The Bann ScabbardsIn an ancient river in the north-eastern corner of Ireland, nineteenth-century excavators retrieved eight scabbards which had not been seen by man for approximately four thousand years. As all the scabbards were found in or near the River Bann, they were dubbed the Bann scabbards. Three of the most extraordinary of these scabbards were found in the bog Lisnacrogher, and are usually called by the same name, due to their close resemblance to each other. It is generally believed that these scabbards were thrown into the bog or river as religious, ritual votive offerings. Of the eight, only one scabbard is completely intact. The remaining seven consist of single scabbard plates. The Bann scabbards serve as the culmination of their particular Celtic style, which has been defined by J. M. Navarro as Style IV, Insular La Tene (Laing, 100). Unlike Style IV¡s predecessors, the aptly named Styles I-III, Style IV has no counterpart style on mainland Europe.
Insular La Tene StyleSix of the eight Bann scabbards are lavishly decorated. The entire scabbard area is busy and blanketed with design, but nowhere is the decoration overdone (Finlay, 86). The curvilinear ornament on the scabbards can best be described by considering it in its three main aspects. Firstly, there are the major, curved elements, which provide the overall pattern of the design. These consist of engraved patterns of running waves or sequences of s-figures extending along the lengths of the scabbards. Next, there are the lesser devices, the appendages, as it were, which are joined to, or spring from, the major decorative units and which fill the blank areas provided by the major curves. The great multiplicity of these lesser motifs is a characteristic feature of Style IV Insular La Tene. Finally, there are the lesser designs, the often tiny motifs which fill the bodies of the main units or which are occasionally found tucked in amongst the principal curved elements (Raftery, 81). Tightly drawn hair-spring spirals, leafy patterns, stippling, hatching, basketry, and, in one instance, a tiny triple-dot motif repeated along the length of the scabbard are the main filler motifs. These are produced in frequently changing combinations, which provide us with patterning of at times startling complexity. It is in these minor motifs that we see the emphasized the imagination and ingenuity of the Irish artificers. In some instances a number of basic themes are repeated along the length of the plate, while on others a quite extraordinary profusion of ornamental devices is evident (Raftery, 83). Apart from some initial marking out with the compass, the ornament is freehand and is produced for the most part with great flamboyance and vigor, producing designs of vegetal character which swirl and writhe across the bronze surface. The Bann scabbards were produced by craftsmen with a detailed knowledge of all the finer subtleties of British and Continental scabbard engraving. The perfection of all these pieces is bewildering, perfection in the sense that in them crystallizes, almost suddenly, as if something in the air of the island precipitated it, the slow emergence of Irish La Tene art (Finlay, 91). There were, however, occasional lapses in quality: for instance, the graving tool slipped in several instances on one of the Lisnacrogher scabbards leaving unsightly scrapes (Raftery, 165). The craftsmen naturally paid particular attention to the extremities of the decorated areas, that is, they concentrated on the most effective means of beginning and ending the ornamental composition at the top and the bottom of the plate. The narrowed tip was especially challenging and various devices were employed to finish off the designs here (Raftery, 82).
ProductionThe non-decorative labor which went into producing these fine scabbards was equally important to the decorative. The standard of workmanship varies somewhat from scabbard to scabbard (Raftery, 79). The length of the scabbard-plates range from 41.1 cm to 55.4 cm; six of the eight are less than 50 cm long (Raftery, 79). The scabbard-plates consist of thin sheets of bronze beaten to gently curved, ¡§cambered¡¨ sections with folded edges (overlaps). The complete example from Lisnacrogher shows how the two plates were held together; the edges of one plate were folded over the edges of the other plate, clamping the two firmly together (Raftery, 75). The sides of the plates are usually parallel for most of their length, curving slightly inwards in several instances towards the sharply narrowed tongue at the lower end. The latter was a technical necessity in order to facilitate the fitting-on of the openwork chape, which is the addition that protects the fragile tip of the sword. The tongue either curves inwards from the main portion of the plate in converging, concave sweeps towards the narrow tip or is a separate element, cut back and sharply rebated from the edge of the scabbard. The tip on the tongue is either rounded or triangular (Raftery, 75, 77). Half-way down the scabbard a suspension-loop would have been attached. Three hollow, two-piece bronze rings from Lisnacrogher may have been part of the mechanism by which the scabbard was suspended from the belt: this is often the case on the European mainland (Raftery, 144). Five at least of the six decorated scabbards appear to have had decorative settings riveted to the plate near the bell-shaped mouth (Raftery, 77). Since the scabbards were created during the Iron Age, it is surprising that bronze was the chosen metal, and not the new, tougher iron which was almost exclusively used on the mainland at this time. However, although iron was becoming increasingly popular, it was on the more traditional materials--not just on stone but on bronze and gold as well--that La Tene art was largely practiced in Ireland (Harbison, 34).
