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The CeltsA History from Earliest Times to the Present$

Bernhard Maier

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780748616053

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748616053.001.0001

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The Beginnings of Celtic History

The Beginnings of Celtic History

(p.9) Chapter 1 The Beginnings of Celtic History
The Celts

Bernhard Maier

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The period from the Greek geographers' and historians' first mention of the Celts by name until the political decline of the continental Celts, as a result of the expansion of the Roman empire and Germanic pressure, spans the last six centuries bc. Within this period we meet the Celts in an area extending from the Iberian peninsula in the west, across present-day France and northern Italy and the Balkans into Asia Minor in the east. The writings of antiquity and archaeological evidence form the main sources of our knowledge of the Celts of that era. This chapter discusses life in the Iron Age, princely graves and princely centres, and princely graves as a reflection of belief in the hereafter.

Keywords:   Celts, archaeology, Iron Age, princely graves, princely centres

Life in the Iron Age: Economy and Society in West Hallstatt Culture

The period from the Greek geographers' and historians' first mention of the Celts by name until the political decline of the continental Celts, as a result of the expansion of the Roman empire and Germanic pressure, spans the last six centuries BC. Within this period we meet the Celts in an area extending from the Iberian peninsula in the west, across present-day France and northern Italy and the Balkans into Asia Minor in the east. The writings of antiquity and archaeological evidence form the main sources of our knowledge of the Celts of that era, but written sources mostly skim lightly over long stretches of time, so archaeology often provides our only information. To archaeology we also owe the greater part of our knowledge of daily life, forms of economic activity and settlement, and the structure of society and religion in those centuries.

The first archaeological evidence of the Celts of central Europe appears in the late West Hallstatt culture, which in the sixth and fifth centuries BC extended from southern France across Switzerland into south-western Germany.1 The material underpinnings of this civilisation were provided mainly by agriculture and animal husbandry, but crafts and trade were also important. Evidence of these areas is seen clearly in archaeological remains, and from these we can also draw valuable conclusions concerning the organisation of society, the world-view and the religious outlook of the period. Naturally, the environment in which the early Celts lived differed in many respects from our own. Compared with modern conditions, the landscape (p.10)

The Beginnings of Celtic History

Map 1: Celtic sites in Europe

(p.11) they inhabited was largely untouched, except for larger settlements. There was no developed network of land routes, and natural watercourses provided the chief means of transporting merchandise. No streams and rivers were controlled, and vast forests harboured a great variety of animals. The mobility of the greater part of the population was limited, and most people's lives ran on well defined tracks and within a relatively restricted cultural area.

With regard to land use, the early Celts of central Europe belong in a tradition that can be traced, using archaeological deposits, from the Neolithic, through the Bronze and Iron Ages, and into the Middle Ages.2 The wooden plough was introduced into early European farming as far back as the third millennium BC, and the Celts knew a much improved version with an iron ploughshare. Crops such as barley, rye, oats, emmer, spelt and wheat, fibrous plants such as hemp and flax, and legumes such as peas, lentils and horse beans were cultivated, as well as woad for dying fabrics.

The most widespread domestic animal of the period was the ox, which could be used as a draught animal in the fields and for transporting heavy loads. The meat was eaten and the hide made into leather, while the cows provided milk and butter. Pig-rearing was most significant inland, as woodland pasture was the pig's most important food source until the introduction of the potato in the early modern age, and herds of swine could be kept only close to large beech and oak forests. Bone remnants show that both cattle and pigs were markedly smaller than the corresponding wild species and smaller than modern breeds, a fact which is attributed to the difficulty of caring for the beasts during the winter. Goats and sheep were less widespread than cattle and pigs. Sheep were reared mainly for their wool and played only a secondary role as a source of meat. Dogs were probably used as watch and guard animals, and to control vermin such as rats. In addition, according to later accounts by Greek and Roman authors, specially trained hunting dogs were used to track, hunt down and kill game. The Celtic name of a hunting dog especially prized for its speed, vertragos, was noted by the Greek author Arrian in the second century BC in his Kynegetika (On Hunting) and also occurs in Old French texts in the forms veltre or viautre. In the first century AD the Greek geographer Strabo (Geography 4, 5, 2) and in 283–4 AD the Roman poet Nemesianus (Cynegetica 219) report the export of British hunting dogs to Rome. (p.12) Unlike dogs, the cat was not introduced into central Europe until the influence of the Roman conquest was felt. The domestic fowl, descended from the red jungle fowl of India, was introduced at the beginning of the Iron Age to the regions north of the Alps from the Mediterranean area and may have been considered somewhat exotic by the early Celts. Hens had little economic importance, perhaps because they did not yet lay an egg every day. The prominence of cocks in the archaeological evidence has given rise to the view that at first poultry were kept primarily as ornamental fowl, on account of their brightly coloured plumes. Deposits of wild animals' bones in settlements show the wide variety of animals hunted by the early Celts: in addition to big game such as aurochs, bison, bear, red deer and wild boar, smaller animals such as roe deer, badgers, beavers, hares, wolves, foxes and many kinds of birds were hunted. Hunting, however, was probably motivated by the need to protect livestock or prevent damage to crops, rather than a need for meat. In view of the small returns for the large expenditure of time, hunting must have been mainly a privilege of the upper stratum of society.

