UD: May 2019
Among the most interesting artifacts related to the Celtic culture on the Balkans are curved iron daggers discovered in burials and other sites from the later Iron Age (3rd c. BC – 1st c. AD). These daggers, adopted from the local sica type, are most often found in warrior graves as part of their weapons – together with La Têne swords, shield umbos, etc. (see below).
A large number of these have also been discovered in the territory of the Scordisci in today’s Serbia, which, as in the case of the Bulgarian daggers outlined below, mostly date from the 2nd c. BC to the 1st c. AD (Majnarić-Pandžić 1970, pl. 24/10, 28/5, 46/6; Todorović 1972 pl. 11/1, 13/1, 17/4, 29/2, 34/6, 36/1; Božić 1981 p. 328, no. 75-76 pl. 3/36, 37, 9/9; Dizdar, Potrebica 2005 p. 60-62, map 1). These come particularly from the Iron Gates region, but also from other Celtic sites such as the mass burial at Slana Voda in south-western Serbia.
Celtic (Scordisci) curved daggers (sica) with Rayed Suns and Triangle motifs from Mala Vrbica (Serbia)
Examples of similar curved daggers have also been discovered at Celtic sites in the western Balkans. For example, the prehistoric section of the archaeological museum in Zagreb has a number of Celtic (La Têne) daggers whose mutual characteristic is the curved blade. These curved daggers in Croatia (Sisak, Zagreb and Prozor) have analogies from the Obrovac area, Strtemec near Bela Cerkev and Ljubljanica in Slovenia and among the examples from the necropolis Jezerine in Pritoka on the Una river, south of Bihać in Bosnia (Belen-Latunić 2006). Further examples have also been found in Celtic burials in Slovakia (Nešporova 2002, p. 141, 314, fig. 101/2). Recent discoveries from Celtic burials at Mali Bilač in the Pozega Valley in Croatia have close analogies in those from the cemeteries of the Scordisci, who controlled the eastern part of the Požega Valley, which was connected with the central Sava Valley (Dizdar, Potrebica 2014). At the Scordisci necropolis at Karaburma (Belgrade) 7 such curved daggers, dating from the LT C2-D1 period, have been registered (burials 13, 25, 32, 35, 66, 97 and 112) (Todorović 1972).
Balkan Celtic machaira (Iron/Bronze NMS Inv. # B 5051 ) from the Ljubljana Marsh near Volar, and long curved knives (Iron, Iron/Bronze – FP, ZN 260/3; NMS # V445) from the Ljubljanica river near Bevke, Slovenia
On the Balkan Celtic Machaira:
The typical Balkan Celtic warrior burial of this period was accompanied by a La Têne sword/scabbard (in the La Têne C2 period of the Belgrade 2 – Mokronog 2-4 types, and in the La Têne D period of the Belgrade 3 – Mokronog 5-6 types), either one or two spearheads, a shield, belt buckle, and spurs.
Grave goods from the Scordisci warrior burial at Montana, North Western Bulgaria
(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42301/01-08)
Detail of the Celtic curved dagger (Sica) from the Montana burial. Note the mirrored ravens and solar motifs
(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42302/04)
Ritually ‘killed’ iron Celtic dagger recently discovered by treasure hunters at Bulbuc (Alba County), Transylvania (late 2nd/early 1st c. BC)
From a typological perspective, the Celtic curved daggers from the northern Balkans are uniform. They vary between 25 and 35 cm. in length, and in all cases have a ‘blood channel’. The only slight variation is that in some cases (e.g. Altimir, Komarevo, Barkachevo, Sofronievo, Panagurischte Kolonii and Prisovo in Bulgaria, and Piatra Craivii, Izvoru, Radovanu or Dubova in Romania) the blood channel is deeper.
