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Archeology
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The Situla and the Ancient Veneti

The Veneti Conquerers

We find the earliest documented occurrence of the name "Veneti" in the accounts of the sack of Rome by the Celts who were forced to retreat when the Veneti broke through into their territory. During the Second Punic War, the Veneti came under the political influence of Rome, although they retained complete autonomy in internal affairs until 89 Before C.E. Thereafter, Guaeus Pompeius Strabo conferred the Ius Latinum upon them as a part of Cisalpine Gaul. Together with Istria, Augustus brought them into the tenth region of Italy with Aquileia as capital. Aquileia suffered attacks and destruction by the Alamanni, the Franks, and the Juthungi in 286 C.E., by the Goths under Alaric early in the fifth century, and by Attila in 452 C.E. Under Theodoric the Great, 493-526 C.E., the Veneti prospered, but in 568 C.E. found themselves again occupied, this time under the Lombards, after which period scanty documentation leaves us more questions than answers. 

The Veneti's civilisation spread from Middle Europe around 1300 BC with the Urnenfelder, (meaning urnfield carriers), as a cultural, artistic, technological - but chiefly religious - movement.

A new vision of life had arisen; its centre was Lausitz, a land between Germany and Poland. Worship of forces of nature gradually evolved towards certain forms of monotheism and generated the faith in afterlife and a profound respect of dead.

In that time, a vast area - including the regions around river Oder, mountains of Bohemia and Slovakia, the plains of Baltic countries, Ukraine and Poland - underwent a great change. Inhumation (interment of dead) was being replaced by ritual of cremation, owing to the firm belief that spirit was immortal.

Ancient historians identified these peoples by the name Veneti, referring to them as the people who conquered peacefully half of Europe, not by force but by means of their shining spiritual energy.

After the new Veneti "ideology" expanded south into the mountain chains of the Alps, it created a strong ethnic homogeneity among the peoples living in the lands of present Austria, Bavaria, Slovenia, Switzerland, Wurttemberg and even further south across the whole plain of the Po River and east as far as Hungary,

On extreme east, a Veneti settlement dating back to the oldest times was traced into Asia Minor. To the west, the ancient inhabitants of the Breton peninsula, a distant place lying on the Atlantic coast, known to Romans as Armorica, have also been identified in many literary sources, by archaeological evidences, and some elements of the local toponymy, to be of the venetic origin.

We know of the ancient Veneti's social structure that it was based on village (or town) community and that woman's position was equal to male -- unlike a typical patriarchate of other Indo-Europeans. As it is usually the case, the best records of a civilization are left to us by the remains of burials and same is true for Veneti.

Funerary Rituals in Este Civilisation

Cremation was, for the ancient Veneti, more than a ceremony. It was a complex of ritual gestures to walk the dead towards the perfect bliss (the "Van"), and to support the cohesion of their society.

The corpse, laid with the finest clothes and ornaments, was wrapped up with a shroud and set down on a pyre made of holy woods and bundles. On the pyre were scattered wreaths, offerings of food and libations and sometimes pieces of incense to exhale scent during the fire. At the end, the bones were collected, chosen and cleaned one by one to be put in the ossuary together with the elements of the personal trousseau.

In the necropolis the charcoal from the burnt pyre were preserved with the ashes and the other remains in special holes.

The ceremonial required a funerary banquet, offerings of food left in the grave, probably even the performance of holy music and chants.

The case, usually made of stone, sometimes a wooden one, was used to bury a couple in a common space and was often reopened for family's other members deceased afterwards, making the familiar and social links stronger, in a sort of unity between life and death.

The primigenial religion of the ancient Veneti preserved this sense of harmony among the Universe's elements, likewise the oriental religions.

Art of Situla-making

The art of situla-making reached the highest point of development in the 6th century B.C. The majority of situlas and other articles decorated in that distinct style have been found on territories of the present-day Slovenia and in Istria.

The archaeological jargon uses the Latin/Celtic expression "situla" to indicate a small bucket (secio in Istro-Venetian), half-conical shaped, narrower at the bottom and supplied with a handle. A situla is usually made from bronze or other metal which allows artful hand shaping; it's almost never "fictile", i. e., moulded in clay.