Crafts were highly developed and specialised.3 Celtic pottery belongs to a tradition which in central Europe reaches back as far as the fifth millennium BC. At first the slow-turning potter's wheel was used, with today's fast-turning wheel encroaching from the Mediterranean towards the end of the Hallstatt period and being universally adopted in the centuries that followed. The multiple uses of Hallstatt ceramics can be seen from the great variety of types of vessel. The pots were often decorated with incised or stamped geometrical patterns, or painted with black, white, grey and red dye. Woodwork was also much prized. It was needed above all for the construction of dwellings and fortresses, and for the production of barrels, vats and pails, as well as for building four-wheeled carts with spoked wheels. Glass is found, among the West Hallstatt Celts, almost exclusively in the form of (imported) coloured beads in the graves of women and children. The oldest Celtic glass-making workshops date from the fourth century BC and existed primarily to produce ornaments. The use of glass for tableware, mirrors and windows was unknown among the ancient Celts. Only occasional specimens of weaving have survived, pointing to a highly developed technique, practised in special workshops. The materials used in (p.13) spinning and weaving included fibrous bark, flax and wool, of which wool has survived better than the others. The fibres were spun into yarn and worked into cloth on tall frame-shaped looms. Natural vegetable and mineral dyes were used as colouring agents, and brightly patterned cloth could be produced using the dyed yarn. The bones of wild animals and the antlers of stags, also worked by hand, yielded decorative articles in addition to tool handles, combs, awls and needles. The decorative articles included strings of threaded beads and slides, with which individual threads of beaded necklaces were separated and held apart.

Metalwork was of overriding importance. The early Celts worked iron, bronze, gold and, less commonly, silver, and it is possible to see a distinction between the manufacture of weapons, coarse work and artistic work. Iron, which unlike bronze was forged rather than smelted, was used in weapons (spear- and arrowheads, swords and shield mountings), tools (axes, hammers, tongs), household utensils (knives, shears, meat forks, roasting spits, fire-dogs), agricultural implements (shovels, hoes, sickles, scythes) and clothing accessories such as clips (or brooches) and belt buckles. The high technical level is illustrated by a dagger found in Lake Neuchâtel near Estavayer-le-Lac in the Swiss canton of Fribourg. The handle, blade and scabbard consist of forty-five components, ingeniously joined together by twenty-nine rivets and two solderings (see Spindler 1996, 229).

Bronze was used in articles of clothing and jewellery, tableware and ornamental fittings. For casting bronze, the cire perdue (lost wax) method was utilised, in which the object to be cast was first modelled in wax, then coated in clay. The mould thus produced was then heated to melt the wax, and the molten bronze poured into the cavity. A form of intarsia, in which iron objects were decorated with fine inlaid bronze wire, was also popular. Gold, which was found in rivers and mined in both open-cast and underground mines, was used primarily for making jewellery.

