Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
 

The Cult Wagon of Strettweg: a seventh-century bronze sculpture found in a princely grave in Austria

David Goran

The Cult Wagon of Strettweg, or Strettweg Sacrificial Wagon, or Strettweg Chariot is a bronze cult wagon found in 1851 in a princely grave in Austria. The object was found by a farmer named Ferdinand Pfeffer when he began to find old iron and bronze in one of his fields. The grave in which this wagon was found was a cremation grave of the Hallstatt culture in Strettweg near Judenburg.

Found in 1851 by a farmer named Ferdinand Pfeffer. Photo Credit

The object was found in 1851 by a farmer named Ferdinand Pfeffer while he was plowing his field in Strettweg near Judenburg and hit parts of a number of strange object Photo Credit

Shortly after its discovery, controversial discussions about the age, origin and symbolic meaning of the cult chariot started and have not stopped till today. Most researchers agree on dating the sculpture about 600 B.C. and it is assumed that this wagon might be used at some kinds of rituals to bring a symbolic material on the plate, though the exact use is not certain.

The Cult Wagon. Associated with the Hallstatt culture, an early Celtic peoples. Photo Credit

The bronze sculpture is associated with the Hallstatt culture, early Celtic people. Photo Credit

Associated with the Hallstatt culture, an early Celtic people, the bronze wagon consists of a square-shaped, open-worked base plate with four spoked wheels. A female figure approx. 32 cm high (twice as tall as the others) holding a bowl-shaped object in upraised hands stands in the center of the wagon and soldier-like men are holding shields, horses, and a fully-antlered stag at each end.

Twelve warrior-like figures, four horses, and two stags are placed almost symmetrically.Photo Credit

Twelve warrior-like figures, four horses, and two stags are placed almost symmetrically on top of the flat wagon. Photo Credit

The bronze wagon has four wheels and each of them has eight spokes and all figures are situated in an almost symmetrical fashion on top. The female figure might be a goddess, a shaman or a person with a high social rank which shows parallels with the Mediterranean representations of vessel carriers  The smaller figures are women and soldier-like men holding shields, horses, and a fully-antlered stag at each end.

The figures are situated in an almost symmetrical fashion on top of a flat wagon. Photo Credit

Like with many aspects of pre-Christian European life, the wagon provided a practical way to carry items for long distances and that “travel“ aspect can also be used symbolically in many religions. Photo Credit

Recent restoration work and examination by experts has concluded that the bowl attributed to the wagon up to now cannot be conclusively proven to originally have been part of the cult wagon. In addition to the kettle bearer, numerous other figures in the form of both standing and mounted people, as well as animals similar to deer and to horses, are present on the wagon.

The bowl is also held on the sides by two scissor-shaped supports. Photo Credit

The bowl is also held on the sides by two scissor-shaped supports. Photo Credit

Archaeologists interpreted the scene as a sacrifice and the object probably served as a cult object for the consumption of a libation, a ritual pouring of a liquid, usually milk, rice or corn flour as an offering to a god or in memory of the dead. This practice was common in many past religions and continues to be offered in various cultures today. Besides the wagon, other grave goods, like jewelry, bronze amphorae, iron weapons, and tack and harness gear were found.

The wagon presumably served as a cult object (as depicted in 1886). Photo Credit

The wagon presumably served as a cult object (as depicted in 1886). Photo Credit

Read another story from us: The Pietroasele Treasure: late 4th-century hoard of Gothic gold artifacts discovered in an ancient grave in Romania

The Strettweg Sacrificial Wagon was restored in 2009 and is on display in the newly redesigned Archaeology Museum of Styrian Universalmuseum Joanneum at Schloss Eggenberg in Graz. A copy of this object is part of the collection in the museum in Judenburg.