Monday, 27 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part seven

"Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up",

Corieltauvi silver unit of a type first listed in the CCI after Robert Van
Arsdell first published Celtic Coinage of Britain (1989). This specimen
is CCI 90083. Liens illustrates only the obverse. The CCI note says,
"J May suggests obv. may have a wolf rather than the usual boar.
Also varies in that there is a vertical line of pellets in front of the
?wolf; large pellets in line in exergue. Rev. has horse with feathery
tail, three pellet in rings above"

Its specimen history states: "In trade (Spink's) April 1989, from a
collection formed in Lincolnshire. Also in SNC July/August 1991,
no. 4846.

The fact of the feathered tail of the horse connects it with the
Corieltauvi units of Van Arsdell's Hosidius type, as with this
specimen of VA 855-5. Bob dates the end of this type at 45 BC.
The style of the wolf is very close to that found on the Norfolk wolf
staters which he dates the end to be also 45 BC. The new discovery
confirms, at the very least, his relative dating of the two different
tribal issues.

This record has been online since about 2001.

The title is true to its topic in Ian Leins, What can be inferred from the regional diversity of Iron Age coinage? in Duncan Garrow, Chris Gosden and J.D. Hill (eds.), Rethinking Celtic Art, Oxford, 2008.

People infer all sorts of things. The title is also true to what Colin Haselgrove did which resulted in his Iron Age Coinage in South-East England: The Archaeological Context, BAR, (British), 174, Vol i & ii, Oxford, 1987. However, the commentary gives a somewhat different impression:
"Haselgrove abandoned the the use of tribal names, allowing both early uninscribed and later issues to be attributed to regional groups based purely on their style, the distribution of findspots and their appearance in hoards."
Haselgrove spends most of the first part of his book describing the parameters of his study. After covering a vast number of considerations, on page 52, he starts to talk about its regional divisioning:
"Coinage struck in Britain is conveniently divided into seven major geographical and typological groupings. These largely correspond to Allen's (1944) 'dynastic' and 'tribal' groupings, but owing to our ignorance of the exact relationship between the Roman administrative divisions and the preexisting socio-political groupings (Haselgrove 1984c) - which must anyway have fluctuated while coinage was in use - I have reverted to a regional nomenclature, similar to Evans' (1864) scheme."

Leins refers to Allen's system:
"Allen's backward projection of the Roman civitates divisions into the pre-Roman period was, however much less straightforward than is often recognized. ..."
People project all sorts of things. For example, Liens says:
"Do we believe that coins were produced by a centralized tribal authority and sent en masse to a particular community where they circulated and were eventually deposited? Or, is it equally possible that they were issued by a localised community, for local use, but drew upon the the standard technology (dies) and chosen iconography of the craftsmen available to them? Either way both the broader and localised distributions are significant as potential indicators of social contracts, but neither can be assumed to relate directly to a meaningful political entity."
This is a backward projection of a late Medieval kingship model onto a La Tène society.

The real debate that has been going on is about the degree that pre-Roman Celtic societies exhibited tribal or state characteristics. There is even a book on the theme, and an excellent one at that: Celtic chiefdom, Celtic state. As there is little value in trying to impose a single model on both a tiny group of huts in a damp forest near the Rhine, and on the Celtic large oppidum of Manching in Bavaria, the more fruitful academic arguments are more about the middle bits where opinions will vary. This is all just academic fuel for papers and conferences and had very little to do with really understanding these societies unless we just give up on all of those papers and conferences and just say that there was something of a spectrum based on local conditions.

Although John Creighton titled the book, Coins and Power in Late Iron Age Britain, he gives a very useful preamble to the period of his focus with The Middle to Late Iron Age transition, and the link goes its text. You would do well to read it before reading tomorrow's episode on what Celtic tribal society was really like. Creighton does make one mistake: "Another new arrival here was the appearance of gold, absent here since its last appearance in the Bronze Age. It came first as imported coin, then as locally manufactured derivatives." This mistake is so common that it is sometimes not even stated because it is thought to be so well understood. The late Bronze Age gold shortage was ended much earlier: In England, the Snettisham gold torc sequence (Jope, 2000) starts in the mid third century BC, and in Ireland it is just a bit earlier (first half of the third century BC) with the Clonmacnoise collar. It was at this time that a number of continental trained metal artists arrived in Britain and the south west and the north east were very important places.

Liens attempts to cover stylistic issues with his assertion that the above illustrated coin depicts a boar and not a wolf. He talks only of subject, and subject is not style. Were you to look at the style, you would notice that Celtic boars (or any pig, for that matter) are never shown with claws. You see some confusion with another native art  (Thracian), as to whether a feline or a canine is being shown with some clawed beasts, but pigs are easier to identify. They also do not get depicted with their mouths open (save for the carnyx use), and various ways are used to show their snout. Mostly, too, they have tails that are shorter and more curly. The boar does have a crest, and the dog raises its hackles when it threatens. The crest carries the significance, regardless of the type of creature. But someone told Liens the Norfolk wolf might be a boar. People tell you a lot of things.

A dichotomy of methods (the right one and the wrong one) are given in this paper by Liens, but there is really no such dichotomy. The way of looking at the coinages is mostly dependent on what sort of information you are looking for. For Haselgrove's purposes (which are many beyond this particular issue), a regional division was needed, For Van Arsdell, a stylistic grouping worked better because the exact chronology was a very important factor in classifying the entirety of the British Celtic issues. With new discoveries, whether they be by new types, or new ways of structuring the information, the researcher is always in a state of flux. You find that most will adjust their methods as is needed to answer more and more complex questions, and have little time to jump on various bandwagons or adopt various fashions. That sort of thing is more of a spectator-sport.

Haselgrove uses region, chronology and then classes; Van Arsdell uses typology and divisions based on stylistic differences which follows Allen's method, but beyond types, he goes straight to the variations seen on each die and does not put them into classes. This most closely approximates my own method, but I, closer to Haselgrove, pay a lot of attention to regions and numbers of issuing authorities within and without tribal territories. As to Classes, though, whenever I see those, I string garlic cloves around my neck, and check to make sure I have the wooden stake and vial of holy water on hand. ...

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