

 

 

Fig. 4 – Celtic ‘Thasos type’ tetradrachma minted over that of the Roman Quaestor Aesillas (early 1st c. BC)

 

On Herakles’ left knee the Q (short for Quaestor – similar to English P) can be seen. There are also faint traces of Alexander’s hair locks at the metal disturbance in Dionysos’ cheek from the Roman original. The historical context in which these coins were produced – during a bitter struggle between the ‘barbarians’ and the Roman empire, should be borne in mind. From a psychological perspective the fact that the Celtic population in Thrace took the trouble to mint over the Roman/Hellenistic coins, instead of simply using the classical issues, is a clear political statement – a rejection of the classical images portrayed on the originals, and by extension the culture which had produced them (see: https://www.academia.edu/4963636/Plunder_Coinage_from_Thrace).

 

 

During this period new details also begin to appear, such as the case in fig. 5a, where the lion-skin of Herakles on the reverse of the Greek coin has now been transformed into a child in the Celtic image, or 5b where the Wheel of the Celtic Thunder God Taranis appears on the reverse of the coin.

 

 

Fig. 5a

 

thasos-taranis

Fig. 5b

 

 

 

1-thasos-meltdown-comparisosn

Reverse of an original Hellenistic issue (early 2nd c. BC), and Celtic issue from central Bulgaria from the late 1st c. BC

 

 

 

The brutal conflict with Rome during the final phases of the Scordisci Wars, and the accompanying misery of everyday life, is reflected in increasingly abstract and surreal images. A metamorphosis is to be observed in the images which reflect core Celtic religious iconography, foremost among them the image of the human headed serpent which has evolved on the obverse (fig. 6), or the appearance of the bird goddess, depicting the Badhbh Chatha – the Celtic Goddess of War (fig. 7/8). 

 

 

 

 

Fig. 6

 

 

 

 

Fig. 7

 

 

 

Fig. 8

 

 

At this stage the subjects on the reverse become even more schematic, depicting images such as the ‘Wicker Man’, or the clawed creature depicted in fig. 9; images which reflect the final phases of a brutal war – a conflict which shortly afterwards culminated in the destruction of the culture which produced them.

 

 

Fig. 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Text after Крусева Б. / Мак Конгал Б., Хората, които се превърна в слънце – Krusseva B. / Mac Congail B., The Men Who became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv, 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: April 2017

 

 

 

 

“Part of this region (Thrace) was inhabited by the Scordisci … a people formerly cruel and savage, and, as ancient history declares, accustomed to offer up their prisoners to Bellona and Mars, and from their hollowed skulls greedily to drink human blood. By their savageness the Roman state was often sorely troubled…”

 

(Ammianus Marcellinus Book 27: iv,4)

 

 

 

PAX ROMANA

 

After the defeat of Macedonia in the 3rd and 4th Macedonian Wars, and the ease and speed with which Rome had destroyed the Achaean League, it appeared that the Roman conquest of southeastern Europe was unstoppable. The utter destruction of the city of Corinth in 146 BC, and the mass looting and enslavement which accompanied the establishment of the Roman province of Macedonia, were a clear warning to those who would oppose the empire.

It was therefore logical to expect that the barbarian tribes of the central and northern Balkans would quickly succumb to the Roman military machine, and the ‘Pax Romana’ which accompanied it. In fact, the conquest of Thrace would develop into a brutal and prolonged conflict which was to rage for over 150 years.

 

 

 

The first military encounter between the Balkan Celts and the Roman empire occurred in 156 BC (Obsequens 16), but the extent or location of this clash remains unknown, and it is not until the establishment of the Roman province of Macedonia in 146 BC that this conflict intensifies. In 141 BC a Roman offensive in Thrace was repulsed by the Celts, as was a Scordisci counter-attack on Macedonia (see Kazarov 1919:75 – Кацаров Г. Келти в стара Тракия и Македония СпБАН 18, кл. ист. фил. 10. София 1918, 41 – 80). This resulted in a period of apparent stalemate which was broken in 135 BC when an imperial force defeated the Scordisci in Thrace (M. Cosconius praetor in Thracia cum Scordiscis prospere pugnauit – Livy Periocha LVI).

 

karab-weapons

Military equipment from from the Scordisci burial complex at Karaburma in the Balkan Celtic settlement of Singidunum (today’s Belgrade), Serbia
(3/2 c. BC)

 

anthro-sword-pommel-celtic-scordisci-kupinovo-syrmia-serbia-late-3rd-c-bc

 

kupinovo-hung-sword-style-scabbard-3-c-bc-check

Detail of anthropomorphic decoration on the pommel of an iron sword, and scabbard decorated in the “Hungarian Sword Style”, from the Scordisci burial complex at Kupinovo (Syrmia), Serbia (3rd c. BC)

(after: Drnić I. (2015) Groblje latenske culture/A La Têne Culture Cemetery. Arheološki muzej u Zagrebu, 2015)

 

 

 

In the 20’s of the 2nd c. BC the Scordisci also came under attack from the north. An expansion of the Germanic Cimbri tribe was finally repulsed near the Celtic settlement of Singidunum (Belgrade), and the Cimbri migrated further west (Rankin D. Celts and the Classical World. New York 1987:19). It is likely that it was during these events that the most famous of Scordisci treasures, the Gundestrup cauldron, was looted and carried off by the Cimbri (Bergquist A.K., Taylor T.F. The Origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron, Antiquity, vol. 61, 1987. 10-24).

