Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Gallic Blood Rites Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Jean-Louis Brunaux

Excavations of sanctuaries in northern France support ancient literary accounts of violent Gallic rituals.

Modern historians, relying on reports by Caesar and others, have characterized the religion of the Celts in Gaul as spontaneous rites, in contrast to the well-planned cultic practices of the Greeks and Romans. Archaeologists have now revealed that the Gauls did, in fact, build permanent ritual sites at places like Gournay-sur-Aronde and Ribemont-sur-Ancre in northern France. Dated to the end of the fourth or beginning of the third century B.C., these cult centers were the work of warlike tribes called the Belgae, thought to have arrived in northern Gaul from central Europe at the end of the great Celtic invasions of the fourth century B.C. The rituals performed at Gournay-sur-Aronde and Ribemont-sur-Ancre, however, went well beyond animal sacrifice, a commonplace rite among the Greeks and Romans, and included the triumphant display of the remains of enemies killed in battle or sacrificed to the gods of the underworld, from whom the Gauls believed they were descended.

Jean-Louis Brunaux directs excavations at Ribemont-sur-Ancre and is the author of Les Religions Galoises (Paris: Editions Errance, 1996).

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America