The “Camunian Rose” in Valcamonica rock art

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Camunnian roses

TRACCE no. 9 – by Paola Farina

2nd International Congress of Rupestrian Archaeology
2-5 October 1997 DARFO BOARIO TERME
The motif of the “Camunian Rose” in the rock art of Valcamonica.
Compiling a complete corpus of all the “camunian roses” known in Valcamonica, we found 84 “roses” engraved on 27 rocks.

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Compiling a complete corpus of all the “camunian roses” known in Valcamonica, we found 84 “roses” engraved on 27 rocks, placed mainly in the Middle Valley and a smaller proportion in the Low Valley.

The design consists of some basic elements: nine cup-marks, which are always present and disposed in fixed forms, and a quadrilobate contour winding around them. We determined three basic-types: the swastika type (its four arms bend of about 90°), the asymmetric-swastika type (two arms join together in a single bilobate arm) and the quadrilobate type (its arms are straight and symmetric).

Studies and researches of superimpositions and links of the three basic-types with other engravings have made clear the “camunian rose” chronology and its evolution in the different styles of the camunian rock art. This motif spreads widely in the Iron Age; the first documented is the swastika type, which appears since the IV 2 style (mid 7th – 6th century BC) and lasts till the IV 3 style (5th – 4th century BC); the asymmetric-swastika type seems to be more or less contemporaneous; the quadrilobate type, on the contrary, is documented since the late IV 2 (late 6th century BC), and then in the IV 3, IV 4 (3rd – 2nd century BC) and IV 5 (1st century BC). Therefore we can notice a type-chronological sequence of the “camunian rose”: about the end of the IV 2 style the two swastika types are slowly replaced by the quadrilobate type, which remains in the last phases of the IV style and shows an inner evolution toward a stiff schematic design.

We can compare the “camunian rose” with similar motifs documented in other prehistoric cultures. For the swastika type we have just one very precise comparison with a rock engraving in Ilkley Moor (Yorkshire, England); for the quadrilobate type I found some comparisons with decorative elements on hand-made objects coming from the Alpine area and datable between 8th and 1st century BC (two fibulas from Low Austria, some belts of Hallstatt culture, two amber circular plaques from North Bosnia and a celtic coin).

The basic types of the “camunian rose”: A. swastika type; B. asymmetric-swastika type; C. quadrilobate type, C1 is oldest than C2

The most frequent engraving related to the “camunian rose” is the warrior, which is usually placed on its side and is provided with a shield and a sword or a stick. The lasting of this link in the course of the centuries, both for the swastika and the quadrilobate type, points out its great importance for the motif interpretation and confirms the hypothesis that the two types have the same meaning. The “rose” – warrior link can be interpreted as a scene of defense or “adoration” towards the motif. It was certainly very important for the Iron Age warlike aristocracy and it had probably a strong symbolic value, which is nowadays difficult to understand in its primary meaning, because we do not have anymore the interpretation code of such ancient symbols.

In order to understand better the meaning of the “camunian rose” it is very important to bear in mind that the oldest is the swastika type and therefore we must find the original meaning just in it. I think that the hypothesis the “camunian rose” has to be connected with the swastika and might be a local variation of this design could be true; from the chronological point of view, the archaeological proofs of the two motifs coincide, as a matter of fact the swastika is first documented in the north-western Italy (Liguria and Golasecca culture) as a decorative element on pottery, datable between 7th and 6th century BC, period in which the first type of “camunian rose” is developing. Now we must analyse if the two motifs can be associated also for their symbolic interpretation. The swastika has usually been interpreted as a solar symbol, which developed during the year into a larger meaning of prosperity, life and good luck. So I suggest that the same symbolic values could be extended to the “camunian rose”, because they are not in contrast with the rock art documentation and they match perfectly the warrior world, which the motif is in relation with; moreover, the popular tradition today still believes the “camunian rose” brings good luck.

Paola Farina
Centro Studi Archeologia Africana



DE MARINIS R.C., 1988. I Camuni, in Italia omnium terrarum alumna, Milano, pp. 131-155.
FOSSATI A., 1991. L’età del Ferro nelle incisioni rupestri della Valcamonica, in AA.VV., Immagini di una aristocrazia dell’età del Ferro nell’arte rupestre camuna, Contributi in occasione della mostra, Milano, pp. 11-71.
GOBLET D’ALVIELLA, 1911. Cross, in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. IV, Edinburgh (ristampa 1959), p. 324-329.
ISSEL A., 1912. La croce gammata in Liguria, in Bullettino di Paletnologia Italiana, XXXVIII, pp. 39-50.

The theme during the congress will be discussed in italian.


TRACCE no. n.10special issue for RA Congress 1997Back to Index

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