Alphabet of the Druids ? – Evidence for the use of a Celto-Etruscan script among the Balkan Celts

A fascinating series of inscriptions discovered in the ‘Roman’ cemetery at Poetovio in Pannonia (Ptuj, e. Slovenia) have provided sensational evidence on Celtic society and religion during the Roman period in this part of Europe, and the use of a Celto-Etruscan script on the Balkans.

Among the graffiti on ceramic vessels found at the western cemetery at Poetovio, a number of Celtic inscriptions have been identified which may be divided into 2 main groups:

The first group of inscriptions includes a number of vessels, which date from the 1st / 3rd c. AD, inscribed with Celtic names. Example of such include the names TOCIES – written on a jug dating to the late 1st/ 2nd c., and M. BITTIV, inscribed on the body of another jug, Bittius/Bitus being one of the most common Celtic personal names, recorded in numerous inscriptions across Europe from the British Isles to Galatia (Egri 2007; see also mac Gonagle 2012).

Bituis - Tocies

The TOCIES and BITTIV inscriptions

(after Egri 2007)

 

While the aforementioned inscriptions give us valuable information on the ethnic composition of this region during the period, most interesting from the Poetovio site are two religious inscriptions, which provide fascinating evidence on Celtic (Romano-Celtic) religion and the use of a Celto-Etruscan script in this region.

 

THE NUTRICES

The first of these inscriptions – MATERIA – (written on a jar in cursive letters) is particularly interesting because it is further evidence of a phenomenon already identified by archaeological data from the area – the worship of the Celtic Mother Goddess, in the form of the Nursing Matres or Nutrices.

 

mat

(after Bόnis 1942)

 

The Nursing Matres or Nutrices was a cult widespread in the Celtic world, and particularly significant around Poetovio where 2 sanctuaries and numerous depictions, often with inscriptions, have been discovered. 

mat. gl

Five statuettes in white terracotta of nursing Matres discovered in a well in Auxerre (Yonne).

(Deyts, 1998, n° 30, p. 68)

 

At Poetovio the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form, often portrayed as 3 women, one of them holding and breastfeeding a baby. A significant number of dedicators to the Nutrices at the site also have Celtic names indicating that the cult of the Nursing Matres were brought here by a Celtic group which had settled the region with other Celtic tribes when they occupied the later Regnum Noricum  (Šašel Kos 1999).

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/to-the-3-almighty-mothers-on-the-celtic-cult-of-the-nutrices-nursing-mothers/

 

 

“Alphabet of the Druids”

 

The most sensational Celtic inscription to be found at Poetovio is undoubtedly that found on a ceramic beaker at the site. Dated to the 2nd/3rd c. AD, and written in a Celto-Etruscan script, the inscription reads:

ARTEBUDZ BROGDU

which has been translated as ‘Artebudz for Brogdos’. Both names are Celtic, and the vessel was a votive offering to Brogdos – a deity guarding the border between the world of the living and the after-world (Eichner et al 1994:137; Egri 2007).

 

brogdos p

The Brogdos Inscription

(after Istenič 2000)

 

The use of scripts based on the Etruscan alphabet by the Celtic tribes is well documented in other parts of Europe, with recent discoveries providing important new information which indicates that the use of such was much more extensive than previously thought.  

1 - TARANIS incs.

Fragment of bone with inscription to the Thunder God Taranis in a Celto-Etruscan script, from Tesero di Sottopendonda (Trente) Italy (4/3 c. BC)

 

Inscribed glass bead from a Celtic burial at Münsingen-Rain (Bern), Switzerland. The inscription (in Etruscan characters from right to left) is a proper name - Anthine. 3-2 c bc 2

Inscribed glass bead from a Celtic burial at Münsingen-Rain (Bern), Switzerland. The inscription (in Etruscan characters from right to left) is a proper name – Anthine.

(3-2 c. BC)

Mathay-Mandeure sanctuary the seven engraved beads Doubs, France Lepontic or Insubro-Lepontic script 2-1 c bc

 

7 glass beads from a Celtic sanctuary at Mathay-Mandeure (Doubs) in eastern France. Discovered in the 19th century, it has only recently been established that the beads are engraved with inscriptions in a Celto-Etruscan (Lepontic / Insubro-Lepontic) script. A growing number of Celtic artifacts bearing inscriptions in a similar script, apparently of a religious nature, have been discovered at a number of Celtic sites across Europe.