Although in many cases the blade’s decoration has been erased as a result of the advanced state of degeneration, a significant number are well enough preserved to allow us to document the most frequent symbols. The basic decorative elements on the daggers are triangles, the punched circle (‘RA’ symbol), rayed sun symbols, opposed birds of prey (ravens) and the spoked wheel – all common elements on Celtic artifacts and coins on the Balkans in the late Iron Age (See Balkancelts ‘Taranis’ and ‘Catubodua’ articles). It should also be observed that in the Celtic burials these daggers are often found among the bones of sacrificed animals, indicating a ritual/sacrificial function. This would appear to be confirmed by the fact that the religious symbols – rayed suns, ravens, etc. are to be found exclusively on the same edge of the blade as the ‘blood channel’.
Hoard of Celtic (Scordisci) jewelry and weapons, including a curved dagger/sica decorated with conjoined solar symbols, recently discovered on the southern slopes of the Rtanj mountain, near Vrmdza in eastern Serbia
(After Милојевић П., Милановић Д. 2015)
The spatial distribution of these daggers in Bulgaria is particularly significant. From the northeast of the country examples have been found at Kamburovo (Targovischte region) (Borangic 2009), Ezerche (Razgrad region) (Radoslavova 2005), Varna (Georgieva 1992), and at Veliko Tarnovo, as well as Prisovo and Vinograd in the Veliko Tarnovo region (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2008, 2010). The Kamburovo and Vinograd daggers were associated with La Têne swords, spearheads, spurs and Celtic H-shaped horse bits similar to those found at Celtic burial such as those from Montana or Pavolche (Vratza region).
Further examples of Celtic curved daggers from central and western Bulgaria have been discovered at sites such as Pautalia, Plovdiv, Bogomilovo (Stara Zagora region), Panagurischte Kolonii (Pazardjik region), and Ravno Pole (Sofia Region) (Torbov 1997, 2005, Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010). As well as in Celtic burials, such daggers have been found as votive offerings at cult sanctuaries such as Babyak in the w. Rhodope mountains – ritually ‘killed’ in the distinctive Celtic fashion. Particularly interesting is the case of the Byalata Chishma and Atanasza sites in the Taja area of the Balkan (Stara Planina) mountains where curved daggers have been found in Celtic burials together with La Têne swords, shield umbos, spearheads etc., the majority again ‘killed’ in the typical Celtic fashion. At the Taja sites curved daggers have been found in burials dating from the 3rd – 1st c. BC, but also in later Celtic burials from the 1st – 2nd c. AD, i.e. the Roman period.
It is from northwestern Bulgaria that the vast majority of Celtic curved daggers have originated. From the area of northern Bulgaria between the Timok and Iskar rivers 82 of these curved knives have so far been found, the majority associated with other La Têne material – swords, shields, spearheads, etc. Over 60 La Têne swords have been found in the same area of north-western Bulgaria (see https://www.academia.edu/5385798/Scordisci_Swords_from_Northwestern_Bulgaria).
Finds from this region include examples from Karpachevo (Lovech region) (Popov, 1928-1929, p. 282, fig. 146/a), Lom, Montana, Stubel and Kriva Bara (Montana region), Teteven (Lovech region), as well as Pleven, Chomakovzi, Gigen (ancient Oescus), Rezeletz and Koynare, all in the Pleven region (Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010). Particularly noteworthy is the concentration of such daggers in the Vratza region of present day Bulgaria, where examples in have been recorded from sites such as Oryachovo, Osen, Mezdra, Kostalevo, Vratza, Vurbeschnitza, Ohoden and Pavolche. (Nikolov 1965; Wozniak 1974; Torbov 1997, 2005; Borangic 2009; Mac Congail 2010).
