CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz …..
 

FOR ANCIENT GREEKS and Romans, Britain was a mysterious land at the northern edge of the world.

As early as 2000 BCE, the Phoenicians traded with the Celtic tribes of Cornwall (the southwestern tip of England) for the valuable tin essential to making bronze.

By the third century BCE, coins from the Mediterranean world began to arrive in Britain, perhaps with mercenaries returning home from service on the Continent. Gold staters issued by the Belgae, imitating the widely circulated issues of the Macedonian king Philip II (reigned 359 – 336 BCE, father of Alexander the Great) entered Britain in large quantities in the second century BCE. Gold quarter staters of about 1.5 grams were the main fractional denomination.

Ancient British coinage was produced in gold, silver, and copper alloys over a period of about 150 years. It ended with the Roman conquest of Britannia by the legions of Emperor Claudius beginning in 43 CE.

Potin

Britain, Kent Region. Cantiaci. Uncertain rulers. Ca. 120-100 B.C. Cast Æ unit (17 mm, 3.93 g, 2 h). Thurrock MA type. Laureate head of Apollo left / Bull butting right; no trace of inscription (MA) remaining. ABC 43; Van Arsdell 1402-42; BMC 660-5; SCBC 62. Dark greenish-black patina
Estimate: 200 USD. VAuctions > Auction 325 30 June 2017 Lot: 4 realized: 120 USD.

Thurrock potins were based on this type: GAUL, Massalia. Circa 150-75 BCE. Æ (13.5mm, 2.08 g, 7h). Laureate head of Apollo right; [letter below chin?] / Bull butting right.
Some of the earliest coins produced in Britain (c. 120 BCE) were cast from potin, an alloy of copper, tin, and lead. They were made by the Cantiaci[1], the tribe who gave their name to the county of Kent. Known as “Thurrock potins[2] after the location of an early hoard, they bear the head of Apollo on the obverse and a bull on the reverse. They often appear with prominent casting sprues. They crudely imitate the cast bronze small change of the Greek trading port of Massalia (now Marseille) on the Mediterranean coast of France.

Atrebates

CELTIC COINS. BRITANNIA. REGINI AND ATREBATES. Anonymous. Stater, gold, Selsey Two-Faced Type, about 70-35 BCE. AV 6.02 g. Resolved, laureate head r. Rev. Disjointed horse prancing r. with triple tail and resolved driver, below, eight-spoked wheel. ABC 47, 485; Van Arsdell 210-1. Estimate: 1200 CHF. Hess-Divo AG > Auction 338 3 December 2019 Lot: 1072 realized: 1,500 CHF (Approx. 1,521 USD).

Many ancient British coins are attributed to specific “tribes” on the basis of style and find spot. Thirty-seven different tribes are named in ancient sources but only about 10 issued coins (Rudd, 9). Some of these groups had recently migrated across the English Channel from Gaul or Belgica, and they retained close ties to their kinfolk in continental Europe. Some of these “tribes” were in the process of developing into kingdoms. The Atrebates[3] were an important Belgic group that occupied the central Thames valley.

Belgae

CELTIC, Britain. Belgae. Circa 55-45 BCE. AV Stater (5.18 gm). Cheriton Smiler Type. Wreath motif with outward-facing leaves, three parallel cabled lines and hidden smiling face / Disjointed Celtic horse left with long neck, pellets above, crab below. Hobbs 86; Van Arsdell 1215; SCBC 24. VF, coppery gold, well ornamented. ($750) Found Havant/Emsworth, Hampshire. Classical Numismatic Group > Mail Bid Sale 66 19 May 2004 Lot: 9 realized: 1,100 USD.

An important group of early uninscribed gold staters – about 84 different types, dated c. 65-40 BCE – are attributed to the Belgae, who lived in the area of Hampshire on the south coast. The “Cheriton Smiler” type is named for the prominent crescent shape on the obverse, resembling a broad grin[4]. Cheriton is a village in Hampshire where the type specimen was found. Beneath the disjointed horse on the reverse is a small crab.

Dobunni

Celtic, Dobunni, Bodvoc, (c.25-5 BCE), gold Stater, 5.26g, ‘Bold’ type, bodvoc in heavy letters across central field, rev. horse right ring pellets and crescent above, wheel below, (ABC 2039; VA 1052-1; S.388), very fine/good very fine, rare. Spink > Auction 15049 2 December 2015 Lot: 217 realized: 3,800 GBP (approx. 5,678 USD).

Boduoc, (c. 25 – 5 BCE) whose name means “of the battle crow” was king of the Dobunni, a tribe that inhabited the Cotswold Hills in Gloucestershire. He is only known to history from the name boldly inscribed on his rare gold staters[5].