Venetic situlae, however, present their own special features. First of all, the period during which this artistic form existed was the Iron Age (900 - 350 B.C.), in particular after the VIII-VII centuries B.C.  The sides of Veneti situlae are richly decorated; the art work is effected on a bronze lamina, with two kinds of techniques: the engraving ("a bulino") and in-relief ("a sbalzo"), making the shapes on the exterior jut out by tapping the interior surface with a tool, such as a little hammer. This complex technique is called toreutic.

The decorative marks are allocated in horizontal bands (in variable quantity, sometimes there is a circular one on the lid), and portray a wide variety of scenes from the life of that period, usually parades, banquets, sport competitions, feasts, or mythological scenes with stylised or fantastic animals.

Having been considered masterpieces since then, situlas are the ideal model of the Venetic art style. They emphasise face features, display suit and shape of clothes, but most of all, they convey supernatural and sacred atmosphere that flutters about them. The peculiarities are so original to settle "a trade-mark" for other objects too: helmets, sheaths, fibulas, belts, statuettes, votive laminas, etc.

In all cases, the spirit of this art identifies the religion and especially the mystical concept of the afterlife.

The Situla in Slovenia, Istria and Northern Italy

After 600 B.C. – the second half of Hallstatt period, a distinct artistic development appeared among the Adriatic Veneti area of central Alps, the lower Po Valley and the upper Adriatic covering the territory of today’s Slovenia and northern Italy. This was the production of bronze vessels bearing beautiful decorations made in toreutic technique.

The small ceremonial vessel was called situla and was used mainly for ritual drinking. In its composition and function it differed markedly from vessels originating in Etruscan and Greek cultures, which had a major influence on artistic development of cultures flourishing in central Europe at the time.

These cultures had each their own distinguishing characteristics, as well as common elements. Situlas, which were produced by the Adriatic Veneti were such a unique product that archaeologists and art historians gave their production and diffusion a separate name. They set it apart from other types of production by naming it "Situla Art".

Many beautiful situlas were discovered in Slovenia, mainly south of Ljubljana, in the Lower Carniola. A world famous situla was found in the village of Vacce. It is a very fine example of Situla Art, with illustrations that are a document of Venetic social and festive life.

The situla of Vace (Slovenia) is dated at the 5th Century B.C. The figures sculpted on them are distributed in three bands. The first band portrays a solemn parade of horses, knights, carts; the second one is a sequel of holy scenes with priestesses and priests; while the third one represents a line of magical animals (Editiones Veneti).

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A detail of Vace's situla expressing a great sense of holiness as much for the posture and the attitude of the characters as for their suit of clothes. It catches the eye for the peculiar likeness of the sacerdotal cap to the corno dogale, that is the cap used by the Doge and the Dogaressa (the Duchess), the highest dignities in the Serenissima Republic of Venice, until A.D. 1797 (foto Rosario Palese - Editoriale Domus s.p.a.).

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This is the situla of  Nesactium (in the present vicity of Vezace), an ancient fortification (denominated "castelliere") near Pola, Southern Istria, whose only a few of fragments remain. The decorations are formed by typical elements of the Vvenetic culture: the customary cart and the holy horse. The Histri population left various artifacts of this kind, a fact that may suggest they belonged to the Venetic stock. These people became famous for their epic resistance against the Romans. In 178 B.C. the consul A. Manlio Vulsone marched with many legions of Roman soldiers against the Histri who opposed the strenthening of their colony at Aquileia. The Histri king Epulone, just elected, led his people to the war, but after two years the capital Nesactium was surrounded. Because he no longer could endure the siege, with the other princess decided to throw their wives' and sons' bodies from the wall instead of surrendering, and he then committed suicide by transfixing a sword through his own chest (Museo Archeologico dell'Istria).

Sources:

  • Europa Veneta - The Situla and the Ancient Veneti - http://www.prah.net/europaveneta/situla/text.htm
  • Sloveniana - Origins of Slovenes: Veneti (URL no longer available: http://www.thezaurus.com/sloveniana/Veneti_ancestors.htm) and Venetic Art: the Situla - http://www.thezaurus.com/sloveniana/venetic_art.htm
  • The Augustian Society - Review of book Veneti - http://www.prah.net/europaveneta/augustan/index.htm
  • Il Celtico, i vocaboli - situla - http://www.melegnano.net/spie0006e0.htm

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Created: Monday, July 14, 2004; Last Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013
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