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.

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