Friday, 29 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 31

Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc
After finishing yesterday's post, I started to look at some continental potins to see if there was anything that might gives us more information on the British tin trade and the Dobunni's connections with the Iceni in the light of the tin element figuring so much at the south Worcester Druid council site (a high tin Thurrock potin; extremely high tin potin pellet; small ingot of white gold of Norfolk wolf stater type of alloy, but with tin).

Peter Northover's analyses of some continental potins (BAR, British, 222, 1992) was useful in that the potins of the Sequani had about the same levels of tin as did the Durotriges "cast bronze". The sequani had the Helvetii as neighbours to the east who also had potin coins but with a higher tin content than the Sequani. This seemed to parallel the Dobunii/ Durotriges relationship with regard to the coin-like tin ingots.

The Zürich type of the Helvetii has tin levels generally higher than the Thurrock potins so if the tin source was also British we might think that the Zürich type would be earlier. In all the analyses, however, whenever we see a trace of cobalt, the traces of nickel are of a higher percentage. Given the date assigned to the Zürich type, if British copper was included in the tin alloy, then we would expect the cobalt/nickel ratios to be reversed.

The most interesting discovery yesterday was this paper by Michael Nick on a very strange hoard of the Zürich  type. The hoard is believed to have originally been deposited in the lake because water levels are thought to have been higher when the hoard was deposited than they are now and at its discovery, it was on dry land. What is very strange about it is that the people who deposited those potins attempted to smelt them together in a solid mass by using a hot fire of oak logs. It did not work very well and the effort resulted in a couple of "nuggets", one very large, the other small and some fragments and loose coins. Instead of building another fire to complete the job, they just deposited what they got. It might have seemed too wasteful to attempt it again, or perhaps they thought it just would not work. It certainly seems like they had attempted this task for the first time and had thought it would work much better than it did. The final solution, that it was a religious lake offering, does not ring true to me: in all offerings at "watery places" of which I am aware, this is the only one where they felt the need to melt everything into a single blob. Any sort of "ritual killing" of objects mostly takes the form of breaking or bending. In most watery deposits, however, objects are just cast into the water without being "ritually killed" at all. Presumably, the water "drowns" the object. Although it was recorded that the Celts believed that the soul could be destroyed by fire or by water, this does not fit well with any religious offering and would be more likely to be symbolized in an execution rather than a sacrifice. I mention it only as it does provide a tenuous connection to the find.

I think that the most likely explanation is that we have, again, a time when the price of tin had dropped. We would expect such occurrences in the Iron Age, because the race for tin was all about making bronze for weapons. Phoenician tin traders seem to have been reluctant, at first, to provide Egypt with tin as that would have made Egypt a greater threat, so the Egyptians used copper and flint longer than they might have. There was a great competition for tin in the western Mediterranean, and Massalia had problems obtaining it because of Carthaginian piracy. They imported British tin through an overland route, I think, in the form of Thurrock potins which bore the same images as the Massalian bronze coinage of the time. Massalian bronze coins had the lowest percentage of tin (about 2%) of all of the Greek issues and has tested positive for the British high cobalt to low nickel "signature". The only other continental example being a cauldron with some sort of British association that was, interestingly, found in Switzerland. Iron weaponry was now preferred, and there was no shortage of old bronze weapons that could be recycled to meet the need for that metal. I think it is possible that the people wanted to hoard the potins for their metal value, hoping that the price of tin would recover later. Instead of burying them, they might have decided that the lake would make a good hiding spot, and that by melting them together it would make their recovery easier through a joint effort, but less likely to be raided by individuals who might dive for the potins. I cannot see any indication that this action was a local religious custom: it was a flubbed attempt that was not even corrected. One of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.

I plan to wrap up the series on Monday, but we will see... . Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 30

British Celtic coppers

top:       Cunobeline bronze coin
middle:  Durotriges cast stater
bottom:  Thurrock potin (tin ingot)
When seeing a British Celtic copper alloy coin, the commonest assumption is to think that its use was for small purchases at the local market. This might well be true for the top coin illustrated on the right. It is a coin of Cunobeline that is part of a series where Cunobeline is named as a son (filius) of Tasciovanus. Their distribution clusters around Harlow Temple, and Derek Allen wrote about the coin finds (paper). More recent work on the site and its coins has been done by Colin Haselgrove (abstract) and he kindly sent me signed off-prints of some of his publications including this one not long after its publication.

This type of Celtic coin most closely resembles Roman provincial coins and the die cutters would almost certainly have been intaglio gem-cutters trained in Roman or Greek workshops. The British Atrebates did not issue a copper alloy coinage, and it is tempting to see their silver minims as being equivalent as the Trinovantes/Catuvellauni did not use that denomination. Gone are any visual references to warrior iconography and Druidical abstraction is also absent. The subjects are drawn from the repertoire of the artist and picked as to be most relevant to the patron. Subjects from Roman Republican and early Imperial coins can also be seen on later British Celtic coins: gem cutters would often have to produce heads of emperors for intaglios and some of these were evidently pressed into service as generic ruler portraits. Some devices seen on Roman Republican denarii might well have also started out as intaglio gem designs. Before the massive coinage of the Roman empire, most coin issues were intermittent and virtually no one could have made a living as a coin die cutter alone. The most visible usage of such British copper coins was as religious offerings because a temple with piles of such coins (Harlow) is much easier to identify than a market cart and, most often, no physical evidence remains for a stray find or even an excavated stratified find to be called an accidental loss or a deliberate deposit. Different sorts of evidence, gathered together, does strongly suggest that the primary use for such copper coins was by the common people for small purchases and they are common in settlements.

The second coin illustrated is a crude cast stater of the Durotriges. At its time, it was the sole denomination of its tribe. Its general design ancestry goes back to the Belgic gold staters, but it is a "direct descendant" of a Durotriges base white gold stater of the same design as British A gold staters (which John Kent had attributed as the federal coinage of Cassiuellaunos). The Durotriges most significant site is not the unbelievably massive Maiden Castle but the Hengistbury Head promontory fort with its protected dock in the shallow Christchurch Harbour. I saw some stones there that looked like mooring stones, but the site lacks signage. There were also cupellation hearths there where silver was extracted, first from argentiferous west-country copper, and later from recycled billlon coins from Normandy and Brittany. Its sister-port was the Coriosolite port at the mouth of the River Rance.

A lot of different people really wanted to put the Durotriges out of business: an agreement with Caesar might have been the cause of the shift in the trade from Hengistbury to north of the Thames in about 50 BC, and the Coriosolite port was destroyed by the Romans during the early reign of Tiberius in 15 to 20 AD (L. Langouet, Les monnaies gauloise d'Alet in Les Dossiers du centre Regional Archaeologique d'Alet, 6, 1978, p. 25). Gallo-Belgic C gold staters were moving into Durotriges territory through Hengistbury, but the subsequent (perhaps continuous issue?) Gallo-Belgic E (Gallic War currency) did not go there. The design influence flows: Gallo-Belgic C - British A - Durotrigan E. The coin illustrated dates to about the time of the destruction of the Coriosolite fort, but the earlier struck copper alloy coins in the same design evolution was the last time that there was even a trace of silver in their coinage. A small group of Armorican(?) metal recyclers were attacked at the Le Petit Celland hillfort (Wheeler, Hill Forts of Northern France). The fort was unfinished and unused during the Gallic War, but the recyclers had a number of Coriosolite coins and pottery linking Jersey and Hengistbury, and were camped behind a makeshift gate. The remains of their huts were found and the coins and pottery were found below the burnt remains of the makeshift gate.

