The Gundestrup cauldron is a richly decorated silver vessel, thought to date from the La Tene Period in the 2nd or 1st century BC. It was found in a peat bog near Gundestrup in Himmerland , Denmark in 1891. It is now kept in the National Museum 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 69cm, height 42cm), it is thought to have been used for sacrificial purposes of the druidic religion.
Discovery and Assembly
The cauldron had been dismantled and deposited in a dry section of a peat bog, where it was found in 1891 as an ensemble of 13 plates: one round plate, five long rectangular and seven shorter rectangular ones (with an eighth one missing). The plates consist of 97% pure silver, partly gilded.
In 1892, Sophius Müller reconstructed the plates into their present shape, with the five short plates on the inside, the seven longer ones forming the outisde and the round plate forming the base. Following a scheme of Klindt-Jensen, the exterior plates are generally labelled with small letters, a–g, and the interior ones with capital A–E.
The round base plate is dominated by a bull. On its back is a leaping man wielding a spear, attacking it. Two dogs are also shown, one over the bull's head, and another under its hooves.
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 in each hand holds a much smaller man by the arm. Each of the two men reach upward towards a small boar. Under the feet of the men (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 upriser 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: Horned 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.
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 is also holding the rim of the wheel. Under the leaping figure is a horned serpent. The group is surrounded by elephants and griffins similar to those on plate B. The god has been associated with the irish Dagda.
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 or lur 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 tha cauldron, and probably having completed the initiation ritual are warriors on horseback. Interestingly, later Celtic myth features resurrection themes based on immersion of dead warriors in cauldrons.
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 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.
- Bergquist, A. K., and T. F. Taylor, The origin of the Gundestrup Cauldron, Antiquity, vol. 61, 1987, pp. 10-24.
- Olmsted, G.S., The Gundestrup version of Táin Bó Cuailnge, Antiquity, vol. 50, pp. 95-103.
- Klindt-Jensen, O., The Gundestrup Bowl — a reassessment, Antiquity, vol. 33, pp. 161-9.
Last updated: 05-15-2005 06:12:25