Since reliable representations of the early Celts are lacking, an impression of their costumes and appearance can be formed only from grave goods. There are difficulties in this, since in many cases the grave goods may have been made solely for burial while others must have remained in the possession of the living. However, it is still possible to draw a few general conclusions (see J. Biel in Bittel et al. 1981, 138–59 and Spindler 1996, 265–99). The fibula – a bronze (p.14) or iron clasp constructed on the principle of the safety pin – is the most widesprad and typical item, and first appears in the late West Hallstatt culture (known to archaeologists as Hallstatt D), as a replacement for the earlier pin. As fibulae underwent much change in size and shape, they provide archaeologists with a useful point of reference for dating their finds when other indications are lacking. Characteristic items in the graves of females are hairpins, found singly, in pairs or in larger numbers in the area of the head. They presumably served as decorative fastenings for caps, veils or headbands, to which the bronze rings often found in elaborately furnished graves may also belong. Tubular or solid cast bronze torcs, as well as necklaces of beads made of glass, amber, bone, horn, agate and bronze, served as neck adornments. The arm rings, bracelets and armlets, found mostly in pairs, display a great variety of types. Barrel-type armlets made of bronze plate or sapropelite (a glossy black bituminous coal), covering almost the entire forearm, are characteristic of richly appointed female graves. Belts, sometimes with decorative buckles or bronze chains, were used to gather clothes at the waist. The wearing of finger rings was apparently not customary in West Hallstatt culture. Instead, bronze anklets, worn mostly in pairs, are often found.

The evidence of excavated graves shows, on the other hand, that men's dress was relatively unadorned. Bronze, iron and gold torcs are occasionally found, but these must have been a mark of superior status. Unlike women, men never wore arm rings in pairs, and the anklets so often found in female graves are totally absent in male graves. As for the weapons of the early Celts, graves provide little information. Isolated lances or swords have been found, while the short daggers typical of rich graves seem to have been worn as marks of status and not actually used. However, it is unlikely that the graves reflect reality here, since not only swords but also defensive items such as helmets, shields, breastplates and greaves seem to have existed in central Europe even in the Bronze Age, so no doubt were also known to the early Celts.

The majority of the population lived in small open villages, which often lay among tilled fields close to streams or rivers.4 As fertile land was preferred for this purpose, subsequent land use means that these settlements can rarely be located. We therefore know much more about the fortified hilltop settlements, which were in fact far fewer in The majority of the population lived in small open villages, which often lay among tilled fields close to streams or rivers.4 As fertile land was preferred for this purpose, subsequent land use means that these settlements can rarely be located. We therefore know much more about the fortified hilltop settlements, which were in fact far fewer in (p.15) number, than we do about small villages, hamlets and farmsteads. Dwellings usually had a single storey and were mostly built of timber and wattle and daub. The floor was often of beaten clay, and the roof made of straw, rushes or bark. An open fire provided warmth, and the smoke escaped through an opening in the roof.

Trade and commerce played a major role in the Celtic economy. Both raw materials and finished goods were sometimes conveyed over distances of hundreds of kilometres (see Kimmig 1985 and Spindler 1996, 316–54). One such trading commodity was amber, which in ancient times was found mostly on the coasts of West Jutland and East Prussia. Known in the Bronze Age from the south of England to Greece, amber was much prized by the early Celts, above all in the form of beads, rings, pendants and inlaid work. Most finds of amber come from graves, and it is only rarely discovered in the excavation of settlements. Another valuable trading commodity was salt, which in prehistoric times was used chiefly to preserve meat and to work hides and metals. In central Europe at the beginning of the first millennium BC, an increase in demand can be observed, resulting perhaps from changes in climatic conditions. One of the first and most important salt-mining centres from the ninth to the fifth century BC was the Upper Austrian Salzkammergut, near Hallstatt on the west bank of Lake Hallstatt. Another important salt-trading point developed around 600 BC at the Dürrnberg, on the west bank of the Salzach about fifteen kilometres south of Salzburg. In about 500 BC a hill fort was established on the precipitous mountain ridge now known as the Ramsauerkopf, while less advantageous sites were used as burial grounds and numerous workshops were established in the Ramsautal.5

What gives the early Celtic, late Hallstatt culture its distinctive character and separates it fundamentally from previous centuries is the active trade with the civilisations of the Mediterranean, especially with the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseilles), the Veneti of the northern Adriatic and the Etruscans in central and northern Italy (see Fischer 1973, W. Kimmig in Bittel et al. 1981, 248–78 and Kimmig 1992). From there the Celts imported handicraft wares such as bronze vessels and ceramics, raw materials such as coral, and luxury foodstuffs, in particular wine. In many cases not only the products but also the traders must have found their way from the south over the Alps into the centres of Celtic culture. How the Celts (p.16) paid for such goods exceeds our knowledge, but raw materials such as gold, iron or pelts, and perhaps even slaves, may have been used. The distribution of the remains of these wares shows that these Mediterranean imports were in no sense everyday necessities, but rather costly luxuries, the preserve of a small elite.