 

 

                                           THE GUNDESTRUP CAULDRON

(National Museum of Denmark – Copenhagen)

See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/the-gundestrup-ghosts-hidden-images-in-the-gundestrup-cauldron/

 

zid jew

Celtic (Scordisci) jewelry box with ‘Foxtail’ chain from the Zidovar treasure (Serbia, 2/1 c. BC)

See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/barbarian-masterpieces-celtic-jewelry-boxes/

 

 

 

It should be borne in mind that all the information that we have at our disposal concerning this conflict comes from the Romans themselves, who tended to be rather selective in what they reported. For example, the victory of Cosconius should logically have led to territorial gains by the Romans in Thrace. However, the victory in 135 BC is followed by an ominous silence in Roman sources which is eloquent in itself. By the time of the next report relating to 119 BC (Kazarov (op cit) puts these attacks in 117 BC) the Celts have pushed all the way to the Aegean coast where the Roman governor Pompeius was killed during an attack on Argos. The Scordisci were finally pushed back by a force commanded by Quaestor Marcus Annius, (SIG 700 Sherk 1 48 R.K. Sherk Rome and the Greek East to the Death of Agustus (1993); CAH 9’32 = Cambridge Ancient History 2nd Edition 1984 -1989) who also succeeded in repulsing a subsequent attack soon afterwards by the Scordisci, in alliance with the Thracian Maidi tribe.

  The participation of the Maidi (the tribe of Spartacus, who would be captured by Rome during a latter phase of this conflict – see below) in the second attack on Macedonia in 119 BC is particularly noteworthy, because it marks the beginning of a new pattern which would continue for the next 100 years of this conflict. While the Thracian Celts continued to be the main element in the resistance to Roman expansion on the Balkans, from this point onwards they are frequently accompanied by other Balkan tribes, notably the Bastarnae, Dardanii, and the Free Thracian tribes (Maidi, Triballi, Denteletes, and Bessi).

 

  In the aftermath of the events of 119 BC, the empire finally seems to have realized the gravity of the barbarian threat. In 115 BC Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus, who had been consul in 116 BC, was sent to Macedonia. Eburnus was renowned as a strict authoritarian figure who had sentenced his own son to death for ‘immorality’, and it appears that it was he who drew up the plans for the Roman conquest of Thrace (Valerius Maximus 6.1.5–6; Pseudo-Quintilian, Decl. 3.17; Orosius 5.16.8). As part of this strategy a Roman fortress was established at Heraclea Sintica (at today’s Rupite near Petritch in s.w. Bulgaria) under a commander called Lucullus. This garrison was situated in the strategic Struma river valley, the only practical route for a large military force to move into western Thrace. The culmination of the Roman strategy was the invasion of Thrace in 114 BC by a Roman army led by Gaius Porcius Cato.

 

 

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

 

 

sco good

Inscribed cult relief bearing a dedication to the Celtic tribal God Scordus (Sofia region, Bulgaria 4th – 3rd c. BC) (After Manov 1993)

( See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/serdiserdica/ )

 

 

 

 

 

THE STRUMA MASSACRES

 

 

‘The cruelest of all the Thracians were the Scordisci…”.

(Florus, Epitome XXXVIIII (The Thracian War) III. 4)

 

struma

 

 

 

The events of 114 BC were to prove catastrophic for the Romans. As mentioned, a Roman fortress was established on the upper Struma river at Heracleae Sintica, and two cohorts of Roman soldiers were stationed there under a commander called Lucullus (Front. Strat. 3,10,7). This fortress was on the border of, or even possibly within, the territory of the Celtic tribes in Thrace, and appears to have been intended as a staging post for further Roman expansion northwards. In 114 BC a Roman army, led by the consul Gaius Porcius Cato, marched along the Struma Valley into Thrace (Liv. Per. 63′a; Flor. 1.39, 1-4; Dio Cass fr. 88’1; Eutrop. 4.24.1; Amm. Marc. 27.4.4). The purpose of this attack appears to have been twofold – to eradicate the barbarian threat to Roman Macedonia, and to expand the empires power into the territory of today’s western Bulgaria.

 

 

 

 The western Rhodope mountains

 

 

This heavily afforested and mountainous area of the western Rhodope mountains is ill suited for the conventional military tactics of an imperial army, but perfect terrain for the surprise attacks and ambush tactics used by the Thracian Celts in this period. It would appear that the Roman consul completely underestimated the situation both in terms of the terrain, and the military potential of his enemy. The invading Roman army was wiped out, and the Celts counterattacked.

After the destruction of Cato’s army the Celts advanced on the Roman garrison at Heracleae Sintica. In light of the fact that a large Roman army had just invaded Thrace it appears that the last thing the garrison was expecting was a Celtic attack. The ensuing events are described by the Roman historian Frontinius (40 – 103 AD) in his work Strategemata (3,19,7):

“Scordisci equites, cum Heracleae diversarum partium praesidio praepositus esset Lucullus, pecora abigere simulantes provocaverunt eruptionem; fugam deinde mentiti sequentem Lucullum in insidias deduxerunt et octingentos cum eo milites occiderunt”.

The attack on Heracleae was marked, not by the headlong barbarian charge often associated with the Celts, but by a much more subtle and successful tactic. A small group of Celtic horsemen were first dispatched and, pretending to drive off the livestock, provoked Lucullus into a fatal error. No sooner had the Roman force emerged from their defenses to hunt down the ‘barbarians’, than the main body of the Celtic cavalry attacked. What followed was less a battle than a massacre, in the aftermath of which the Roman commander and 800 of his soldiers lay dead.

 

In a series of devastating attacks, the Thracian Celts had brought Roman expansion on the Balkans to a brutal halt.

 

 

( See also : https://www.academia.edu/4067834/Bandit_Nation_-_The_Bogolin_Hoard )

 

 

 

Material from the burial Scordisci Cavalry Officer at Montana (N.W. Bulgaria)

(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42301/01-08; late 2nd / 1st c. BC)

 

https://www.academia.edu/26277623/A_CELTIC_SCORDISCI_CAVALRY_OFFICER_FROM_MONTANA_BULGARIA_

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

 

 

 

 

 QUI VENTUM SEMINAT …

 

 

The Scordisci victories of 114 BC brought a predictable reaction. The Celts were attacked in Thrace in 112 BC by the Consul Livius Drusus (Liv. Per 63′a; Flor. 1.39’5; Dio Cass. fr. 88’1; Festus Brev 9’2; Amm. Marc. 27.4’10), but the real retaliation for the events of 114 BC came three years later. In 109 BC a Roman army entered Thrace commanded by Minucius Rufus and, according to Roman sources (Flor. 1.39.5; Liv. Per. 65′a; Frontin Strat. 2. 4’3; Festus Brev 9’2; Eutrop 4.27’3; Amm. Marc. 27.4’10) and an inscription from Delphi (probably raised by Rufus himself), defeated the Scordisci and the Thracian Bessi tribe.

