Northalpine Europe and Italy

Finally, and perhaps crucially, we should examine the trans-alpine examples of the Developed Style of La Tene art, trans-alpine, of course, from the Celtic perspective but vexingly cisalpine for two centuries or more from the Roman viewpoint. Discounting for the moment pieces that can be regarded as Italo-Celtic, the number of major artefacts that are of La Tène type is strictly limited, and almost invariably from funerary contexts rather than from settlements. In recent years excavations at Monte Bibele have begun to redress that imbalance, but even so perhaps the clearest evidence for a Celtic presence there comes in the form of warrior burials with sword, spear and helmet among the grave-goods.

Two of the weapons from Italic cemeteries closest in style to north-alpine Celtic models are the swords and scabbards already alluded to from Filottrano on the mid-Adriatic (dismissed by Jacobsthal as an inferior product, perhaps even a local imitation) and from Moscano di Fabriano, somewhat to the west in a mountainous pass through the Apennines, both of which were accompanied by rich assemblages of Italic and Greek grave-goods. The Filottrano cemetery, explored erratically in the early years of the twentieth century, contained around sixty graves, of which nearly half contained artefacts of 'Celtic' type, notably grave 22, which contained the sword with scabbard ornamented in Waldalgesheim Style, and grave 2, which included a gold torc with buffer terminals, again ornamented with low-relief designs allied to those of the Waldalgesheim torc and bracelets. The latter also contained a series of Attic pottery vessels, an Etruscan mirror and other ornaments that conclusively point to a dating in the mid- to late-fourth century bc. Moscano di Fabriano, by contrast, appears to have been an isolated burial. Apart from the sword with decorated scabbard, it contained an Italo-Celtic bronze helmet, bronze horse-trappings and a La Tène brooch, together with Etruscan and Campanian bronzes, Greek pottery vessels and comprehensive drinking-service, all of which date to around the second quarter of the fourth century. Without at present pre-judging the significance of historical evidence, on the archaeological evidence alone, this would appear to be a convincing case of cultural assimilation, but this still leaves open the question of who was adopting what from whom. An illustration of this dilemma is the type of helmet, found in a number of graves in northern Italy and around the head of the Adriatic, distinguished by its hemispherical shape with top-knob or plume-holder, hinged cheek-guards and flanged neck-guard. While these helmets undoubtedly influenced the style of helmet produced north of the Alps, like that from Amfreville, scholars since Jacobsthal have regarded them as the products of Etruscan or at least Italic workshops, and have not even been persuaded that they were ever worn by Celts. On the face of it, therefore, the graves with mixed inventories could be evidence of Celtic warriors assimilating the luxuries of the Italic lifestyle, or local dignitaries buried with trophies or diplomatic gifts received from northern neighbours.

One example highlights the dilemma particularly graphically. The helmet from Canosa di Puglia is one of the southernmost examples of a helmet, the Celtic character of which is seemingly proclaimed by its lavish use of the developed Vegetal Style of ornament (Figure 4.12, 2 and 3). Made of iron with bronze overlay, its lower panel depicts a series of alternately upright and pendant lyres, linked by swelling, fleshy leaves. The upper panel is filled with complex pelta-palmette motifs, again alternately upright and inverted, and again linked by fleshy leaves, the latter in both fields being accentuated by wavy lines in a manner noted earlier on the Besançon flagon, with which the design of the Canosa panels bears comparison. Kruta (1991a, 201; 1991b, 147) cited a striking and unusual comparison between this design and that of the

Pottery Vase Designs
Figure 4.12 The Prunay 'Les Commelles' vase (1) and the Canosa helmet, upper (2) and lower (3) panels. Not to scale. Adapted from Jacobsthal (1944) and Kruta (1991b).

Prunay, Marne, ('Les Commelles') pottery vase (Figure 4.12, 1), that surely argues for a common stylistic source. The Canosa tomb, excavated in 1895 and not easily reconstructed from inadequate records, contained a rich panoply of armour, weapons, horse-gear, ornaments and numerous pottery vases. With its six separate chambers, it certainly contained more than one burial, but only the helmet could be claimed as evidence of Celtic workmanship. There is no case for regarding this as a Celtic or Gaulish burial, and the most probable explanation is that the helmet was a trophy from regions further north.

Finally, among the outstanding examples of the Waldagesheim or Vegetal Style in Italy are more than thirty bronze mounts (Jacobsthal, 1944, 401) of uncertain purpose from an equally insecure provenance, believed to have been Comacchio, south of the mouth of the Po. The motifs displayed by the mounts are mainstream Waldalgesheim, including leaf-tendrils, curved triangles, and peltate finials. But the execution is distinctive, the design being defined by stippled dotting of the background, almost as if it were imitating leatherwork.

Together with a number of lesser items from various cemeteries in northern Italy, these major works of Celtic art doubtless attest the Celtic presence in Italy in the fourth century recorded in historical sources, but it is a relatively modest inventory to promote as the genesis of the developed Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Styles. Jacobsthal's verdict is not easily dismissed: 'Celtic Italy is an unproductive province' (1944, 154). Even Kruta, one of the foremost proponents of an Italian origin for the new Vegetal style was obliged to concede (1991a, 198) that 'very few decorated La Tene objects datable to the fourth century bc have so far been found in Italy, and their contexts are not very representative, uncertain, or unrecorded'. We should recall Jacobsthal's dictum that the area of production of a given class of artefacts should be the area of the most frequent occurrence (1944, 155). On this principle it might be quite hard to identify any particular locality as having an indisputable claim to be the source of the Waldalgesheim or Vegetal Style, but the appearance in the Champagne of the essential elements of the style in a medium other than metal-work, namely, funerary ceramics, may suggest priority in that region. The mechanisms for these stylistic developments are in any event likely to have been complex, involving a variety of different transalpine and north-alpine interconnections. Notwithstanding the limited distribution of artefacts with Waldalgesheim Style ornament in Italy, there can be no doubting the significance of the classical contribution to that new style, nor the role of Italic sources in its genesis. Frey (1995b) argued convincingly for direct connections between the Champagne region of north-eastern Gaul and Italy in the distribution of fifth-century types such as belt-hooks and iron meat skewers, suggesting a 'reflux' process whereby new fashions could have been brought into North-Western Europe. If these introductions were triggered by movements among a warrior elite or their swordsmiths and armourers, it would require only a small but influential group to make a disproportionate impact upon the archaeological record.

0 0

Post a comment