Gundestrup cauldron

Gundestrup cauldron

The Gundestrup cauldron is a richly-decorated silver vessel, thought to date from the La Tène Period in the first century to second century BC. It was found in 1891 in a peat bog near the hamlet of Gundestrup, in the Aars parish in Himmerland, Denmark (coord|56|49|N|9|33|E|). It is now housed at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

The decorations on the walls of the cauldron depict Celtic deities and rituals. Because of these, and because of the size of the vessel (diameter 69 cm, height 42 cm), it is thought to have been used for sacrificial purposes in Celtic polytheism.


Base Plate

The round base plate is dominated by a bull. On its back is a leaping female figure wielding a sword, attacking it. Two dogs are also shown, one over the bull's head, and another under its hooves.

Exterior Plates

Each of the seven exterior plates centrally depicts a bust, probably of a deity. Plates a, b, c, and d show bearded male figures, while the remaining three are female.

*On plate a, the bearded figure holds in each hand a much smaller figure by the arm. Each of those two reach upward toward a small boar. Under the feet of the figures (on the shoulders of the god) are a dog on the left side and a winged horse on the right side.

*The god on plate b holds in each hand a sea-horse or dragon. The god has been associated with the Irish sea-god Manannan.

*On plate c, the god raises his empty fists. On his right shoulder is a man in a "boxing" position, and on his left shoulder a leaping figure with a small horseman underneath.

*Plate d shows a bearded god holding a stag by the hind quarters in each hand.

*The goddess on plate e is flanked by two smaller male busts.

*On plate f: the goddess holds a bird in her upraised right hand. Her left arm is horizontal, supporting a man and a dog lying on its back. She is flanked by two birds of prey on either side of her head. Her hair is being plaited by a small woman on the right.

*On plate g, the goddess has her arms crossed. On her right shoulder, a scene of a man fighting a lion is shown. On her left shoulder is a leaping figure similar to the one on plate c.

Plate A: Antlered God

Plate A centrally shows a horned male figure in a seated position, usually identified with Cernunnos. In its right hand, the figure is holding a torque, and with its left hand, it grips a horned serpent by the head. To the left is a stag with antlers very similar to the god's. Other animals surround the scene, canine, feline, bovine, and a human figure riding a fish or a dolphin. The scene has been compared to the Pashupati "lord of animals" of the Indus Valley Civilization. It has also been associated with depictions of the Buddha, and of the Western Buddha-god Virupaksha. ["Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain", Donald A. Mackenzie, p45]

Plate B: Goddess with Wheels

Plate B shows the bust of a goddess, flanked by two six-spoked wheels and by mythical animals: two elephant-like creatures and two griffins. Under the bust is a large hound.

Plate C: Broken Wheel

Plate C shows the bust of a bearded god holding on to a broken wheel. A smaller leaping figure with a horned helmet also is holding the rim of the wheel. Under the leaping figure is a horned serpent. The group is surrounded by griffins and other creatures, some similar to those on plate B. The god has been associated with the Irish Dagda. The wheel's spokes are rendered asymmetrical, but judging from the lower half, the wheel may have had twelve spokes, consistent with chariot burials excavated in East Yorkshire.

Plate D: Bull Sacrifice

Plate D shows a scene of bull-slaying. Three bulls are depicted in a row, facing right. Each bull is attacked by a man with a sword. Under the hooves of each bull is a dog running to the right, and over the back of each bull is a cat, also running to the right.

Plate E: Warrior Initiation

Plate E apparently displays a sort of initiation ritual. In the lower half, a line of warriors bearing spears and shields, accompanied by carnyx players march to the left. On the left side, a large figure is immersing a man in a cauldron. In the upper half, heading away from the cauldron, and probably having completed the initiation ritual are warriors on horseback. Interestingly, later Celtic myth, such as that of Bran the Blessed, features resurrection themes based on immersion of dead warriors in cauldrons.Fact|date=July 2008


The Gundestrup cauldron is the largest known example of European Iron Age silver work. The style and workmanship suggest Thracian origin, while the imagery seems Celtic (torques, horned God, carnyx). This has opened room for conflicting theories of Thracian vs. Gaulish origin of the cauldron.

Bergquist and Taylor propose manufacture by a Thracian craftsman, possibly commissioned by the Celtic Scordisci and fallen into the hands of the Cimbri who invaded the Middle lower Danube in 120 BC. Olmsted interprets the iconography as a prototype of the Irish myth of the Táin Bó Cuailnge, associating the horned figure with Cú Chulainn rather than with Cernunnos.

Despite many different presumed interpretations by archaeologists and historians, there is no factual basis for a religious, sacrificial, and especially druidic purposes of the cauldron. The above interpretations are based on pure conjecture.


*Bergquist, A. K., and T. F. Taylor, "The origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron", Antiquity, vol. 61, 1987, pp. 10-24.
*Kaul, F., and J. Martens, "Southeast European Influences in the Early Iron Age of Southern Scandinavia. Gundestrup and the Cimbri", Acta Archaeologica, vol. 66 1995, pp. 111-161.
*Klindt-Jensen, O., "The Gundestrup Bowl — a reassessment", Antiquity, vol. 33, pp. 161-9.
*Olmsted, G.S., "The Gundestrup version of Táin Bó Cuailnge", Antiquity, vol. 50, pp. 95-103.

ee also

*Celtic art
*Celtic polytheism

External links

* [ Celtic Art & Cultures] : detailed description of the cauldron
* [ Gundestrup Cauldron] : origins of the cauldron and its place within Celtic culture

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