(2/1 c. BC)

 

Recorded in other parts of Europe, the use of such a Celtic-Etruscan script on the Balkans has also been known from a series of pre-Roman inscriptions discovered prior to the First World War, in the 1950’s and a handful of recent publications from sites such as Grad near Reka (a cremation urn), the situla fragment from the site in Posočje, as well as the bronze plaque fragment from Gradič above Kobarid (Turk et al 2009), and on a number of Celtic coins (particularly of the Paeonian model) and other artifacts.

Probably the best known examples are the Negau Inscriptions. Discovered  in an orchard at the village of Negau (today Ženjak) in Slovenia, the Negau Hoard consisted of 26 bronze Etruscan helmets, many bearing inscriptions in a Celto-Etruscan script. The helmets are of an Etruscan design from circa 500-450 BC called the Vetulonic or Negau type, which are of bronze with a comb-shaped ridge across the skull, and a protruding rim with a groove right above the rim. However, the inscriptions on the helmets are believed to have been added at a much later date (2nd c. BC), and the deposition has been dated to circa 50 BC – i.e. shortly before the Roman conquest of the area.

The Negau B Helmet and inscription

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/the-negau-inscriptions/

 

Slo plaq

Silver votive plaque from Vrh Gradu (Šentviška Gora), eastern Slovenia with Celto-Etruscan inscription (2-1 c. BC)

 

1 - GRAD a-b

The Grad (A) and Posočje (B) inscriptions

(After Turk et al 2009)

 

 

However, until now all archaeological evidence of the use of this script on the Balkans has been confined to the pre-Roman period. Thus, the significance of the BROGDOS inscription from Poetovio cannot be overstated, as it represents not only a further example of this alphabet, but provides conclusive archaeological evidence that this writing system was still known and used in certain parts of the Balkans throughout the Roman period. It is also interesting to note that in each case the script appears to be used in religious contexts, suggesting that the alphabet was strictly controlled and used only by Celtic priests/druids, while the Greek and Latin alphabets were used for more mundane purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Bόnis E. (1942) Die kaiserzeitliche Keramik von Pannonien. Dissertationes Pannonicae 2.20. Budapest.

Egri M. (2007) Graffiti on Ceramic Vessels from the Western Cemetery at Poetovio. In: Funerary Offerings and Votive Depositions in Europe’s 1st Millennium AD. Cluj-Napoca 2007. P. 37 – 48.

Eichner H., Istenič J., Lovenjak M. (1994) Ein römerzeitliches Keramikgefäss aus Ptuj (Pettau, Poetovio) in Slowenien mit Inschrift in unekanntem Alphabet und epichorischer (vermutlich kelticher) Sprache. In: Arheološki Vestnik 45, 1994, 131-142.

Istenič  J. (2000) Poetovio, the western cemeteries II. Ljubljana.

Mac Gonagle B. (2012) https://www.academia.edu/3292310/The_Thracian_Myth_-_Celtic_Personal_Names_in_Thrace

Šašel Kos (1999) Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic – Situla 38, Ljubljana.

Turk P., Božič D., Istenič J., Osmuk N., Šmit Ž. (2009)New Pre-Roman Inscriptions from Western Slovenia : The Archaeological Evidence. In: Protohistoire Européenne II, 2009. Éditions monique mergoil Montagnac. p. 47–64.

 

 

 

Mac Congail

BETWEEN BIRTH AND DEATH – Celtic Graffiti

UD: October 2018

 

 

Nutr 1

 

A fascinating series of inscriptions discovered in the ‘Roman’ cemetery at Poetovio in Pannonia (Ptuj, e. Slovenia) have provided sensational new evidence on Celtic society and religion during the Roman period, and the use of a unique Celtic alphabet on the Balkans.

 Among the graffiti on ceramic vessels found at the western cemetery at Poetovio, a number of Celtic inscriptions have been identified which may be divided into 2 main groups:

The first group of inscriptions includes a number of vessels, which date from the 1st / 3rd c. AD, inscribed with Celtic names. Example of such include the names TOCIES – written on a jug dating to the late 1st/ 2nd c., and M. BITTIV, inscribed on the body of another jug, Bittius/Bitus being one of the most common Celtic personal names, recorded in numerous inscriptions across Europe from the British Isles to Galatia (Egri 2007; see also mac Gonagle 2012).