Princely Graves and Princely Centres: The Self-Image of a Social Elite

In 1876, agricultural work near Hundersingen on the upper Danube uncovered gold jewellery and bronze vessels in prehistoric burial mounds. The Stuttgart curator of antiquities immediately embarked on further investigation at the site and termed these richly furnished burial sites ‘Fürstengräber’ or ‘princely graves’. Since that time German-speaking archaeologists have applied this term to a series of burial sites with precious grave goods from the sixth and fifth centuries BC. These count among the earliest evidence of Celtic culture in central Europe.6

The prime characteristic of the princely graves of the late Hallstatt period is the outward extravagance and often monumental scale evident in their construction, which required a large measure of communal organisation and considerable man-hours. They are further characterised by the presence of valuable commodities, including Mediterranean imports and objects made of precious metals, especially gold. It is also worth noting the conspicuous proximity of these graves to fortified hill settlements, which also often differ from those in less prominent situations in that they contain the remains of Mediterranean imports. All the evidence indicates that the denizens of these so-called Fürstensitze, or ‘princely centres’, and those buried in the nearby graves, were members of a politically influential and economically powerful tribal aristocracy, which maintained wide-ranging trading relations. The large area of the settlements and in part also the existence of later building have meant that exploration of the early Celtic princely centres of the late Hallstatt period has been most incomplete. In addition, many of the graves had already been robbed in ancient times, while others were excavated with the most modest of equipment and intentions in the nineteenth century and therefore incompletely documented. Only (p.17) those sites excavated in the most recent past provide a graphic picture of the original appearance of these settlements and graves and the lives of those who built them.

The most studied early Celtic princely centre is the Heuneburg, which lies on the upper Danube between Hundersingen and Binzwangen, and whose original Celtic name we do not know (see the surveys by S. Schiek and W. Kimmig in Bittel et al. 1981, 369–90; also Kimmig 1983a). In 1921 the first exploratory excavations here discovered the traces of a late Hallstatt settlement. Earlier excavators had put forward a hypothesis that the builders of the large neighbouring burial mound lived here, and the extensive archaeological investigations between 1950 and 1977 established this with much greater certainty. Today the history of the Heuneburg can be traced from the Bronze Age to the early Middle Ages, and all the evidence suggests that the period of early Celtic settlement from the beginning of the sixth century until about the end of the fifth century BC represents a splendid high point. The artificially levelled area of the Heuneburg forms a rough triangle, 300 metres long and 150 metres across. In keeping with native tradition, the whole site was originally fortified with a wall of timber and earth. Early in the sixth century BC, however, it was completely redesigned in a fashion most unusual in central Europe, when a three-to-four metre wall of dried mud-bricks was built on footings of limestone blocks, in a style reminiscent of contemporary Greek city defences. To do this, several thousand cubic metres of squared stones had to be transported from a limestone quarry six kilometres away. The continuous wall had two gates, and at least ten projecting bastions provided additional protection. Although these fortifications probably stood for over half a century, the mud-brick wall was demolished, for reasons unknown to us, following a devastating fire towards the end of the sixth century BC. After this the Heuneburg regained its original central European aspect following the construction of a timber and earthen rampart.

Like the external fortifications, the internal construction was based on a precise plan. The individual structures were separated from each other by narrow alleyways, and surrounding guttering collected some of the rainwater in butts and channelled the rest of it out under the wall. All the buildings, from the smallest to the largest farmsteads and halls with several naves, were built entirely of wood. (p.18) The sole archaeological remains to be seen, however, are the foundations, while all details of the buildings themselves, their windows, doors and roofs are largely unknown. The great quantity of iron and bronze debris, broken casting moulds, crucibles and corresponding fixtures in the dwellings in the south-east corner of the site have led archaeologists to conclude that it was probably occupied by the artisans' quarters. In the north of the site stood buildings which, instead of the usual earthen floor, had a tiled floor of neatly fitted mud-bricks. It is likely that the homes of the elite were situated here, with perhaps also a place of worship or a meeting-place. In the environs of the fortified area, numerous burial mounds may still be seen to this day and, unlike the settlement, these were excavated in the mid-nineteenth century.

