Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 6: All roads lead to Italy

5th century BC.
Rogers fund, 1912. OASC image
During the classical periods, Italy was probably the most cosmopolitan area in the western world, but all over the western Mediterranean people were arriving from more eastern locations mainly to engage in trade, but also to escape oppression, or to seek out new patrons for their skills. Canaanites from Tyre, whom the Greeks called Phoenicians, founded Carthage on the north African coast, but they had been at Gades in Spain much earlier than that; Phokaians from Asia Minor founded Massalia in south of France and, later, Emporiai in Spain. One of the strongest lures had been the tin trade. Gold, silver and copper could be found in many places, but the sources of tin were far fewer and everyone wanted British tin. Italy, at those times was not a political entity, but a geographical location consisting of many countries and it remained so until the 19th century. Italy is actually a very young country.

One of the greatest civilization in Italy was Etruria in the north. The Etruscans had always thought to have originated in Asia Minor, but recent dna studies are suggesting that they were indigenous. We have to be careful, though, and not associate genetics with culture too strongly. There still could have been influences that now define the culture that had originated in Asia Minor. Even the Etruscan language appears to have had multiple roots.

I chose to illustrate an Etruscan oinochoe, or "wine pourer" (Greek: οἶνος = wine, χέω = to pour) for a specific reason ― the Basse-Yutz flagons (one of the pair is illustrated to the left) represent an important stage of early Celtic art and are from the same century, and most of the earliest expressions of the La Tène religion are not the weaponry which defines the later periods, but vessels to do with the consumption of wine. The Etruscan connection is sound, and in fact, the flagons were found with two Etruscan vessels made to mix wine. We can easily see that it was series of three rivers that brought Etruscan goods which were prototypical to most early Celtic art to the main centres of that art: the Rhine; the Mosel; and the Saar.

To say that early Celtic art emerged because the Celts liked their wine would be rather short-sighted. Certain regions adopt an iconography (especially on the coins) which reflects their economy: a great number of coins from Thessaly in northern Greece feature horses, and that region was famous for horse-breeding. You can see their intimate connection with horses in the  very common and popular drachms of Larissa. In the photo below we see, on the the reverse, a horse caught in a moment ― it is just about to rub its back on the ground and has positioned its body to roll over like a dog that want's its belly rubbed

Drachm of Larissa, Thessaly, showing a horse about to roll
on the ground
Now, while Etruscan art has a quite number of examples of people holding wine vessels, it did not dominate their art and the Celts did not have wine as an important industry like Thessalian horses. If we look at the northern Adriatic, though, we do find a very iconic use of a wine vessel ― the situla. From early examples in bronze, decorated with  banquet scenes we get the modern term situla art, but I have chosen to illustrate a less elaborate version because of its shape, and because it is from an Etruscan tomb.

Etruscan bronze situla
photo: Sailko
Situlae come in different shapes and sizes in bronze and pottery and from quite a time span. The earliest examples were used as well-buckets, but we see them mostly when depicted on Greek painted pottery as the vessels which were used to transport wine to the country for the Dionysian women's festival which sometimes involved getting drunk and tearing apart and devouring live animals with their teeth (wild bunch, those Dionysian women!).

So how do we get from water to wine? There is something very familiar about that concept isn't there? Followers of the Dionysian Mysteries upon their death, could look forward, if they were women, to being wed to Dionysos, himself. The men, on the other hand, would be resurrected as Dionysos. It is easy to imagine that a married couple, within the Dionysian cult, might expect to be married again after death as Dionysos and his bride. So let us include a wedding in the water to wine transformation.

Robert M. Price in, Deconstructing Jesus, Amherst, New York, 2000, p.234, and speaking of the wedding feast at Cana says:
“Thus in the Gospel of John Jesus repeats the water-to-wine miracle of Dionysos (2: 1-11) and describes himself, like Dionysus, as the life-giving grapevine (15: 1-10). (Of course the Synoptics bear many of the same traces of Dionysus influence: Jesus’ blood is wine, his flesh bread, since he is a Dionysian corn king.)"
Paolo Veronese, The wedding feast at Cana (public domain image)
There is an echo, in the composition of this picture, of paintings of The Last Supper. This has significance and it was one of the things, about which, the accusative finger of the Inquisition questioned Veronese. They thought that the painter had included far too much extraneous material, and this amuses me because archaeology has failed to properly interpret many of the subjects I am dealing with here because of an overly monodisciplinary attitude and its specializations which pretty well occludes all uses of syncretistic tracking. Fortunately, postmodern attitudes are now starting to gain a greater foothold in the subject of archaeology, but the Inquisitors are still with us, clutching to their old ways and distributing their dogma like Pez candies, isolated, and one at a time.

Do you like cliffhangers? Tomorrow, like Scheherazade, I will continue this theme with the Celtic "Last Supper" of the third century BC which was also made in Italy.


  1. You're doing well. How do I know? On the Richter Scale, Barford is really annoyed at you! He's written panic-stricken screeds to counter your thesis. But when he ignores you is when he's apoplectic.

    There's an old joke about a critic of Barford's blog who dreamed he was reading one of his comments...and woke up and found he was!

    Keep up the pressure.

    Best regards

  2. I do appreciate your comment, John, but I have not been working on this stuff for twenty years to annoy Barford. I didn't even know of him for most of it! Let's just call it icing on my cake ;-)

    It is useful, however, to see how what I write can be so easily misunderstood, and for the sake of honest people who have no ax to grind, and who might be having similar troubles with it, I will be explaining my methods, in depth, tomorrow.

    By way of balance, I should reference a few positive responses from some scholars with whom I have been discussing various parts of this over the years -- even though Barford seems not to understand communication, and citation, calling it "name dropping" (did he really attend a university?)

    What any of this has to do with metal detecting, collecting or dealing in ancient art is anyone's guess. It seems merely a personal vendetta to me. As such, I suppose it is all quite useful for people to be able to judge his state of mind. And it is always great to be good at something -- even the use of the ad hominem! Quite often, when I take my coydog for a walk, we pass houses from which little dogs yap at us. We just keep walking -- well, Tristan does his best, anyway. I'm trying to teach him dignity.



  3. You ask whether Barford attended university. Curiously, for some reason, he's very coy about the details of his own education. However in his contributor's guidelines, he writes:

    Whatever the writer's personal and subjective opinion on the ethics and morals of the trade in and collecting of archaeological artefacts, they are not illegal in certain circumstances in many countries.

    A personal vendetta? Quite possibly. But what do his comments really matter in the scheme of things? They don't. He's best left to ramble-on, to whinge, and moan. That said, I do find his blog highly amusing.


  4. We are of the same mind with these things. I asked about about his education because he does all of the things that academia says one should not do, but with a pedantic air.

    I don't care at all if someone does not not have a university education. I left school at the age of fifteen, and not a moment too soon, for me. I've had a few excellent mentors, though -- including some who are, or were, giants in their field. I judge people by the strength of their passion, as have my own mentors, and the best of those have given positive thoughts to the world that did not exist before they came along. When people are improved thus, they tend to pass it forward.

    I find the blog amusing too, but some seem taken in by it and I don't admire people who seek support through trickery, deceit and hatred, though; People who promote and then prey upon the mob-mind. The world withers under their auspices like a body riddled with cancer.

    To paraphrase a couple of lines from the show "The Big Bang Theory": You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but you can catch even more with manure.



  5. Ha, ha, ha! I gotta use that last line...ha, ha, ha! With acknowledgements of course.