By: Aisling Bronach of House Shadow Drake
When referring to the term "Celtic" in regards to the Gundestrup cauldron,
the term is used to refer to the inhabitants of Southeastern Europe, and not
to the cultures occupying Western Europe or British Isles and Ireland. The
use of the term "Celtic" in this regards can be very misleading and has been
the bane of many scholars and thus has lead to the misuse of the Gundestrup
cauldron in many contemporary books. The intended Celts which are discussed
were from the lower Danube region and had migrated East into Transylvania
during the 4th century BC, and had even gone southward into Greece and Thrace.
(Cunliffe: 401) It was also these same tribes which sacked Seuthopolis and
Delphi, and then later established the Kingdom of Tylis in Thrace during the
3rd century BC. (ibid.)
The Gundestrup cauldron was first found in 1891. (Zaczek: 44) It was
discovered within the Raevemose peat bog at Gundestrup in Jutland, Denmark.
(Green: 108). The cauldron is thought to have been ritually deposited into the
bog as a votive offering. (Green: 110) According to pollen analysis, the
cauldron was originally placed on dry earth and not initially buried. (Zaczek:
45) It is now being housed at the museum at Arhus in the Danish National
Museum. (MacKillop: 261)
The cauldron was manufactured sometime between the 2nd and 1st century BC.
(Green: 109) It measures 14 inches high, 25.5 inches wide, weighs 20 lbs., and
is capable of holding 28.5 gallons. (MacKillop: 261) It was originally
gold-gilded, and composed of 96 percent pure silver. (Green: 109) The cauldron
was made up of seven outer plates, five inner plates, and a single base plate
which had all been carefully dismantled before being placed in the bog.
(ibid.) Thus, the total number of pieces making up the cauldron was thirteen.
(MacKillop: 261) Each of the plates portrayed mythological oriented scenes.
(Green: 109) A hole in the bottom of the cauldron was patched by a silver
horse-harness phalerae. (Cunliffe: 402)
Examination of the cauldron shows that there were several silver craftsmen
who manufactured the cauldron. (Green: 109) The artistic stylizations are
indicative of an origin in Thrace or Romania. (ibid.) Even the techniques
used to created the cauldron were markedly Thracian. (Cunliffe: 401) However,
there are some scholars which believe the cauldron was made as far away as the
Balkans, but the more predominate thought is that its origins were in Romania
or Thrace. (MacKillop: 261)
The imagery shown on the cauldron appears to come from a variety of
cultures including: Celtic (SE Europe), Greek, Indian, and Iranian mythology.
(Cunliffe: 402) There are many pictures shown on the cauldron which include
what some scholars believe to be Gods, people, and animals. (Green: 109) Some
of the more exotic animals depicted even include leopards. (ibid.) There
is even a dolphin-rider which appears on the cauldron. (Cunliffe: 402)
Scholars believe that the larger human like figures were actually depictions
of divine beings or Gods due to their increased and seemingly symbolic
stature. (Green: 109) Thematically speaking, the pictorial depictions on the
Gundestrup cauldron appear to fit the history of Eastern influences along the
Euro-Asian steppe axis. (Cunliffe: 402)
Some of the more popular and well-known images shown on the cauldron are as
- Ram Horned Snake
Appear twice on two different plates. (Green: 109)
- Horned Human Figure
A stag-horned large human figure grasping a ram-horned snake in one hand
and a torc in the other. There is a torc around his neck, and he is sitting in
a cross-legged position. There is a stag and other animals that are shown in
his company. (Green: 109) The horned figure may reflect the use of tantric
yoga in Dacia and Samartia during the time of manufacture. (Cunliffe: 400)
Similar figures from this time are found in Moldavia and the Don basin.
- Bust of a Large Bearded Man
A small man wearing a bull-horned helmet offers a taller bearded man a
chariot or cart wheel. (Green: 109)
- Foot Soldiers and Calvary
A processional of foot soldiers, and a troop of calvary is shown with a
tree. (ibid.) The foot soldiers are wearing close-knit short
trousers. (MacKillop: 261) A secondary troop of foot soldiers each carry a
carnyx which consist of a long-stemmed horn topped with the head of an
open-mouthed boar. (Zaczek: 39)
- Tall Human Holding a Man Over a Vat
A tall man hold a smaller man over a large vat or
cauldron. (Green: 109)
- Female Flanked By Wheels
A female figure is depicted as being surrounded by wheels as if she
were in a cart. (Green: 110)
- Three Bulls and Three Warriors
Three bulls appear as if they are going to be sacrificed by three
warriors who are holding swords. (ibid.)
- Enormous Bull Sinking Into Ground
There is a picture of a very big bull who is sinking into the ground
and appears to be dying. (Green: ibid.)
So, how did the cauldron get to Jutland, Denmark? Well, the most
predominate theory is that the cauldron was looted by Teutonic warriors and
then taken to Denmark. (Green: 110) Along these same lines, another theories
suggests that it was taken as booty by German mercenaries under the Roman
army. (Zaczek: 46) Or, that the cauldron was made by the Scordisci tribe who
settled for a time in Thrace and was then taken Northward. (Zaczek: 46) Yet
another theory was that Cimbri raiders took the cauldron and then later
settled in Jutland. (Cunliffe: 402) Although the Gundestrup cauldron remains
somewhat enigmatic regarding its journey to Denmark there is one thing which
remains clear: the cauldron has nothing to do with the cultures which
occupied Ireland or the British Isles. The origin of the cauldron was in the
SE of Europe and was only later carried into Northern European territory.
Unfortunately, due to an abundance of scholastic laziness the origins of the
cauldron continue to be mistakenly portrayed even today.
Cunliffe, Barry, ed. The Oxford Illustrated Prehistory of Europe. (NY:
Oxford University Press, 1994.) Pages 400-402.
Green, Miranda J. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. (NY: Thames and
Hudson, 1992. Pages 108-100.
MacKillop, James. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. (NY: Oxford University
Press, 1998.) Page 261.
Zaczek, Iain. The Art of the Celts: Origins, History, Culture. (London,
UK: Parkgate Books, 1997.) Pages 39, 44-46.