The Celts were at their times masters in metalworking – be it gold, silver, iron or bronze – and in handcrafts. Particular ways of metal processing will be described in other posts; this will be on different categories of jewellery and their forms. Textile decorations will be also described in another post. Apart from different metals, jewellery was produced from other materials too, which are also mentioned here.
Celtic jewellery is found in sites of former settlements, in graves as well as in a form of offerings (well-known Duchcov treasure with hundreds of pieces of jewellery). Jewelleries in graves are located mainly in women’s graves (findings with up to twenty fibulae (brooches) in grave of a woman is no exception). The Celts gained gold in present days Czech lands through washing from rivers (Vltava and its influxes, mainly Otava); in Europe, from rivers Rhine, Danube etc. In the workshops since the 5th century, the Celts worked with gold with purity up to 99%. As for silver, we have very few findings not only from the Czech Republic area; probably silver was found only at surface and even that in later period (second-first century). It is likely that metal casters didn’t have permanent workshops but they travelled with portable equipment from place to place according to interest. For jewellery production, among others, a method of lost-wax metal casting was used about which you can read elsewhere on this blog.
Typically Celtic piece of jewellery from about half of the 5th century, although their pattern comes from the east (eg. Persia). In the Czech Republic its most famous bearer is the Celt of Mšecké Žehrovice found in 1943 (respectively sculpture of his head). Designation “torc” or “torques” meant “cravat” braided from several sources, but rather more complicated torcs made of solid or hollow sticks were found, with endings of various extensions. It was a sign of power and nobility, therefore many pieces made of gold were found (especially from the late 5th and then 4th century), later, simpler versions of bronze were produced as well. However, beginning from the 2nd century there are no more findings; torques occurs not as a real object, but only on coins and representations of various gods and heroes.
Sapropel jewels were prized export goods to Europe from territory of today’s Czech Republic (especially from the area between rivers Vltava and Ohře). Sapropel, incorrectly called lignite, is simply said an organic sediment, dark brown to black in color, found in layers upon black coal primarily in Kladno – Rakovník region where the sapropel was systematically mined by the Celts (from quarries, perhaps shafts) and processed. Circular jewels made of this material were among the most popular in the 3rd century BC. Production was focused mainly on bracelets for arms as well as on various pearls and rings. For processing sapropel, lathe was probably used among many other tools (like chisels, raspers, sharpeners – all of them belonged to blacksmiths’ tools, therefore processing of sapropel was their associated activity). This material required some moisture to prevent fracturing. Its magically black colour was probably believed to have protection power.
Glass and beads
Glass bangles widened from half of the 2nd century. One of the greatest discoveries of Celtic glass – arm bracelets, beads, pearls – was preserved at Stradonice oppidum; unfortunately from the glassworks itself practically nothing was preserved and it is even possible that all the items was imported. Easternmost evidence of production of glass is from the Bavarian Manching, otherwise it was more common in the west (Rhine lands, parts of France and Switzerland). The only type of glass jewellery found exclusively in Czech countries is a purple or blue jewel in shape of a heart with yellow flames and a metal loop for hanging (eg. part of findings in jewellery workshop in oppidum Hrazany).
Fibulae (brooches, pins)
They served to pin together clothing especially on shoulders or chest, but also for decoration. We have no evidence about knowledge of buttons. It is actually a forerunner of today’s safety pin, the working principle remained exactly the same. They could be miniature or up to around 20 cm, however average size was about 6 cm. More than other pieces of jewellery fibulae were subject to fashion and from every period there are different types. Men in earlier periods wore especially robust iron pins (for cloaks), noble women wore bronze (or exceptionally silver) ones, often further decorated (see below). In later periods the differences are rendered and iron fibulae are used more often.
Bracelets for arms and legs (anklets)
Bracelets for arms were among the most common jewellery, even among men. They were worn on forearm as well as on upper arm; rather on left arm; they were mostly made of iron (for men) or bronze (rather for women). Some women bracelets findings suggest that simpler bracelets were worn for a lifetime without taking it off. However anklets – rings worn on ankles – are rather unusual and they are typical jewel for the Celts that probably belonged to noble part of the society. The highlight of processing of bracelets for both arms and legs is so called plastic style (3rd century), using a hollow hemisphere – anklets with six, eight or more hemispheres were found; first with simple design, later well decorated – due to its impracticality they were probably worn only occasionally.
Besides the simplest leather and textile belts supplemented by metal rings and hooks, the Celts wore belts made of various metal parts connected together, respectively belts with metallic decorations and small metal sheets. From the 3rd century, bronze belts for women made of individual plates often decorated by enamel connected by rings are found; from the point of switching hook another part of the belt was hanging down with further embellished pendants, iron chains, etc.; also the hook itself used to be very fancy. Belts for men in addition fulfilled purpose of hanging of sword sheaths; therefore the belt could be made of leather or complemented by heavy iron chain.
Frequent finding, most of them are made of bronze, rarely even of iron. Massive rings as well as (more often) simple wire rings were found, sometimes curved in a shape of a saddle.
Enamel – i.e. glass material – gradually replaced scarce coral from younger half of the La Tène period. It was used eg. for decoration of fibulae or from the 3rd century often for women’s bronze belts (usually red in colour, respectively white). It decorated also objects of daily use, shields, metal decorations of boxes or horse harnesses. Evidences of enamel workshops are found throughout the Celtic world, including Bohemia (eg. Stradonice oppidum).
In older times sea coral was used for decorating. Evidences were found proving use of shells, pearls, bones, gems and amber.