Sometime around 500 BC, when the Mediterranean-inspired Hallstatt art style was giving way to the more purely Celtic La Tène art style, a young Celtic prince of Glauberg met his end. Though young – he was between 28 to 32 years old – he was given a magnificent burial. As a warrior he was buried with the full warrior’s equipment: by his right side was his sword in a magnificent wooden scabbard. On his left he had his three spears, and next to them three arrows and a bow to fire them. And his body was covered by his shield, of which little remains. At the centre was an iron buckler – poorly preserved; the shield itself was of wood, but the iron fittings round the outside have survived, showing the extent of the shield.
But it is the non-military items that have survived best and provide the most spectacular finds. In the corner of the grave was a fine bronze jug. It has a long thin ‘beak’ from which to pour the golden nectar and at the top of the handle are three superb figurines – a man sitting cross-legged facing two crouching beasts, each with a human head looking backwards and with another human face at its tail. Several similar jugs are known from the Celtic world, but this is one of the finest. The contents of the jug were analysed, and it appears that it had originally contained mead, for there were traces of honey. However analysis of the pollen suggested that it was not just a local honey but a mixture of honeys gathered from at least 100 km around.
Placed round his neck was a magnificent golden neck ring – obviously the right thing to wear: the statue is clearly wearing a neck ring with three pendants hanging down. He had two fine gold earrings, a gold bracelet around his wrist and a gold finger ring with superb gold filigree. One feels it is too effeminate for a man, but that surely is our modern prejudices.
Round his waist were the remains of what had clearly been originally a magnificent leather belt, from which a number of fittings survive. The end was a magnificent hook where the hook itself is formed by a fierce animal holding a human head in its mouth.
By his sword were the remains of another belt fitting from which the sword had clearly hung. The best survivals were three fibulae, or brooches, one of which was quite magnificent with an animal head at the end, curving round to face a bearded human face. And intermingled with the belt are the remains of what the archaeologists suspect to have been a magnificent crown of wood — again, see the statue which we describe later, which shows what the crown presumably looked like —quite unlike the usual crown, but in the form of two leaves on either side of the face.
Not far away, under the same barrow, a second prince was buried, again in a timber lined grave. This was of a somewhat older man aged between 30 and 40. But this was a cremation rather than a burial, though sufficient of the bones remained for his age to be determined.
Nevertheless the lid has survived with a fine backward looking animal eating its own tail, while at the base of the handle is the face of a Celtic warrior with a fine flowing moustache.
Here too there was a sword placed over the burnt remains and several spearheads, and another elaborate belt with a fine belt plate.
Both graves were covered by what was presumably a huge barrow with a surrounding ditch. Both barrow and ditch have totally vanished and it was only a suspicious semicircle on an air photo in 1988 that led the archaeologists to investigate and discover this entirely unexpected burial site. At the centre of the barrow was a third pit which was entirely empty and it is tempting to suggest that this was placed here deliberately to mislead potential grave robbers. Today the barrow has been restored to what was presumably its original form, and makes a fine feature in the landscape.
In the ditch surrounding the barrow was found the most spectacular discovery of all – a life size statue made from sandstone, depicting a Celtic warrior.
Unlike the Hirschlanden statue (which we published as a ‘scoop’ in CA13 in 1969), who is naked, this warrior is fully clothed though he appears to be wearing an exceedingly short mini-skirt atop extremely sturdy thighs. Round his neck is a neck ring like that found in the grave. He carries only a miniature shield, but he appears to be wearing some form of cuirass.
He is also carrying a sword, but this is carved somewhat uncertainly on his side, adjacent to a stout back-plate. On his head is the leaf shaped crown that is typical of these Celtic statues of which about half a dozen others are known. But presumably the fragmentary remains of a crown in the first burial represent a head dress of this style. But this statue did not stand alone; fragments of at least three other statues were found in the course of the excavations. Whether all four once stood on the barrow, or whether the other three were earlier statues that had been destroyed, we shall never know.,
Geophysical surveys have revealed an elaborate surrounding landscape. To one side of the barrow is a small rectangular enclosure with a four post structure in the interior, which it is tempting to interpret as being some sort of shrine. Just outside the ring ditch on the side facing the hillfort were a dozen deep postholes in which posts have been placed. Their purpose is entirely unknown, though inevitably some have managed to find an astronomical alignment in them.