 

 

 

 Inscription from Delphi mentioning the victory over the Scordisci and Bessi in 109 BC

(Dittenberger SIG 3, 348)

 

 

 It is interesting to note that the campaign of 109 BC was launched, not along the Struma valley where Cato’s army had been destroyed, but along the Maritza (Hebrus) river valley, a route more suitable for a Roman army. Furthermore, this campaign appears not to have been directed at a specific military target, but at the ‘barbarian’ population in general. Thus, while the Scordisci are again mentioned as the focus of the Roman campaign, it was the Thracian Bessi tribe along the Hebrus river who bore the brunt of the Roman attacks. In fact, until this point the Bessi tribe had taken no part in attacks on Roman forces on the Balkans, nor had they played any role in the Celtic campaign against Rome. It would appear that the Thracian tribe simply happened to be ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’.

 

 In terms of Roman expansion in the Balkans, Rufus’ victory in 109 BC did not lead to any territorial gains, and the Roman forces retreated south into Macedonia, indicating again the punitive nature of the campaign. During their homeward march a large part of the Roman army was drowned when the ice on the Hebros (Maritza) river cracked underneath them (Flor. 1.39.5).

 

 In the long term, the events of 109 BC did not significantly affect the geo-political situation in the Balkans. Rome had still not achieved a foothold in Thrace, and the attack on the Bessi tribe had the effect of turning this tribe into one of Rome’s most bitter enemies. In the ensuing conflict the Bessi became one of the most enthusiastic participants in attacks on Roman Macedonia, and continued to resist the Romans in Thrace even after the end of the Scordisci Wars. These events also forged closer links between the Bessi tribe and the Celts in Thrace.

The Roman campaign of 109 BC also appears to have had another long term effect. While encounters in this conflict prior to this had largely been confined to attacks on military targets, in subsequent ‘barbarian’ attacks on Roman occupied areas of the Balkans brutal tactics similar to those used by the Romans along the Hebros valley are recorded.

 The next phase of this war was to be marked by a spiral of atrocities on both sides. If the Roman strategy had been to terrorize the Celtic and Thracian tribes into submission, they had failed miserably. There is a proverb coined by the Romans themselves – ‘Qui ventum seminat, turbinem metet’ (He who sows the wind, will reap the whirlwind). In the decades which followed, the Romans on the Balkans were about to reap the whirlwind.

 

 

 

Celtic Thasos type tetradrachma from central Bulgaria   (1st c. BC).

 

The deteriorating political situation and the growing brutality of the conflict is accompanied by an increasing abstractionist tendency in Celtic art in the region

( https://www.academia.edu/6144182/Celtic_Thasos_Type_Coinage_from_Central_Bulgaria )

 

 

Attacks on Roman Macedonia by the Scordisci and their Thracian allies, notably the Maidi tribe, continued throughout the final years of the 2nd c. BC, and the first decade of the 1st c. BC (St. Jerome, (Hieronymus) 170.1; Obseq. 43; Hieron. Chron. 1917; Flor. XXXVIIII, iii, 4; Cic. Pis. 61; Festus. Brev. 9’2). The militarization of Celtic society in Thrace during this period is evident from the dramatic increase in finds of La Têne weaponry from this period compared to earlier phases. The turbulent events are also reflected in mass ‘war’ burials such as that at Slana Voda, and in the numerous hoards of Hellenistic and Roman ‘plunder coinage’ from Thrace found together with Celtic issues from this period, which bear clear testimony to the ‘barbarian’ attacks on Roman Macedonia and Greece ( see: https://www.academia.edu/4963636/Plunder_Coinage_from_Thrace ).

 

 nw map

Distribution of Celtic weapons in northwestern Bulgaria – 2nd – 1st c. BC (See: https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria )

 

 

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The Balkan Celtic fortress at Krševica near Bujanovac in southern Serbia

 

With the gradual Roman expansion into this region during the late 2nd / 1st century BC, and the resulting war of resistance by the local tribes, Krševica became of particular strategic importance. During this brutal conflict, the fortress was used by the Scordisci Federation, in conjunction with other members of the ‘barbarian coalition’, including the Free Thracian tribes and Dardanians, as a staging-post for frequent attacks/raids on Roman occupied territory to the south.

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/the-balkan-celtic-fortress-at-krsevica-southern-serbia/

 

 

 

By the beginning of the 1st c. BC the Roman forces on the Balkans were feeling the strain of the apparently endless attacks from the north. In 90 BC the dam finally burst and, confronted by yet another Celtic/Maidi attack, the Roman borders disintegrated (Kazarov op cit.). The events which followed are described by the Roman historian Florus (Epitome of Roman History XXXVIIII, iii, 4). The Celtic tribes, now joined by the Maidi and Denteletes, as well as the Dardanii, swarmed through Macedonia, Thessaly and Dalmatia, even reaching Epirus on the Adriatic coast. According to the Roman historian:

“Throughout their advance they left no cruelty untried, as they vented their fury on their prisoners; they sacrificed to their gods with human blood; they drank out of human skulls; by every kind of insult inflicted by burning and fumigation they made death more foul; they even forced infants from their mother’s wombs by torture”.

 In this litany of evil atrocities committed by their enemies, special mention is reserved by the Romans for the Celts – “The cruelest of all the Thracians were the Scordisci, and to their strength was added cunning as well” (loc cit.).