To the west, a total of eleven knives of this type, dating to the Late Têne period have been recorded in four sites identified with the settlement of the Celtic Taurisci. Four specimens belong to the rich collection of items recovered from the river Ljubljanica near the locality Bevke in Inner Carniola. Others surfaced in cemeteries of Lower Carniola: two at Bela Cerkev-Vinji Vrh and, one each, at Novo Mesto-Okrajno Glavarstvo119 and at Podzemelj. A further example has been recently recorded on the Celtic hillfort at Oberleiserberg in Lower Austria, which is believed to be further evidence of trade and cultural links between the population in this area and the Balkan Celts.(Karwowski 2015).
The Curved Dagger from Oberleiserberg (after Karwowski 2015)
The archaeological data clearly illustrates that the local curved dagger (sica) was rapidly adopted by the Celtic tribes upon their arrival in the Balkans, and their presence in numerous Celtic burials from this period (3rd c. BC – 1st c. AD, in isolated cases later), accompanied by La Têne swords, scabbards, shields etc. provides irrefutable proof that the sica became an intricate element of Balkan Celtic weaponry. Its spatial distribution – from Croatia in the west to the Black Sea in the east, and from Transylvania in the north to Galatia in the south – indicates that it was popular among the diverse Celtic tribes across southeastern Europe and Asia-Minor. Furthermore, the decoration and typology of these weapons indicate that they had not only a practical purpose, but also a ritual/religious significance.
Alexandrov G. (1984) Montana-eine thrakisch-römisch Stadt”, in Dritter Internationaler Thracologischer Kongress, Sofia, 1984, p. 218-231.
Belen-Latunić D. (2006) Late La Téne Knives of the Pritoka-Bela-Cerkev Type, In: Journal of Dalmatian archaeology and history, vol. 1, no. 99, December 2006, P. 63 – 70
Borangic C. (2009) Sica- Tipologie Şi Funcţionaliţe, NEMUS, IV, 7-8, 2009. P. 22-74
Božić D. (1981) Relativna kronologija mlajše železne dobe v Jugoslovanskem Podonavju. In: Arh. Vest. 32, 1981. p. 315-347
Dizdar M., Potrebica H. (2005) The late La Têne culture in central Slavonia (Croatia). In: Dobrzanska H., Megaw V. Poleska P. (eds.) Celts on the Margin. Studies in European Cultural Interaction (7th century BC – 1st century AD) Kraków 2005. P. 57 – 66
Dizdar M., Potrebica H. (2014) Kasnolatenski Ratnicki Grob iz Maloga Bilaca (Pozeska Kotlina, Hrvatska). In: Studia Praehistorica in Honorem Janez Dular, Opera Instituti Archaeologici Sloveniae 30, 2014, 355–376
Emilov, J. (2007) La Tene finds and the indigenous communities in Thrace. Interrelations during the Hellenistic period. – Studia Hercynia 11, 57-75
Georgieva M. (1992) Grabfunde in der Umgebung von Varna. In: Bulletin de Musée National de Varna, 28 (43), 1992, p.73-80
Gerov B. (1967) Untersuchungen über die westthrakischen Länder in römischer Zeit. II Teil – Annuaire de l’Université de Sofia. Faculté des letters. Tome I. XI, 1. P. 1-102.
Gerov B. (1968) Keltische Spuren in Westthrakien. In: Studien zur Geschichte un Philosophie des Altertums. Akademiai Kiadó, Budapest. P. 3349 – 355
Holder A. (1896-1910) Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz. I-III. Leipzig.
Karwowski M. (2015) Southern Cross-Regional Connections of the Celtic Settlement on the Oberleiserberg: An Analysis of Selected Finds. In: Boii – Taurisci (2015) Karwowski M., Ramsl P. C. (Eds.) Proceedings of the International Seminar, Oberleis-Klement, June 14th−15th, 2012 Mitteilungen der Prähistorischen Kommission Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Philosophisch-historische Klasse Band 85. Pp. 69 – 87
Кацаров Г. (1919) Келтите в стара Тракия и Македония, СИБАН 18, кл. ист. Фил. 10, София, 1919, 41-80
Кацаров Г. (1926) България в древността. Историко-археологически очерк. Популярна археологическа библиотека, No. 1. София
Kull B. (2002) Torques, Schwert und Silberschätze. Eisenzeitliche Ferbeziehungen zwischen Iberischer Halbinsel, Balkan und östlichem Mittelmeerraum, in: PZ, 77, 2002, p. 189-2003.