InfluencesIn the entire repertoire of Irish La Tene art, it is that on the scabbards which most resembles Continental traditions of La Tene decoration. Close stylistic links with early Yorkshire schools of scabbard engraving are also evident (Raftery, 165). Because the Bann scabbards are from north-eastern Ireland, it is suggested that northern England and Scotland, and possibly also Wales as well, must have played a considerable role in their development. The general style of the scabbards, that of La Tene, was named for a site in Switzerland where this type of Celtic ornament was first identified. La Tene style developed in Central Europe in the fifth century BCE, drawing heavily on Greek/Etruscan motifs, with an admixture of Oriental, even Scythian elements. Towards the end of the fourth century BCE, under strong influence from Italy, a new variant known as the Waldalgesheim style emerged in the Rhine area--and it is echoes of this particular version that we find on the Bann scabbards, best exemplified on those found in the last century at Lisnacrogher (Harbison, 161). The ultimate inspiration for the decoration on the Bann scabbards must have come from the Continent, even from as far away as Hungary. Martin Jope and Barry Raftery have both pleaded for direct continental influence for the Irish scabbards, rather than seeing England as having acted as an intermediate filter, as other scholars have argued (Harbison, 161).
Origin and DatingThere is little doubt that theBann scabbards are a product of specialist armories established in the northeast of Ireland (Raftery, 144). The earliest centers of high-quality metalwork in the country were almost certainly in the northeast, in Co. Antrim, where good iron deposits might well have been a factor enhancing the importance of this region in the earlier Iron Age (Raftery, 165). The date of the Bann scabbards is difficult to ascertain precisely, but they would seem to fit best into the period around the third or even the second century BCE (Harbison, 161).
2nd c. BCE
London, British Museum This scabbard is known as Bann 1, and was found near the River Bann at Toome, Ireland (Raftery, 75). One edge of Bann 1 is decorated with a narrow band of somewhat unevenly produced step-pattern. The other edge of the same plate has a band of continuous, leafy zig-zag, the angle between the leaves being filled with simple hatching (Raftery, 81). On Bann 1 the pattern which dominates is that of a continuous, sinuously curving wave (Raftery, 81). To fill the voids formed by the main decorative patterns, Bann 1 uses a bewildering variety of pelta-, "sickle"- and s-motifs (Raftery, 82). The artificer of Bann 1 was, perhaps, the most successful of all the scabbard-makers at embellishing the scabbard-tip, for he succeeded in continuing, almost to the end, the same pattern as on the main portion of the plate, though in attenuated form. Only at the very end did he have recourse to a short wavy line (Raftery, 82, 83). Near the tip of Bann 1 is a trumpet finial motif (Raftery, 83). On Bann 1, distinct in so many ways from the other scabbards, the ornament terminates below the mouth of the scabbard in a unique and clever manner, for here the flowing wave contracts and curls upon itself to provide what can best be described as a cunningly-conceived yin-yang motif, without appreciably breaking the rhythm of the wavy design (Duval, 282). The single spiral, centrally placed within a triangular field and enclosed by three tiny triangles, is a recurring theme on this scabbard (Raftery, 85). Bann 1 displays in its ornamentation the greatest variety and imagination of any of the six decorated Irish scabbards. A small number of the filler motifs on this specimen are matched elsewhere in the Irish series but in the main this scabbard stands apart from the other Irish examples. There appears to be no order or preconceived planning in the overall disposition of the filler designs. In his choice of filler devices the artist has, it seems, cast aside all discipline and restraint and given himself over almost entirely to impulse and whim. Tiny spirals and minute, leafy shapes, hatching and stippling, rows of little triangles, even an occasional trumpet or pseudo-trumpet motif are encountered along the length of the plate, in