Friday, 24 April 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part six

White gold ingot from a Dobunni site in south Worcestershire
discovered and reported by metal detectorist Dean Crawford.
Photo: G. T. Jones (all requests for reuse should go to him).
Resampling, cropping and post-production processing by JH
(click for X 9.3 enlargement)
Support for the idea that the Iceni and the Dobunni Antethirig are the same person is supplied from the finds at the Dobunni south Worcestershire site. The importance of the multiple finds of Thurrock types cannot be overestimated. Prior to its discovery, only a single Thurrock type had been found as part of an archaeological excavation and that was at Maiden Castle in Durotriges territory. Also interesting about the Maiden Castle site is that a stratified La Tène 1 brooch was also found there which had the same high Co to low Ni impurity as the Thurrock potins. The ingot, of "white gold" finds its closest alloy parallel with the Norfolk wolf staters, but its high tin content (considering that tin was most likely just a part of the bronze content and the Cu percentage was only 15.8%) does not match up with analyses of Norfolk wolf staters which usually have a very low level of tin. Some of the Iceni Freckenham gold staters do have high levels of tin, however. Any levels of Sn above just a trace are unusual for gold staters, and the presence of white gold in Dobunni territory is very unusual. By something of a fluke, the ingot (and the following pellet) are now back in Dobunni territory.

Potin pellet from the same site
(G. T. Jones credit and details as above)
The pellet from the Dobunni site is no less interesting: Its high (46.6%) Sn content appears to be unprecedented in potins. That it does not contain the high Co and low Ni profile of southern British bronze dates the pellet to after 50 BC, a time when the Thurrock potins were no longer in production. The coins at the same site were silver units of Corionos. The brooch fragments at the site were all mid 1st century AD, and the latest find was a cut denarius of Antoninus Pius (r. 138-161 AD). The site is about midway between the two closest Roman remains and fits the profile of a Druid council site. Before the ingot and the pellet were analyzed, I thought that they indicated that metalworking was going on there. I am now inclined to think that the cut denarius and similar items were of a prior founders hoard and were left there as a display of wealth, as were the earlier Celtic coins, the ingots, and the pellets.

In addition to the wide network of contacts indicated by the ingots and the pellets typical to this site, the high Sn content of the Thurrock potin and the pellet is a strong indicator that their former owner was closer to the source of tin than any person or group associated with British potin coins. (not just in the distance to the Cornish tin mines, but in the degree of social/trade contact as well).

We cannot know the nature of the person or persons who left these objects at the site: the ingot could have been left by someone supplying metal to the Iceni, or it could have come from a person who had an exchange with such a person and the ingots had then become treasures (I borrow the term from early Irish laws of status and franchise, which are La Tène in origin), or it could have been an object of value that was exchanged for credit in livestock.

Next, I must say something about the earliest use of Celtic gold coins. It seems rather difficult for most people to comprehend that Britain, long before the Roman conquest, was part of the Greek world. As his synopsis to Ancient Greek Gold Coinage up to the Time of Philip of Macedon, John R. Melville Jones says:

"Coinage in gold was issued by Greek mints at first only in emergencies, when silver was not available. It was later also used when the recipients of this coinage preferred to be paid in this metal. The most usual reason for this preference was that the recipients were mercenary soldiers, or were serving away from their own countries for some other reason. Commercial considerations or a desire on the part of rulers to advertise themselves were less relevant to the choice of gold as a metal in which to strike coins. It should be assumed that most payments of large sums to soldiers were made at the conclusion of their period of service. Since ancient Greek coinage in gold is much rarer than coinage in silver or bronze, the authenticity of some of the surviving specimens is not beyond doubt. It is to be hoped that further discoveries will make it possible to answer some of the questions which are matters of dispute at the present time."
He had sent me a copy of his paper after he read a piece of mine where I had identified the Ambiani as being present in Pyrrhus' army in Italy. He regretted that my article appeared after his own publication as he would have liked to have included it as a reference. In his paper, he noted:
"A connection with the activities of Dionysius I of Syracuse (406-367 B.C.) has been suggested as the most appropriate time at which the first gold coins issued by Syracuse may have been struck, and it seems likely that many of the gold issues of all of these four mints were produced within a few years of each other. The most likely reason for the striking of gold coins by the Sicilian cities is the series of Carthaginian attacks on the island which began in 406/5 B.C. These were resisted by Dionysius, who used hired troops."
The Carthaginians were in the part of the world, primarily to be able to trade in British tin (also possibly Spanish silver). Their competitors in western Mediterranean trade were Syracuse, Massalia (France, Phokaean,) Taras (Italy, Spartan), and the Etruscans. Somewhat later, the Romans were also in the picture. Dionysios had hired Celtic troops and this led to a massive move across the Alps into Italy of Celtic armies from a number of tribes who set up bases in northern Italy. Milan was founded by the Celts and in 390 BC, the Senones captured Rome and held it for ransom. The ransom was raised by the people of Massalia as it was far too high for Rome to pay herself. Livy's account of the attack being successfully defended by a Roman hero is pure fiction, and even Polybius said only that the ransom was paid, but did not want to offend his Roman patrons by giving the details. The true story comes from Gnaeus PompeiusTrogus (Marcus Junianus Justinus, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus).