Bituis - Tocies

The TOCIES and BITTIV inscriptions

(after Egri 2007)

 

While the aforementioned inscriptions give us valuable information on the ethnic composition of this region during the period, most interesting from the Poetovio site are two religious inscriptions, which provide fascinating evidence on Celtic (Romano-Celtic) religion and the use of the Celto-Etruscan alphabet on the Balkans.

 

THE NUTRICES

The first of these inscriptions – MATERIA – (written on a jar in cursive letters) is particularly interesting because it is further evidence of a phenomenon already identified by archaeological data from the area – the worship of the Celtic Mother Goddess, in the form of the Nursing Matres or Nutrices.

 

mat

(after Bόnis 1942)

 

The Nursing Matres or Nutrices was a cult widespread in the Celtic world, and particularly significant around Poetovio where 2 sanctuaries and numerous depictions, often with inscriptions, have been discovered.

mat. poet

Representation of the Nutrices from Poetovio

(LIMC, vol. 6.2, p. 620, n°4)

 

mat. gl

Five statuettes in white terracotta of nursing Matres discovered in a well in Auxerre (Yonne).

(Deyts, 1998, n° 30, p. 68)

 

 At Poetovio the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form, often portrayed as 3 women, one of them holding and breastfeeding a baby. A significant number of dedicators to the Nutrices at the site also have Celtic names indicating that the cult of the Nursing Matres were brought here by a Celtic group which had settled the region with other Celtic tribes when they occupied the later Regnum Noricum  (Šašel Kos 1999).

 

“Alphabet of the Illiterate”

The most extraordinary Celtic inscription to be found at Poetovio is undoubtedly that found on a beaker at the site. Dated to the 2nd/3rd c. AD, and written in a Celto-Etruscan script, this inscription reads:

 

ARTEBUDZ BROGDUI

 

which has been translated as ‘Artebudz for Brogdos’. Both names are Celtic, and the vessel was a votive offering to Brogdos – a deity guarding the border between the world of the living and the after-world (Eichner et al 1994:137; Egri 2007).

 

brogdos p

 

The Brogdos Inscription

(after Istenič 2000)

 

 Recorded in other parts of Europe, the use of such a Celtic alphabet on the Balkans has hitherto been known only from a series of pre-Roman inscriptions discovered prior to the First World War, in the 1950’s and a handful of recent publications from sites such as Grad near Reka (a cremation urn), the situla fragment from the site in Posočje, as well as the bronze plaque fragment from Gradič above Kobarid (Turk et al 2009), and on a number of Celtic coins (particularly of the Paeonian model) and other artifacts (see Numismatics section). It is interesting to note that in each case, as with the Poetevio inscription, this Celtic script appears to be used in religious contexts, suggesting that the alphabet was strictly controlled and used only by the Celtic priests/druids, while the Greek and Latin alphabets were used for more mundane purposes.

 

silver-votive-plaque-vrh-gradu-sentviska-gora-eastern-slovenia-2-1-c-bc

Silver votive plaque from Vrh Gradu (Šentviška Gora), eastern Slovenia  (2-1 c. BC)

 

1 - GRAD a-b

 

The Grad (A) and Posočje (B) inscriptions

(After Turk et al 2009)

 

1 - TARANIS incs.

Fragment of bone with inscription to the Thunder God Taranis in a Celto-Etruscan script, from Tesero di Sottopendonda (Trente) Italy (4/3 c. BC)

No automatic alt text available.

Inscribed glass bead from a Celtic burial at Münsingen-Rain (Bern), Switzerland. The inscription (in Etruscan characters from right to left) is a proper name – Anthine.

(3-2 c. BC)

 

 However, until now all archaeological evidence of the use of this Celtic alphabet on the Balkans has been confined to the pre-Roman period. Thus, the significance of the BROGDOS inscription from Poetovio cannot be overstated, as it represents not only a further example of this alphabet, but provides conclusive archaeological evidence that this writing system was still known and used in certain parts of the Balkans throughout the Roman period.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Bόnis E. (1942) Die kaiserzeitliche Keramik von Pannonien. Dissertationes Pannonicae 2.20. Budapest.

Egri M. (2007) Graffiti on Ceramic Vessels from the Western Cemetery at Poetovio. In: Funerary Offerings and Votive Depositions in Europe’s 1st Millennium AD. Cluj-Napoca 2007. P. 37 – 48.