Hohmichele, two kilometres west of the settlement, is one of the largest burial mounds in central Europe, measuring almost eighty metres in diameter and fourteen metres in height (see Riek and Hundt 1962). It was partially excavated for the first time in 1937–8, when it turned out that the central burial chamber, timber-built and carpeted with an ox-hide, had been plundered in antiquity. However, some twelve metres south-east of the central chamber, in a timberlined chamber, the sumptuously appointed grave of a man and his wife was found intact, complete with a four-wheeled cart, harness fittings for a pair of horses and a large bronze cauldron, given as burial gifts.

The masters of the Heuneburg owed their economic power to the extraction of raw materials like iron ore and clay on the one hand, as well as to their control over the important long-distance trade routes that led along the Danube and through the valleys of the Wutach and the upper Rhine to the west, and over the Hegau and central Switzerland across the Alpine passes to Italy. It is not only the Mediterranean influences in the construction of the fortifications that testify to wide-ranging and active contact with the Mediterranean area, but also the numerous fragments of imported ceramics from the South of France, Italy and Greece, which came to light during the excavations. Herodotus's report of the source of the Danube being ‘among the Celts’ (Histories 2, 33), who may have come from the Heuneburg area and been trading partners of the early Greeks, is perhaps a direct echo of these contacts.

The early Celtic princely centre of Mont Lassois, in the far west of (p.19) the West Hallstatt culture, also lay on one of the important long-distance trade routes.7 Situated on a steep hill on the left bank of the upper Seine, this site, fortified by a rampart and ditch, may have been one of the first trading points for the much prized Cornish tin. This could no longer be taken across the Straits of Gibraltar, following the victory of the Carthaginians over the Greeks in the naval battle of Alalia in 535 BC, and instead had to be transported to the Greek colonies in the South of France, including Massalia, by a land route through the valleys of the Seine and Rhône. The artefacts in the settlement deposits imported directly from the south include the remains of black-figure Attic pottery, wine amphorae and raw coral, which was fashioned into jewellery in local workshops. Further evidence of close contact with the Mediterranean littoral is provided by the pottery made in the Mont Lassois area, which shows traces of its southern origins in its style of painting, ornamentation, shaping and treatment of the surface.

In the vicinity of Mont Lassois four burial barrows were investigated as early as the nineteenth century, but only sparsely documented, owing to the archaeological practices of the time. A bronze cauldron and an iron tripod have been partially preserved, along with the remains of several four-wheeled carts, pieces of harness and gold bracelets and earrings, and these, together with the monumental scale of the barrows, indicate the high standing of the individuals buried here. The most significant discovery at Mont Lassois occurred in January 1953, when an exploratory excavation on the completely flat meadowland close to the bank of the Seine, not far from Vix, revealed a princely burial site from the mid-fifth century BC, as yet undisturbed. Beneath a burial mound about forty-two metres in diameter, which had later been levelled, in a pit more than two metres deep, excavators found a timberlined burial chamber, measuring about three by three metres. In addition to a poorly preserved skeleton, it contained the metal remains of an elaborately finished four-wheeled cart and an extensive collection of drinking wares. Of the personal belongings of the person interred, there remained eight fibulae, several beads of stone and amber from a necklace, arm rings and anklets, and a decorated tubular gold torc with two figures of Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. The drinking set comprised two Attic ceramic cups, a hemispherical silver vessel, a beaked flagon, two cups with handles, a bronze basin (p.20) and a huge bronze krater, or wine-mixing vessel, over 1.6 metres high and weighing 208 kilogrammes, and with a capacity of 1,100 litres, the largest metal vessel to survive from antiquity.