Starfish

Britannia, Durotriges, AR Quarter Stater. 58 BCE – 43 CE. Five-armed starfish, lines of pellets between each arm / Zigzag thunderbolt and line of pellets across field; eight-rayed lighting flash with rectangular body to each side. VA 1270-78; BMC 2780-81; ABC 2220. 0.94g, 14mm. Estimate: 200 GBP. Roma Numismatics Ltd > E-Sale 36 27 May 2017 Lot: 10 realized: 300 GBP (Approx. 384 USD).

The Durotriges lived in the southwest of England, centered in Dorset, with their capital at Durnovaria (now Dorchester). They were seafarers, with major ports at Hengistbury Head and Poole. One of their distinctive coins was the “Badbury Starfish”, a silver piece of about 1 gram, issued c. 58 BCE – 43 CE[6]. The obverse bears a five-armed star with gracefully curved arms on a field of pellets. The abstract design on the reverse is interpreted as a thunderbolt. The common starfish (Asterias rubens)[7] is native to the waters around Britain.

Corieltauvi

Britannia, Corieltauvi AR Unit. Circa 55-45 BCE. Boar standing to right, solar rosette motif above, pellet-in-annulet symbols behind / Horse standing left, solar rosette motif above, two pellet-in-annulet symbols below and before. ABC -; cf. 1779, 1782; VA -. 1.32g, 15mm, 12h. Estimate: 200 GBP. Roma Numismatics Ltd > E-Sale 35 3 May 2017 Lot: 3 realized: 220 GBP (approx. 284 USD).

The Corieltauvi (or Corieltavi, or Coritani) inhabited a broad area of the East Midlands extending from Lincolnshire into Yorkshire. Their capital, known to the Romans as Ratae Corieltauvorum, is now the city of Leicester[8]. A major hoard of 4,835 their coins, the “Hallaton Treasure[9], was discovered in 2000.

Uninscribed silver units dated to c. 55-45 BCE feature a bristly long-legged boar and a graceful standing horse, both accompanied by prominent sun symbols[10].

Whaddon Chase

Britannia, the Catuvellauni AV Stater. Early Whaddon Chase ‘Rounded Wing’ type. Circa 55-50 BCE. Wreath, cloak and crescents, rounded wing motifs above / Horse right, wing motif above, pellet sun below. ABC 2433; SCBC 32; Van Arsdell 1476. 5.89g, 19mm, 7h. Near Mint State; a magnificent example of the type, remarkably complete and well preserved. Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XX 29 October 2020 Lot: 1 realized: 5,500 GBP  (Approx. 7,098 USD).

In 1849, a ploughman near the village of Whaddon in Buckinghamshire turned up a hoard of gold staters variously estimated at 450 to 2,200 pieces[11]. These handsome coins, known as Whaddon Chase staters, date to c, 55-50 BCE, during the period of Julius Caesar’s two brief invasions of Britain. A “near Mint State” example of the type sold for over $7,000 in a recent London auction[12].

Norfolk Wolf

BRITANNIA. ICENI. Stater, gold, Norfolk Wolf-Type, about 45-40 BCE. AV 6.09 g. Resolved laureate head. Rev. Wolf standing r., crescent and pellets above, pellet and crescent between legs. ABC 78, 1393; Van Arsdell 610-1. Estimate: 1000 CHF. Hess-Divo AG > Auction 338 3 December 2019 Lot: 1065 realized: 2,400 CHF (approx. 2,433 USD).

Horses and boars are not the only beasts found on ancient British coinage.

The “Norfolk Wolf” type staters, dated c. 45 – 40 BCE, are attributed to the Iceni tribe[13]. On some examples a bird perches on the wolf’s back. The open-jawed wolf, surrounded by pellets, possibly representing the moon and stars, may stand to the right or the left.

Finney’s Thunderbolt

Celtic Coinage. Britain. The Catuvellauni/Trinovantes. Uninscribed. Gold Quarter Stater (1.18 g, 6 mm). Mid-late 1st century B.C. Wreath(s) rendered in zigzag pattern, pellet-in-ring on either side. Reverse: Horse galloping right, sun above, star before and below, additional pellet and ring ornamentation toward edge. Hobbs 368. CCI 97.0784. Extremely rare and one of only a very few known. Estimated Value $2,500 – 3,500. Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles > Auction 65 6 September 2011 Lot: 4007 realized: 2,300 USD.

