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Iceni Gold


John Conduitt

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The Celts were unusual in the history of British coinage in that they regularly produced coins in gold, silver and bronze (or potin). The Romans only produced a couple of dozen gold issues at Londinium and all of those were under usurpers, who were also the only Emperors to strike there in silver (although most of those coins contained almost no silver). The Saxons issued few gold coins and no bronze at all, except the Northumbrians who issued no gold. Little gold was made until Edward III and no more copper or tin was issued until James I, well into in the modern era, unless you count the metals used to debase Henry VIII’s silver. Now the only gold you see is sold as souvenirs.

Yet the Celtic tribes were prolific. It’s sometimes suggested they only used coins for votive purposes but the range of coinage they had at their disposal points to something more sophisticated. The Celts north of the Thames, for example, struck 97 gold, 87 silver and 72 bronze designs (I won’t call them issues as without known control marks, it isn’t clear which are separate issues). They did this in 100 years. There were half a dozen other coin-producing tribes on top of this.

The Iceni of East Anglia didn’t strike in bronze, but still managed 37 gold and 70 silver designs. This coin is one of the most popular gold designs (and one of my only full gold staters). It features the familiar devolved head of Apollo on the obverse (well, familiar if you collect Celtic coins) and a less familiar wolf on the reverse. The vast majority of Celtic coins feature a horse, especially if they aren’t bronze, so it’s particularly pleasing to have this long-legged, long-toothed canine on a gold coin.

Iceni ‘Norfolk Wolf Left, Sideways Diamond’ Stater, 50-35BC

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Norfolk. Gold, 17mm, 5.40g. Left-facing Icenian wreath motif, fibula below. Wolf standing left with bristly back, crescent and large pellet above, large pellet and four-pellet diamond below (only two pellets visible) (ABC−, VA−, BMC−, COI−, S−. Talbot Norfolk Wolf B, Sub-type D, die group 18, dies T/49). Found Norfolk, CCI 99.1318.

The Celts left us nothing in writing. If they did (they were literate after all), the Romans destroyed it. But in Norse legend, the wolves Skoll and Hati chase the sun and moon through the sky. Norfolk Wolf staters often include objects that might represent the sun or moon, and so it’s thought the myth was the same for the Celts. This left-facing wolf is chasing the sun, while right-facing wolves chase the moon. Either way they are lean and hungry, eager to eat whichever celestial object is in front of them.

It's thought Norfolk Wolves were issued on Julius Caesar’s second invasion of Britain in 54BC to pay him tribute, along with other common staters like the Catuvellauni’s Whaddon Chase. As such, they were often poor quality. But this coin has a brighter, lighter, yellow colour compared to most Celtic gold, which is dark red, like this later coin from the Iceni.

Iceni ‘Irstead Smiler’ Gold Quarter Stater, 30-10BC

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Iceni tribe, Norfolk. Gold, 9mm, 1.06g. Branch projecting from latticed box divided into three, (ringed-pellet to right). Horse right with open head, beaded mane, large crescent and two rings above forming hidden smiling face, ringed-pellet behind and below (S 430).

This coin features the usual horse - possibly a conduit to the gods, or a symbol of wealth and the warrior elite, but also surrounded by stars, suns and crescents.

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Amazing coins!

Issuing coins in three metals supports their use for circulation. Even if some of the common types were produced for payments to the Romans, they still may have been used locally by Romans. If Romans only needed them as buty bullion for melting, they could find an easier way to receive the payments. Celtic staters were hardly high-quality gold.

The recent find of Corieltavi staters in Anglesey tends to be interpreted as a refugee hoard, but Corieltavi did not seem to fight Romans. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-66471319

Arguably, if there were cross-tribe circulation, mixed finds would be expected. Interstingly, a Corieltavi stater was found as far as in Scotland Iron Age coins in ScotlandSociety of Antiquaries of Scotlandhttp://journals.socantscot.org › article › download

The Celtic gold coins are unique in that they were likely minted from new gold, as opposed to gold from melted old coins or imported gold. This opens an opportunity for interesting numismatic research.

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On 11/25/2023 at 9:53 AM, Rand said:

Amazing coins!

Issuing coins in three metals supports their use for circulation. Even if some of the common types were produced for payments to the Romans, they still may have been used locally by Romans. If Romans only needed them as buty bullion for melting, they could find an easier way to receive the payments. Celtic staters were hardly high-quality gold.

The recent find of Corieltavi staters in Anglesey tends to be interpreted as a refugee hoard, but Corieltavi did not seem to fight Romans. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-66471319

Arguably, if there were cross-tribe circulation, mixed finds would be expected. Interstingly, a Corieltavi stater was found as far as in Scotland Iron Age coins in ScotlandSociety of Antiquaries of Scotlandhttp://journals.socantscot.org › article › download

The Celtic gold coins are unique in that they were likely minted from new gold, as opposed to gold from melted old coins or imported gold. This opens an opportunity for interesting numismatic research.

Yes I'm convinced the Catuvellauni, Cantii and Atrebates used coins for circulation. Not necessarily between each other, as even when their rulers took over parts of the other area, they struck coins for that area. But you find a fair amount of coins of all metals from Continental tribes in that area too. The Durotriges seem to be the opposite, only using coins to pay the Romans or for votive purposes - their coins aren't found spread around their territory. You can also see that in the coin style. The Catuvellauni and Atrebates inscribed their names on the coins, and used different images they'd adapted from Roman coins. The Durotriges stuck with the same design on the same coin they knew the Romans accepted.

The coins found in Anglesey and Scotland are interesting. The tribes there didn't use coins. Anglesey would've been somewhere you took your coins for votive purposes, so that hoard might've been for a specific religious event. I'm not sure what the Corieltauvi used coins for - they didn't use bronze but they did strike a lot of silver, so perhaps it was used for payment for less everday things (as with the penny in the medieval period).

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20 hours ago, Hrefn said:

Here is my avatar coin, with the wolf facing in the opposite direction.  The sharp teeth, the bristly back of wild hair standing on end.  How can you not love it?   

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Nice to see Hati to go with Skoll 😁 Yes you don't get many better creatures on a coin than an Iceni wolf.

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