While much of the above account may be put down to Roman hysteria and exaggeration, it is clear that from 90 BC onwards the empire had lost de facto control over large parts of the Balkans and northern Greece. By 88 BC, i.e. 2 years after the collapse of the Roman borders in Macedonia, the Scordisci and their allies had swept through northern Greece and reached Dodona in Epirus where they, according to Roman accounts, destroyed the temple of Zeus (Kazarov 1919 with relevant lit). How exactly the barbarians ‘destroyed’ a temple which the Romans had already destroyed (by the army of Aemilius Paulus in 167 BC) is unclear. Presumably the Scordisci destroyed what the Greeks had managed to rebuild in the interim period. One of the repeating phenomena during this period is Roman reports of the ‘barbarians’ destroying Greek temples/sacred sites which had already been destroyed and looted by the Romans themselves (see below).

 

 

The Theatre at Dodona

 

 

 

It was not until 3 years later (85 BC) that Sula led a Roman army against the Scordisci and ‘punished’ the barbarians (Granius Licinianus 27-28; Appian Mith. 55 c; Livy Per 83’a). Although the exact nature of this ‘punishment’ is unclear, Florus gives us an account of the fate of those who fell into Roman hands:

 

“Severe cruelties were inflicted upon the captives by fire and sword, but nothing was regarded by the barbarians as more horrible than they should be left with their hands cut off and forced to survive”. (Flor. XXXVIIII, iii,4)

 

 

Bust of Sulla in the Munich Glyptothek

 

 

 

Instead of containing the situation, Sulla’s campaign produced the same vicious reaction as Minucius Rufo’s had in the previous century. No sooner had Sula left for Asia, than the Celts and their allies stormed south once more. Overrunning the southern Balkans and northern Greece, they swept through the Peloponnese. By the winter of 85/85 BC they had reached Delphi where, two centuries after Brennos’ army, they once more ‘destroyed’ the most sacred of Greek religious sites. (Plut. Num. 9; App. Illy. 5; Eusub. II; Eutrop. V, 7,1; Plut. Sula 23).

 

 

Temple of Apollo at Delphi

 

 

 

 

At the end of the 80’s of the 1st c. BC the central Balkans again became the focus of large scale Roman military action. Presenting themselves as protector of the Greeks, the Romans launched yet another campaign to ‘punish’ the barbarians, this time for the sacrilege at Delphi (although again the temple had been plundered by Sula’s Roman forces long before the barbarians got there). The campaign of 81 BC, led by Cornelius Scipio (App. Ill. 5 a-b) appears, like those of Minucius Rufo and Sula in 114 and 85 BC, to have been punitive in nature and, like the previous ones, had no real long term geo-political effect.

 

 

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The Druids Cave – Part of a large hoard of Celtic (Scordisci) material (14 sets of weapons, harness gear, jewellery… ) discovered in a cave on the Juhor Mountain in central Serbia.

 

 

 

 

 

COME INTO MY PARLOUR … 

 

 Five years after Scipio’s campaign Rome once more attempted a large scale invasion of Thrace. In 76 BC Appius Claudius Pulcher, who had been governor in Macedonia since the previous year, led a large Roman army against the Celts in southwestern Thrace. (Liv. Epit. XCI; Flor. II, 39.6; Eutrop. VI,2; Oros. V 23.19; Amm. Marc. XXVII, 4.10) It should be noted that in this case the term Scordisci is applied by the Romans to the tribes of today’s southwestern Bulgaria who lived in the Rila/Rhodope mountains area. This once again clearly illustrates that the term was used by the Romans to refer to all the Celts of Thrace, whether in today’s Serbia, northern Bulgaria or, as in the present case, southwestern Bulgaria. Thus, the tribes targeted by Pulcher’s army were the same ones who had destroyed the army of Porcius Cato, and massacred the Roman garrison at Heraclea Sintica, in 114 BC.

 

 The Celtic tactics in 76 BC, however, were very different to those which had been employed 40 years earlier. Instead of engaging in a full-scale military confrontation with what was probably a superior military force, the Scordisci employed a more subtle course of action. Pulcher’s force encountered no major resistance as they advanced into the Thracian mountains. However, as Cato’s army had learned in the previous century, entering the Rhodope mountains was one thing – getting out again was a completely different story.

 

 A prolonged and vicious conflict developed in the mountains of Thrace between the Romans and the local population. Roman sources speak of a series of ‘small battles’ and ‘skirmishes’ which are consistent with a guerilla campaign in which the Celts, familiar with the terrain, gradually wore down the Roman force. This conflict, which is reminiscent of the Roman campaign in northern Britain in the 2nd c. AD, finally took its toll, not only on the Roman army, but on its commander. After months of illness and military failure, Pulcher himself died, and the remains of the Roman army once more withdrew from western Thrace.

 

 

Celtic Strymon/Trident coin from s.w. Thrace (late 2nd/ 1st c. BC)

( See: https://www.academia.edu/6355583/Celtic_Strymon_Trident_Coinage )

 

 

 

Despite the latest failure in the Rhodope mountains, Rome was gradually making advances in other parts of Thrace. During the campaigns of Cnaeus Scribonius Curio in w. Thrace from 75 BC the Romans finally penetrated the Struma valley and reached the Danube (Liv. Per. 92’a; Front. Strat. 4.1’43; Flor. 1,39’6; Festus Brev. 3’2, 7’5; Eutrop. 6.2’2). During the Curio campaign large numbers of the native population were enslaved by the Romans, one of whom was a chieftain of the Maidi tribe – Spartacus. In this case, however, it appears that Rome had taken the vipers to her bed. In 73 BC a number of Thracian and Celtic slaves, led by Spartacus and the Celt Crixus, rose against the empire in a rebellion that would shake the very foundations of Rome. (Cic. Att. 6.2’8; Sall: Hist. 3’60-61; Liv. Per. 92’a; Vell. 2.30’5; Tac. Ann. 15’46; Plut. Crass. 8, 1-3; Flor. 2.8’3; Appian B. Civ. 116’a-b; Eutrop. 6. 7’2; August De Civ. 3.26’b, 5.22’a; Oros. 5.24’1)

 In Thrace itself, however, Curio’s campaign, and that of Lucullus in 72/71 BC in eastern Thrace, in which the latter conquered the Pontic cities and the central Thracian Valley, meant that the local tribes were now fighting an increasingly defensive war. Ironically, in the decades which followed it would not be Roman military force alone which would finally achieve the conquest of Thrace but, as with so often in Balkan history, treachery from within.

