The Warrior

Grave of a Warrior| Halstatt Burial at Eberdingen-Hochdorf | Helmet | Sword Hilt

In the archaeological record of many early Celtic sites, the term warrior grave is used to identify a grave which contains goods such as a chariot, a helmet, a sword or dagger, and in some cases, shields.  We understand these goods through our modern conception of a warrior class.  The fact that many of these warrior implements are ceremonial and unusable does not seem to taint our practical associations.   What this exhibition posits is that we re-look at what these objects tell us about the deceased and the warrior class that is reconstituted by their interrment.  We will look at quantity and quality in order to define status and briefly, in closing, at gender.    

The sword is a gender specific grave good, meaning that thus far it has only been found in the male graves.  Its presence in the grave may signify that the deceased used this weapon and then it is logical to assume they would have been part of a warrior class.  There are other swords, such as the sword hilt included in this exhibition, that are made out of precious and exotic materials and do not seem to be capable or practical weapons of war.  It has been suggested that their inclusion in the grave reflected the need that their rank be clear through the passage into the afterlife. (Green: 93) "The later role of the sword in society exhibits that the inclusion of a sword in grave may have several layers of meaning,  it has been seen that a visual display of strength is important to the  Celts." (Pleiner,: 35) The sword may also have an apotropaic function that is empahsized by the decoration on the blade. (Pleiner::36)

The second grave good included in the exhibition is the helmet.  Like the sword, these are found in the graves of men who may have functioned within the warrior class, or in high status burials.  In the second context it seems more likely that the helmet is again a sign of wealth, or in this case power which implies control.  The helmet was found in a "warrior" grave and not in the context of a "princely" tomb.  This suggesting that this was probably not the burial of a member of the elite class and that this helmet might have indeed been used in battle.    

The problem with seeing the "Warrior" or seeing the "Man" through weapons of war is that we use a modern template.  A sword is a weapon of war, but even within out modern template there are abberations.  A sword can be an heirloom, linking a daugther to a grandfather.  A sword can be a sign of wealth, a collectorís item, an antique, the personal connection is not longer implied, instead the sword is measure of money.  In the Celtic grave the sword was an important sign, itís power acknowledged by its ritual destruction by bending or cutting the iron.  How was the deceased to use these in the afterlife?  Again, as with jewllery in the female grave, quantity is an important issue.  If a grave includes a wagon, numerous swords, spears, shields and only one body, it seems more reasonable to suggest that the weapons are signs of the power and the place the person had in the community.  The sword, helmet, spears and chariot in the warrior grave recreated for this exhibition tell us a great deal more about the life and the function of the deceased within the community than does the Halstatt burial tell us.

It is beyond the narrow scope of this part of the exhibition but imperitive to consider that the woman may have has a role within the warrior class.  An academic discussion of this function requires that one work through decades of myth and misunderstanding, but there are written and visual records of womenís roles in Celtic warfare.  Wagons and "war chariots" can be found in the graves of elite females, like that at Vix, Wetwang and another at Waldalgesheim.(Arnold: 86 and Moscotti: 180)

back to main page