One of the most striking ancient British coins is “Finney’s Thunderbolt”, a very rare gold quarter stater of the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes named for a collector, Ian Finney, whose specimen now resides in the Birmingham Museum. On the obverse, a bold corded zig-zag separates two ringed pellets. On the reverse the sun, moon and stars surround a galloping horse. The type was first recorded in 1976[14].

Verica

CELTIC BRITAIN, Atrebates & Regni. Verica, 10-40. Quarter Stater (Gold, 12 mm, 1.36 g, 2 h), ‘Stars’ type. VERIC / COM•F with a crescent above and a six-rayed star below. Rev. REX Horse galloping to right; above, seven-rayed star. ABC 1208. BMC 1223-1236. S 127. Van Arsdell 501. Estimate: 650 CHF. Nomos AG > Auction 19 17 November 2019 Lot: 3 realized: 1,500 CHF (Approx. 1,518 USD).

Verica, whose name means something like “the high one”, was a son of Commios. A powerful king, he ruled over the Regini and Atrebates for 30 years (c. 10 – 40 CE.) Some of his coins, like the gold quarter stater[15], are boldly inscribed in Latin: VERIC COM F (abbreviating “Verica Son of Commios”). The use of Latin, along with Roman-inspired designs, reflects the growing influence of Rome in the years leading up to the conquest of Britain. On the reverse, the title REX (“King”) appears below a horse and seven-pointed star.

Tasciovanos

circa 20 BCE – 10 CE. AV Stater (18mm, 5.51 g, 2h). Warrior (Trinovantian N) type. Verulamium mint. Crossed vertical and curved wreaths with opposed crescents at center; annulets and sprays forming hidden faces in quarters; V E R arranged around the crescents / Warrior, holding carnyx, on horse right; five-spoked wheel above; T A S C around. Kretz, Second, obv. type A/C1, rev. type II.A; Van Arsdell 1734-1; ABC 2568; SCBC 218; CCI 07.1111 (this coin)
estimate $2000. from the author’s collection CNG Triton XXIII, 16 January 2020, Lot 1266. $1500.

Tasciovanos, whose name means “killer of badgers”, became king of the Catuvellauni around 20 BCE, ruling from the town of Verulamium[16] (near modern St. Albans). The mint name appears as VER on many of his coins.

The example illustrated is a gold stater from my own collection, and has a special meaning for me, being the first coin I ever obtained at a major auction by bidding in person from the floor[17]. The obverse is an elaborate design of cross wreaths with hidden faces in the quarters. The reverse shows a warrior on horseback, brandishing a carnyx (a type of Celtic war trumpet.)

Cunobelin

Britannia, the Trinovantes & Catuvellauni AV Stater. Cunobelin, circa 20-43 CE. [C]A-M[V] flanking grain ear with central stalk and tendrils at base / Horse rearing to right, branch above; CVNO below on exergual line. ABC 2798; Van Arsdell 2027-1; SCBC 288. 5.49g, 16mm, 9h. Near Extremely Fine. Rare. Estimate: 1000 GBP. Roma Numismatics Ltd > E-Sale 73 23 July 2020 Lot: 186 realized: 1,300 GBP   Approx. 1,655 USD.
Cunobelin, whose name means “hound of Belinus” (a Celtic war god), ruled over the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes circa 8 – 41 CE. He was a son of Tasciovanos. His extensive coinage includes 19 different gold, 28 silver, and 28 bronze types. His capital and primary mint was Camulodinum (today Colchester), abbreviated as CAMV on many of his coins. The Roman historian Suetonius considered him the “king of the Britons.” His handsome gold staters bear a stalk of grain on the obverse, and a rearing horse on the reverse, with his name abbreviated as CVNO.

Cunobelin is considered the primary model for Shakespeare’s Cymbeline.

Caratacus

Celtic, Atrebates and Regni, Caratacus, (c.40-43 CE), silver Unit, 1.15g, ‘Eagle’ type, bust right wearing lion skin, cara before, symbol behind, rev. eagle standing, holding snake, ring-pellet above (ABC 1376; VA 593-1; S.364), fine surface lines under magnification on obverse, detracts little, light wear to high points, well struck and toned, nearly extremely fine, rare. Spink > Auction 15049 2 December 2015 Lot: 209 realized: 850 GBP (approx. 1,270 USD).

Caratacus or Caractacus, whose name means “the beloved”, was a son of Cunobelin, born about the year 10 CE. Caratacus conquered the territory ruled by Verica, who fled to Rome and appealed for help to the emperor Claudius. Claudius used this to justify his invasion of Britain in 43 CE.

The coinage of Caratacus consists of silver “units” of about 1.3 grams (possibly based on the Roman quinarius, which was half a denarius) and tiny silver “minims” that were probably one-quarter of a unit. Some depict an eagle[18], others bear an image of the winged horse Pegasus. The ruler’s name is consistently abbreviated as CARA.