The Celts were in on the Sicilian proliferation of gold for military pay right from its start. Dionysius even loaned some of them to Sparta to fight against the Athenians. Gold coinage thus had a profound, and long lasting effect on the Celts. Their payment in Italy, was mostly in the form of posthumous Philip of Macedon gold staters which they then copied for their own, later currency, although the earliest Gaulish coin (Ambiani) was copied from an earlier type of Taras depicting the head variously described as either Hera or Amphitrite and issued by Taras, originally, during the Italian campaigns of Alexander the Molossian (Epirus), the uncle of both Alexander the Great and Pyrrhus.

The Celts main use of gold coins was for the purchase of troops when they returned from Italy, but at a very late date in Britain, the types started to change away from their former warrior imagery to that of trade with the barley ear types of Cunobeline and Epaticcus and the vine-leaf type of Verica, even though the ubiquitous horse or mounted warrior was retained for their reverses still.

If you are of the opinion that Britain, before the Romans, was barbaric, or that the Dobunni were nothing but small groups of peaceful farmers, guess again. The Dobunni were one of the primary traders in valuable resources: tin, lead, iron, silver, and salt. Not only that, but  for a very long time had produced some of the best-crafted metalwork in Britain. They attracted artisans from foreign workshops, too. The maker of my Plastic style finial (most likely sword pommel) originally hailed from between Bavaria and Bohemia. He might have been of the Boii people. Although the finial is the only piece of his workshop yet known to us, he changed the course of British early Celtic art, as after he died, his casting secrets were lost, and the Britons learned how to mimic it with a repoussé method that could achieve far higher relief than had ever existed on the continent. His workshop was in Dobunni territory and it was found in Oxfordshire.

There was another Dobunnic metalworker who had been trained at an Italian workshop during the 3rd century BC. The only thing we have left from him is splendid, indeed, even if it lacked the high relief of the later repoussé work and the casting magic of the Plastic style. It is the Witham shield. It combines Italian techniques of the early to mid third century BC with Celtic styles (Jope, 2000). It was a custom mount for an older shield of a spearman. Jope gives us a tantalizing hint, perhaps unwilling to state what might have crossed his mind about its owner (p. 61):
"In Europe these spearmen were rank-and-file foot-warriors, knights being mainly at the time mounted or wheel-borne. In third-century Britain owners of such grandiose 'Gaulish' shields seem to have had no scruples over being seen to bear what in Europe was the armour of unmounted spearmen."
On the Gundestrup cauldron's "procession plate" (also made in Italy by Thracian craftsmen in the third century BC) , the spearmen march into battle and death. They become resurrected, however, and in their next incarnation have been promoted to knights. A British spearman in Italy during the third century BC was about to go home. He survived his time there and although he had not died the glorious death in the battle that would ensure his future promotion, he was very proud of his accomplishment. He was also richer than he could have possibly imagined being when it all started. Perhaps he knew the craftsman in Italy, perhaps he even encouraged him to try Britain, or he might have learned about the workshop after his return, and the craftsman had come to Britain on the suggestion of someone else. The spearman might have been Corieltauvi or of another tribe who had lived in the same area. The original boar decoration, which was something important to his people and spoke of their former glories needed to be changed. Those legendary glories could not hold a candle to what he had just experienced. He could now even afford to get his own army back home...