Eichner H., Istenič J., Lovenjak M. (1994) Ein römerzeitliches Keramikgefäss aus Ptuj (Pettau, Poetovio) in Slowenien mit Inschrift in unekanntem Alphabet und epichorischer (vermutlich kelticher) Sprache. In: Arheološki Vestnik 45, 1994, 131-142.

Istenič  J. (2000) Poetovio, the western cemeteries II. Ljubljana.

Mac Gonagle B. (2012) https://www.academia.edu/3292310/The_Thracian_Myth_-_Celtic_Personal_Names_in_Thrace

Šašel Kos (1999) Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic – Situla 38, Ljubljana.

Turk P., Božič D., Istenič J., Osmuk N., Šmit Ž. (2009)New Pre-Roman Inscriptions from Western Slovenia : The Archaeological Evidence. In: Protohistoire Européenne II, 2009. Éditions monique mergoil Montagnac. p. 47–64.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TARANIS – The Celtic Thunder God

UD: Jan. 2019

“And those who pacify with blood accursed

Savage Teutates, Hesus’ horrid shrines,

And Taranis’ altars cruel as were those

Loved by Diana, goddess of the north”.

Lucanus (Pharsalia, Book 1)

gdd tar

The three Celtic deities best known from classical sources are Teutates, Esus, and Taranis. Teutates is identified with Mars or Mercury, and receives as human sacrifice drowned captives and fallen warriors. Esus too is identified with Mercury, but also with Mars, and he accepts as sacrifice prisoners who are hanged on trees and then dismembered.

The Celtic ‘Thunder-God’ – Taranis, who is also known from nine inscriptions found in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, France and Belgium, and figures as the character of Taran in the Cymric (Welsh) Mabinogi of Branwen ferch Llŷr, is identified with Jupiter, as a warlord and a sky god. Human sacrifices to Taranis were made by burning prisoners (Mac Congail/Krusseva 2010).

Taranis (with wheel and thunderbolt) (0.103 m.)

(Le Chatelet, Gourzon, (Haute-Marne), France)

 

 

Noteworthy is the fact that the main Celtic God, Lugh/Lugus, is not mentioned by Lucanus (op cit), leading to the suggestion of Rübekeil (2003:38), in view of his hypothesis of a Celtic origin of the Germanic god Odin, that Lugus refers to the trinity Teutates-Esus-Taranis considered as a single god (Rübekeil L. Wodan und andere forschungsgeschichtliche Leichen: exhumiert, Beiträge zur Namenforschung 38 (2003), 25–42).

 Based on writings in the ninth century comment on Lucan, the Berne Scholia, and descriptions in Caesar’s De Bello Gallica, Taranis has been identified as the deity to whom both Julius Caesar and Strabo describe human sacrifices being offered by being burnt alive in ‘wicker men’. The Berne Scholia also describes Taranis as a ‘master of war’, and links him with the Roman deity Jupiter. Taranis’ name is derived from the Proto-Celtic root  *torano- ‘thunder’ [Noun] (GOlD: Olr. torann – ‘thunder, noise’ W: MW taran [f] ‘(peal of) thunder, thunderclap’, BRET: OBret. taran gl. tonitru, MoBret. taran [m] CO: OCo. taran gl. tonitruum, MCo. taran).

statue-de-jupiter-taranis-la-main-droite-une-roue-a-dix-raies-attribut-gaulois-et-ayant-a-sa-gauche-un-aigle-oiseau-de-jupiter-musee-lapidaire-davignon

Jupiter Taranis – Roman era statue of Taranis syncretised with Jupiter, with eagle and solar/Taranis wheel (attributes of the respective deities) in the  Musée lapidaire d’Avignon.

The Gaulish word for ‘thunder’ is preserved in the Gasconian dialect of French (taram). The Celtic forms are best explained by a metathesis *tonaro- > *torano-. The unmetathesized form is perhaps attested as the OBrit. Theonym Tanaro and in the old name of the river Po, Tanarus ‘thundering’. (REF: LEIA T-l13, GPC III: 3447, Delamarre 290, Deshayes 2003: 714; See Matasovic R., Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leinen/Boston 2009. P. 384, with relevant lit.).

a - a Fragment of bone with insc. to Taranis in a C-et script from Sottopendonda Italy 4-3 c. BC

Fragment of bone with inscription to Taranis in a Celto-Etruscan script, from Tesero di Sottopendonda (Trente) Italy (4/3 c. BC)

THE WHEEL OF TARANIS

Bronze applique,  decorated with zoomorphic/bird figures and solar/Taranis wheels, discovered in the Forest of Moidons (Burgandy), France