The Durotriges coin, although having an ancestry of military pay, is an example of a collapsed economy. Long before, even at the outset of Durotrigan E, no outsider would fight for the Durotriges at the standard pay (the stater was a unit of account). At this late stage it was "an object of value", but was not small change for the market. Peter Northover (BAR 222, 1992, p. 263) who first saw some sort of possible connection between the cast Durotriges "coppers", because these are not bronze coins at all, they are potin. Of slightly lower tin content than the later British potins which derive from the Thurrock types, they have comparable tin content alloys in some of the continental potins. Northover only mentions this in passing, most of the paragraph describing the uncertainties and disappointing results of studies of this coin type and looks toward a possible chronology. It does not speak of the usage for the type at all.

I am now of the opinion that the Durotriges cast coinage served no coin function, whatsoever. It probably started as coin-like ingots of base tin for trading purposes, functionally, but not not design influenced by the Thurrock potin (bottom illustration) but as the tin trade collapsed, it was stored as capital waiting for the market to recover (which it never did).

Tomorrow? I'll burn a few laurel leaves and come up with an idea for the next episode.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 29

Gold quarter stater and silver unit of Eppillus
(British Atrebates). These and other types of
quarters and units were found at Wanborough
Colin Haselgrove's study (BAR, British, 174, 1987) gave us good evidence for what sort of coins we might find at various sorts of locations: gold coins were mostly non-settlement finds while silver and copper alloy coins were commonly found at settlements and at religious sites. One farm site showed evidence of people having minted coins there which was a bit of a surprise at the time, but something I now find quite understandable as farmers can also be kings.

Gold quarter staters present us with something of a mystery: it could be simply that the Celts adopted the denomination from the Greeks without having any specific use for it other than as we would use any fractional denomination today. We do know that when they adopted the gold stater from the Greeks, they also adopted its Greek usage as military pay, and that by maintaining the Greek subject matter in their own coinage, their gold stater also served a secondary symbolic function as a reminder of former glories to inspire future behavior. This warrior lifestyle was also associated, on their coinage, with symbols of the solar year; symbols of the agricultural year, and symbols of rebirth —  all in the "As above, so below" themes of complimentary magic.

So, after an unsuccessful but cursory web search for any possible symbolic meanings or associations connected with the Greek gold quarter staters other than simply making change, I will ask some Greek specialists. It might well be an issue that rarely comes up in Greek numismatics: British Celtic numismatics, because of the interplay between metal-detecting and archaeology, has moved in different directions from Greek numismatics as would be expected wherever practices differ. Mainstream archaeology, too, under-uses numismatic methods, often saying that "coins are useful for dating a site". Other than the matter of trying to harness Pegasus to the plough, one should take such archaeological dating advice with a grain of salt: I know of a number of instances where the happenstance of a single coin dated a site far later than all of the other material would suggest. Dates of coin issues are sometimes wrong, or are given a far too wide date range to be of much use. It is not so much a problem with a site yielding lots of Roman Imperial coins, but it can be a big problem with Greek and Celtic.

Gold loves the country, but silver is a townie. There is one place, though, where Celtic gold quarter staters associate with silver units and that is variously called a religious site, shrine, or temple. Unless there is a later Roman temple at that site, I am skeptical of such designations as Caesar informs us that the Druids met at a consecrated site to hear legal cases, resolve problems and pick successors. Are all of the pre-Roman British Celtic temples actually Druid council sites? Whether coins are offered "to the gods" or cast on the ground as a display of surplus wealth to attract the voters and followers, I think that most would agree that these are very "people-oriented" activities: people wanting things from the gods; people wanting to impress, or be impressed. Why, then, are gold quarter staters unusual at a settlement? Obviously, the settlement is not a religious site, but don't townies want to impress or be impressed too? Whatever happened to "Keeping up with the Jones's"?

I think that while the gold stater carried a military connotation, the quarter stater served as a symbol of tribute. Think of the differences between military and civil awards. The Celts were transitioning into a society where unbridled warrior activity was just not possible. It was not decreed to be so just by a Druid elite wanting to keep the Knights in check, but evolved gradually over several hundred years, with probably very active telling of stories of Greek patrons and tyrants (often the same person) and Celtic heroism. In this transition, the need for the heroic that was symbolized by the gold with its Greek and Celtic themes, but was applied to military pay, could make the transition with the quarter denomination, to civil matters such as influencing trade agreements; as political gifts or as rewards for exceptional services. In the town, a gold quarter stater could only have such functions to its king: most of the inhabitants would have been of too low a status to have any connections with gold at all. The more influential elite would have had large estates of a number of farms. Many of the farmers might lease the land from their local king, but it is also possible that other farmers would possess their own land but would have entered a clan sort of relationship with the local king, or even a more distant king (such as a trading partner). While Ian Liens saw the widespread distribution of gold quarter staters of the same types over the area of several modern counties signifying no central tribal authority, I see them as indicating a very complex set of tribal, clan and even personal relationships that developed quite naturally as a series of adjustments and corrections to the circumstances of their lives. The gold quarter stater is sometimes brought to the sacred site and that site is usually in the country, anyway. The townies also bring their silver to the sacred site, but gold of any sort rarely goes to the settlement. If you are looking for a warrior, you would do better in the country as the best warriors were farmers. How could a good warrior not own farms in such a society?

Looking for specific usage for gold quarter staters is not easy. We have to allow for multiple uses and also for the possibility of some types carrying a special meaning now lost to us. We also have many types of gold quarters from different tribal areas. I picked the Dobunni for an example because the use of the quarter stater is restricted to the CORIO and (only recently discovered) BODVOC issues. Both issuers seem to have been at the same time; in competition with each other, and using the same gold alloy. Both had gold staters and quarter staters. They might not have been at war: two lesser kings might have been vying for a higher and vacant kingship and might have already made the gold stater transition away from military pay and toward influence, although even then, the military connotation would add a serious note to the agreement. If the roles were still separate, the quarters could have been for influence and non-military support and the staters for troops.

Tomorrow, duplicitous copper.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 28

Base gold inscribed stater of the Corieltauvi,
ex Mossop collection 
Looking at the emergence of the La Tène decorative art it is clear that this was a warrior society and that military prowess was its measure of status. La Tène art would probably never have developed if the Celts had not set up military bases in northern Italy because it was from there that Greek decorative elements were first adapted by the Celts. Prior to the La Tène period, the Celts experiences in warfare had been more local: wealthy leaders had sprung up here and there and left evidence of their success with princely graves on the continent but not, so far, in Britain. The Mediterranean wars provided not only a source of great wealth for the warrior, but a certain amount of peace back home: no war lord had emerged to seize control over all the lands where the Celtic language was spoken. The spread of the La Tène culture was slow and intermittent. The southern part of Ireland did not adopt the culture at all, and Britain did not show much of the La Tène styles before about 300 BC.