The Dobunni route to the north-east was the Jurassic Way and would have been a chariot road that ran along hilltops. The time it would take to ride a horse from the south Worcestershire site to where you start seeing Iceni coins would have been about four days at the most; two or three with a horse trained to the task and perhaps only two days for a good chariot team. The route avoided the Dobunni's rivals: the Atrebates and Cantii, and only partly came close to the Catuuellauni, who were less of a rival, anyway,even if they had originally been Belgae, and the Dobunni were Celtae. It is along this route, and nearby, where much earlier, iron currency bars were traded. Places that now echo with names connected to great British Celtic art: Birdlip, Cheltenham, Desborough, Arras, Bugthorpe, and more. The Iceni territory "turn-off" was only about halfway along the route that started in Dobunni territory.

Twice, there had been a disturbance in Dobunni territory: the first time it was between two rivals, only. They both issued coins for their military needs and both issues had about the same amount of gold in them. You can take that to mean that they were fairly evenly matched, so both would have been less willing to settle for any solution that their Druids might have proposed such as by having an election. Remember, that Druidism was thought to have originated in Britain. The coins of one contender said CORIO(NOS) which meant "army commander" and the other proclaimed BODVOC which meant "Victorious" which was a promise, rather than a boast, of course.  Before the swords came out, both factions would have spent some time soliciting support from whomever they could in order to raise the money for their troops. For local warriors, it would mean a direct fighting alliance if they joined a clan or faction, for more distant trading partners, support was a way of gaining, or even just maintaining trade deals. Whoever won, things soon returned to normal until there was more dissatisfaction, but this time, there were a number of chieftains involved (or kings as they called themselves). In such situations, it was not just two powerful rivals fighting for supremacy, but a general political malaise or disagreements about trading practices. Also at such times, a king having problems of his own might benefit from seeking alliances with kings of greater strength. These alliances would come about through feasts, displays of wealth, and even tributes to leaders or gifts to their people. In times of conflict, a lesser king would be more likely to offer gold as that could be used for troops. When Dionysius loaned the Spartans some crack Celtic troops, it was an offer from a position of power. The Spartans knew, full well, that if Dionysius need a favour from them in the future, they would have to oblige.

I think it unlikely that two kings on the same long-used trade route, each powerful enough to issue gold coin, would assume the same name. I suspect that some petty differences between minor kings in Dobunni territory might have been the perfect opportunity for a slightly more wealthy, but far more locally powerful king who might be facing a very dire political situation at home, to either gain support from his allies or find asylum with them befitting his status. The faction he sides with gets the gold for their troops, his own name is blazoned on the warriors pay to show where the money came from and he will never have to pay for a drink there again. This is typical tribal behavior. It is also significant, I think, that after the "name" Antethirig vanishes from Iceni coins, it is replaced by ECEN, almost certainly their tribal name. It suggests a different form of government or alliance.

Of course, the gold staters are issued before anyone wins, so the names on them are not, necessarily of a winner. You might think of them as sort of "political campaign buttons" come bribes. There was no reason to issue gold coins in times of peace (either militarily or political). In fact, you do not even want gold coins out among the people that could be traded for the services of a warrior to hunt you down. The only Celts who used coins were Celts that had long experience in foreign campaigns, and it virtually separates them, culturally, from the tribes who did not. Even though a member of such a tribe, two hundred years after his ancestor fought along side Pyrrhus' elephants in Italy, would have no personal experience of such, his mythological viewpoint would have been changed by the stories and legends, and his ancestor would have altered the exact nature of his sub-culture.

This is not the Iceni hypothesis, though, its just another part of its background. On Monday, we will have to deal with the "tribe versus region" debate that has been going on for more than thirty years, and that will require a transdisciplinary approach, because, well, what other sort of approach could possibly work?


  1. Fascinating, I have enjoyed all these blogs, especially as you are in the territory I know well....

    1. Thanks, Thelma, This topic is more "current time" than most of my other topics where I had already done a lot of the research before I started the series. I keep discovering new confirmations of observations I made in an earlier post, for example,a map showing lines of stray finds of Thurrock potins following the directions of the Jurassic Way; both toward Norfolk, and then further northward:

      There is also a drift of Dobunnic gold staters within their own territory pointing in the same direction.

      I will probably include all of the new stuff in the summary at the end of the series.

  2. A very interesting and good read John, thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks, the Dobunni are very interesting for their coins, Celtic art metal industries, political connections and so on.