Dragonpairs

One of the few genuinely pan-European elements in early La Tene art is the dragon-pair motif (Figure 5.5), embellishing the upper end of the front-plate of scabbards from south-eastern Britain (Stead, 1984) to Transylvania (Petres, 1982), with examples south of the Alps (Megaw and Megaw, 1989) and one outlier across the Pyrenees (Ginoux, 1995). Both Jacobsthal (1944, 46) and de Navarro (1972, 229) saw these devices as evidence of orientalizing influences in early Celtic art, or even as a direct Scythian introduction into eastern Central Europe, a view that would not have seemed implausible, given the predominantly eastern distribution at the time and the prevailing climate of diffusionism as an explanation of cultural innovation. Subsequent discoveries in the west, and critical analysis of the dating of the constituent types, have now rendered this view obsolete, though the basic classification of dragon-pairs remains that of de Navarro. Essentially he distinguished three types, of which the earliest confusingly was Type II. This comprises what has sometimes been regarded as simply a zoomorphic lyre, a pair of opposed S-shapes with zoomorphic heads facing inwards. The beasts represented are highly schematic, but have sometimes been thought of as griffons rather than dragons. The earliest incidence of a Type II dragon-pair has conventionally been the example from an old and never fully published burial from Saint Jean-sur-Tourbe in the Marne, which should belong to an early La Tene phase. More recent discoveries from northern Italy, notably at Monte Bibele and

Tene Dragon
Figure 5.5 Dragon-pairs and their distribution. A: 1, Type I, Taliandörögd, Hungary; 2, Type II, Münsingen, Switzerland; 3, Type III, La Tène, Switzerland. Adapted from de Navarro (1972) and Stead (1984). B: distribution of all types. Adapted from Stead (1984) and Ginoux (1995).

Ameglia, confirm the priority of Type II over Type I, but hardly afford a dating of the Italian series before the later fourth century. One suggested origin for the zoomorphic lyre type is the form of open-work belt-clasp with reversed stylized griffons' or birds' heads, the distribution of which extends north and south of the Alps. This, as the Megaws have plausibly argued, could have been the origin by analogy, or indeed could have prompted the elaboration of the widely current S-lyre motif itself into a zoo-morphic version. Whatever the explanation, a western or trans-alpine introduction now seems more likely than an eastern. The wide distribution and similarity of form are remarkable nevertheless, as a comparison of examples from Italy (Ameglia), France (Montigny-Lencoup) and the Carpathian basin (Taliandorogd) demonstrates. Doubtless other examples remain to be identified, like those from London on which the faint traces of ornament had eluded detection until relatively recently; but as the distribution stands, the marginally greater number of known examples still lies between the middle Danube and the Tizsa. Most of these examples date from the third century, rather than much earlier.

Type I has a more complex form, resembling a pair of inward-facing C-shapes, each mounted on a plinth, which is sometimes interpreted as a rear limb or tail, while the end of the C curls up towards the beast's chin. Finally, in Type III, this circle is closed completely, and the design can acquire further embellishment with tails and infilling. Dating and origin still require closer definition. Broadly third century in date, they are well represented on scabbards in Eastern Europe, in association with the Hungarian scabbard style, as at Halimba, Jutas 3, Kosd and Szob; indeed, in some cases, the dragon-pair is actually absorbed with the main scabbard design, or embellished with scabbard-style infilling.

Dragon-pairs are known from Britain, notably on a pair of iron scabbards discovered in the nineteenth century from the Thames at Battersea and Hammersmith (Stead, 1984), the former certainly of Type II and the latter possibly of Type I. An intriguing derivative of the dragon-pair motif from Fovant, Wiltshire, occurs on an iron scabbard that even Jope (2000, 278) was not disposed to date later than the third century.

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  • WILLIAM
    What are the three types of celtic art?
    8 years ago

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