Celtic Collections at the Liechtenstein Landesmuseum


Liechtenstein LandesMuseum, Vaduz (Photo P. Hunt, 2012)

By Patrick Hunt-

 Several times in the past year, both in summer and spring, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the national museum in Vaduz, the Liechtenstein LandesMuseum, currently celebrating 300 years of history through its collections. With my own current research on medieval castles and Celtic antecedents in the Alps, this has been a perfect opportunity to learn and gather documentation in this alpine region of the upper Rhine Valley. The museum collections pull together finds from local history, including Vaduz itself, which had a segment of a famous Roman road stretching both north and south through Raetia to Germania and a Roman villa in Schaan as well as Celtic settlements in Gutenberg, where a fabulous deposit of bronzes was found in the early 20th century.

The celebration collection of the last 300 years of the princely family and the principality at large has superb examples of historic regalia and heraldry, tapestries, stamps and philatelic history, paintings and portraits, household objects, decorative glassware, tools and many other collectibles. Some of my exhibition favorites of the objets d’art included a 17th c. Turkish gem-inlaid dagger, crowns and medallions, a Baroque mother of pearl portrait and  a silver traveling service. The LandesMuseum also houses an array of natural flora and fauna of the montane animals inhabiting modern Liechtenstein.

Collectibles from the “1712-2012: Origins” Exhibition (Photo montage from the LandesMuseum)

While the LandesMuseum collections are substantial, this article primarily selectively summarizes a few of the museum’s important Celtic archaeological finds for a larger audience, including an Iron Age sword, a ceramic vessel used in a cremation ritual, an Alamanni decorative ring, and very important bronze votive figurines of divine, human and animal significance.

Early La Tène Iron Age iron sword

Early La Tène Iron Age iron sword 4th c BCE, 80 cm length (Photo Sven Beham)

This iron blade is apparently from the La Tène period and was found in 1958, on the Alp Balzner Matta at about 1,800 meters (around 6000 ft.) elevation. Its length is 80 cm  – a length generally associated with La Tène II. [1] This sword is certainly comparable with some of the best Celtic La Tène iron swords in the British Museum’s Celtic collection in London. [2] One of the most credible references on Celtic swords is Radomir Pleiner, The Celtic Sword. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. For comparison with mid-third century BCE swords in the Gallic region to the West, a similar Celtic sword can be seen from the region of Voreppe (Grenoble) from a chieftain’s burial in the Grotte de Fontabert near the village of La Buisse, found in 1909. [3] Polybius made famous comments on Celtic swords in his History II.33.5-6 regarding that they were were more for cutting and not thrusting since they did not have sharp points and they often bended in battle – both due to their length and to Celtic tempering – and had to be straightened. Celtic swords could be very long, up to 100 cm in La Tène II around 200 BCE, which might not always be an asset if Polybius is correct, although his observation might be more apropos of the Insubres tribe in the area of the Po River Valley than applicable elsewhere.

Late Hallstatt D Ceramic Vessel (Schultergefäss)

“Schultergefass” Ceramic ‘Shoulder’ Vessel, 5th c. BCE, 11.5 cm height (Photo Sven Beham)

This ceramic vessel is from an Iron Age cremation cemetery in Balzers with typical stamp decoration, and it was locally produced in the 1st half of the 5th Century BC. Burials in the Hallstatt C-D periods (800-475 BCE) change from mixed cremation and inhumation to inhumation, as cremation is often a signal of older Hallstatt phases. Provenance of such ceramic vessels can be geochemically ascertained by the clay fabric and temper from a combination of petrography (optical petrology) and instrumental analyses such as electron probe microanalysis (EPMA). [4] The broad shoulder, indented neck and flared rim of this ceramic vessel enhances it being picked up or held due to this shape. Clearly its flat base is also stable for resting in place. The suggested clay source is from local fine Rhine River alluvium, itself originally derived from the many glacial gravels of almost countless alpine feeder streams from a complex geological array of alpine rocks eroded to clay, especially since the Rhine River here forms the geological boundary between the Eastern and Western Alps, whose influence is mostly the steep Rätikon Mountains on the eastern bank of the Rhine, with the dominance of the metamorphosized Liechtenstein Flysch, heavily-folded Falknis Nappe and Lechtal Nappe.[5]