ever-changing combinations and forms. Most important of all, however, is the tiny triple-dot motif which repeats itself along the entire length of the scabbard in the blank areas between the main curvilinear elements of the design (Raftery, 87). Indistinct traces of rocked-graver ornament are visible on the back of Bann 1. As far as can be detected this ornament has little in common with the decoration on the front. Some spiral or concentric-circle designs seem to be present near the upper edge of the plate, below which are some vague shapes, somewhat leaf-like in appearance, which extend obliquely from one of the long edges of the scabbard to the other. These, as far as can be determined, are confined to the upper half of the scabbard and to its lower extremity (Raftery, 87). The width of the tongue measures a tiny 7 mm (Raftery, 75). There is an arrangement of three circular mounts, set in triangular formation to mirror the curve of the ogee mouth (Raftery, 75). On Bann 1 three rivet-holes under the mouth presumably indicate the former presence of some sort of decorative mounts here but no trace of these can be detected on the object (Raftery, 75). Bann 1 has a shallowly-curved, sub-campanulate mouth, barely forming a perceptible bell shape (Raftery, 75, 77).
Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim, Ireland
Probably 2nd c. BCE
London, British Museum This is one of three very similar scabbards tossed into the bog or crannog Lisnacrogher, most likely for religious ritual practices near the River Bann. It is known as Lisnacrogher No. 2 (Raftery, 75). It measures 55.4 cm in length (Raftery, 81). Lisnacrogher 2's main decoration consists of waves or s-motifs, with paired s-motifs on either side of the central ridge, alternately facing and backing. In each row the s-motifs are adjacent, not linked, and the overall effect is of balanced waves and symmetrical tendrils. Alternate edges of the slender, tendril bodies of the main figures are defined by rows of tiny, sub-triangular "teeth" (Frey with Megaw, 56). As stated above, on Lisnacrogher 2, both s-motifs and waves are present, according to how the design is "read." On this specimen a mid-rib is present so that the S-figures on either side of it combine to provide a series of elegant lyre designs. If the S-idea is allowed to recede into the background the ornament on either side of the mid-rib becomes a continuous, slender, tendril wave (Raftery, 81). On Lisnacrogher 2 the areas enclosed by the "waves" are filled with combined peltate and "sickle"-or "crescent"-shaped designs which can be "read" either as individual units terminating each of the S-figures or taken together to provide a form of flattened-palmette motif (Raftery, 82). A variant of the "running-dog" occurs with the interlocking heads of the individual S-scrolls taking the form of opposed pelta designs. This "running-dog" device halts a short distance from the scabbard-tip to be replaced, on either side of the mid-rib, by a simple zig-zag line (Raftery, 82). The main design ends at two circular settings which occur a short distance from the scabbard-mouth. "Growing" out of each of these settings and extending on either side of the mid-rib towards the peak of the bell-shaped mouth is an odd "sickle"-shaped motif (Raftery, 83). The "sickle"- or S-shaped units which form the ends of the main S-figures are blank apart from a row of tiny punched triangles which cling to the inner, concave edge of each "crescent" (Raftery, 85). The variety and disposition of the filler motifs on Lisnacrogher 2 are especially interesting. Close inspection of the piece shows that on the upper 15 cm or so of the scabbard, at least twelve separate filling devices are used whereas on the rest of the scabbard only three filler motifs are repeated. A number of the fillers on this scabbard are used on the other seven scabbards, but none of the others such as the trefoil in a triangle, the circle in a triangle and the tiny spiral-and-leaf combinations is precisely matched on the other scabbards (Raftery, 85). The variety of filler designs encountered on the upper portion of this scabbard contrasts with the plainness and repetitiveness of filler designs on the remainder. Here, apart from the trefoil-in-triangle, which recurs along the length of the scabbard at the junctions of the S-figures, the only filler devices present are simple hatching, which is confined to one longitudinal half of the scabbard, and the pelta, "crescent" and "sickle" motifs, set "concentrically" within one another, which are