 

 

 

 

THE DACIAN DISASTER

 

For over 100 years the unity of the Balkan peoples – Thracians, Celts, Dardanii and Bastarnae – had held back the tide of Roman expansion in southeastern Europe. In the mid 1st c. BC this unity was torn asunder by the greed and ambition of one of these tribes, who unleashed an orgy of violence and destruction on its neighbors which would create the conditions for final conquest that Rome herself had failed to achieve.

 

 The Thracian Getae tribe who inhabited the area of today’s s.e. Romania and n.e. Bulgaria had been one of the main components in the barbarian resistance to Rome from the 2nd c. BC onwards. In 61 BC they were again part of the force which, led by the Bastarnae, delivered a humiliating defeat on the Roman army of G. Antonius Hybrida (‘The Monster’) at the Battle of Histria (Dio Cass. 38. 10. 1-3; Liv. Per. 103’b; Obseq. 61’a; see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/akrosas-the-king-who-scared-a-monster/).

 

 However, after Histria the relationship between the Getae (referred to in Roman sources by the geographical term ‘Dacians’) and their neighbors changed radically. From 60/59 BC the Getae tribe, under a leader called Burebista, who was apparently guided by a wizard called Deceneus, launched a series of brutal attacks on their former allies. The territory of the Celtic Boii and Taurisci in the west and the Scordisci in Thrace were laid waste and Burebista also ‘conquered’ the territory of his recent allies the Bastarnae in Dobruja, as well as the largely defenceless western Greek Pontic cities (Strabo 7.3.5, 7.3.11, 16.2.39;  Jordanes Getica 67; Suetonius, Caesar 44.6). Towns such as Olbia, Histros and Mesambria which resisted him were destroyed. Burebista subsequently declared himself ‘King of all Thrace’ as attested to by the Dionysopolis decree (ψήφισμα) (lines 22–23; dated to June-August 48 BC -Mihailov, IGBulg I2, 13 = V, 5006; Dittenberger, Sylloge inscriptionum Graecarum, II, 762).

  

In his quest for personal power, the brutality of Burebista’s attacks on his neighbors had reached genocidal proportions (Strabo VII 3:2, 11). For example, the territory of the Boii tribe after Burebista’s expansion was known as the deserta Boiorum (deserta meaning ’empty or sparsely populated lands’). The period of Burebista’s attacks also coincides with the end of local (Celtic and Bastarnae) coin production in this area, indicating that the economic and cultural status quo in the area was fatally disrupted during this period. Archaeological data from today’s southern Dobruja region also indicates the nature of Burebista’s ‘Dacian’ expansion. Of 70 late Iron Age settlements in today’s northeastern Bulgaria, only 29 survived into the Roman period and even at those there is no certainty of continuous habitation (Torbatov S. The Getae in Southern Dobruja in the Period of the Roman Domination: Archaeological Aspects. In: Actes 2é Symposium International Des Etudes Thraciennes, Komotini 1997. P. 512-51).

 

 

   From a geo-political perspective, Burebista had destroyed the unity of the native population and severely weakened the very tribes who had for so long constituted the main opposition to Roman expansion. By the end of his reign the ‘Great Dacian King’ had created optimum conditions for Rome to complete her conquest of southeastern Europe – including Dacia itself.

   In the 40’s of the 1st c. BC the fortunes of the Getae turned. Supporting Pompey in the Roman civil war, Burebista became the target for the victorius Caesar (Strabo VII:3.5). However, before the Romans could reach them the Getae became the subject of revenge attacks from their old allies, particularly the Bastarnae. In 44 BC Burebista was murdered by his own people and, in the face of repeated Bastarnae attacks, the Getae turned for help to their only remaining ‘friend’ in the region – Rome.

 

   As Roman expansion in Thrace gathered pace, the Bastarnae crossed the Danube in 29 BC to come to the aid of the Scordisci tribes in today’s northwestern Bulgaria. The Roman forces, led by the proconsul of Macedonia M. Licinius Crasus, and helped by the Getic king Roles, defeated the Bastarnae and forced them back across the Danube. Roman sources tell us that the Bastarnae were ‘destroyed’ by Crassus (Dio Cass. 51,25-27), but, as with so often in Roman accounts, this is a gross exaggeration. In fact, the Bastarnae would continue to be a major thorn in Rome’s side for centuries, and an enthusiastic participant in every major ‘barbarian’ attack on Roman Dacia and Thrace right up to the collapse of the empire.

 

 

 

 

TWILIGHT

 

  Crassus’ campaign of 29 BC and a subsequent one the following year in which he ‘punished’ the Scordisci tribes of northwestern Bulgaria (the Serdi, Meldi and Artacoi) (Dio Cass. 51. 26-27), marked a watershed in the history of Thrace. Soon afterwards a Thracian puppet government, drawn from members of the Odrysae tribe who had collaborated with Rome (loc cit), was installed to preside over the Romanization of Thrace. This so-called Sapaioi dynasty had little or no popular support in Thrace and Roman armies had to repeatedly intervene to save the new Thracian ‘kings’ from their own people.

 (On the Odrysae Puppet Kings : https://www.academia.edu/4126512/Sevtopolis_and_the_Valley_of_the_Thracian_Kings )

 

 

 

Bronze issue of the Thracian ‘King’ Rhoemetalkes.

Laureate head of Caligula left / diademed & draped bust of Rhoemetalkes III left

see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-thracian-puppet-kings/

 

 

 

 In the final decades of the 1st c. BC the Roman conquest of Thrace, after almost exactly 150 years of resistance by the native tribes, had finally been achieved. Or had it ?