Any Celtic warrior who had been hired by Dionysius I of Syracuse in about 400 BC might have been about twenty years old at the time. Owing to the shorter life expectancy at the time when people were commonly dying in their forties, that warrior probably would not have had twenty years of active service left. At the end of his career he might have gone home with a large amount of gold. Not being too interested in fighting anymore, he could still have acted as patron for those who did, but lacked the ambition or the resources to fight in the Italian campaigns. Throughout human history, whenever gold shows up in an area, so too, do people eager to capture it. In Britain, gold had been virtually absent since the late Hallstatt, but it starts to appear again, after 300 BC in some surprisingly remote areas of Britain. We might expect it to have arrived in the southeast, but that area's domination was to come much later.

There is a thread which runs through the classical accounts of the Celts in northern Europe and which seems to have been something also understood by the Celts, themselves. In modern jargon, it is "The further south you move, the softer you get". The Belgae took great pride in saying that they had originated on the other side of the Rhine, and their most ferocious fighters were the northernmost Nervii who had impressed Caesar by not only giving him a hard battle he won more by luck than anything else, but also for fighting and not retreating even when most of their warriors had been killed. When their Druids finally concluded that surrender was their only option, Caesar allowed them to retain their "territories and towns" and offered them Roman protection against their neighbours because of their weakened state.

Before the Celts set up their military bases in northern Italy, a certain amount of softness was not difficult to find in Italy: the Etruscans seem to have wanted to be remembered as fashionable couples reclining on couches and drinking wine, and in the south, Sybaris enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle (while it was allowed to survive) making much of its money by taxing traders. Their name survives in "sybaritic". Even the Celts who had moved to northern Italy's Golasecca culture had intermarried with Etruscans and had adopted Greek lifestyles. Much later, still, the Celts who had founded Galatia (in what is now Turkey) in the 270's BC gradually became ever more Hellenized (Galatian coins look no different than the Greek coins of the region). The Greek commanders understood that the most ferocious fighters would be in the northern parts of Gaul (and Britain), and the Senones, who lived just south of the Belgae were the intermediaries who set up the Gaulish base in northern Italy. Further northwest from the Senones in Gaul, there was a recruiting centre in the Somme Valley (Ambiani) where most of the British forces appear to have headed in the third century BC. (John Sills, Chris Rudd List 69, May, 2003). It seems likely to me that the owner of the (pre-modified) Witham shield had taken such a route to Italy. That its owner was Corieltauvi seems also likely as the tribal name is adapted from the Celtic Corio=army.

After the Romans had expelled the Celts from Italy in about 200 BC, the Celts had no foreign outlet for their military ambitions, but they had a considerable amount of gold with which to purchase troops. It must have been at this time that the Druid and Knight classes that Caesar tells us about were either formed, or highly modified. It might have been that, previously, the Druids had held all of the power, but when Celtic warriors returned from the Mediterranean with plenty of gold and knowledge of the ways of Greek tyrants, that gave them a very large bargaining chip. At some point, some Druids created a law that forbade the use of captured gold for anything other than a permanent trophy. This was a way in which the wealth could be controlled so that it would be difficult for any warlord to gain ascendancy through his increased wealth being used to amass even more troops. Legal regulations also governed the degree to which blood relatives could share power, and the druids set up a "two-party system" (factions) whereby each layer of their society would have a voice. I see this as having been developed, in an evolutionary manner, to handle various problems in the new wealthier and more militant society.

This soon lead to a new function for gold coin: as their military ambitions were held in a far from peaceful check by the Druids, the Knights saw that in order to advance, gold could now be used to purchase political influence from the support of the same people who had served them as troops. The tribes had no standing armies and the troops were enlisted farmers and even farm owners (in the higher ranks). I think that it was this change that brought about coins inscribed with names and/or titles, not any influence from Roman coins. A knight's political victories could feed his military ambitions by having more of the people support military over diplomatic solutions and thus sway the "tribal supreme court" of the Druids by using their own system of political representation. So the new function for gold did not replace the old function of buying troops, it augmented it.

Another development caused from the situation of having greater wealth, not just from military earnings but from the Celtic credit system whereby cattle could be loaned at the interest of some of their offspring, was that in order to gain support from the people through social obligations like the potlatch, displays of great wealth through wasteful feasts and financial largess became the standard. This clan system was so wasteful that we see a gradual debasement of the money: the gold coins have less and less gold in them. Some tribes, like the British Durotriges, ended up with copper alloy "gold staters", and were unable to hire military support from any area with a healthier currency (which was pretty well anyone close to the Durotriges).

Most importantly, gold coins were used to obtain support to rule in some way, and not as spending money for the subjects of a king after his accession (unless gold was used again to finance warfare). You might say that the issuing of coinage was now thoroughly privatized, and its quality was backed by the name of the issuer as in the traditional Greek fashion. Gold coinage, in addition to being military pay, now had also become a sort of intrinsically valuable "campaign button" and the candidates sometimes identified themselves as having political qualities such as Antethirig= Fit to rule. Of course, entering a campaign does not always end in victory and I think it highly likely that some of those "dynastic rulers" were not even blood-related and some of them only ever made it to contender. Gold staters were only issued for a specific need (again, in the Greek fashion).

Tomorrow, gold quarter staters and silver coinage.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 27

Gold stater of the Nervii, earlier 1st cent. BC
Words come with a lot of baggage. You say the word "Celtic" and archaeologists form themselves into warring camps. The word "coin", too, comes with baggage — not of the, easy-to-identify, academic disagreement variety, but insidiously, posing as common knowledge. You might think of placing coins on a counter in a shop; in the hat of a street musician; in a slot for a ticket. You might think of collecting coins, or dropping coins, throwing one in a fountain, or getting one from the tooth fairy. All of these situations might be part of your culture, or if your culture is very different, then other things situations might come to mind when hearing the word coin". Yet, in all of these situations what a coin is remains the same: it's something made for spending.

Far stranger than any cultural difference, time changes the way that we think about things: everyone reading these words had the meaning of coins imprinted into their consciousness in childhood, and it remains to this day. We can understand, of course, that before we were able to produce paper money, the purchase of more expensive things would be in gold coin. Coins are still for spending, it is just that we can understand that coins had to serve, at some point, for what we now do with paper or by electronic transfer.

To attempt to understand a what a two thousand year old culture thought about coins, is to understand what we can in facts, of the way that coins first came to their attention, and then form a theory about the sort of societal imprinting that ensued. We already know, however, that Celtic coinage changed over its history, so this gives us a pattern of changes that can be studied in an evolutionary model. As this has been the way that Celtic coins have been studied since about 1850 with Evans, we are on sure footing. All that we are really doing is adding a few more recent methods and observations.

British coinage evolves from issues of the Belgae which are united in the style they chose to adapt the earlier copies of the posthumously-issued gold staters of Philip II of Macedon they had originally received as payments for military service in the later Italian campaigns. Other stylistic groups such as the Armorican, adapted these same Philipii in different ways. From this we can see a primary Pan-Gaulish significance to the subject matter of the Philip stater. Its cultural significance superseded the intrinsic value of the gold because its types survived multiple reductions of gold content right down to base coins containing no gold at all, and it spanned different stylistic groups.