Alamanni Decorative Ring, 7th c.  CE  from a cemetery in Schaan

Alemanni Metal Decorative Ring, 7th c. CE, from Schaan cemetery, 12 cm diameter (Photo Sven Beham)

Although not a Celtic artifact but instead from the late Roman period, Alamanni women’s costumes included rings and decorative plates for belts and bags. From the 3rd Century AD onward, the Alamanni appeared in what is now southwestern Germany and continuously broke into the Roman Empire across the increasingly porous borders (limes) along the Rhine and other rivers. From the 4th Century onward, they settled regionally in the upper Rhine and not later than the 5th-6th Centuries CE in what is now Switzerland, Vorarlberg (Austria) and in Liechtenstein. Once they had migrated into the areas of what was decaying Roman Helvetia and Raetia (Switzerland and Liechtenstein), the Alamanni resisted both Romanization and early Christianity [6] and their incursions here thwarted, disrupted and truncated the once-vital trade and traffic along the Rhine River where Rome had created a major road that crossed the continent, part of it being the Via Claudia Augusta from north Italy (Altinum on the Adriatic) north to Augsburg in what is now Bavaria (Augusta Vindelicum), linked to other roads connecting all the way to the Baltic. [7]  I’ve traveled a considerable portion of this Roman road (Via Claudia Augusta) from Italy through the Alps and am always impressed by how pragmatic and enterprising ancient merchants and soldiers and road engineers were in traveling. Generally, Roman roads were higher up rather through low places where flooding can wreak havoc, like the Rhine River which spread out once it passed through the gap between Chur (Graubunden, Switzerland) and Balzers (Liechtenstein). This is why portions of the Roman road through Liechtenstein are higher up and close to the Rhine Valley margin along the lower scarp of the mountain.  But by the 7th century much of this travel was greatly diminished. Partly due to Alamanni control of the route, the loss of secure trade and transport had accelerated the economic decline of civilization for some time. Consistent with Alamanni decorative motif, the museum’s Alamannic bronze ornamental disc consists of a perforated vertebrate animal’s head encircled by a hollow bronze ring. The very abstract animal heads underline the artistic creation in a naturalistic style that looks surprisingly modern. The ornament may have served as a pendant on a belt or as a decoration on a bag that hung on a leather belt from the belt. Together with the trim wheel this ornament was also meant as an apotropaic amulet. The animistic perceived power of the animals probably was expected to also protect the bearer/owner. This metal ornament was found in 1934 in an Alemanni woman’s grave in what is now the Cemetery of Schaan.

Gutenberg Deposit of Bronzes and Other Votive Objects

Gutenberg and Balzers in Liechtenstein have long histories going back at least to about 3000 BCE. Balzers has archaeological finds around this Gutemberg hill that date back to the late Neolithic (southernmost Rössener culture) and Early Bronze Age. Roman foundations and 60 Roman coins from the mid-first century BCE are also associated with Balzers and Gutenberg and the etymology of Balzers (from palazoles) seems to derive from the Latin word palatium for “palace” (note the German word pfalz for “lordship”). The LandesMuseum’s dramatic Gutenberg bronze deposit from 1932 is among the most exciting of Celtic treasure hoards found anywhere in the Celtic world, a multiple combination of votives that make them crucial for understanding Celtic religion in the La Tène Period.

Gutenberg Castle, Balzers, Liechtenstein, 13th c. (Photo in pubic domain).