 

Before the dust settled on Roman Thrace there was one more surprise in store for the empire.  In 16 BC, as the new imperial order was gradually being imposed, Celtic tribes swooped from the Thracian mountains, swarmed into Macedonia, and laid waste to the Roman province once again (Dio Cass. 54.20). This attack, which can only have come from the Celts of the Rhodope area of today’s southwestern Bulgaria, was a brutal reminder to Rome that although the cities and plains may have been ‘civilized’, in the mountains of central and western Thrace the ‘wolves’ still roamed…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethnic Cleansing?

Mac Congail

 

  

Much of the territory occupied by the Celts in the area of todays’ Serbia / northern Bulgaria had previously been controlled by the Thracian Triballi tribe. Of all the Thracians, the Triballi had been most affected by the Celtic migrations of the 4th / 3rd c. BC. This tribe had previously inhabited an area which extended from the Morava river in the west, where Herodotus located the Triballian plain, to the Oescus (Iskar) river in the east. The Triballi appear to have been a formidable force and in 329 BC, for example, defeated Philip II’s Macedonian army as he returned from his Scythian campaign.

  In the wake of the Celtic ‘invasion’ of 279/278 BC Roman authors inform us that the Triballi suffered greatly at the hands of the newly arrived Celts (Justinius XXV,1; Appian Illyr. 3) Indeed, Appianus informs us that the Thracians were ‘destroyed’ and that the remnant of the Triballi took refuge with the Getæ on the other side of the Danube (Appian op. cit). However, the accuracy of these Roman accounts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ against the Thracians during this period has recently been called into question by a number of factors.

   Firstly, the supposition that the Celts first arrived in Triballi territory at the time of the Brennos ‘invasion’ (279/278 BC) is contradicted from a chronological perspective by Celtic archaeological and numismatic material from this area dating to the second half of the 4th c. BC (for example material from Gruia in Oltenia which V. Pârvan dated to the second half of the 4th c. BC indicating that the Celts were already present in the Middle Danube area between Belgrade and Vidin during this period (Pârvan 1924, Considération sur les sépultures celtiques de Gruia , Dacia I, 1924, p. 35-50), the golden Celtic torc from nearby Gorni Tsibar, again dating to the same period (see ‘The Danube Torc’ article), or Celtic Paeonia model coins from the 4th c. BC found in northwestern Bulgaria (see ‘Paeonia’ in numismatics section – forthcoming). In addition to mounting archaeological and numismatic evidence we also have clear and direct historical testimony to the presence of Celtic tribes as far south as the Haemus (Balkan) mountains at the turn of the 4th/3rd centuries BC (Seneca nat. quaest. 3.11.3; Pliny N.H., XXXI, 53)  – i.e. two decades before the ‘Great Invasion’.

  Secondly, in contrast to the aforementioned Roman reports, archaeological evidence from the region indicates a symbiotic relationship between the newly arrived Celtic tribes and the Illyrian and Thracian population of this region. Celtic settlement in the aforementioned Morava river valley is well attested to by archaeological material. Thus, for example, the investigation of the flat cemetery in the region of Pecine near Kostalac, a town situated on the lower Morava valley and close to the  Danube in n.e. Serbia (Jovanović 1985, 1992 – Jovanović B., Necropola na Pechinama i starije gvozdeno doba Podunavlya. Starinar n.s. 36, 13-18; 1992 – Celtic Settlements of the Balkans. In N. Tasić (ed.), Scordisci and the Native  Population in the Middle Danube Region. Belgrade. P. 19-32), provides a good illustration of the ethnic changes that took place in the wake of the Celtic arrival in the region. On this site a number of Celtic cremation and inhumation graves, the earliest dating to the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd century BC, are situated around nine earlier graves belonging to the Illyrian Autariatae tribe. The continuity observable on this burial site clearly indicates that the new Celtic settlers did not destroy the Autariatae, but assimilated with the indigenous population and mixed ethnically with them.

 Therefore, from the end of the 4th century BC onwards, the Morava river valley and the surrounding region became a Celto-Illyro-Thracian interaction zone.  A similar situation existed in the Oltenia region of today’s s.w. Romania (See Nicolăescu-Plopşor 1945-1947,  – Antiquités celtiques d’Olténie, Dacia XI-XII, (1948), p. 17-33; Popescu D. (1963)  Două descoperiri celtice din Oltenia, SCIV 14, 2, p. 403-412; Zirra Vl., (1971) Beitrage zur Kentnnis der Keltischen Latene in Rumanien, Dacia N. S. XV, p. 171-238, Also 1976, p. 181 –  Le problème des Celtes dans l’espace du Bas-Danube.  Thraco-Dacica I, p.175-182.; Sîrbu V.,1993, p. 25  – Credinţe şi practici funerare, religioase şi magice în lumea geto dacilor, Brăila-Galaţi.) and northern / western Bulgaria where Celto-Thracian cultural zones developed. (On Celtic material form these areas of Bulgaria see Archaeology and Numismatics sections)

 

 

                               Location of the Oltenia region of Romania

 

 

                   Celtic material from Oltenia (after Nicolăescu – Plopşor 1945-1947)

                Celtic material from Oltenia (after Nicolăescu – Plopşor 1945-1947)

 

 

Destruction layers pertaining to the period of the Celtic migration have not been found at Thracian settlements in Bulgaria. The only evidence of such destruction has been recorded at Macedonian fortresses in Thrace, such as Krakra and Pisteros. Therefore, if any ‘ethnic cleansing’ was carried out by Brennos’s Celts, it was directed at Macedonian forces in Thrace, rather than the native Thracians (see also ‘Behind the Golden Mask’ article).

 As far as the ‘destruction’ of the Thracian Triballi  by the Celts is concerned, it is interesting to note that during the Scordisci Wars of the II – I c. BC a number of Thracian tribes joined the Celts in the war with Rome. These included the Bessi, Maidi, Denteletes, and the aforementioned Triballi –  who were one of the main Scordisci allies during this conflict (On the Scordisci Wars see article by the same name).