Comparable with the Heuneburg and Mont Lassois is the Hohenasperg, to the west of Ludwigsburg, where no archaeological investigation has been possible on the mountain itself owing to extensive subsequent building. It is accepted, however, that one of the most important early Celtic princely centres lay here, first because of its commanding topographical situation, and secondly because of its proximity to several rich burials.8 The barrow to the south of Ludwigsburg, now known as the Römerhügel (‘Roman barrow’), was investigated in the nineteenth century. Two graves were found, and their contents included the remains of a four-wheeled cart plated with sheet-bronze fittings, together with harness trappings, a gold torc and several bronze vessels. Another rich burial, the Grafenbühl, was excavated in 1964–5, but it emerged that the central burial chamber had been plundered soon after the burial. Of the original furnishings, there remained only a few items, including two gold-plated bronze brooches, fragments of drinking equipment, and pieces of a cart with iron fittings, in addition to sundry objects of ivory, bone and amber, which were evidently components of furniture imported from the Mediterranean.

A princely grave in Eberdingen-Hochdorf, discovered in 1968 and investigated in 1978–9, provides a vivid picture of the original wealth of such rich graves.9 Here, beneath an almost completely levelled grave mound in a field, the archaeologists came upon an undisturbed central burial chamber containing the well preserved skeleton of a man aged about forty. Several of his personal effects, including a birch-bark hat, three fish-hooks and a quiver with arrows, had been buried with him. Moreover, his clothing had been adorned with gold jewellery especially for the burial. He had been laid on a couch of punch-dotted bronze plate, of a type that had never been seen in any previously discovered burials. Among the grave goods was a four-wheeled cart with harness, an extensive range of tableware, including nine drinking horns (one made of iron, the others from aurochs' horns), and a bronze cauldron with a capacity of 500 litres, imported from the Mediterranean. Thanks to favourable atmospheric conditions, the organic material was unusually well preserved and it was possible to draw numerous conclusions about living and (p.21) environmental conditions, for example the quiver and arrows provided information about the kinds of wood used, which had been selected with expert knowledge. The cauldron still contained a residue of mead, the analysis of which yielded information on its ingredients and the plant life in the area of the grave, while a study of the fabric remains provided insights into the material, manufacture and colouring of the cloth used. In 1985 the Hochdorf barrow was rebuilt at its original size, six metres high and sixty metres in diameter, with 7,000 cubic metres of earth and 280 tons of stone. Following painstaking conservation and restoration work, the original finds are now on display in the Württemberg Landesmuseum in Stuttgart, and the Hochdorf/Enz Celtic Museum at the site includes reconstructions of the burial artefacts.

Life After Death: Princely Graves as a Reflection of Belief in the Hereafter

It is beyond question that the prominent social position of the early Celtic ‘princes’ or chieftains rested on their control of wide-ranging trade routes and thus on economic and political power. It is likely that this power had a religious and judicial basis as well, although we can only conjecture on this, in the absence of contemporary documentary sources. Many of the grave goods, particularly the four-wheeled carts – sometimes richly decorated – point to the likelihood that the early Celtic chieftains played a religious or ritual role. These carts, being lightly built, were ill-suited to the transportation of heavy goods, but the iron felloes and nails indicate that they were kept in constant readiness for use. It is probable that they were not merely for prestige, but also for use in ritual or ceremonial parades. The tillage implement unearthed during the excavation of the princely grave at Magdalenenberg, near Villingen, probably also had ritual importance. This consists of two wooden beams, 2.2 metres long, cut straight and squared and joined by five cross-members 1.5 metres long. We know from parallels in ethnography that this implement, drawn by oxen, was used to close the furrows after ploughing and the sowing of seed, to protect the seed against birds. As the spruce-bole implement from Magdalenenberg shows no signs of use, it may well be a burial gift connected with a perception (p.22) that the ruler had some responsibility for the fertility of the land (see Spindler 1996, 302–4).

The practice, adopted from northern Italy, of placing a stone effigy of the deceased on the top of the burial mound may be connected with a form of the cult of the dead. Perhaps the most impressive Hallstatt era specimen is the effigy discovered in 1963–4 in Hirschlanden near Ludwigsburg (see Spindler 1996, 172–85). It shows the deceased standing upright, naked, with phallus erect. Besides a neck ring, he is wearing a belt with a narrow-bladed dagger thrust into it, as a mark of status, and a flattish head-covering, possibly a representation of a birch-bark hat like the one found later in the Hochdorf barrow. The face appears to be slightly displaced downwards and may show the deceased in a mask. Two limestone figures found in 1992 at the entrance to a cult site close to the Vix burial should probably also be seen as representing an ancestral cult, or cult of heroes (see B. Chaume et al. in Haffner 1995, 43–50).