In 1932 below the Gutenburg Castle (Balzers) the Rheinberger brothers discovered these bronze figures that show considerable metallurgical skill as well as great religious significance. Other finds here in Gutenberg are older artifacts as well as later ones including pottery, animal bones and bracelets from the period between Late Western Hallstatt D Culture and La Tène A around 5th century BCE, also demonstrating some continuity between these two often indistinct cultures. The 70 meter outcrop where the castle stands above the village must have had some connection to being a place of worship. The bronze statues are votives that date from the 2nd to 1st Century BCE and can be divided into several groups including warrior deity statuettes (oversize relative to the other figures), humans, and iconic animal figures including boar and deer.

Bronze Boar, Gutenberg Deposit, 4 cm height (Photo Sven Bham)

These latter two animals appeared often in conjunction with Celtic deities and express the divine powers of the animals and the realms they controlled. [8] The warrior deity is regarded as representing a Celtic god of war, sometimes identified elsewhere with the Celtic deities Teutates, Lenus, Mars Alator or “Nudens” who were later hybridized in Gallo-Roman religion, among other possibilities. [9] Lenus was not only a Celtic warrior god like Teutates but also a healing god in Germany with his own Treveri tribe sanctuaries and shrines at Trier (Augusta Treverorum) at ‘Am Irminenwingert’ and Martberg as well as Celtic Britain. [10]  This Celtic “Mars” figurine is wearing what has been termed a Negau style helmet with nose and cheek guards.[11] The smaller human bronze Gutenberg figures are often interpreted as worshipers in their hope of protection or blessing from the god figure and the animal deities.[12]

Gutenberg Votive Bronze “Mars” warrior god figure, 12.8 cm height (Photo Sven Beham)

Also note the war god’s cuirass with shoulder straps, presumably leather or with metal overlay. His hand is raised and open to hold a spear, which was either never attached or missing here, possibly also wood or bronze if originally affixed. Note the figurine is right-handed. If there was a shield in any way associated or attached (to the left hand), it too was missing from the buried deposit.  The Gutenberg “Mars” war god figurine is more than double the size of the other human figurines and the boar and deer figurines – equal in scale to each other – are also as large if not slightly larger than the other six smaller human figures. The oversize scale of the war god is the most likely rationale to interpret him as a deity. There are nine votive bronze figurines altogether in this Gutenberg deposit.

Gutenberg Bronze Deposit “Stag” Votive Figurine, 6.4 cm height (Photo Sven Beham)

These sacred animals – boar and stag – are very important in Celtic ritual as well as for culinary reasons and there was certainly a Celtic boar cult. The historian-geographer Strabo (Geography 13) noted the value of the boar to the Celts, even commenting on their ferocity and how much Celts both revered and loved to hunt and eat them. Celtic scholars have also documented that other bronze Celtic votives of boars exist elsewhere, including at Neuvy-en-Sullias, among other sites, and a stone carving of a boar god also exists at Euffigneix. To the Celts, the powerful boar possessed ritual value as “a combative war and hunting symbol”, especially feared as it lured hunters to the underworld.[13] Cunliffe also records boars as symbols on Celtic helmet crests (Gundestrup Cauldron, Denmark) and shield motifs as well as on a sword blade from Switzerland.[14] Possibly connected to Gutenberg’s bronze stag votive figurine, horned deer and stags were also very important to the Celts, with many monuments and votives, often with human fertility (virility) associations possibly due to the horns. [15] The holes in the stag’s eyes and hips and shoulders were most likely decorative, possibly filled with colored glass inlays. Stags and deer were often associated with Cernunnos, the ‘Horned One’, and like the boar, the stag had a separate cult.[16] Cernunnos was also thought to be a powerful god of the underworld as well as plenty, appearing prominently on the Gundestrup Cauldron, [17] so like the boar, a votive stag figurine could connect in many ways to divine animals, human food or hunting rituals, hunting, afterlife and hopes for plenty. These Gutenberg bronzes are vital to understanding Celtic votives and have been published in various archaeological studies (noted here in footnotes 8-11).

