This blog has been wordy of late, so this week I decided to post about one of the strangest relics I saw on my recent trip to Graz. It comes from a grave of the so-called Halstatt Culture which was discovered in 1851, and it was deposited there sometime around the end of the seventh century BCE. Since I know so little about the Iron Age in central Europe, I can’t be tempted to make a lot of wordy comments.
Strettweg is a “narrow road” near the small town of Judenburg in Styria. In the nineteenth century Judenburg was a garrison and industrial centre. A farmer named Ferdinand Pfeffer began to find old iron and bronze in one of his fields in 1851, and they were quickly excavated according to the ideas of the day. Pfeffer’s field contained other objects, but the most famous is this model of a wagon with humans, horses, and deer-like creatures standing on it.
Given the theme of this blog, its appropriate that some of the figures carry axes, spears, shields, and other weapons.
The central figure on the wagon is twice as tall as the others. She wears something round on her head, ear-rings, a wide belt around her belly, and not much else. I wonder if she was originally painted.
I am a bit surprised by the twisted decoration of the X-frame. Twisting like that is typical for ironwork, since it is easy to heat an iron bar, grip each end in a pair of tongs, and twist to create a spiral pattern. Bronze was more often cast to shape, since it can become fragile when heated.
I do not know what to make of this scene, other than to say that it has something to do with religion, and the flat plate has something to do with the ceremonial consumption or pouring of alcohol. The Austrian archaeologists seem to mumble something about a sacrificial procession, although the figures are standing not walking. I suspect that people ranging from Neo-Pagans to historians of religion have written hundreds of pages on this artefact, and I don’t want to add to the clamour. So rather than ratiocinate or pontificate, I will gaze in humane bemusement upon the cult wagon of Strettweg. If any trace of the things I am passionate about survives for 2,600 years, I suppose that it will look pretty odd to the people of the future too.
Further Reading: de.wikipedia.org s.v. Kultwagen von Strettweg
Edit 2023-11-25: block editor, image problems