Balkan Celtic Warrior Burial from Kladovo (e. Serbia)

Inventory of a Balkan Celtic warrior burial excavated at Ajmana, near Kladovo /  Кладово in the Bor district of  eastern Serbia. Grave goods in the (cremation) burial, which dates to the 1st century BC, included metal and ceramic vessels, knives, spears, and a ‘sacrificial’ curved dagger (Sica).

Cremation - Celtic warrior, 1st c BC, excavated in Ajmana, vicinity of Kladovo, eastern Serbia. two spears, curved sica knife, two more iron knives, some bronze and ceramic vessels.



On Balkan Celtic Sacrificial Curved Daggers / Sicae see:



a - a - a- curved daggers machaira - Copy

The use of curved single-edged swords – μαχαιρα/machaira* (and variants thereof) – developed during the Bronze Age in south-eastern Europe, with both the Iapodic and Liburian groups on the eastern Adriatic coast using variants of the machaira during this period (Batović 1983:314; Dreschler-Bižić 1983:383-384). Machaira type swords also appear…


A Late La Tene Warrior Burial from Koynare (Bulgaria)

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).






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).





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)









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 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)








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)

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.






















UD: May 2019




Bulbuc - Alba County decorated killed iron dagger


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).


 1- 1 -1 - Machaira sica


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)




mont illust

Detail of the Celtic curved dagger (Sica) from the Montana burial. Note the mirrored ravens and solar motifs

(RGZM – Inv. # 0.42302/04)



Bulbuc - Alba County decorated killed iron dagger

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’.


 aa - x serb

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

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.














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Gerov B. (1968) Keltische Spuren in Westthrakien. In: Studien zur Geschichte un Philosophie des Altertums. Akademiai Kiadó, Budapest. P. 3349 – 355

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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

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Mac Congail