In summary, the Liechtenstein LandesMuseum is well worth a visit from anyone in the region, whether travelers or local persons, rewarding viewers with a wonderful collection of permanent objects as well as with changing exhibitions. The museum’s value to the historian or archaeologist, moreover, is perhaps even more important for its unique collection and documentation of material history of these and other artifacts from the upper Rhine Valley region in the Celtic Iron Age. In regard to Celtic history in the region, this museum is one of the best possible resources for research and typology, especially this group of bronze votives.



Many thanks for assistance with this brief article are due to Prof. Dr. Rainer Vollkommer, Liechtensteinische LandesMuseum Director, and Dr. Donat Buechel, Curator.

[1]   Information on this Iron Age sword is from the Historical Dictionary of the Principality of Liechtenstein, 2012.

[2]  Patrick Hunt. “Celtic Iron Age Sword Deposits and Arthur’s Lady of the Lake”. Archaeolog (Stanford) March, 2008. This was also a paper given by the author at the University of California, Berkeley, 33rd Celtic Conference (April 2011) for the Celtic Studies Association of North America.

[3]  Geoffroy de Galbert. Hannibal et César dans les Alpes. Grenoble: Editions de Belledonne, 2008, 160, note photographic plate on this page. This 3rd c. BCE Celtic sword is in the Musée Dauphinois, Grenoble.

[4]  Patrick Hunt and Dafydd Griffiths. “Optical Petrology in the Field.”  Journal of World Archaeology 21.1 (1989) 167-72.

[5]  E.M. Moores and R.W. Fairbridge, eds. Encyclopedia of European…Regional Geology. London: Springer/Chapman and Hall, 1997, 504-6.

[6]  W. Goffart. Barbarian Tides: The Migration Age and the Later Roman Empire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006, 81-4; W. D. McCrackan. The Rise of the Swiss Republic: A History. New York: Henry Holt, 1901, 35-7.

[7]  A. Bowman, P. Garnsey, A Cameron, eds. Cambridge Ancient History: The Crisis of Empire, A.D. 133-337, vol. 12, 2005, 237.

[8]  Eve Pepic. “The bronze votive statuettes of Gutenberg in Balzers in the Principality of Liechtenstein.” The Cults of Antiquity in the Alps [Kult der Vorzeit in den Alpen], Innsbruck, exhibition catalog, 1997, 86-88.

[9]  Arthur E. Gordon. “Review of R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright. The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, Oxford: Clarendon Press, vol. 1, 1965″. Classical Philology 63.2 (1968), 122-30, esp. 125. These Celtic hybrid deities include Mars Alator, Mars Lenus and Mars Braciaca. Also see Nicole Jufer and Thierry Luginbühl. Les dieux gaulois : répertoire des noms de divinités celtiques connus par l’épigraphie, les textes antiques et la toponymie. Paris: Editions Errance, 2001.

[10]  Miranda Green. Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. London: Routledge,1992, 139, also 133-41. It is worth noting a bronze votive boar is on the cover of this book and Green has also published here the Gutenberg boar as Plate 57.

[11]  Marc Lodewijckx, ed. Archaeological and Historical Aspects of West-European Societies: Album Amicorum André van Doorselaer. Acta Archaeologica Lovaniensia Monographiae 8. Leuven: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Press, 1996, 62; Ludwig Pauli. The Alps: Archaeology and Early History, London: Thames and Hudson, 1984, ill. 88. Both of these books briefly discuss these bronze figurines from Gutenberg.

[12]  Pepic, 86-88

[13]  Green, 139

[14]  Barry Cunliffe. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, 99, fig. 73 and 112.

[15]  T.G. E. Powell (with Stuart Piggott). The Celts. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980 edition, 154, 159; Green, 27, 75, plates 35, 36, 39, 40,  43, 54, 57 (Gutenberg, Balzers), 58,

[16]  Cunliffe, 187

[17]  Gerhard Herm. The Celts: The People Who Came Out of the Darkness. Econ Verlag, 1975 / Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976 translation / St. Martin’s Press, 2002 ed., 124, 130, 157.




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