Sunday 23 August 2020

Serbian or Celtic burials?

The court epic poetry have flourished in Serbia in the time of Tsar Dushan (early 14th century) and before it. After the death of Tsar Dushan, the Serbian kingdom started to disintegrate under the pressures of the civil war and Hungarian and Turkish invasions. Over the next 200 years, the court epic poetry ceased to exist. But epic poetry did not disappear. Theis is because the origin of the Serbian court epic poetry was in Serbian folk epic poetry. In Serbian tradition heroes and their deeds have always been "sang about" and this is tradition that predates Serbian medieval states. The tradition which probably dates to the old Heroic age of the Balkans from which epics like Iliad and Odyssey came to us through Homer. So because the Serbian epic poetry was part of the Serbian folk tradition and not something foreign introduced into the culture through the court, it continued to exist and even flourish after the destruction of the Serbian medieval state. 

The corpus of Serbian folk epic poetry recorded during the 19th and 20th century can be divided into following cycles:

Pre-Kosovo cycle (Преткосовски циклус/Pretkosovski ciklus) - poems about events that predate the Battle of Kosovo (1389)
Kosovo cycle (Косовски циклус/Kosovski ciklus) - poems about events that happened just before and after the Battle of Kosovo (no poem covers the battle itself[citation needed])
Cycle of Kraljević Marko (циклус Краљевића Марка/ciklus Kraljevića Marka)
Post-Kosovo cycle (Покосовски циклус/Pokosovski ciklus) - poems about post-Battle events
Cycle of hajduks and uskoks (Хајдучке и ускочке песме) – poems about brigands and rebels
Poems about the liberation of Serbia and Montenegro (Песме о ослобођењу Србије и Црне Горе) - poems about the 19th-century battles against the Ottomans

Serbian epic poetry is being made even today in this same form. Modern songs sing about modern events and people, such as the Yugoslav Civil war and Kosovo War. Some modern songs are published in books or recorded, and under copyright, but some are in public domain, and modified by subsequent authors just like old ones.

The "discovery" of the Serbian epic poetry opened what is today known as "the Homeric Question":

    "Who is Homer? Was there ever a single poet called Homer or was homer just a title equivalent to bard?"
    "Are the Iliad and the Odyssey of multiple or single authorship?"
    "By whom, when, where, and under what circumstances were the poems composed?"

To these questions the possibilities of modern textual criticism and archaeological answers have added a few more:

    "How reliable is the tradition embodied in the Homeric poems?"
    "How old are the oldest elements in Homeric poetry which can be dated with certainty?"

Well...Let me add two more questions here:

    "How reliable is the tradition embodied in the Serbian folk epic poems?"
    "How old are the oldest elements in Serbian folk epic poetry which can be dated with certainty?"

Spear "stabbed" into a Scordisci Celtic warrior burial (#11) at Karaburma (Belgrade), Serbia (1st c. BC)

The pic is from the article "STABBING DEATH – The Ritual Deposition of Spears in Celtic Europe" found on a great blog by Mac Congail.

In the article we can read that: A fascinating phenomenon to be observed among the Balkan Celts in the later Iron Age, i.e. the period of the Scordisci Wars against Rome, is the custom of "stabbing" spears into the warrior burials...

The main assault weapon of the Balkan Celtic warrior, numerous cases of spears being stabbed into burials in this distinctive fashion have been recorded throughout the region, particularly among the Scordisci of eastern Croatia, southwestern Romania, Serbia and northern Bulgaria.

What is very interesting is that these Iron Age "Celtic" funerary practices are described in Serbian epic folk poetry...

As I said above, Serbian oral folk poetry, first recorded in the 19th century, describes events from medieval time until the 19th century. 

But warrior funerary practices it describes are not Serbian medieval funerary practices, but Iron Age Balkan Celts funerary practices...

I talked about the Celtic "killing of weapons" funerary practice described in the Serbian epic poem "The death of Prince Marko"  

Ritually "Killed" Spearhead from the Celtic burial at Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia.  

Today I would like to talk about the description of the Balkan Celtic funerary practice of "stabbing" the spear into the warrior grave found in Serbian epic folk poems: "Marko Kraljević i solo" (Prince Marko and the falcon), "Smrt vojvode Kaice" (The death of warlord Kaica) and "Smrt majke Jugovića" (The death of the mother of Jugovitch brothers)

The first person to talk about the strangeness of these funerary practices from Serbian folk poetry, was Dragan Jacanović from the National museum Požarevac, in his great article "Srpska narodna epika kao izvor arheološke informacije" (Serbian folk epic poetry as a source of archaeological information). 

I will here give the translation of the relevant parts of each poem. The original Serbian versions of the poems can be found on this page: "Srpske narodne pjesme"

"Marko Kraljević i soko" (Prince Marko and the falcon)

Prince Marko fell ill
He laid next to the road
He stuck his spear above his head
He tied his horse to his spear

Smrt majke Jugovića (The death of mother of Jugovitch brothers)

...Dead she finds nine Jugovitch brothers 
And the tenth, the Jug Bogdan, their father. 
Above their heads stuck nine battle-spears. 
To the spears tied nine good battle-horses..

In both previous two poems we find the identical motif of "sticking" the battle spear above the head of the dead (sick, soon to die) hero. In the poem "Smrt vojvode Kaice" (The death of warlord Kaica) we not only find that, but the description of the full tumulus burial...

"Smrt vojvode Kaice" (The death of warlord Kaica)

...They buried the warlord Kaica
They stuck his spear above his head
They tied his horse to his spear
They placed his weapons next to him
They made tumulus over his body...

So question here is: eeeee what, how??? Why are we finding descriptions of Celtic funerary practices from the 1st c. BC Balkans in Serbian late medieval and later epic poems??? Cultural continuation from Celts to Serbs???

The people who analysed epic poetry came to conclusion that epic poems are quite formulaic. Effective poetic descriptions are reused by various folk poets in various poems over a wide time period sometimes verbatim...

I think that this funerary practice description is an example of such poetic "borrowing". But these epic poems were transmitted orally, by illiterate folk singers...

So for them to borrow the idea of the "spear above the head", they had to hear it from someone else, and they had to hear it from someone else, and they had to hear it from someone else...

How far back?

The original poems depicting these Celtic funerals are now lost. And so are the names of the Celtic heroes, buried with their spears stuck above their head, with their horse and their weapons, under a tumulus...

What is left is a cool poetic description, applied to heroes from much much much later times...By the way, Dragan Jacanović from the National museum Požarevac believes that this is not the only thing from Bronze and Iron Age time that reached us through Serbian folk poetry...

He says that the description of the dress and decorations of the Warlord Kaica correspond to the decorations found in Bronze and Iron age princely graves from the Balkans, including the fact that Warlord Kaica wears a gold torc around his neck:

"Oko vrata kolajna od zlata"...

So strange, strange, strange...Right? Well not really. Look at the Serbian genes. Serbs are basically a mix of pretty much everyone who ever lived in the Balkans...Their descendants and preservers of their cultures and traditions...Well bits of them anyway...

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