The association between gold coin and any sort of trade can be dismissed, at the outset, with the coin illustrated above. Before advancing into Nervii territory, Caesar (II,15) writes:
"The Ambiani were neighbours of the Nervii, about whose character and habits Caesar made enquiries. He learnt that they did not admit traders into their country and would not allow the importation of wine or other luxuries, because they thought such things made men soft and took the edge off their courage; that they were a fierce, warlike people, who bitterly reproached the other Belgae for throwing away their inheritance of bravery by submitting to the Romans, and vowed that they would never ask for peace or accept it on any terms."
You can see from this passage that the Nervii did not associate a military gold currency with any sort of trade: they were using their gold coin in exactly the same way that was done by the Greek generals for whom their ancestors served.

The meaning of the coin was embedded within its imagery. The Celts had a long history of decorating discs of metal in sophisticated abstract derivations of Classical vegetal motifs such as the ivy scroll, palmette and lotus. An artist could have used these traditional motifs to convey specific meaning, but it was the initial use that had to be preserved. No matter how far the design departs from its prototype, its original subject can still be seen at its core. The servants were now the masters: The Romans had defeated the Greek generals for whom their ancestors fought, and their ancestors had survived to bring much gold back with them. Now the Romans were at their gates...

In transforming the first coin imagery toward La Tène styles, the vegetal motifs are used in way that reflects the natural order of endless cycles, and the endless return of the hero whether in this life or the next.

Tomorrow: and then all the politicians and lawyers show up...

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 26

Wishing Tree near Ardmaddy. This fallen hawthorn —
known as the wishing tree — has hundreds of coins
embedded in the bark. The hawthorn was a sacred tree
in the Celtic culture and the practice was to make your
wish or prayer at the tree and then offer a coin to the
spirits or fairies.

photo and caption: Gerry McArdle (Geograph)
The hypothesis depends on some very specific features to be present in the vicinity of a multiple find of coins. This category of find is rarely mentioned in news reports because people mostly want to hear about hoards or the discovery of an archaeological site, and a multiple find is somewhere between the two. I illustrate a potential multiple find of the future to the right. If the post-holes remain visible after the tree has rotted away then it might be identified as an archaeological site and as the coins will likely survive, then it could be identified as a shrine to some unknown god. Without the features of a structure (the post holes), it might be called a scattered hoard (although given the surrounding terrain, "plow-scattered" would probably not be suggested). Of course, if in our hypothetical future, the WWW has survived, then the nature of this site will be easy to interpret with a visit to the coordinates on Geograph.

Reading news reports about finds of many ancient coins, the explanation mostly falls into two categories: a hoard that was buried at a time of danger, or a religious site or temple where the coins were "offerings to the gods". Wanborough Temple is the best-known example of the latter. It would really depend on the scale of the square structure whether it should be called a temple or a shrine, as  Celtic shrines are attested as very small structures, but the circular structure being called a temple is highly problematical because this would appear to be the only pre-Roman Celtic temple discovered anywhere. The coins and some apparent priestly regalia are the only identifying features to justify the temple label. Caesar mentioned that the Druids met to decide legal and political matters at a consecrated spot. The location would have been chosen because it had religious significance to the indigenous population. We see this sort of thing everywhere and can even find examples of churches set up within old stone circles. As the place is revered anyway, why not? This is a very common sort of syncretism that allows a reverential attitude to be adopted to a new religion by having it understood to be the heir to earlier beliefs. The most important thing to remember, though, is that in prehistoric belief there was no division, whatsoever, between politics and religion. Both might well have been described at the time (lacking the terms anthropology and culture) as "Our ways" and the religious aspects allowed the "our" to include the indigenous populations who probably had very different politics to the more recent arrivals. As Britain currently separates church and state, the descriptions we choose play an important part in the understanding of a site and calling any apparently sacred site a temple, or imposing only religious functions on it, also imposes a modern world view that takes us further from ancient realities. We are creating the past in our own image.

Without some structures, stratification, and/or context of related finds, seems to be a matter of opinion whether any location is an archaeological site. Some people seem to think that even disturbed plough soil is an archaeological site but how the find of an ancient coin or artifact makes it an archaeological site is difficult to fathom. An ancient coin might have been dropped by an ancient person or a modern coin collector; it might have even arrived at its find location in a truck load of top-soil in 1965. My favorite find location for a Celtic coin was in the crop of a chicken!

Lacking any archaeological evidence other than a stray coin find, you would think that this hypothesis could offer us nothing, but the location of a nearby Druid council site might be indicated if we pay attention to specific dies in addition to specific types of coins. Instead of having a distribution map showing stray finds of the Iceni boar/horse type, imagine how much more informative would be a series of distribution maps for each die. Again, this sort of thing will only work for huge issues with lots of dies that suggest a fairly long period for the coins to be struck. Even then, it might come as a surprise just how fast ancient die cutters and moneyers actually worked. We cannot set up an experiment to decide this. I have seen craftsmen with many years of experience do things that to me was little short of magic: I designed a gold and silver pendant for a girlfriend decades ago and after the jeweler had finished it, he suggested that it might look better with a scalloped edge. I agreed and so he took a thick leather glove and a chisel and after mounting the pendant in a globular steel bench vice he had designed and built, he carved the scallop edge perfectly with the steel chisel in less than ten seconds.

By plotting stray coin finds by chronological die identity then there is a very good chance that the original distribution patterns might still be visible in some areas (especially those "off the beaten track" where circulation would be slow). A number of such maps could be arranged as an animation to see any directional flow. Many of the coins would be later dispersals but coins get lost right from the start and in the less populated areas the original patterns should still be visible to some degree. Some locales might even only have coins from a very narrow part of the issue's chronology.

On Monday, why and when certain types of coins were made.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 25

Illustration from The Seven Wishes by Alfred Smedberg
While the recording of find spots for British Celtic coins for distribution maps has been encouraged for well over a hundred years, in recent decades their reliability has been questioned. You can read about Robert Van Arsdell's and Warwick Rodwell's thoughts on the matter by following those links.

The original card-file Celtic Coin Index at Oxford contains reliability ratings for the recorded find spots but Carrie and I did not include them on the online version because each keeper had their own system for this and I am not enamored by this sort of system (fuzzy logic) which can have only subjective criteria. For expert systems, I find a binary system to be far more workable. An unreported find spot only reduces the amount of data, but a false find spot corrupts the data-set.

Iceni hoards of silver coins were apparently buried quite a long time after the coins were minted and could even be secondary hoards (a hoard that usually contains the contents of smaller hoards that have been combined in a new hoard, or any hoard that was moved at some point). These hoards have yet to give any information about the original distribution patterns of the three main issues because of circulation mixing over time.

