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Decorated Weapons of the La Tene Iron Age in the Carpathian Basin.

These two books, one largely by the Czech founder-secretary of the UISPP Comite pour la Siderurgie Ancienne, the other emanating from Hungary, both in English, and on the subject of Celtic swords, are very different from each other, yet both exhibit signs of the social and economic times. Both have been long-awaited, both have been considerably delayed by the search for a publisher and by the financial constraints of post-socialist central Europe.

The Szabo-Petres volume reunites between soft covers the decorated weapons of the whole eastern La Tene zone, not only those from Hungary itself. There is an extremely valuable catalogue of these finds, listing associations where known. This is accompanied by 130 pages of drawings and seven half-tone plates, the latter largely demonstrating all too clearly the problems of reproducing such pieces. The drawings of surviving Hungarian swords have been done from the originals, the non-Hungarian objects largely re-drawn from already published sources. The incised decoration on these (generally iron) artefacts is notoriously tricky to reproduce accurately, even where corrosion has not made the design unreadable, as the authors themselves point out following Paul-Marie Duval on the subject. The problem, however, applies to the reproduction of any three-dimensional object by conventional means and it is perhaps a pity that more good-quality photographs could not have been included for comparison. Nonetheless, this volume provides a remarkably useful and carefully researched source-book for others.

The introductory essay provides a discussion of the origins, historiography and chronology of the scabbard and spear designs. The Waldalgesheim or `vegetal' phase of the 4th to early 3rd century BC is treated as experimental, and the evolution of the dragon-pair scabbards and the designs of the Sword style then are more fully discussed. The claim that the term `Hungarian Sword Style' is generic and that no real sub-style can or should be recognized, seems overstated to say the least. Most of this discussion addresses issues raised in literature from Jacobsthal onward, some areas being more fully treated than others. It would have been useful, for example, if the discussion of the Irish Scabbard Style, proposed in 1984 by Barry Raftery, had been accompanied by a discussion of the `English Scabbard Style' as it has emerged over the last decade and a half from research on material old and new from the `Arras culture' of the East Riding of Yorkshire. While there are a few minor infelicities in English expression (which do not however affect meaning), the book is an admirable example of in-house publication by the Hungarian National Museum in an attempt to keep costs down and it is only to be hoped that this study gets the wide distribution it deserves.

In the March 1993 issue of Antiquity Henry Cleere's review article `Archaeometallurgy comes of age' (Cleere 1993) came out just too soon to allow him to comment on his friend Radu Pleiner's major study. The core of Pleiner's book is formed by the experimental forging of sword blades at the Archaeological Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague followed by an examination of their ability to inflict blows and subsequent study of the damage done to the blades and by a series of metallographic analyses of 27 sword blades from sites in the former Czechoslovakia. These are supplemented by a study of published results of metallurgical analyses of a further 177 swords from other parts of La Tene Europe; only 92 yielded enough comparable material to be included. The book brings together in one place some valuable information otherwise scattered throughout the literature. The technological superiority of the La Tene smiths and their development of hardening processes and the use of carbon steels are clear. The forging experiments demonstrate that it is possible to create a sword out of a typical iron ingot or `currency bar', thus strengthening the possibility that these were indeed blanks for further working rather than primarily a form of exchange or wealth system.

The metallographic results are not unfortunately accompanied by the kind of exposition of ironworking techniques and their reflection in the technical results which would make the results really accessible to the non-specialist and which occupy, for example, the introduction to Brian Scott's own Early Irish ironworking (n.d.). Such an exposition could perhaps have partially supplemented the first 70 pages of the text. These are taken up by chapters on the origin and typology of the sword and the nature of warfare in Europe in the period of Celtic expansion -- as derived from archaeology and from written sources in antiquity -- as well as the role of the Celtic long sword which is seen as a drawback in massed hand-to-hand fighting such as that practised by Hellenistic Greeks or the armies of the expanding Roman empire. The sword is considered as more suited to an archaic form of hand-to-hand combat between individual heroes or leaders such as that described by Homer. Though some of this more general material is useful, it clearly shows the influence of Pleiner's own theories of prehistoric society as expressed in his Otazka statu ve stare Galii (1979) which may confuse some readers who don't think that patriarchy stopped in the Early La Tene era.

It must be said that there is some repetition and a series of missed errors, mostly in proper names; for example, it seems unfortunate that the Clarendon Press which published Jacobsthal's Early Celtic art in 1944, should choose his name as one of the more frequent mis-spellings. Some of the unevenness may be due to the long-delayed publication of Pleiner's original text, which has been in search of a publisher for almost a decade; certainly one looks in vain for more than a passing reference to the work of Andre Rapin and his colleagues and the Institut de Restauration et de Recherches Archeologiques et Paleometallurgiques at Compiegne. In brief, while a fascinating compendium of archaeological, textual and technical information, this is a disappointment for many of us who had hoped for that full treatment of his many years of research which Pleiner could surely have presented to a wide readership.

RUTH & VINCENT MEGAW Visual Arts & Archaeology The Flinders University of South Australia


CLEERE, H. 1993. Archaeometallurgy comes of age, Antiquity 67: 175--8.

PLEINER, R. 1979. Otazka statu ve stare Galii. Prague: Academia.

SCOTT, B. N.d. (1991.) Early Irish ironworking. Belfast: Ulster Museum.
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Author:Megaw, Ruth; Megaw, Vincent
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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