found on the opposite half of the plate. The reasons for the contrast between the profusion of design on the upper portion of the scabbard and the relative plainness of the lower area are unclear. It could indicate no more than a loss of patience by the craftsman (Raftery, 85, 87). On Lisnacrogher 2 wear was such that the folded-over flange broke away along part of each edge and was painstakingly replaced by narrow, riveted-on strips of U-shaped cross-section (Raftery, 75). Lisnacrogher 2 has two circular bronze mounts riveted opposite one another on either side of the mid-rib. One of these is missing but the circular impression left by it is clear. The size of the mark does not correspond exactly with the size of the surviving mount so that the latter may be a secondary (though ancient) addition (Raftery, 77). The shape of the mouth of Lisnacrogher 2 is of steeply bell-shaped, "high campanulate" profile (de Navarro, 23). There are traces of zig-zag or punched triangle motifs defining the curved edges of the mouth. This feature is absent on the other scabbards (Raftery, 81). The implement employed in the decoration of Lisnacrogher 2 has been recognized as a fine, round-nosed graver (Lowery, et al., 1971, 180, Pl. XIVa,b). On Lisnacrogher 2 alone, where some of the smaller curves appear to have been partially laid out with a compass, can such an implement be recognized with confidence (Raftery, 79).
Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim, Ireland
Probably 3rd century BCE
41mm wide, 42.8 cm long
Belfast, Ulster Museum This sword is one of a group of three that was found in a bog in Lisnacrogher, Co. Antrim, Ireland. Lisnacrogher may have been a votive deposit like Llyn Cerrig Bach or La Tene, or it may have been a crannog (lake dwelling). According to Barry Raftery, this scabbard is generally known as Lisnacrogher No. 3 (Raftery, 75). Lisnacrogher 3 stretches 42.8 cm long and is 41 mm wide. These three scabbards are all very similar in style and design. They are also very similar to four English scabbards that were found in Yorkshire, known as the Bugthorpe scabbards, which are also in the British Museum's collection. Lisnacrogher 3 is made of bronze, consisting of two plates, of which only one survives. Their ends would have been clasped together by a chape, which is the part of the scabbard that protects the tip of the sword. The scabbard is decorated with engraved waves and s-motifs. There is a hammered mid-rib, which lends symmetry to the piece. The s-motifs on either side of the mid-rib are paired, alternately facing and backing, but the s-motifs are not linked together, but rather just barely touching. The junctions where the s-motifs almost touch have been described as "hour-glass" junctions (Jacobsthal, 81). On Lisnacrogher 3, apart from the principal s-motifs already referred to above, the only other designs on the main area of the plate are the small, hair-spring spirals which occur along each edge of the plate in the concavities formed by the "hour-glass" junctions of the main s-motifs (Raftery, 82). Where the design ends, at the two circular settings which occur a short distance from the scabbard-mouth, a pair of comparable "sickle"- or "crescent"-shaped designs face one another on either side of the mid-rib. These are not independent units, but form the ends of a pair of elegant trumpet finials, which, uniquely on this scabbard, effectively exploit the mid-rib (Raftery, 83). Lisnacrogher 3 has the most limited repertoire of filler motifs of any of the scabbards. All the main units are filled with gridded basketry within each one of which (with one exception) a single, tightly-coiled, hair-spring spiral occurs, perhaps in an effort to break the monotony of unrelieved basketry. Apart from the spirals and the basketry the only other filling device on this specimen is simple hatching (Raftery, 83). On Lisnacrogher 3 a short, wavy line extends two-thirds of the way along the narrowed tip ignoring the mid-rib as it goes. The last few centimeters of the