A recently published Celtic warrior burial from Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia has shed new light on the Scordisci tribes who inhabited large areas of today’s Serbia and northern/western Bulgaria in the late Iron Age. The burial, which was disturbed by a local farmer, was found in the Syrmia region, most probably close to the modern town of modern Sremska Mitrovica (Tapavički-Ilić M., Filipović V., A Late Iron Age Grave Find from Syrmia. In: Iron Age Rites and Rituals in the Carpathian Basin. Poceedings of the International Colloquium from Târgu Mureş, 7–9 October 2011. 453-559).
The cremation burial was accompanied by a bronze ‘kettle’, a bronze simpulum, a pair of iron snaffle-bits, a bronze fibula, an iron knife, a belt buckle of the Laminici type, a scabbard decorated with geometric ornaments, and two spears (one ritually killed). A sword from the grave had been removed, and presumably sold, before the material was presented to archaeologists. There is no information about the sword itself, so one cannot tell whether it was a long one, typical of the Late Iron Age, or a shorter one, developed during the last decades of the 1st century BC by the Balkan Celts under the influence of the Roman gladii. Examples of the latter have been found at sites in Serbia and in Bulgaria, such as the Taja site in the Balkan mountains where burials contained examples of both types of late Iron Age Celtic swords (see ‘Killing the Objects’ article).
A number of interesting features are to be noted in the Sremska Mitrovica burial. All of the finds have close parallels with material from Balkan Celtic burials from the same period (late 2nd / 1st c. BC) like Židovar, Gomolava, Ajmana-Konopište and Mala Vrbica in Serbia, and sites in Bulgaria such as Panagurischte Kolonii, Pavolche, Altimir, Chiren, Galatin, Galiche, Dobruscha, Komarevo, Krivodol, Kruschovitza, Mezdra, etc. (see ‘Sacrificial Daggers, Swords, and Settlements’ article).
Two iron spurs with button-shaped endings, which belong to the first variant of the La Tène spur type 1 in Serbia, chronologically belong to the 1st century BC. What makes this find of spurs special is that so far in the Central Balkans only one more pair of Celtic spurs have discovered as grave goods – from a Celtic burial at Popica in Bulgaria. Usually, only a single spur is encountered (Tapavički-Ilić, Filipović op cit.).The bronze kettle discovered has analogies in Scordisci territory along the Danube in Serbia and in examples from Romania (Tigănesti, Bobaia, Vedea, Costești and Pescari), all dated to the 1st century BC.
An iron knife with a straight blade is also noteworthy. This knife is in contrast to the typical Celtic/Scordisci fighting knives (daggers), which possess a massive bent blade and a short handle (loc cit.; on Balkan Celtic curved daggers see ‘Sacrificial Daggers, Swords, and Settlements’ article). Thus, the type of knife found at Sremska Mitrovica was not a fighting knife/dagger, and the bronze earring-like ornament on its handle indicates that it belonged to a female (see below).
Also noteworthy in this burial is the deliberate bending/deformation of the spearhead before being placed in the grave – once again confirming that the ritual of ‘killing the objects’ was a common religious practice among the Balkan Celts in the late Iron Age (see ‘Killing the Objects’ article).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Celtic burial under discussion is the presence of female articles in the grave. Objects such as the knife, ‘Laminci’ belt buckle, and fibula belong to a woman, in contrast to the weapons and spurs which are obviously from a male burial. This has led the archaeologists to conclude that we are actually dealing with a double cremation burial of a warrior accompanied by his wife. The circumstances which led to such a double burial, which dates to the period of the Scordisci Wars, can only be guessed at.