The Iceni hypothesis looks for multiple deposits (a number of coins found within a small area that are not a hoard) that have certain similarities to each other through die-links on fairly unworn coins at a ratio higher than would be expected as a random effect; that are accompanied by other items of value such as metal pellets, ingots, coin blanks, a large number of brooches, etc. that cannot be explained easily as a founders hoard (a stash of metal for use by a smith); where the area might show bone fragment evidence of a large feast, or where there could have been some natural feature thought to be sacred such as a spring or a bog. One of the bonuses about including such discrimination is that they would be highly unlikely to include coins with false find spots. Only if the entire multiple deposit was given a false find spot would the data become corrupted. That has happened when coins have been found at a listed archaeological site and the finder has lied about the location in order to be allowed to keep or sell the coins. One notable case was the reported find of some Cunobeline bronze coins in unworn condition by a person who had done some grounds work at Harlow Temple (where unworn coins are plentiful). When archaeologists examined the reported find spot, there was no evidence of any Iron Age activity in the immediate area. Legally, of course, this is just circumstantial evidence.

No dot on a map will reveal any of these things, nor will databases or spreadsheets that are not set up to allow for very specific queries. The term we are looking for is associated finds. These include entire assemblages of archaeological sites where the target coin was found or other objects and coins found in the immediate vicinity of a stray find and of the same period and not necessarily part of any other archaeological site. I suggest that any appropriate find within half a kilometer would be a range to start with, and that could then be adjusted to whatever radius yields the best results in experiments for that coin location. The density of other finds around one coin find could be quite different from that of another coin find, so there is no universal formula. Thus the database query must be able to handle any radius fed to it. An enhancement would be where its GUI could present targeted terms such as "ingot", "bone" or "excavation report" (wherever a database has such data) highlighted, or in a different colour to the rest of the items listed in the results. A further enhancement would be simple pattern recognition such as having an untargeted object flagged in the lists where more than X number of the same occur in the given radius. For XRF data, "greater than" and "less than" capabilities are essential in order to target alloys within a defined range. Needless to say, the Iceni hypothesis relies not only on closely linked dies within a small geographical area, but die studies to reveal where they are in the chronology of the series. It plots combined spacial/temporal data.

What is done is done. the information we now have is in whatever form it is in and it would be far too expensive to rebuild. It is not impossible to work with, just difficult. We are seeing these day, though, an almost promiscuous amount of reporting of finds swept along by an "every sherd is sacred" fervor. For some categories of common types of finds, this is a huge waste of money from all the way from initial recording to ultimate bandwidth costs. My hoard charts on the left are an almost text book example of how little information is required to see a pattern. The horizontal hoards show essentially the same patterns to each other in the XYZ bar chart on the right of each chart, especially when compared to the vertical hoard differences. It did not matter that much that the hoards had 86, 89, 502 and 1,756 coins and the Fates arranged these hoards especially well by each zone having both a small hoard and a larger one.

So such a project could be undertaken by a group of "elite metal detectorists" or perhaps a club in Norfolk for Iceni coin finds. They would take GPS coordinates for every Iceni coin, note its die combinations, weigh it, photograph it, and upload everything to their database. Finding statistically valid patterns might not take as many finds as they might think.

Tomorrow, making do with what you have.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 24

Signpost to remote locations on Keno Hill, Yukon, Canada
photo: Kristian Peters

Just for fun, this is a "Canadian Content" episode about ancient British Celtic coins. Only in a postmodern world, eh?

Where to go from here? The answer to that question partly resides in understanding where "here" is. Looking at the literature on British Celtic coins, we see mostly certain classifications; distribution maps; lists of hoard contents; die link charts; weights and metal analyses. We are doing two things, with these: looking into details that are sometimes small as a trace element in a coin, and standing back further to see the whole thing. The first is self explanatory, but the second needs more description.

There is nothing wrong at all about looking at "the big picture". I'm all for it. But let's extend that metaphor a bit: if you go to an art gallery and examine the brush strokes in a painting you cannot, at that same moment, see the composition of the painting. If you stand further back, the composition will become clear but the brush strokes will lose detail. If you stand back a great distance, you will see only paintings on a wall, but will neither appreciate nor understand anything of art from that viewpoint other than its social context (you can now see people looking at the paintings or talking to each other).

Tom Thomson, Black Spruce in Autumn, 1915
After doing a favor for my next-door neighbor a few years ago, she gave me a bottle of wine and an invitation to the opening of a Tom Thomson exhibition at the gallery where she worked. Tom Thomson was the iconic Canadian painter, both in his work and in his too-short life. I have been to one or two famous artist exhibitions in Calgary that ended up having very little in the way of paintings, but a few drawings and even more prints, so that was what I was expecting. When I walked into the gallery that evening, I almost went into shock: there appeared to be dozens of original Tom Thomson paintings on the walls. You would be hard-pressed to buy one of his paintings for less than $100K; many are worth more than a million, and the auction lot that achieved the record price ($2,749,500.00 including buyer's premium) is caught on this YouTube video. I think that the paintings had been arranged on the walls by an interior designer, because their order followed neither date nor theme. Having such a wealth in front of me, I decided to look at the paintings in their chronological order (which took quite a bit of walking around). This is the way most would go about classifying Celtic coins, too, but when a pre-existing classification system is flawed (or is created by an interior designer), then it is difficult to follow the artist's thoughts.

My neighbor, who was playing the role of hostess for the evening, saw me engrossed in the paintings and came over with a glass of wine and then dragged me over to meet some of Calgary's elite from the nearby Mount Royal district with its old mansions. I had a nice conversation with some of them and then excused myself and went back to the paintings. It struck me that there were two events playing here: a lesson and the experience of the paintings, and an important social event. In the first, there was no conversation at all (the silent and solitary life of the researcher), in the second, was conversation about the exhibition; how Calgary was starting to see far better art shows; and general "get to know you" chit-chat.

Classifying things is a bit like method acting: it is difficult to switch off, so after my chronological examination of Tom Thomson's work, the rest of the evening's social event made me think of the academic approach to Celtic coin studies, not in its methodology, but in its social setting. The direction of research is governed as much by any social environment where it takes place as it is by the minds who engage in it.

Alberta-born Marshall McLuhan at Cambridge
Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase "global village" and predicted the WWW, also said "The medium is the message". Academic approaches are influenced by the time and money available; by their own "elite" and the production of various fads or fashions eagerly followed by those who wish to advance; by the marketing of the subject through publications, conferences and courses; and most importantly by an academic system of thinking that goes all the way back to early childhood.

An independent study, is also influenced by the life-course of the person doing it; their philosophies and viewpoints, their sense of cultural belonging (multiple cultural frames) and their very personality. The products of research can thus be very different, from environment to environment, but the academic approaches are slower to change because they come from a heavily peer-oriented society that encourages a certain degree of conformity. Independent research is unencumbered by such things but lacks any marketing support and more evidence is demanded of it by the public. So even independently generated research changes the subject very slowly when you stand back far enough to see that big picture.

