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Wagons and Wagon-graves of the Early Iron Age in Central Europe.

By sheer coincidence 1992 has seen the publication of two outstandingly important books on early European wheeled vehicles, Pare on the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages of Central Europe, and Crouwel on those of Iron Age (mainly 8th-7th-century Geometric) Greece. Pare gives us over 200 pages of illustrated text, followed by a catalogue of the 228 (with an addendure of 14) finds of which details survive, some from the 19th century, with reproductions of the original plans. There follow 136 fine large-scale drawings of details. Pare also has the advantage of having taken part in the arrangement of the 1987 Mainz exhibition of eight full-size reconstructions of Hallstatt wagons, and contributed a chapter to the superb exhibition catalogue (Barth et al. 1987). Crouwel on the other hand has to deal with the representations of vehicles in Greek Geometric pot-painting with a few models and wheel fragments. Pare therefore has an exceptionally large corpus of good hard archaeological evidence to work on, whereas Crouwel has to be contented with the slippery and tricky evidence of ancient iconography on pots mostly of uncertain provenance (as from dealers or illicitly robbed Etruscan tombs). Incidentally the separation of the captions of his illustrations by 30 pages from the plates themselves does not make for easy reference.

Pare uses the famous Muller-Karpe Hallstatt A to D chronology with its necessary sub-divisions. Two useful dates are fixed, the dendrochronological date from the late Urnfield La Cote-St-Andre situla on four wheels of 745-735 BC, and at the other end Hallstatt D Greek imports such as at Vix and Hochdorf. Throughout he sustains two main themes, that of type, rite and purpose continuity, and the importance to the German core area of wagons of their North Italian counterparts -- a forerunner of the complex of trade routes and Alpine passes demonstrated for the Middle Ages in Braudel's famous studies. Already in earlier Urnfield times the cremation grave of Hart-a.-d.-Alz shows some kind of a vehicle with four wheels, and by Hallstatt C/D the four-wheeled ceremonial wagon has settled down to a standard type in which structural features and even dimensions are recurrent. Pare goes in commendable detail into the much debated question of a pivoted front axle allowing for at least a limited turning circle, and I am delighted to find his agreement with my very tentative ideas of 1983, supported by new material and fresh interpretations.

The wagon is essentially of perch-and-pole construction, floored and carrying without structural attachments a shallow box, which may have sides decorated with metal ornaments, as may (as for instance at Hochdorf) the draughtpole. Outside the true Hallstatt area the new reconstruction of the Djebjerg wagon with its fittings has helped us in our understanding of this feature of wagon construction. Pare makes elaborate and convincing typological studies of the wagon features, particularly of the wheels, which yield the most information: in his study of the iron tyres and their nailing he shows for the first time that the types were single-piece shrunk-on types in a manner previously not thought to be earlier than La Tene, again showing technological continuity carried forward now into post-Hallstatt times.

A main contention that is argued here is that the wagons were not biers used only at the funeral of the prestigious individual eventually laid in them, but had had at least a limited use in ceremonial rites involving some sort of processional or to-and-fro movement. This thesis is convincingly supported by the evidence, from Urnfield times onwards, by models as the Kesselwagen and their congeners such as the famous Trundholm wheeled sun-disc and late in the story, the rain-making rites at Crannon in Thessaly, depicted on coins of the 4th century BC and by a long description (given here in full translation) a century later. Here a hydria on four wheels (like the Cote-St-Andre situla on wheels) was pushed backwards and forwards, accompanied by two live ravens who took part in the ceremony, and Pare compares the representations of water-birds in Urnfield art as something similar. What is essential in all these instances was movement on wheels in a ritual context, however limited. Thenceforward the full-size wagons could be used for prestige burials. A minor point: I am not altogether happy, among the early comparanda, is the reconstruction of Dupljaja with its 'parasol' of pottery held by elaborate bronze wire-work. When we turn to the Greek evidence Crouwel has to deal in the main with pictorial representations and a few models as evidence. Here, by the way, why do the early Greeks alone have twee Victorian Vases decorated by Artists, while the rest of us deal with pots and chaps? At all events we cannot trust what we see as reliable representations of actual vehicles. As Sir Ernst Gombrich has reminded us, ancient artists normally took refuge in copying schemata, visual cliches. The lion which the 13th-century draughtsman Villard de Homecourt so proudly insisted was drawn by him from life ('al vif') is wholly heraldic and un-naturalistic, no more like a lion than the 'sign-paint's beasts in their fight for the Crown' in a Georgian church. The Greek front-facing quadriga is clearly a stock tour-de-force copied from copies, and there is nothing to guarantee that any of the painters worked directly from the real vehicles. The predominantly four-spoked wheels are surely just shorthand for 'wheel' (the surviving nave-fragment from Olympia had eight spokes) and here the problem of Greek fourwheeled wagons arises.

The question of wagon representations on Greek Geometric pots is contentious. Crouwel, following von Mercklin and others, accepts the use of two chariot schemata simultaneously and even on the same pot: one wheel or two wheels side-by-side, only allowing two four-wheelers in this convention. I, following Snodgrass in 1983, thought as 'surely inconceivable' that this double schemata could exist, and still do.

One final technological point. Neither of our authors touches on the problem of the first lathe-turning of vehicle naves in wood, nor the possibility of lathe-finishing of the bronze or iron sheathing components. Rieth in 1940 and 1950 looked to Greece for its origins in the Hallstatt world, and Pare's stressing of the North Italian connection with Middle Europe could provide Etruscan intermediaries. The long cylindrical naves of his Cannstatt type are likely candidates for lathe-turning, no less than Vix and others with versions of the classical cyma recta moulding. Pare also notes the evidence for the use of steel chisels in Urnfield times, and in 1959 I drew attention to the lathe-finishing of some Central European Urnfield bronze bowls. More investigation of these problems would be welcome.



BARTH, E., J. BIEL, M. EGG, A. FRANCE-LANORD, H.-E. JOACHIM, C.F.E. PARE, P. SCHAUER & H.P. UENZE. 1987. Vierradrige Wagen der Hallstattzeit.: Untersuchungen zu Geschichte und Technik. Mainz: Romisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum. Monographien Band 12.
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Author:Piggott, Stuart
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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