The Euolution of La Tene

Tene Objects

Roquepertuse • . Entremon,

# Battersea (London)

Roquepertuse • . Entremon, he early artistic styles of the La Tene period were largely two-dimensional, emphasizing either realistic or stylized relief decoration on three-dimensional objects. Around the third century BC a new style emerged, and like the early and Waldalgesheim styles it was seldom used in conjunction with other forms. The "plastic" style was one where the artist or metalworker conceived of the decoration in three rather than in two dimensions. The relief work on these plastic metal pieces is so substantial that it often appears to be free-standing.

One of the most representational plastic-style pieces was found in Aurillac, near the French town of Tarn. This gold amulet consists of two intertwined bands covered in decorative beading. These beads are in high relief, and arc intertwined with representations of nuts, berries, and twigs, albeit in distinctly abstract forms. Similar designs incorporated human or animal faces, and even combined these with functional pieces of metalwork, such as cauldrons and shield bosses.

A fourth identifiable artistic style has been labeled "Sword," because most of its examples come from the decoration of weapons, scabbards, or armor. Consequently, it has been suggested that the sword style was created for, and exclusively used by, armorers and swordsmiths. This was a means of decoration used on a range of purely functional objects, so the

GERMANIA m Waldalgesheim

Hunsrück (region)

WCirttemburg Holzgeringen * (region)


As art of the La Tene period developed, artists experimented with new styles, including the use of three-dimensional representations. While art historians claim that Ccltic metalwork reached a cultural peak during the second century BC, many of these styles were mirrored or embellished in later British Celtic art. The La Tene artists developed a series of styles which have come to personify- Celtic artistry, including the development of free-flowing intricate patterns and human and animal forms in heavy relief.

Below: This bronze mirror frame found in Desborough in Northamptonshire. England uses a symmetrical tripartite design, over a basket-weave base. It dates from the 1st century ad.

Facing: The Battersea Shield, found in the River Thames in London, probably belonged to a prestigious ancient British chieftain, and dates from the 1st century bc.

Tene Culture Animal Artifacts

The art of sculpture

Apart from metal artifacts, Celtic artists excelled in the production of sculpture. These have been found in stone, metal, and wood forms, and examples range from crude stone-caning to highly detailed bronze works of art. Stone sculpture was not particularly common during the La Tene period, and most examples were produced either in southern Germany or in southern France. Those in Provence are particularly striking, since they form part of the landscape of religious sanctuaries such as Rcx|uepertuse or Entremont. Those in Germany are more enigmatic. A four-sided column at Hunsriick is based on the form of a stylized human head, while another from I lolzgerlingen at Wurttemberg represents a larger than life warrior or chieftain. These may have been produced for religious reasons, but their meaning is now lost.

Wooden examples are even rarer, and obviously few have survived. Votive objects were used during periods of threat to the tribe who deposited them. It therefore comes as no surprise that many of these from southern Gaul date to the period of the Roman conquest. At Source-en-Roche in France, several thousand wooden votive statues were deposited around the same time.

exuberance of the plastic style would have been inappropriate on arms and armor. Instead, the sword style was a form of incised decoration on the existing surface of metal (mostly iron) objects.

It has been claimed that the sty le originated in what is now Hungary around the fourth century BC, although examples have been found in both eastern and western Europe. Many of the surviving examples were votive offerings, cast into the waters of lakes or rivers as part of a religious ceremony. Much of this "sword" decoration was in the "Waldalgesheim" style; free-flowing patterns and sworls, incorporating the occasional representation ot humans or animals. Pairs of dragons appear to have been favored by these swordsmiths, and examples of dragons have been found as far apart as Britain and Hungary.

Pattern Waldalgesheim

Portus Itius



A Lutetia


0 Durocortorum



[Alise Ste.-Reine)

V Cabillonum







( Toulouse)




■ - • - ----------------------------------------------■ im ■ - — ... . ■_• ... " VJ.-^.A-^-f

Gaul c.60 bc, just before the campaigns of Julius Caesar, showing the Romanized provinces of Cisalpine Gaul and Transalpine Gaul, non-Celtic Aquitania, Celtic Gaul, and the Belgae tribes.





f> Rotomagos


I* liYtx iSL


Hintes reoones

^mnetes g*




Mam oppidum of Camutes ^MfyDU^ vV and druidical center A ai»«





. kitic ocean;

I Llmonum




(Mont Beuvray)

Right: For the Celts, rivers, lakes, trees, and even rocks held religious significance, and the evidence suggests that Celtic sanctuaries were often located in hidden groves in the middle of woodland. The Celtic word nemeton (or oak) probably refers to these sacred groves, and numerous place names can be identified throughout the Celtic world.


Carente fONES



Dordogne cadurcl


4dour mm u

Celtic BeLief

<t hc popular conception of Celtic religion is that it was dominated by druids and human sacrifice. Both played a substantial part in Celtic belief, but their importance has been exaggerated, largely by the Romans. The Romans had an almost paranoid distrust of the Celts, partly due to the near-constant threat they posed to Rome for over two centuries, until the end of the Punic Wars. The Celts were demonized, and the apparent excesses of their religion were amplified for their sensational propaganda value.

Certainly druids played a significant role in Celtic society. As well as superv ising religious ceremonies, they also served as archivists, diplomats, and arbiters. Among the Celts, druids were prized for their knowledge and even their healing skills rather than their ability to perform blood-curdling ritual sacrifice.





5 -f.

Roman historians grossly over-emphasized the incidence of human sacrifice and its importance to Celtic tribes. Animal sacrifice was far more common, as indeed it was in the Roman sphere of influence. Human sacrifice seems to have been reserved for periods when the Celts themselves were threatened by external forces, such as Roman invasion. Far more widespread was the less sensational "sacrifice" of votive offerings; bronze or wooden statues or images that were cast into rivers, lakes, and bogs throughout Celtic Europe.

For the Celts, rivers, lakes, trees, and even rocks could hold special religious significance, and the evidence of their gods were all around them. Roman historians attempted to link the leading Celtic deities to Roman gods in an attempt to help bind the conquered Celtic-peoples of Gaul, Spain, and Britain to Roman beliefs. This was only partially successful, and Romano-Celts continued to worship their old gods throughout the Roman period and beyond, until their conversion to Christianity. The Christian religious calendar itself was adapted to conform to the Celtic one, and even today the traces of annual Celtic ceremonies can be found. Much of the Celtic belief system was based on the annual cycle of seasons, harvests, and movements of the sun, since it was an agrarian society.

Tene Style Celtic Armor
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