 

 

 

               Scordisci settlements and weapon finds from N.W. Bulgaria

                   (see ‘Sacrificial Daggers, Swords and Settlements’ article)

 

 

By the beginning of the II c. BC the area of Celtic influence in today’s Bulgaria stretched from the Danube to the Sofia plain. Archaeological, topographic and numismatic data, as well as testimony in ancient sources, particularly pertaining to the events of 114 BC, also clearly indicate Celtic settlement in the Struma Valley / western Rhodope area of today’s s.w. Bulgaria (see especially Numismatics section 6). Whether this occurred during the initial migration or was part of the later expansion mentioned by Strabo (‘and they (the Scordisci) increased  to such an extent that they advanced as far as the Illyrian, Paeonian and Thracian mountains’ – Strabo vii, 5,12)  is unclear, but the Struma Valley had been the main route for the Celtic invasion of Greece at the beginning of the 3rd c. BC, and it is probable that the Celts who settled here did so during this period. This also pertains to Celtic settlement in Macedonia itself around the towns of Edessa, Pela and Beroe (Livy XLV, 30).

 

 

Inscribed cult relief bearing a dedication to the tribal God Scordus (Sofia region 4th – 3rd c. BC)

(After Manov 1993)

The relief contains a short incised inscription –  ΣΚΟΡ∆Ο (= genitive: ‘belonging to Scordus’) i.e. the tribal eponym and ancestor-god Scordus, attested as Scordiscus in the sources (Appianus,  Illyr. 2)

 

 

 In 179 BC, as part of his campaign against Rome, Philip V of Macedonia entered into an alliance with the Celto-Germanic Bastarnae tribes. Referring to the Bastarnae, Livy (XL, 57) informs us that, ‘The way to the Adriatic and to Italy lay through the Scordisci; that was the only practical route for an army, and the Scordisci were expected to grant a passage to the Bastarnae without any difficulty, for neither in speech nor in habits were they dissimilar’. This testimony is particularly valuable because it clearly illustrates that the Bastarnae at this early stage were a predominantly Celtic people with the same language and customs as the Scordisci. This is also indicated by Plutarch who informs us, ‘He also secretly stirred up the Gauls on the Danube, who are called Bastarnae, an equestrian host and warlike’ (Plut. Aem. 9.6). From a geographical perspective Livy’s testimony (loc cit) also clearly indicates that by 179 BC the Thracian Celts controlled the Sofia Plain and the Upper Struma Valley – ‘the only practical route for an army’ from the Bulgarian Danube to the Adriatic.

 

 Celtic control of the Struma Valley was to prove an important factor in the century which followed. The repeated failure of the empire to secure this strategic route into western Thrace was to make the Roman conquest of Thrace a slow and painful process (See main ‘Scordisci Wars’ article).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

  Two major groups of regional coinage are to be identified among the Bulgarian Celts in the 3rd – 1st c. BC – the Strymon/Trident coinage, and the Zaravetz lead and bronze issues. Unlike the silver Thasos, Philip II and Philip III models, which circulated over a wide geographical area (see relevant sections), the Strymon/Trident and Zaravetz coinage circulated within limited geographical areas – the former mostly in the region of today’s southwestern Bulgaria, and the latter among the Celtic tribes of northeastern Bulgaria and southeastern Romania.

  As with all Celtic coins from the territory of today’s Bulgaria, the Strymon/Trident bronze issues are almost unknown in scientific publications, and information on them comes exclusively from collectors, ‘treasure hunters’, or secondary sources. The coins themselves are based on a rare Macedonian issue of Philip V or Perseus, dated 187 – 168 BC. (Fig. 1)

 


                          Macedonian original of Philip V or Perseus (187 – 168 BC)

(BMC 12.43)

 

The Celtic models (Fig. 2-3), like the Macedonian originals, feature the head of the river-god Strymon on the obverse, and a trident on the reverse. From an artistic perspective these coins show few of the trends evident on the other Celtic coins from this period. They are what they appear to be – rough, functional coins, loosely based on Macedonian originals, intended for everyday use as low denomination currency units by the Celtic tribes of this area.

They have been found mostly in the area of today’s Bulgaria stretching from Serdica (Sofia) in the north, to the Bulgarian-Greek border in the south. A particularly high concentration is to be noted in the latter area (s-w Bulgaria) where ‘many thousands’ of these coins have been discovered. (1)


                    Fig. 2 /3 – Celtic Strymon/Trident issues (2nd -1st c. BC)

SNG cop. 1299

 

 

This is particularly true of the area of the western Rhodope mountains and especially in the upper Struma and Mesta river valleys. In this area hoards of these coins have been discovered around the towns of Kyustendil (map 6n #1), Blagoevgrad (map 6n #2), Gotsche Delchev (map 6n #3), and Razlog (map 6n #4)(2). Further examples have been recorded from the areas around the villages of Kochan (Fig. 4) (map 6n #5)(3), Bansko (map 6n #6), Eleschnitza (map 6n #7), Belitza (map 6n #8), Babyak (map 6n #9), and Jakoruda (map 6n #10)(4). Numerous finds have been recorded from the Serdica area (map 6n #11) (5),  while the largest hoard of coins of this type has been discovered at Ognyanovo in the Pazardjik region (map 6n #12)(6).

Fig. 4 – Celtic Strymon/Trident coins recently discovered by ‘treasure hunters’ at the village of Kochan (Blagoevgrad region) in the western Rhodope mountains (7)

 

The Circulation of Celtic Thasos model tetradrachmas in this area during the same period (II-I c. BC) has already been noted (see Thasos model – numismatic section). However, while the silver Thasos models circulated throughout the area of today’s Bulgaria, the Strymon/Trident type appears to have been produced by, and circulated only among, the Celtic tribes who dominated southwestern Bulgaria in the pre-Roman period. The archaeological and numismatic evidence also links this Celtic population with the cult complexes in this area such as that at Babyak (see also the ‘Cult firepots’, ‘Evil Eye and Little Glass Men’, and ‘Killing the Objects’ articles)

 

So who exactly were the Celtic tribes who produced the coins in question, and how do they fit into the historical context of the region?

