Orientalizing again from Gundestrup to Sark

We have seen that the receipt of classical imports in the late La Tène did not prompt a revival of artistic imitation and experimentation among north-alpine workshops, other than that represented by the striking of local coinages. As a result doubtless of protracted contact with Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, however, there was evidently mutual interaction between eastern and western craftsmen, witnessed most graphically and enigmatically in the well-known silver-gilt 'cauldron' from Gundestrup in northern Jutland (Figure 10.5; Klindt-Jensen, 1961). Its reconstruction as a cauldron is based on the hemispherical base-plate and two lengths of tubular reinforcement for the rim, but begs the question how the side plates were to be attached and to what material. Stylistic and technical considerations have shown conclusively that five different hands are represented in the plates: the base-plate was probably originally a phalera,

Gundestrup Cauldron
Figure 10.4 Late La Tène cult figures in Gaul — 2. Neuvy-en-Sullias dancer (A) and boar (B). Photos: Orléans, Musée historique et archéologique de l'Orléanais.
Bulgarian Tene
Figure 10.5 'Celtic' iconography on the Gundestrup cauldron. Photo: Lennart Larsen, National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.

and it is quite possible that the side-plates too were made originally for a different purpose, such as a box or casket. As reconstructed, it is made up of five inner plates, each depicting scenes of warriors, deities and exotic beasts, and seven out of an assumed eight outer plates, each dominated by a large bust of heroes or divinities. The base-plate depicts a large bull with smaller swordsman and other animals, which led Olmsted (1979) to suggest that the 'narrative' plates depicted an Indo-European epic cognate with the Tain Bo Cuailnge.

Despite the iconic role that Gundestrup has acquired in popular publications on the Celts, there can be little doubt that the style of workmanship and ornament is Thracian, even if particular iconographic motifs are Celtic and western. Silver-work is not the forte of the Celtic artist, but is distinctive in Thracian workshops from the fifth century bc. The discovery of the plates in the Germanic north therefore introduces a third unknown into the equation that scholars have been quick to explain in the context of the historically recorded invasions of the Cimbri at the end of the second century bc. In fact, as we have seen, there is ample archaeological evidence for contacts between north-alpine Europe and the north, even into southern Scandinavia, from late Hallstatt times onwards, as well as regular east—west connections within Celtic Europe, so that it is unnecessary to assign this particular exotic import to any one historical horizon. The 'western' elements have been frequently commented upon, and need not be rehearsed at length here. The squatting god, with twisted, buffer-torc in one hand and about his neck, and with serpent in the other hand, has inevitably been identified as Cernunnos, despite the fact that the only sculpture, from Notre Dame, Paris, that can certainly be identified as Cernunnos, has horns rather than antlers. The bird-crested helmets worn by the procession of horsemen have been compared to the Çiumejti helmet, and the war-trumpets of the foot-soldiers have been likened to carnyxes, like that from Deskford, Banff, in Scotland. The wearing of the torc by five out of seven of the deities of the outer plates, and the numerous depiction of figures in trousers, all points to a strong Celtic component in the symbolic imagery of the plates. But equally there is mythical imagery from the classical world, Heracles and the Nemean lion, the boy on a dolphin, and the deities on the outer plates whose depiction or accoutrements have prompted identifications in the Roman pantheon. Essentially, however, it is the style of the plates that is alien to the Celtic tradition, the ivy-leaves against a stippled background, and the rendering of a host of exotic beasts that have no place in the Celtic zoo, but which come from a long-established orientalizing tradition that has its parallels in Thracian art and beyond.

Dating, as ever, is a source of controversy, but manufacture in the late second or first century bc in a Thracian workshop familiar with Celtic myth and symbolism seems more probable than manufacture at a later date in a Gaulish centre where orientalizing themes had been introduced by Thracian mercenaries in Roman service. Transmission to the Germanic north could have been through one of several means, by trade, diplomatic gift or by plunder among others. Speculation of a Cimbric connection may have its appeal, but it is not the business of archaeology simply to furnish the graphics for history.

Equally exotic in the west though less cosmopolitan in its stylistic repertory is the Sark hoard, an early discovery that survives only in a set of remarkable drawings of 1725 (Allen, 1971a). The principal finds were a set of silver or silver-gilt phalerae, a curved silver 'dolphin' mount, an iron-bound pottery vessel of first-century bc appearance, and eighteen silver coins including Roman Republican denarii as well as Gaulish coins. Several of the phalerae were apparently from pairs, one large, one smaller, and two pairs of intermediate size, and all were probably the work of a single workshop or school of silversmiths. The two larger phalerae depict a central beast surrounded by a parade of confronting and cavorting beasts; on the smallest pair, two fantastic creatures confront each other in heraldic poses. The remaining phalerae are dominated by a single beast, some reasonably naturalist renderings like the bull, dog and elephant, others fabulous such as the winged horse, griffons, hippocamp or unicorn, if indeed the beast depicted is a unicorn rather than a horse dressed in ceremonial head-cap. The bull in its pose and rendering has undoubtedly a cousinly relationship to that on the base-plate of the Gundestrup cauldron. Confronting beasts, especially with their heads turned back, echo earlier orientalizing themes, as does the leopard attacking the cock. More unusual is the image of the elephant and castle, though it is not without parallel in the ancient world. Distinctive of the Sark engravings is the use of a 'striped' technique to render the pelt of beasts, and simple linear or curvilinear dotting of the background to the parade of beasts.

Closest in style and theme to the Sarkphalerae, as Allen observed, is the Seven Beasts phalera (Figure 10.6A), one of two in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Around the

Examples Orientalizing Greek Art
Figure 10.6 Orientalizing phalerae in Western Europe. A: 'Seven Beasts'. Photo: Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. B: Helden silver phalera. Photo: Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden.

central depiction of a wolf attacking a deer parade exotic winged beasts and griffons, their pelts rendered in 'striped' fashion, and against a background of trailing dotting. Located between the griffons is a bull's head, portrayed in full frontal view. The Paris phalera also bears an inscription in Greek referring to King Mithridates, presumed to be Mithridates the Great of Pontus (110-63 bc). The other examples of exotic phalerae, from Helden in Holland (Figure 10.6B) and one of three from Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, depict as their central image a man wrestling with a lion, the latter clearly recognizable from its mane, a scene paralleled also on the Gundestrup cauldron. The figure is obviously based on the same mythological tradition as the Heracles model, but doubtless from an older oriental source. In the surrounding frieze, two lions confront a ram with its head turned back, and two fierce dogs face each other across a full frontal bull's head like that of the Paris phalera. The Stara Zagoraphalera was one of three found in a cauldron with various other items of a cavalry warrior's equipment, prompting the thought that all of these phalerae could have been the possessions of Thracian cavalrymen. The inscription on the unprovenanced Paris find suggests a date in the first half of the first century bc; associations of the Stara Zagora find suggest a date at the end of the first century bc or even the beginning of the first century ad. For the deposit of the Sark hoard Allen assigned a date within a decade or two of the Roman conquest of Gaul. Finally, a phalera with a lion in much the same style as the series under discussion from the Roman legionary camp at Oberaden on the German limes, which was abandoned by the last decade bc, argues for the continuing circulation of phalerae in Western Europe until the close of the first century bc at least.

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