Mac Congail B. (2007) Belgae Expansion into South-Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor (4th – 3rd c. BC) In: PRAE, In honorem Henrieta Todorova. P. 295 – 302. Sofia
Mac Congail B. (2008) Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Plovdiv (attached Pdf.)
Mac Congail B., Krusseva B. (2010) The Men who Became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv
Majnarić-Pandžić N. (1970) Keltsko-latenska kultura u Slavoniji I Srijemu, Vinkovici.
Милојевић П., Милановић Д. (2015) ДЕПО ЛАТЕНСКИХ МЕТАЛНИХ ПРЕДМЕТА СА JУЖНИХ ПАДИНА ПЛАНИНЕ РТАЊ. In: Етно-културолошки ЗБОРНИК, књ. XIX, Сврљиг 2015
Nicolaescu-Plopşor C.S. (1945-1947) Antiquités celtiques en Olténie. In: Dacia 11-12, 1945-47. P 17-33
Nikolov B. (1965) Trakiiski pametnići v Vračansko. In: Isvestija-Sofia, 28, 1965, p. 163-202
Nešporova T. (2002) Nálezy z Košece-Nosdrovic. In: Archeologické vyskumy a nálezy na Slovensku v roku 2001. Nitra. P. 141-142
Popov R. (1928-1929) Novootkriti pametnici ot zeleznata epoha v Balgarija, Izvestija, Sofia, 5, 1928-1929, p. 273 – 290
Radoslavova, G. (2005) Văorăženie na boini – edna nahodka ot s. Ezerče, Razgradsko, p. 277-283. In: Trakija i okolnijat svjat. Haučna konferencija, Šumen, 2004. Sofia.
Szabó M., Petres E. (1992) Decorated Weapons of the La Têne Iron Age in the Carpathian Basin. Inv. Praehist Hungariae 5 (Budapest 1992)
Sirbu V., Dacian settlements and necropolises in SW Romania (2nd c. B.C. – 1st c. A.D.) in: The Society of the Living – The Community of the Dead (from the Neolithic to the Christian Era), Proceedings of the 7th International Colloquium of Funerary Archaeology.)
Theodossiev N. (2005) Celtic Settlement in North-Western Thrace during the Late Fourth and Third Centuries BC: Some Historical and Archaeological Notes. In: Dobrzanska H., Megaw V., Poleska P. (eds.) Celts on the Margin: Studies in European Cultural Interaction VII BC – I c. AD. Essays in Honor of Zenon Wozniak. Krakow 2004.
Todorović J. (1972) Praistorijska Karaburma, I, Beograd.
Торбов Н. (1997) Криви тракийски ножове от III пр. Хр. – I в. открити в сиверосападна България. In: Исвестия на музеите в сиверосападна България. т. 25. 1997.
Торбов Н. (2000) Мечове от III- I в. пр. Хр. открити в сиверосападна България. In: Исвестия на музеите в сиверосападна България. т. 28. 2000.
Torbov N. (2005) Curved Thracian Knives from North-Western Bulgaria, in: Heros Hephaistos, Studia in Honorem Liubae Ognenova – Marinova. Veliko Tarnovo, 2005. P. 358 – 367
Woźniak Z. (1974) Wschodnie pogranicze kultury Latenskiej. Wroclaw-Warszava-Krakow-Gdansk
Zotović R. (2007) Social and Cultural Aspects of the burial ‘Krajčinovićiv’ -Slana Voda (South-West Serbia, Mid II c. BC). Acta Septemcastrensis, VI, 1.