Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Understanding the ancient Celts and their art: pre-Roman Celtic Society, part six

Gold stater of "Vercingetorix"  of the Arverni.
Not a name but a title equating to "Commander-in-chief ".
When I was a very young boy we had a junk drawer that fascinated me. It contained, as such drawers do, things that were to good to throw out; things that might come in useful one day; and things that had belonged to relatives long dead but that had no current usefulness. Over the years, I have grown less fond of the idea of junk drawers and the like and if I find something I have not used or even thought about in several months, out it goes.

It struck me, this morning, that I also have one or two mental junk drawers: ideas that have seen better days; things we thought we knew but now do not; and worst of all, ideas that have become common knowledge that I know are wrong but are easier to repeat than to change  — could I have become an enabler of memes? You cannot blame people who have memes as they think they are true; you can certainly blame people who use memes for their own motives while knowing better, but repeating a meme because it is too inconvenient to do otherwise lies somewhere in between.

For the rest of this week, at least, the Celtic cultural frame I will be blogging about will be money. It is certainly the most cluttered of all of my mental junk drawers: I have already thrown a lot out but it is time to empty it. Of course, it will undoubtedly start to fill up again over the years. To start, I will show and explain a few of the styles we encounter with Celtic coins.

Belgic style, British gold stater of the Chute type.
The Belgic style is familiar to collectors of both British and Gaulish coins: the subject matter is most commonly an abstracted image of the gold stater of Philip II of Macedon, posthumous issues of which were paid to Celtic troops in the Italian campaigns. The Chute stater has a distribution focus in the territory of the Durotriges, who were not a Belgic tribe. The Belgae were continental tribes who were united through a shared ancestry to tribes that had lived on the other side of the Rhine. They were also present in Britain where a uniquely British meme calls them a tribe. The Atrebates were also Belgae and groups of Belgae of various continental tribes lived all over southern Britain within the territories of other tribes. Coins were not "officially" issued by tribes but by individuals with tribal associations and for a variety of reasons.

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Armorican style
The gold stater on the right was attributed to the Veneti, but there is no focus of the type within Veneti territory, they are also found, in greater numbers, within the territories of the Redones and the Namnetes. The motifs on this coin are shared with the Coriosolites, Baiocasses, and Aulerci Cenomani. While certain regions have an affinity for certain motifs, these motifs are always religious in nature and should never be mistaken for heraldic. The Armorican style, again, has the Philip stater as its main prototype, but it shows less abstraction, greater iconographic variety and can even exhibit a few pre-Celtic motifs familiar to the indigenous population before the coin-issuing Celts arrived in that part of the world from various locations along the Rhine and Saar rivers. Any early Celtic art components owes more to Waldalgesheim than to Champagne styles.

Finally, there is a style that is not Celtic at all. It is mostly encountered in Britain, and quite late. The classic style is not a derivation of classical style like the Vercingetorix stater at the top, but is a real classic style with dies cut by Greek and Roman gem cutters who also provided many of the designs for Roman Republican coins. Their forefathers, as it were, did the same in Greece and the most famous and named die cutters there were all gem cutters. In Britain, the gradual Romanization led to people living in towns and engaging in business. Artists were drawn there, as they were all over the ancient world, by emerging markets.

Silver coin of Cunobeline, with legends typical to the Essex/
Hertfordshire border.
From the Roman haircut to the Greek sphinx the only Celtic content lies with the legends CVNO and TASCIO.

I will be back tomorrow with more "Spring- cleaning" of my mental Celtic coin junk drawer.


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