Tomorrow, a methodology wish-list.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 23

Reconstruction of a Celtic village
Photo: National Museum of Wales
The practice of dividing a series of coins into classes has limited applicability. At best, it gives us an idea of whereabouts within the chronology issue we can place a certain coin. Classes are determined by one or two design features (usually something very noticeable to us). As data sets, classes are almost completely useless. They are modern constructs based only on how something looks to us. Any person who made or used the coins would see all of the design elements connected in ways that we mostly cannot fathom today, so we are like the blind men and the elephant in that respect: everything we know, or think we know is based on our modern impressions. Not everyone has fallen into this trap: Robert Van Arsdell takes all design features into consideration and builds up a chronology through those, and through gradual changes in their metal (mainly expressed as decreases in the coin's intrinsic worth) and divisions made by changes in technique (such as cast Durotriges bronze coins following the issues of struck coins). My own method is only slightly different, as is our notation system. The differences are best expressed as being that my study was only of a single tribe (which ended up being of two different tribes and three mints). Robert Van Arsdell's system was applied to all British tribes. If I tried to apply my method to his subjects, it just would not work and his method applied to my subject would miss out on all of the peculiarities of that coinage that are not present in other issues. But for the most part, our methods are more similar than different in that no significant changes are noted as such, and all changes in the designs are recorded.

I concluded that the only objective division of an issue of coins is noting a sudden and dramatic devaluation that occurred at some point within the chronology and noting each individual coin die's design in detail. Gradual reductions in silver content of about two percent has been proposed by Katherine Gruel for each of the classes in Coriosolite coins, but as the classes meant nothing at all to the people who made and used these coins; as "two percent" had no meaning to them; and that errors in achieving anything like a standard silver content were often considerably higher than two percent makes you wonder if they were even capable of creating such a definable series of devaluations. It looks to me that they became increasingly sloppy in their work and Gresham's Law (Bad money dives out good) provides a reason why certain coins that were too silver-rich were culled to profit on the metal. The coins were struck al marco so the moneyers were more concerned about getting the job done quickly rather than wasting their time on adjusting each coin or batch of alloy. The coins were to paid in in large quantities only for the hire of troops, they were not used for buying candy at the corner store.

So when I heard that the Celts were not considered to be a unified culture based on only about three criteria for what a culture is, I found the notion to be utterly absurd (and that is not even taking into consideration, its "absence of evidence" content). If I could not properly classify a single coinage by using the dozen or so attributed classes given to it, then what hope is there for defining an entire widespread culture using only about three criteria?

Next in the "Macdefinitions" for the consumption of students in a hurry, comes "tribal" and "statehood" (Do you want fries and a drink with that?). I have had various experiences with tribes, and not one of them seems to behave in the way that is claimed to define a tribe for Celtic subjects. I noticed that Ian Leins used the word tribes within scare-quotes in the way that some write "Celtic". Yet Caesar specifically uses the word tribes in his commentaries about Britain, and unlike Ian Leins, he was actually there at the time. It is truly wonderful: if you utilize the sort of question that would cause a Zen master to exclaim "Un-ask the question". or Wolfgang Pauli to exclaim "It is not even wrong!", then you have created unanswerable questions in their stated forms. This provides an endless supply of possible papers, conferences, and even degrees in something that does not really exist. Just think of the income that could generate. Colin Haselgrove (BAR British, 222, p.125f) lets loose a volley aimed at the core of what is called Gaulish statehood:
"I would certainly argue that  — on the basis of the coin evidence at least  — the case for pre-Roman statehood in central France has been significantly overstated; the coinage system of eastern England in the first century AD displays a markedly higher level of development. Again, inter-regional comparisons appear to offer a sensible approach to such issues."
We have all heard of confederations of Celtic tribes, and the historical records mention them too, yet most tribes are not truly isolated from that label: inter-tribal marriages, fosterage, trade agreements and services  (not to mention personal feuds or alliances) shape tribal society and you can see more differences by travelling further within a tribe's territory. One farm might look very similar to its neighbours, but as you go further, more differences show themselves. They evolve, first, according to local conditions, but eventually there is some leveling of practices and customs to better facilitate communication and the resolution of problems based only on misunderstandings. If you were to be magically transported from one part of the territory to another, the differences might seem far more dramatic. Imagine that in one moment you are on an Amish farm, and in the next moment you are on the Las Vegas strip. Would you say that both places are representing the same culture? Of course not. Yet both places are under the control of a single national government -- a statehood. The Americans have been extra obliging to such scholars by calling their country The United States of America, and this eliminates the need for conferences to decide on whether the U.S. is a unified culture or not. It is a shame that the Celts did not have the forethought to call their country the United States of Gaul and Britain. In that way, they would have remained a people, even under academic eyes. We do have the historic information (Caesar II,4) that Diuiciacus of the Suessiones was an overking of Britain as well as a king in large parts of Belgic Gaul. If absence of evidence is acceptable, then actual evidence should be prime, no? Try this an an experiment: use that passage in Caesar to argue for a unified Celtic culture against someone who claims that Britain was not Celtic. The response will question Caesar's narrative, but will not offer any real evidence, whatsoever, that the narrative is wrong. Again, this is another sort of the absence of evidence argument.  You will get some general memes about how you cannot trust the Classical authors, and someone might suggest that he spoke of the power of the "Late pre-Roman Iron Age people" to build himself up in the eyes of his investors, but this is all just opinion,and if it dos not contain some specific evidence to that claim then it is obviously a meme and nothing else.

So having deconstructed a lot about how we look at Celtic coins, where do we go from there? That will be tomorrows topic.

Monday, 18 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 22

Time to exchange a few war ponies for shipping amphorae
After the Celtic armies left Italy it did not take very long for most people to realize that the life of fighting for pay or for booty did not work so well at home as it did in foreign lands. The lesson was probably learned even earlier as the Celts were fighting in the Mediterranean for about two hundred years and that gave plenty of time for some military leaders to take some of their battle-earned gold home to increase the power of their tribe, clan or family. We can easily imagine that the Druids would have been busy trying to handle all sorts of domestic conflicts and would have started to develop ways of avoiding them in the future. One method that was reported by Caesar was to declare all booty sacred and to be used only as a monument to the power of the tribe or clan. Without this new law, gold could purchase more troops which would mean even more gold and the ability to purchase even more troops. The end result would be nothing short of the rise of powerful tyrants. The Celts had worked for such people before. It seems most likely that these new laws would not have been made without some bitter experiences to demonstrate their need, and a few strongholds must have fallen because the local population were not too happy with the rise of a local tyrant. There could be no absolute ban on inter-tribal warfare as this was a warrior society, all that could be done was to have the Druids decide on the circumstances whereby battle would be sanctified.

Trade disputes could also lead to warfare and those who had benefited from long trading partnerships were obviously not going to willingly share these relationships with anyone else. Short of warfare, the best way to increase trading profits was through making enough new allegiances and gaining enough support to transform any trade from local to tribal, or even confederation importance. Without such support, too many middle men would have divided the trade to a point where it would be inflationary and no one could benefit that much. At the bottom end of such trade, certain non-perishable commodities would have been stored waiting for the prices to recover. This could explain the numbers of later British potin coins from hoards close to the shipping ports around the Thames estuary.

Because of long term trading agreements over tin, and the competition for such trade between various cultures, tin was being traded that had already been alloyed with a certain amount of copper. Each time the tin traded hands, a little mere copper could be added to increase the profits, but if the alloy got too debased it could be noticed by those who had some experience in the matter. Inevitably, some traders would get a bad reputation if they tried making too much and then they would sell nothing.