scabbard-plate are decorated by a parallel pair of zig-zag lines, one on either side of the mid-rib. These "grow" uncomfortably from the wavy line and it may not be a coincidence that the awkward junction of zig-zags and wavy line was concealed by the transverse moulding of the chape (Raftery 82). The tongue of Lisnacrogher 3 snapped off in antiquity and was repaired by riveting a metal strip across the break at the back of the plate (Raftery, 77). Lisnacrogher 3 had two circular bronze mounts riveted opposite one another on either side of the mid-rib. It seems that the craftsman originally bored the rivet-holes too close to the mouth of the plate, for he had to bore a second pair and the mounts now cut across the initial incorrectly-placed perforations (Raftery, 77). The shape of the mouth of the scabbard is steeply bell-shaped, of "high-campanulate" profile (de Navarro, 1972, 23). Traces of zig-zag or punched triangle motifs define the curved edges of the mouth (Raftery, 81). There are small but unsightly scratches which are clearly visible at a number of points, especially near the bottom, where the graver must have slipped in the hands of the craftsman (Raftery, 79).
2nd c. BCE
Dublin, National Museum of Ireland This scabbard is generally known as Toome 3, and was found near the River Bann at Toome (Raftery, 75). It was most likely thrown into the river as a votive offering. Only one plate of the scabbard survives today. Toome 3 bears a series of crude C-shaped patterns, each an independent unit open to alternate edges of the plate. It may be that the original intention was to produce spiral motifs, but if this was so, the attempt has been largely unsuccessful (Raftery, 81). The entire composition of Toome 3 is clumsy, having seemingly been produced by a learner or by an artificer of indifferent skill (Raftery, 79). On Toome 3, the incompetence in design is matched by the limited imagination displayed; for the only attempt to fill the voids produced by the main curves, apart from a single, roughly engraved double spiral, is in the form of a repetitive series of crude, comma-spirals which project awkwardly from various parts of the main figures (Raftery, 82). Apart from a few indistinct areas of tooling and two stunted, deformed "spirals," attempts to adorn the narrow end of Toome 3 were dispensed with (Raftery, 83). Toome 3 has a very limited repertoire of filler motifs. Toome 3, as already emphasized, is an inferior piece. Filler designs are restricted to awkward hatching which, centrally divided on the bodies of the main C-figures, acquires the appearance of rough herring-bone ornament (Raftery, 83). On Toome 3, a tool similar to a fine, round-nosed graver was probably used for the decoration (Raftery, 79). Along each edge of the decorated surface of Toome 3 there are fine, rocked-graver lines (Raftery, 79, 81). Toome 3 has a shallowly-curved, sub-campanulate mouth. The decoration at the mouth of Toome 3 appears to have been severely truncated by the cutting of the mouth. There can be little doubt that this is a two-period piece and this probability is emphasized by the row of small punched bosses along the edges and under the mouth. These ignore the decoration, and project from the undecorated face, which in the final phase of use formed the front of the plate. A central groove, obviously caused by the sword point, cuts across the ornament which is also obscured by oblique hammer marks. It would seem that initially the plate was longer than it now is and had engraved ornament along the front. Then the plate was shortened and was hammered to reverse the concavity and turn the decoration inwards. The surface finally on view was thus plain, but for the row of low hemispherical bosses which decorated the edges (Raftery, 77, 79). Two tiny perforations, set one above the other, occur near the tip of Toome 3. This feature is not found on any other scabbards and the purpose of these perforations is uncertain (Raftery, 77). On Toome 3 there is no detectable trace of any mounts. Indeed, if any ever existed they must have been of extremely thin metal, because the surviving rivet-heads have been filed almost flush with the surface of the bronze plate so that there scarcely seems room enough to accommodate any bronze fittings (Raftery, 77).