Caratacus fought a guerrilla war against the Roman legions but was eventually betrayed and captured. Sent to Rome in chains, the British chieftain made such a good impression on the Senate that his life was spared. He died in Rome around 50 CE.

The Roman historian Dio Cassius (lived c. 155-235 CE) records this story:

Caratacus, a barbarian chieftain who was captured and brought to Rome and later pardoned by Claudius, wandered about the city after his liberation; and after beholding its splendour and its magnitude he exclaimed: “And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?”[19]

Iceni

Britannia, Iceni AR Unit. “Boudicca” (61 CE). Stylised head right, trefoil in front, wreath behind, rev. horse right, triangular shape within pelleted arc above, lozenge-shaped box below. BMC 3556ff; VA 790; S 434. 1.05g, 13mm. Van Arsdell’s assignment of this coinage to the period of Boudicca’s revolt has been disputed. Estimate: 100 GBP. Roma Numismatics Ltd > E-Sale 19 1 August 2015 Lot: 3 realized: 210 GBP (approx. 328 USD).

The Iceni occupied the area of Norfolk, with their capital at Venta Icenorum[20]. They were Roman allies during the conquest of Britain by Claudius, and remained nominally independent under their king Prasutagus, who died in 60 CE. His widow Boudicca[21] led a doomed revolt against Rome that was crushed in 61, becoming a legendary British national heroine. Silver units bearing the head of a spiky-haired god and a galloping horse[22] are doubtfully attributed to Boudicca’s brief reign.

Collecting Ancient Brits

A steady stream of newly discovered ancient British coins continues to emerge from the soil of England thanks to an active community of metal detector hobbyists and sensible antiquities laws[23]. The standard reference for this coinage, usually cited in auction catalog listings, is Van Arsdell (2017), which can also be found in a convenient and well-organized online version. The annual Coins of Britain and the United Kingdom provides a useful guide to prices. Ancient British Coins (2010), by Chris Rudd, is a valuable handbook for collectors.

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Notes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantiaci

[2] VAuctions 325, June 30, 2017, Lot 4. Realized $120 USD (estimate $200).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrebates

[4] CNG Mail Bid Sale 66, May 19, 2004, Lot 9. Realized $1,100 USD (estimate $750).

[5] Spink Auction 15049, December 2, 2015, Lot 217. Realized £3,800 (about $5,678 USD).

[6] Roma Numismatics, E-sale 36, May 27, 2017, Lot 10. Realized £300 (about $384 USD; estimate £200).

[7] https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/marine/starfish-and-sea-urchins/common-starfish

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corieltauvi

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallaton_Treasure

[10] Roma Numismatics E sale 35, May 3, 2017, Lot 3. Realized £220 (about $284 USD; estimate £200).

[11] https://coinsweekly.com/buckingham-gold-hoard/

[12] Roma Numismatics Auction XX, October 29, 2020, Lot 1. Realized £5,500 (about $7,098 USD; estimate £3,250).

[13] Hess-Divo Auction 338, December 3, 2019, Lot 1065. Realized CHF 2,400 (about $2,433 USD; estimate CHF 1,000).

[14] Goldberg Auction 65, September 6, 2011, Lot 4007. Realized $2,300 USD (estimate $2,500-$3,500).

[15] Nomos Auction 19, November 17, 2019, Lot 3. Realized CHF 1,500 (about $1,518 USD; estimate CHF 650).

[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verlamion

[17] CNG Triton XXIII, January 16, 2020, Lot 1266. Realized $1,500 USD (estimate $2,000).

[18] Spink Auction 15049, December 2, 2015, Lot 209. Realized £850 (about $1,270 USD; estimate £500-£700).

[19] https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Cassius_Dio/61*.html#33.3c

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venta_Icenorum

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica

[22] Roma Numismatic E-sale 19, August 1, 2015, Lot 3. Realized £210 (about $328 USD; estimate £100).

[23] https://finds.org.uk/treasure
 

References

Laing, Lloyd R. Coins and Archaeology. London (1969)

Nash, Daphne. Coinage in the Celtic World. London (1987)

Pelegero, Borja. “The Call of the Celts”, National Geographic History 7 (March/April 2021)

Rudd, Chris. Ancient British Coins. Aylsham, UK (2010)

Skingley, Philip (editor). Coins of England and the United Kingdom. London (2011)

Van Arsdell, R. D. Celtic Coinage of Britain, 3rd edition. London (2017)

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Mike Markowitz - CoinWeek Ancient Coin SeriesMike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
 

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