I started to think about seigniorage when I noticed that pellets and small ingots from a south Worcestershire site contained more tin than their alloy type would suggest. It made sense that tin would dominate local alloys because the Dobunni was close to its source. The ingot was especially telling because it was while gold, and the Dobunni used gold more heavily alloyed with copper than with silver. The Durotriges also had some silver alloy coins with alloying amounts of tin in them, but those alloys had greater amounts of copper, too. The only coin alloy I could find that was very close, was a white gold Norfolk wolf stater, but there were no analyses showing much tin in these. The later Iceni gold staters of the Freckenham type also had tin as an alloying metal sometimes, but like the Durotriges, the copper content of these coins was too high. There is also a possibility that some Snettisham torcs have a closer alloy to the Dobunni site ingots, but I have yet to be able to check this.

So where did the Worcestershire white gold ingots originate? You would think that it would be Iceni territory as that is where we find the closest white gold alloys. No Dobunni gold coins contains tin in anything more than trace amounts. Yet any tin of alloying quantities must have passed through the hands of the Dobunni at some point. Only the small amount of tin in a gold coin appears because recycled bronze was used as the copper in the alloy. The Dobunni now provide a reason for adding tin and copper to silver and gold for gold stater alloys. Before this, it was naturally assumed that a small amount of tin in a gold coin meant that recycled bronze was being used in the alloy.

As the South Worcestershire site dates after 50 BC, none of the high tin bronze there has the high cobalt to low nickel ratio of native British (west-country) copper, the copper seems to be a continental import. It is still not clear, though, if the copper was added to the tin close to the mine site, or was the "export grade" tin of the Dobunni; were the pellets the alloy that the Dobunni bought or the alloy they sold?

We can complicate matters even further by saying that even if the white gold ingots were Dobunni products, they could have been returned as a tribute by the Iceni, themselves. We do not get that problem with the Iceni hypothesis because it notes die links within a narrow range of the coin chronology at discrete deposits that were not subsequently spread any further (unlike the big silver coins hoards). Seigniorage factors are a good way of plotting primary distribution, but does no good for detecting any recycling or reuse. It only becomes most likely that the offering of the white gold ingots represented someone in Dobunni territory who was supplying such an alloy for the Iceni, and not a certainty.

More tomorrow...

Friday, 15 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part 21

Edward Curtis photo of a Kwakwaka'wakw potlatch with dancers and singers.
British Columbia, 1914.
After twenty posts on this topic, I am switching to numbers in the title. Research can take you wherever it likes as it can take on a life of its own, and by blogging it at the time, you get to come along for the ride. Well, at least for the highlights; there is still a lot that never reaches the page.

The core of the Iceni hypothesis is the identification of a type of site where money and other valuables are cast upon the ground as a display of wealth and power. Its original purpose was that by plotting examples of closely die-linked coins that came from such a site, it might be possible to associate each of the three main silver coinage types of the Iceni with particular centres of power along a timeline determined by these die links. This would be useful as the large hoards of Iceni silver coins were buried very late and circulation leveling had occluded any original distribution patterns.

Stories of competitiveness, conspicuous waste, and largess among Scottish clan leaders are legion, and we certainly see conspicuous waste in ancient Celtic feasts, but I prefer to compare it to the Potlatch which has much wider anthropological significance; is a typical example of tribal polity; and is close enough to us today, to retain many details that would be missing from much earlier times. Yet, we do see such concepts embedded in the early Irish laws and knowing them to some degree also makes Caesar's accounts more understandable. To this, too, I can add something far more obscure, yet revealing of tribal society from my region: my artist friend, Monte Christoffersen is the adopted grandson of John Hunter (Sitting Eagle), Monte's mother "G"  was adopted into the tribe by John Hunter and was given the name "Princess Blue Sky". I never got to meet him though as he died within a year from when I first became friends with the family. G. and Monte often spoke of him, though. He was the last member of his tribe of the Seven Council Stones and the linked article not only mentions him as such, but is a great example of how, sometimes, tribal oral histories can meet the digital age. Note the naming conventions and "Caesar's two factions", not Druids and Knights but, in this case, Rattlers and Sitting Eagles.

The first Englishman to encounter the people and the traditions of the Potlatch must have been Captain James Cook in 1778, who wrote:
"A great many canoes filled with the Natives were about the ships all day, and a trade commenced betwixt us and them, which was carried on with the Strictist honisty on boath sides."
My own encounter was far less dramatic: I had just arrived in Ucluelet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island and had checked into a motel after I had attempted one night of camping in a tent in the rain. There was a knock at the door and I though that it must be someone from the motel office. I opened the door to find a bunch of local native kids, aged about three to ten or so.

"Do you have any money?" their spokesperson asked. 
"Yes." I replied. 
"Give it to us", he said.

As I have a habit of accumulating too much change, I was happy to get rid of some it and it was quite a handful I handed to to him with the direction to share it equally. They seemed very happy with that and rushed off, probably to the closest store. I thought that if I needed any directions that day, and asked a local kid, I would probably be sent in the right direction. Chief Francois Paulette once told me a story about an Englishman who had hired him as a guide, but had contributed no help around the camp. One morning, Francois got up and shot a crow, which he cleaned, plucked and prepared for the man's breakfast. Of course, he never identified the source of the meat. Revenge is a dish best served hot, and without its victim's knowledge at all. That's called "Indian revenge" in these parts. I hope this all gives you some idea about the intricacies of tribal customs.

Sites that might have served as these Druid council places are often given excessive religious significance under the familiar label "ritual".  They might also be seen as a plow scattered hoard. Some such sites could include both surface and buried deposits, but surface deposits will always be seen. Ritual and sacrifice (especially human) captures people's imagination and are thus likely to become memes. Yesterday, it was memes about some fifteenth century vision of hereditary kingship, today it is about memes of Druids as some sort of terrible pagan priests, instead of being judges and rulers. The meme was useful for the Romans as it could ban the Druids on account of their human sacrifice in the eyes of the public, while the real purpose was that they were a political force. Lucan used the Druidic human sacrifice as a play element to dig at Caesar whose house was built at the site of a dreadful grove of sacrifice. If modern writers have any purpose at all in assigning too much ritual and not enough governance to the Druids, it must be to paint them as barbaric and in immediate need of Roman civilization.

Something about directions on Monday...

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Iceni hypothesis — part twenty

Gold stater inscribed [CO]MMIOS, VA 350-1
If anyone had pondered why legends started appearing on British Celtic coins, they might have had similar ideas to John Evans: that the British were influenced by legends on Roman coins. It all seems like a natural progression: first comes uninscribed coins, then they learn to write and start putting ruler's names on the coinage just as the Roman's do. This sort of thinking is not so much careful analysis as it is a minimum of consideration over what "we have always known". Memes pass as reality because they appear to be common knowledge. People can preface the uttering of a meme with "As everybody knows...", and it does not invite much further thought. If anyone had bothered to question this assumption, then certain pieces of information would soon cause cracks to appear in the model: Gaul also went from uninscribed to inscribed coinage, but earlier than Britain, and it started with tribes that were more "state-like" and prosperous like the Aedui and the Arverni. Any ideas about Romans placing ruler's names on their coins would vanish as soon as we remember that the Roman coins of that time were Republican and not Imperial. Then we have Caesar telling us that the Gauls did not believe in putting their beliefs into writing, but for mundane records like accounts, they used Greek letters. We do have Gaulish and British Celtic coins with Greek letters, the commonest being theta which is written in different forms.

