The hunters companions

Both classical commentators and iconography throw light on the way game was hunted by the Celts. There were different kinds of hunting: the peasant wishing to rid himself of pests threatening his crops would perhaps use dogs, traps and snares. The knight-hunter, maybe practising the art of war, would use swift horses and sometimes specially bred and trained dogs. The main method employed in the pursuit of large and fast game certainly involved horses and big, aggressive dogs. The best type of horse for long-distance endurance would be lean and

tough. Thus the hunter could follow his prey on horseback over long distances. The use of horses in hunting is reflected iconographically: the seventh-century BC Strettweg cult-wagon carries bronze

figurines of horsemen and foot-soldiers in the company of two stags, in a ritual hunting scene. The Iron Age rock art of the Camonica Valley includes scenes of mounted hunters in pursuit of or

surrounding stags; other game, such as wild goats, were followed in a similar manner. A pot dated seventh to sixth-century BC from the Hungarian site of Sopron depicts a stag hunted by mounted spearsmen. The Camonica hunters are shown armed with spears and shields, just like warriors,90 and they often hunted in pairs. One representation is of a horseman, led by an armed servant, hunting with a long curved stick, rather like a hockey stick.91 This is especially interesting since Strabo alludes to the use the Celts made, when they were hunting birds, of a spear-like stick 'with a range greater than an

arrow'. Strabo also comments on the use of bows and slings. The spear or lance was a weapon commonly used by huntsmen, especially on horseback. The second- or first-century BC bronze wagonmodel from Merida in Spain depicts a spearman on horseback chasing a boar. He wears greaves like a

soldier. According to Camonican iconography, the lance was the favourite weapon for despatching animals once they had been snared.94 If he was a rider, the hunter would probably have belonged to the upper echelons of society. So too, perhaps, would the falconers; there is a hint that falconry may have been employed in hunting during the La Tene Iron Age: bronze brooches from the Durrnberg hillfort in

Austria (figure 3.10) depict birds of prey wearing collars.95 Certainly hawks were familiar to the Celts of the early vernacular legends; gifts exchanged between Pwyll, lord of Arberth, and Arawn, king of the Otherworld, in the First Branch of the Mabinogi, include horses, greyhounds and hawks.96

Dogs played an important part in hunting: Strabo refers to the export of British hunting-dogs to Rome. He describes them as small, rough-haired, strong, swift and keen-scented. The continued fame of British dogs is demonstrated by a later writer, a Roman poet of Carthaginian origin, Marcus Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus, who wrote a poem called the 'Cynegetica' (The Hunt') in about AD 283-84. He includes these lines in the poem: 'Besides the dogs bred in Sparta and Molossus, you should also raise

the breed which comes from Britain, because this dog is fast and good for our hunting.' Claudian describes British dogs as strong enough to break the necks of great bulls.99 Representations at Camonica Valley depict captured wild animals surrounded by packs of dogs. Here there is evidence that the

Camunians trained their dogs to drive beasts into snares.100 Arrian discusses the use of horses and hounds in hunting:101 he alludes to the employment of both these creatures in wearing down prey until it was too tired to run further, when the hounds would flush small game out of cover. Arrian comments upon Gaulish dogs called vertragi, whose name, he says, derived from the Celtic word for 'speed'. He describes them as being muscular, with lean flanks, broad chests, long necks, big ears and long muzzles.

Strabo remarks that horses and dogs each enjoyed privileged status among the Celts because of their usefulness in the hunt.

Figure 3.9 Clay figurine of horseman, sixth century BC, Speikern, Germany. Length of horse: 8.7cm. Paul Jenkins.

There is some archaeological evidence for the presence of large, perhaps specially bred hunting-dogs. Some of the Danebury dogs were sufficiently large and robust to have been used for hunting quite large

prey. The dogs found in the subterranean shrine of second- or third-century AD date in Cambridge were probably hunting-dogs; they were sacrificed along with a horse and a bull. The later Romano-Celtic shrine at Lydney (Glos.) was dedicated to a British god Nodens: many images of dogs were found on the site (chapter 8) including a superb bronze deer-hound (figure 8.2).104 It is very likely that some dogs were specially bred and trained for their aggressive temperaments. The close association between horses and dogs is reflected in some Iron Age bone assemblages, where their remains are found together in what may be ritual deposits, perhaps associated with a hunting cult. This occurred at Danebury often enough to be statistically significant,105 as also in cemeteries in the Compiegne region of northern Gaul and elsewhere. A grave in the cemetery at Tartigny (Oise) may have been a hunter's tomb: here, remains of a dog, horse and hare were found, carefully selected for deposition in the grave. The dog was about a year old and, in a rather gruesome ritual act, it had been skinned and eviscerated. The horse was represented only symbolically, by the placing of its mandible in the tomb.106

Figure 3.10 Bronze brooch in the form of a bird of prey wearing a collar, fourth century BC, from a grave at the D├╝rrnburg, Hallein, Austria. Length: 3.2cm. Paul Jenkins.

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