The Vače situla

Possibly the most famous example of its kind, and now residing in the National Museum of Slovenia, the Vače situla was described by the archaeologist Jože Kastelic as a work of art in which ‘the artist most perfectly and intimately expresses himself and his time’. At just under 24cm tall, and formed from two bronze plates riveted together, the situla was discovered by a farmer in 1882, having originally been buried in a rich grave below the Zgornja krona hillfort at Vače.

The uppermost of the situla’s three friezes depicts a procession of men, horses and carriages. The second shows a series of scenes depicting feasting and ceremonial activities, together with boxing and musical competitions. The third frieze depicts a procession of hinds, ibexes, and a large carnivore with a human leg in its mouth. Plant tendrils emerge from the mouths of three of the deer/ibexes, while birds of prey stand on the backs of two of the hinds.

Such scenes – blending formal, ritual and natural elements, and perhaps referencing well-known myths – occur on other situlae in Slovenia and elsewhere. Some of the figures on the Vače situla may represent the same person, identified by his Phrygian cap – perhaps a politically or ritually significant individual. The precise meaning of the scenes on the situla is no longer clear, but they may have related specifically to the lives of the individuals depicted in a way that would have been well-understood by those familiar with the imagery.