“They cut off their heads and hung them up”

"They cut off their heads and hung them up"

In their conquest of Gaul, the Romans were confronted with a gruesome custom: The Celts cut off their enemies’ heads and held bounties in the midst of burning sacrificial bodies.

“They cut off the heads of the fallen enemies and hang them on the neck of their horses; but they give the bloodied weapons to their servants and carry them as prey under war cries and triumphal songs. At home they then nail these decorations on the wall, as if they had killed a game while hunting. “

Thus, the Greek historian Diodorus describes in the 1st century BC. The peoples of “whose rudeness and unheard-of godlessness” terrified his contemporaries: the Celts. They had finally around 390 v. Chr. Taken Chr. Around Rome , a century later looted the famous oracle at Delphi and even as Galatians in Asia Minor built an empire.

The fact that such reports were by no means narcissistic, with which chroniclers wanted to serve the creepy clichés of their readers, had to be discovered by Roman legionaries in the conquest of the Celtic oppidum of Entremont (near Aix-en-Provence). The approximately four-acre hilltop estate of the Salluvier came under the spotlight of Roman expansion policy, as Rome end of the 2nd century BC. It was about to bring his northern apron under his control.

"They cut off their heads and hung them up"

The Roman historian Martin Zimmermann has now laid out in detail what Rome’s soldiers found there in his new book “The Strangest Places of Antiquity” : “A hall about 20 by 5.5 meters in size was found right on the city wall Found pillars that show heads cut off in the bas-relief or had round openings in which one could use real skulls. In addition, 15 human skulls came to light, with three of them found three iron nails for attachment. “

For Zimmermann, Entremont is a good example of places of horror and death teeming in ancient texts, without today’s readers easily distinguishing between Moravia and reality. That the skull cult of the Celts or Gauls was bloody reality for centuries, the historian can prove by numerous finds. The light hand, with which he presents his profound source criticism, makes reading a pleasure despite many bizarre or bloody descriptions.

The distance, which held the Greek Diodorus to the Celts, Zimmermann can also show the archaeological findings. Thus, Entremont, whose research began in the Second World War under German aegis, had a right-angled road network. As a model for such planned urban planning is actually only the large Greek city of Massilia (Marseille) in question, which was only 30 kilometers away and whose products such as wine or luxury goods enjoyed great popularity with the Celts.

But Hellenization ended where the skull cult began. “The heads of their chief enemies embalm them and store them carefully in a box, and when they show them to the strangers, they boast, as one of their ancestors, or their father, or even they themselves would not have given away that head for much money “Reported a disgusted Diodorus. In the hall of Entremont, archaeologists contained the remains of a seated statue of a Celtic warrior holding four skulls in his lap and two more skulls on both his left and right with his hands. “He proudly presented the trophies of six men he had killed,” concludes Zimmermann.

Skulls that still bore nails or whose bases were extended so that they could be stuck permanently on poles were discovered in numerous Celtic oppida (fortified hill settlements). In the sanctuary of Ribemont-sur-Ancre near Amiens in northern France, 300 weapons and about 20,000 bones of up to 140 male individuals aged 15 and 45 years were recovered in one part of a cultic facility covering 35 square meters. In addition, there was an area on which again about 30,000 bones were found, including animal bones and drinking vessels.

"They cut off their heads and hung them up"

Apparently, the dead men were the victims of a battle that began around 260 BC. Can be dated to Chr. The animal bones and drinking vessels suggest that the victors dined and sacrificed there in the face of their defeated enemies. Previously, the losers had their heads cut off. Some bodies had also been treated and burned in a special way to be offered to the gods.

Also in Entremont and other Celtic oppida the sweetish smell of rotting flesh of Siegen may have begotten: “What disgusts us today,” writes Zimmermann, “announced in a community in which the warrior ethos came first, of the fame of the men.”

The Romans probably saw it differently. The historian Livy tells of the gruesome end of the general Lucius Postumius Albinus, the 215 BC. BC with his army was defeated by the Celtic Boiern, allies of the Carthaginian Hannibal, destroying: “The Boier brought his head severed in the jubilee lift in the holiest of their temples. After cleaning their heads … they laid out the skull with gold; he served them as a holy vessel at ceremonies as a sacrificial bowl, and the priest and the temple leaders drank from it. “

Nevertheless, the destruction of Entremont and countless other Celtic cities by the legions is unlikely to have served to civilize Gaul. “In particular, the genocidal massacres ordered by Caesar during his Gallic War (58-50 BC) testify sufficiently that one opponent was worthy of the other,” Zimmermann concludes. It is estimated that more than one million inhabitants of Gaul were killed in this war of conquest.