I have noticed that an awful lot of writing about the ancient Celts is heavily referent to the Romans. A corollary to this statement might come from my critics who say that I place far too much emphasis on the Celtic connections with Greece. While we have a rich source of information with Caesar, his commentaries start in 58 BC and end in 51 BC. Details of the earliest Celtic connections with people south of the Alps is sketchy, but the late Golasecca culture shows increasing Celtic presence. By about 400 BC, Dionysius I of Syracuse was paying very generously for good troops and this marks the start of a massive movement of Celts to northern Italy and the start of tribal bases there. One of the first things the Celts did in Italy was to capture Rome and hold it for ransom. The Romans did not put an end to this Celtic military presence in Italy until about two hundred years later.

Celtic art is inspired by the Classical, not so much in its figurative aspect as its vegetal: ivy scrolls; palmettes; lotus buds. It does not adopt the grapevine scroll, however, because the Dionysian ivy scroll is referent to the night; to the dark part of the year; and to being like the second-born Dionysos because it has two different growths each year. This Dionysian belief appears to have been shared by the Celts prior to their arrival in Italy, but it is also possible that it came into Dionysian belief through travelers in Celtic lands. Whatever its early history might have been, it certainly made for an easy syncretism, in Italy, between Celtic and Dionysian, Orphic and Pythagorean beliefs. It is easy, too, for a meme to dismiss the Greek accounts which compare Celtic and Pythagorean beliefs in the transmigration of souls with a "That can't possibly be right". If you ask "Why?", the person will not be able to give you a reason, at least at first, as they have never actually thought about it.

We do know, from Julius Caesar, that the Gauls had kings much earlier than the time that their names started appearing on coins. One of these kings, Diuiciacus of the Suessiones, was an overking and ruled Britain, too. We also see a number of titles appearing on Celtic coins and some of these seem to be embedded in so-called king's names, such as VERCINGETORIX, which also suggests an overking. In Britain, in addition to REX variations (Rix; Ri; Rig.., etc.) we get Corionos = "Army commander"; and even Antethirig = "Fit to rule"  (which seems far less a title than a political campaign slogan to me).

At about the same time that the Celts were starting to be tempted by the prospects offered by Dionysius I of Syracuse, but before the big Italian bases were in place, Britain was seeing a build-up of hillforts, but these forts seemed to have varying functions and varying success and it did not seem to go anywhere at all. Any sort of military prowess at home would have been a problem for much of the population and a local revolt or two is more than likely if any group became too oppressive. Having foreign wars to fight, however, not only promised great wealth, but did wonders for keeping things fairly peaceful at home. The future must have looked rosy.

No one would have expected, in the fourth century BC and before Alexander, that the Romans would eventually take Italy, let alone the entire Mediterranean basin and beyond. They were seen as comically self-important and stuffy, more bureaucrat than warrior; just another barbarian tribe, though. All of those wars, though, were largely about business: the western Mediterranean trade had come up for grabs a couple of hundred years earlier than that, and Carthage, Massalia, Syracuse, Etruria, and others, including Rome wanted a slice of that pie. When the dust finally settled, Rome won. The bookies must have made a killing.

In a fine bit of historical irony, the Celts actually helped the Romans win Italy: the Celts had been removing large quantities of gold, in military pay, ransoms, and booty for some time. Whenever a Celtic spearman had more gold than he could wear without getting weighed down too much, or got a bit old and wanted to retire from fighting, then he went home with his takings. Here and there, various important workshops sprang up in the homeland to make jewelry from that gold, and fine weaponry and armor for its owners. But there was less and less gold available to hire foreign armies; another Pyrrhus was not going to come to defend their cities. I think that the Celts made off with about half of the Etruscan treasury. The Etruscans thought they were gaining Celtic allies, but it was only a protection racket.

Little did the Celts realize, at first, that it was not gold they brought back home, but a Trojan horse: gold was the universal currency of troops; at about 200 BC, the Romans had driven the last Celts from Italy and Celtic armies and their commanders with two hundred years of accumulated experience in Greek battles, knowledge of Greek culture and experiences with Greek tyrants such as Dionysius I, suddenly had no one to fight but each other, at home.

What followed is too complex to write about here, but you can get an idea of the sorts of safeguards that had to evolve from Caesar's description of the druids as judges; the divisions into factions; the inviolate nature of booty, and so on. Tribal society had to somehow absorb all of that wealth and prevent the emergence of its own tyrants. It became a society of conspicuous waste: the slaughter of far more livestock than could possibly be eaten; the deposition of great treasures in rivers and bogs; competition over who has the greatest finery. Although avoided at first, coin use returned and spread, and you see the gold become increasingly debased over time. Too much gold had already gone (we are finding it today).

Again, foreign troops cannot be hired. They still work for gold staters, not for silver or even copper. Response to hostilities becomes ever more local. Then comes Caesar, then comes Claudius. Game over.

In Britain, the military gold coinage has at first only a tribal identity, and this includes its usage against Caesar's troops. Sometime after Caesar had left, names start to appear on British coins that have been assumed to be of kings operating in a Medieval line of familial succession from a central tribal authority. This is really a description of a state. We see a secure background of avoidance of even family cliques with the business over Dumnorix and Diuiciacus of the Aedui; with the Celts practice of fosterage; with their two factions extending as far down as to some families. We see, too, ample evidence of multiple levels of kingship by looking at potential evolutionary states between what Caesar describes and what we see in later Irish laws.

We are used to money being issued each year so we can spend it in the shops, but in the time we are looking at, money was predominantly used for warfare. But times were changing, and trading opportunities offered more chances for wealth than did warfare, which had become rather hobbled after a while, anyway, by tribal policy. I think that names appeared as political slogans. Money was given a new purpose: as capital for trade and politics, not war. The best clan leader was the one who would give the most; who would waste the most. Whether the conflict was political with kings vying with each other for votes to gain another rung in kingship, or was with swords and military pay, coinage was used to obtain power and not to revel in it afterward. So you are bound to find a lot of coins issued by people whose coins said "Make me your leader", but the people did not listen. I would expect coin use to be sporadic, especially for the gold. This is what happened with the Greeks use of gold, which the Celts directly inherited: it was only issued for a campaign. When Greek coins are dated in catalogs, "350 - 300 BC" it does not mean that coins were issued each year, between those two dates. It means that the coin type was issued sometime between those two dates because of certain evidence, but we have no idea, yet, of what exact date. A coin production might go on for days, weeks, months, but only for years in extreme cases or with very large states.

So when assigning names on Celtic coins to a succession of family heirs, you had better have strong historical evidence that this is correct because there is a lot of evidence to the contrary for this sort of thing. We cannot even know, for sure, that  COM F. really means birth son of Commios; whether it is a formal tribal adoption (I had a friend, once, who was adopted into a tribe and became a princess of that tribe); or whether COM F. means MacCommios.