Signa Equitum standard

In the Iberian world the cavalry elite held power and maintained control over the administration of the Celt-Iberian cities. Fibulas with a horse and rider design were elements which indicated status, along with other elements of equestrian iconography.

The Iberian cavalry acquired great importance, both due to its size as well as for the skill demonstrated on the battle field. The equites came to form part of the Roman armies as auxiliaries and mercenaries, especially in the civil wars. They also came to be used outside the Iberian Peninsula. This greatly increased their political weight in Iberian society.

This context explains the appearance of an assorted ensemble of elements with an equestrian character, which, due to their symbolism, are both characteristic of the Hispano-Celtic world and representative of the Celtic warrior ideology. Among these we find the signa equitum, or insignias of the equestrian magistrates of the military elites in the oppida (cities) of Celtic Hispania.

The most famous and well-known signa are those from Numancia. At first they were considered, erroneously, to be chariot rein rings, common elements in Roman art. They were bronze figures like appliques which were located on chariots as decorative items given their figures and representations, but also as practical elements to hold reins and straps. Other specialists identified these signa correctly for what they are: insignias, sceptres or standards or batons of authority.

Two examples from Numancia, from the excavations of the necropolis, are closely related to the horse and rider fibulas. We see a hollow tubular rod joined to a shaft topped with a Y-form on which there is placed a symmetrical figure in a heraldic arrangement made up of various counter-facing horse protomes joined at the body. One has riders on the back of the animals along with two trophy heads near the hooves of the horses. They are decorated with concentric circular incisions. Their structure and decoration is in every way similar to the Celt-Iberian horse fibulas. Moreover they have been found in association with bronze and iron conical tubes which should be interpreted as ferrules, thus confirming the identity of these pieces as standards.

Both pieces from Numancia are related to the so-called “standards” of the necropoli of Miravecehe, in the Bureba, Burgos. They have been known since the first third of the 20th Centruy and are to be found in the city museum. At that time authorities and specialists considered, without enough evidence, that they were pieces protruding from a scabbard, that is, the grip of a sword. They are still so classified in the city museum. At the present time archaeologists are convinced that these are standards, not sword pommels and grips, as given their fragility, they would certainly break from a weapon in battle.

The piece described here belongs, without doubt, to this group of signa equitum of the Miraveche culture. There are four like this in the Museo Arqueológico Provincial in Burgos, but this is the only one held by a private individual. The form of these five pieces is somewhat different from those of Numancia as the rod has a semi-circular fretted termination decorated with stamped concentric circles. Around the edge there are some truncated cone appendages like those decorating some fibulas found in the same necropolis, along with bird figures in a symmetrical distribution. In the case of two of the five pieces here mentioned, there are boars on either side of the hollow rod, and this is a characteristic decorative element of productions in this zone.

The iconographic significance lies in the association of the horse and rider with strength, courage and power, as well as with the image, perhaps more classical, of the hero. The concentric circles point to a solar character, associated as well with the Celtic character of the piece, similar to some from the Hallstatt culture, from North Italy and others from the Iberian Peninsula. This symbolism reveals the supernatural character of the horse and rider. As to the birds, little is known, although there are similarities with decorations on batons of authority from other zones of the Mediterranean.

This piece, as well as its parallels, would have come from deposits of funerary goods connected to the warrior and his power in society. They have all been found in tombs containing opulent tomb goods. The meaning of the emblem is thus directly related to the power of these people.


- Only four signa equitum are known from the Miraveche culture, and these are found in the Museo Arqueológico Provincial of Burgos. They were found in a funerary context. They have the identical size, structure and decoration as this piece in question.


- Article: ALMAGRO-GORBEA, Martín. Signa Equitum de la Hispania Céltica. Complutum, 9, 1998. pp. 101-115.
- Article: LORRIO, Albetro J. Los Signa Equitum Celtibéricos: Origen y Evolución. Serta Paleohispanica J. de Hoz 10, 2010. pp. 427-446.
- Article: LORRIO, Alberto J. y GRAELLS, Raimon. Nuevo Signum Equitum Celtibérico. BSAA Arqueología, LXXVII – LXXVIII, 2011 – 2012. pp. 203-218.
- ALMAGRO-GORBEA, M. MARINÉ, M. ÁLVAREZ SANCHÍS, J.R. (ed). Celtas y Vetones. Catálogo de exposición, Ávila, Septiembre – Diciembre 2001. Institución Gran Duque de Alba y Real Academia de la Historia. 2001.
- ALMAGRO-GORBEA, M. TORRES ORTIZ, M. Las Fíbulas de Jinete y de Caballito. Aproximación a las élites ecuestres y su expansión en la Hispania céltica.
- SCHÜLE, W. Die Meseta-Kulturen Der Iberischen Halbinsel. Mediterrane und Eurasische elemente in früheisenzeitlichen kulturen südwesteuropas. Walter de Gruyter & Co, Berlín, 1969.

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