The scarlet cloak in which the body in the Hochdorf chieftain's grave was wrapped is worthy of special attention. Investigations have shown that this is a product of local weavers' art, but one treated with red dye extracted from the Kermes oak insect, imported from the Mediterranean and no doubt expensive. Whatever symbolic significance the cloak might have had lies beyond our knowledge, owing to the lack of recorded evidence. On the one hand, it may be related to the funerary tradition since red, being the colour of blood, played an important role in prehistoric times. On the other, it might be a token of sovereignty, like the crimson raiment of the Persian and later Hellenic rulers. The nine gold-bound drinking horns interred in the Hochdorf mound also had some symbolic meaning that cannot be determined. The practice of drinking from lavishly decorated ox horns is encountered in central Europe from the second half of the sixth century BC. It probably dates back, through Greek intermediaries, to the drinking customs of nomadic Near Eastern horsemen, but among the Celts such finds are known only from exceptionally rich burials. It is likely that an iron drinking horn was meant to mark the departed as a sovereign, since in the medieval literature of the insular Celts the drinking horn still stood as a metaphor for a ruler.10

Taken all together, the princely graves of the West Hallstatt culture known to us so far create the impression that the early Celts perceived the hereafter as a continuation of earthly life, in which the (p.23) political, economic and very likely the religious elite maintained their leading positions even after death. The opulence of their burial furnishings, unchanged through many generations, cannot fail to astonish. How the early Celts endured the loss of these undoubtedly valuable materials we cannot know. We may only suppose that the economic burden created within their hierarchically structured society led to growing tensions. It is therefore no surprise that a mere 200 years after the rise of the princely centres, with their enormous concentration of political and economic power in the hands of a small elite, far-reaching changes can be seen in the world of the early Celts.


(1.) The most recent comprehensive study is Spindler 1996. Brief summaries of our knowledge of individual regions and sites are given in the contributions to Moscati et al. 1991, 75–123. A cross-section of recent research will be found in the collection by Brun and Chaume 1997. See also Rieckhoff and Biel 2001.

(2.) For recent surveys see Green 1992, 5–43, P. J. Reynolds in Green 1995, 176–209 and Spindler 1996, 300–15.

(3.) For recent surveys see H. Reim in Bittel et al. 1981, 204–27, Kimmig 1983b, several contributions in Green 1995, 285–341 and Spindler 1996, 201–64. See also H.-J. Hundt in Keltenfürst 1985, 107–15 (on textiles), Schaaff et al. 1987 and Vosteen 1999(on wagon-building). See Schmidt 1983 on early Celtic craft terms which can be partially reconstructed from later sources with the aid of comparative linguistics.

(4.) See Spindler 1996, 43–91. On Celtic settlement patterns in general see Audouze and Büchsenschuütz 1992.

(5.) See the surveys by E. Penninger, K. W. Zeller and L. Pauli in Kelten 1980, 150–93; also Zeller 1995 and Th. Stöllner in Jerem et al. 1996, 225–43.

(6.) For a first introduction see Fischer and Biel 1982; also O.-H. Frey in Moscati et al. 1991, 75–92. On the more recent debate concerning the problems of archaeological interpretation see also W. Kimmig, M. K. H. Eggert, F. Fischer and P. Brun in Brun and Chaume 1997, 13–16, 287–94, 295–302 and 321–30.

(7.) See the summary in Spindler 1996, 54–7 and 105–9 and the more extensive coverage in Joffroy 1979. On more recent research see R. Goguey and B. Chaume in Brun and Chaume 1997, 179–84 and 185–200.

(8.) See Bittel et al. 1981, 390–400. On more recent research see J. Biel in Brun and Chaume 1997, 17–22.

(9.) See the summary by Biel 1985 and several contributions to the exhibition catalogue Keltenfürst 1985, 33–45 and 79–134; also the thorough treatment of drinking ware from this grave in Krausse 1996.

(10.) Biel 1985D. Krausse-Steinberger in Hundert Meisterwerke 1992, 111–14,Mac Cana 1993