Monday, 21 October 2013

Celtic chain mail hook from Champagne

I bought this about seven years ago in an on line auction from France. The seller was from Champagne and was mainly selling modern gold jewelry, but also had a small collection of Roman and Celtic coins that appeared to be a consignment from a collector, rather than an accumulation of metal detector finds. This particular piece was listed as: "Objet en bronze ornementé 68 mm à identifier" and I won it for just under 30 Euros. I recognized it as Marnian Celtic and probably early third century BC.

Reverse of a silver coin of Cunobeline showing a
ram-headed "hippocamp"
The object is decorated similarly on both sides and is in the form of a ram-headed serpent with a fish tail. The decoration is of a typical "Marnian-scroll" with rounded rectangular beading at both ends and a band (torc?) at the neck. Parallels were difficult to find on artifacts, but a coin of the Ambiani showing a "sea monster" is very close. The subject (coiled serpent) of another coin, an extremely rare silver coin of Cunobeline illustrated with only a single specimen in the the Celtic Coin Index is also resolved by this piece as it can now be seen as ram-headed.

I am identifying the object as a Celtic chain mail hook because of its strong resemblance to the much later Roman Lorica hamata hook, a good example of which can be seen here. Chain mail was a Celtic invention and dates approximately to the time of this object.

When I learned that the seller was from Champagne, I checked I. M. Stead and V. Rigby, The Morel Collection. Iron Age Antiquities from Champagne in the British Museum, London. 1999, to see if I could find anything similar. There was nothing there, but the small details of the rod issuing from the nose and the beading finds parallels in fibulae illustrated on Plate 5, especially, No. 1604. The scroll appearing on No. 1614, seems a later development but is very interesting because of the apparent "fish tails" in the design. Both of these fibulae are dated to La Tène 1b.

For references to related objects and the subject of Celtic chain mail see Jope, Plates 201 and 287 g, h, and corresponding text. (see under Jope in library link)

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