(6th c. BC)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a-boii-tótfalu-type-w.-hungary-2c.-bc.jpg

Stallion with 3 penises, under Taranis wheel – reverse of a Celtic issue of the Tótfalu type from western Hungary (2c. BC)

Associated with the Celtic Thunder God is the Solar Wheel or Wheel of Taranis. The wheel was an important symbol in Celtic polytheism, associated with a specific god, known as the wheel-god, identified as the sky-, sun-, or thunder-god, whose name is attested to as Taranis by Lucanus (op cit). Numerous representations of the Wheel of Taranis are found on coins and other artifacts across Celtic Europe, from Britain in the west to Thrace in the east:

8-spoked votive wheels (rouelles / bronze), thought to correspond to the cult of Taranis. Thousands of such wheels have been found in sanctuaries and other sites across Celtic Europe.

(Musée d’Archéologie Nationale, France)

8-spoked (lead) votive Taranis wheel from the Celtic (Scordisci) settlement at Čurug, Vojvodina Province, Serbia (2-1 c. BC)

gold-beads-and-pendants-from-necklace-in-a-bog-near-szarazd-regoly-hillfort-late-2nd-c-bc-szarazd-regoly-tolna-county

Gold beads and pendants, including solar/Taranis wheels, from the Celtic Szárazd-Regöly hoard, discovered in a swamp near Regöly hillfort (Tolna), Hungary

(1st c. BC)

Gaul. Aedui tribe. (Circa 80-50 BC)

AR Quinarius. Helmeted head of Roma left /  horse prancing left, Wheel of Taranis below.

thasos-taranis-rev

Reverse of a Balkan Celtic tetradrachm from central Bulgaria. Note the solar/Taranis wheel in the top left corner.

(1st c. BC)

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

1 c. BC CALÈTES (Pays de Caux) Quart de statère, de Bordeaux-Saint-Clair - électrum - 1 c. BC OBVERSE

Obverse of a quarter stater of the Caletes tribe with solar/Taranis wheel on the subjects face, discovered at Bordeaux-Saint-Clair (Haute-Normandie), France (1 c. BC)

Belgic Gaul, Treviri AV Stater. ca. 60–30/25 BC.

Celticized horse rearing left, in upper field star, V with dotted border, & cross with four annulets between arms, pellet-cross under belly, star under tail; Wheel of Taranis, two stars & globule in front, above a row of pellets, herringbone pattern, solid line above which three stars.

THUNDER ON THE BALKANS

In southeastern Europe a range of Celtic artifacts have also been found which depict the Wheel of Taranis. The Celtic deity holding the solar wheel is represented, for example, on Plate C of the Gundestrup Cauldron thought to have been produced by the Thraco-Celtic Scordisci tribes in northwestern Bulgaria in the late 2nd c. BC. Artifacts depicting the Wheel of Taranis in this region range from Celtic coins dating from the 3rd c. BC onwards, to Romano-Celtic artifacts from the same region dating to the 3rd/4th c. AD.

Taranis with Wheel as depicted on plate C of the Gundestrup cauldron

In the 20’s of the 2nd c. BC the Scordisci tribe in Thrace 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).

See also:

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

Celtic tetradrachms from the Ribnjacka Hoard (Bjelovar, Croatia) –  2nd / 1st c. BC. Note the Wheel of Taranis in front of the horseman on the reverse. A large number of tetradrachms found in this hoard bore the symbol of the Taranis Wheel (Nos. 45 – 64).

(After Kos P., Mirnik I. The Ribnjacka Hoard (Bjelovar, Croatia). In The Numismatic Chronicle 159 (1999)

a - Taranis b buck

Celtic belt buckle of the Laminci type with Taranis Wheel from Dalj, eastern Croatia (1 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/a-taranis-belt-buckle-from-dalj-eastern-croatia/

Scordisci AR Drachm. Dachreiter type. Serbia/Bulgaria (2/ 1 c. BC)

Laureate head right / Horse trotting left. Wheel of Taranis above

Evidence for the worship of Taranis across Europe, and the depiction of the Solar Wheel associated with this Celtic deity on coins and other artifacts, is particularly important as it again illustrates that although regional differences existed between the pan-Celtic peoples in terms of material culture, certain core religious beliefs and iconography were shared, and remained constant despite temporal and geographic dispersion.

Mac Congail