 

Confirmation of Celtic settlement in this area, as well as the recent identification of Rupite (Pernik region) as the site of ancient Heracleae Sintica, clarifies the geographical context of the historical events mentioned in classical sources. In 117 BC the Celts launched a major attack on Roman Macedonia along the valley of the river Struma (the same route which had been taken in the previous century by Brennos’ central army during the invasion of Greece), penetrating all the way to Thessalonika where Pompey, the Roman governor, was killed. It appears certain that this attack and those which followed were carried out by the Celtic tribes who lived in today’s southwestern Bulgaria, i.e. those who produced the Strymon/Trident coinage outlined above. This is logical not only from a geographic and logistical perspective, but also supported by the fact that in subsequent attacks the Celts were accompanied by other ‘barbarian tribes’, notably the Thracian Maedi and Bessi, both of whom also lived in the Rhodope mountains area of Bulgaria. The attacks on Roman Macedonia were also certainly facilitated by the fact that, according to Livy (XLV, 30), a Celtic population was already settled during this period in Macedonia itself – around the towns of Beroea, Pela, and Edessa.

                                    Southwestern Rhodope Mountains

 

 

THE RHODOPE MASSACRES


Despite the escalating attacks on the Roman province of Macedonia, the empire continued its expansion towards the central Balkans. A Roman fortress was established on the upper Struma river at Heracleae Sintica (Rupite, Pernik region), and two cohorts of Roman soldiers were stationed there under a commander called Lucullus (Front. Strat. 3,10,7). This fortress was on the border of, or even possibly within, the territory of the Celtic tribes in Thrace, and appears to have been intended as a staging post for further Roman expansion northwards. In 114 BC a Roman army, led by the consul Gaius Porcius Cato, marched into Thrace (Liv. Per. 63’a; Flor. 1.39, 1-4; Dio Cass fr. 88’1; Eutrop. 4.24.1; Amm. Marc. 27.4.4). The purpose of this attack appears to have been twofold – to eradicate the barbarian threat to Roman Macedonia, and to expand the empires power into the territory of today’s Bulgaria. The events which followed were to prove catastrophic for the Romans.

 This heavily afforested and mountainous area of the western Rhodope mountains is ill suited for the conventional military tactics of an imperial army, but perfect terrain for the surprise attacks and ambush tactics used by the Thracian Celts in this period. It would appear that the Roman consul completely underestimated the situation both in terms of the terrain, and the military potential of his enemy. The invading Roman army was wiped out, and the Celts counterattacked.

After the destruction of Cato’s army the closest Roman target was the garrison at Heracleae Sintica. The ensuing events are described in detail by the Roman historian Frotinius (40 – 103 AD) in his work Strategemata (3,19,7):

Scordisci equites, cum Heracleae diversarum partium praesidio praepositus esset Lucullus, pecora abigere simulantes provocaverunt eruptionem; fugam deinde mentiti sequentem Lucullum in insidias deduxerunt et octingentos cum eo milites occiderunt.

The attack on Heracleae was marked, not by the headlong barbarian charge often associated with the Celts, but by a much more subtle and successful tactic. A small group of Celtic horsemen were first dispatched and, pretending to drive off the livestock, provoked Lucullus into a fatal error. No sooner had the Roman force emerged from their defenses to hunt down the ‘barbarians’, than the main body of the Celtic cavalry attacked. What followed was less a battle than a massacre, in the aftermath of which the Roman commander and 800 of his soldiers lay dead.

   The events of 114 BC – the destruction of Cato’s army and the subsequent massacre of the Roman garrison at Heracleae, taught Rome a costly lesson. Further attacks by the Romans on the Thracian Celts, such as that in 109 BC by the consul Minucius Rufus, were launched along the valley of the Maritza river, or other routes more suitable for a Roman army. (11) Roman expansion on the Balkans continued unabated over the next century. (See ‘The Scordisci Wars’ article) However, no further attacks were ever directed at the Celtic tribes of the western Rhodope mountains. It is interesting to note that even during the Roman period the road system built by the empire in this region of Bulgaria shows unexplained diversions in order to avoid certain areas, (12) indicating that some parts of this inhospitable region never fell under Roman control. 

 

 

Map n6



(Does not include Celtic coins from the 3rd c. BC Tyle state, Zaravetz issues from northeastern Bulgaria, or Celtic imitations of Paeonian coins (4th – 3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

  1. Filipova, Prokopov 2008 = Филипова Св., Прокопов И., Монети от Светилището при Бабяк. In: Тракийското Светилището При Бабяк И Неговата Археологическата Среда. Sofia, 2008
  2. Filipova, Prokopov op cit; Тонкова М., Гоцев А., Резултатът от археологическите проучвания на тракийското светилище при с. Бабек. – Археологически открития и разкопки през 1994, Смолян 1995, 54 – 56; Prokopov I., Imitations of Bronze Coins in Thracia during the 1st c. B.C., in Proceedings of the XII Internationaler Numizmatischer Kongress, Berlin 1997, 369-377; Прокопов И., Варварски подражания на македонски бронзови монети. – ИИМКН, V/2, 1998, c. 357 – 360
  3. See Fig. 4
  4. Filipova, Prokopov op cit
  5. LMC
  6. FIlipova, Prokopov op cit
  7. http://bg.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%B0%D0%BD
  8. Filipova, Prokopov op cit
  9. Kazarov 1919: 76; Mac Congail 2008: 20-21
  10. Loc cit
  11. 11. Mac Congail op cit, with relevant lit. (attached Pdf.); ‘Scordisci’ appears to have been a generic term used by the Romans for the Thracian Celts. For more on this see ‘The Scordisci Wars’ article.
  12. Filipova, Prokopov op cit.