More interesting however is the elaborate system of ditches that lead out from the grave circle. To the north on the side of the hillfort is an elaborate short system of which no sense can be made, but to the south two parallel ditches form a processional way leading up to the huge barrow. This parallel ditch run for some 220 metres before turning outwards at right angles to form part of a long running dyke that can be traced for at least a kilometre across the landscape.
In the angle at the end of the parallel ditches, a second barrow was discovered, lying 250 metres south of the first. The ring ditch was only half the diameter of the first, around 23-24 metres wide, but at the centre was a third princely burial set in a wooden coffin. Here again there is a sword and a spearhead together with a gold arm ring and finger ring.
Hitherto we have been telling this story backwards, starting from the spectacular Celtic burials, but it is time to go back to the beginning and explain that the Glauberg is actually a hillfort and one of the most important, and extensively excavated hillforts in south western Germany. The Glauberg is in fact a prominent ridge projecting out from the high land into the fertile plain of the Wetterau and an ideal site for a hillfort; and was used as such from the Neolithic time down to the Middle Ages. The hillfort was extensively excavated from 1933 – 1939, but the records were all stored in the dighouse and in the closing days of the Second World War the dig house was shelled and the records were all destroyed, so only newspaper reports tell of what was discovered.
Excavations were resumed by the Hesse archaeologists from 1985 – 98 but were broken off to excavate the burials we have described. Nevertheless it has become one of the most important hillfort excavations in southern Germany. The hilltop was first fortified by building a ditch across the neck of land at its northern end in the late Neolithic in the Michelberg culture around 4000 BC. There is indeed evidence for occupation in the early Neolithic in the Rössen culture. The next occupation begins in the 10th – 9th centuries BC with the late Bronze Age Urnfield culture: the most interesting find was a ritual shoe-shaped pottery urn which has Eastern analogies.
However, this soon petered out and occupation was resumed in the early 6th century BC when it became the residence of a Celtic prince, who fortified the whole of the hilltop with a 1.5 kilometre long defensive system. This was built with an elaborate timber strengthening. But the hillfort was attacked, the timbers set on fire and the stone vitrified, and it became a vitrified fort of a type well known in Scotland. However, the defences were quickly rebuilt, whether by the home team or by the successful attackers we do not know. But it would be nice to think that this was the work of the young prince who was buried under the barrow.
It appears to be at this period that the hillfort was extended and an annex was fortified on the lower ground, which appears to have contained in its northern corner a very substantial reservoir. However, in the 4th century BC the hillfort appears to have been mostly abandoned with only casual finds dating to the late Iron Age and Roman periods. Was this because the area as a whole, the Wetterau was overrun by the Germans who pushed out the Celts who had hitherto dominated in the area?
In the Roman period it lay 10 miles outside the Limes, the defensive system which the Romans built to bring in the fertile Wetterau and to shorten the line of defence from Rhine to Danube. However in the 4th – 5th century AD the fortifications were once again rebuilt by the Alemanni, and it appeared to have been the seat of a Regulus – a petty king. However, around 500 this was again abandoned but it was reoccupied in the 7th century by the Franks.
It was again refortified in High Middle Ages, in the 11th or 12 centuries and parts of the masonry castle still survive with a Romanesque doorway that is still upstanding; but it was abandoned around 1250.
Now once again occupation is taking place in the form of the new museum known as the Celtic World of the Glauberg, which was opened with great fanfare in 2011. It is a spectacular modern design with the main museum building projecting out from the hillside — a successful blend of old and new. Here the finds are displayed with the statue as its centrepiece, building up the background to the Celtic story of the Glauberg and then showing off all the spectacular finds. There are many other Celtic monuments in Hesse, and this is intended to be the base for a circular tour to all these Celtic sites.
The Glauberg lies 32 kilometres north east of Frankfurt in the rolling plains of the Wetterau where many traditional villages still survive, their houses set gable end onto the road. The Land (regional government) of Hesse, having spent a lot of money on the excavations, has clearly decided to go the whole hog, and has backed up the excavations with a splendid and spectacular museum. It is well worth a visit. I only wish there had been time on our visit to walk round the hilltop too!
or, The Saalburg