THE NEIGHBOURS OF THE CORIOSOLITES
On the Armorican Peninsula, to the north and to the south, as well as further inland, the Coriosolites' neighbours produced billion coins of similar style. Some of these tribes had an earlier coinage of gold.
The Coriosolite coins are better recorded than those of the other Armorican peoples. This is due to two facts: first, the Coriosolite coins are more common; second, the largest hoard of their coins were visually recorded by Rybot, making the types accessible.
It has been a habit, in the past, to sort Celtic coins by definable types, and then illustrate only a few of the coins to demonstrate the typology. Other coins are mentioned as die varieties of the main types. Sorting these coins by stylistic evolution thus becomes impossible without hunting down a great number of specimens in museums and private collections.
In this chapter, I will not attempt to establish a chronology for the coins mentioned. My purpose is merely to show the connections between these types and the Coriosolite coins. By viewing the Armorican coins as a whole, it is easy to demonstrate that the obverse and reverse types are references to the same religious imagery.
Some of the tribal attributions of these coins may not be accurate. I have shown that the coins traditionally identified as Coriosolite Class II are really of the Unelli; so too could other coins be falsely attributed. I have listed the following types by their traditional attributions.
Below the pony on the Coriosolite coins, there is either a boar or lyre symbol. The boar appears in the hair on the obverse of coins of the Baiocasses. The lyre symbol, of the same form as that on the Coriosolite coins, is to be found beneath the pony on coins of the Xn series, traditionally attributed to the Abrincatui, here in conjunction with two rayed pellet-in-circle sun symbols. Some obverses of these coins depict a lyre on the cheek also, others have three pellet-in-circle sun symbols.
If the coins of Series Z are not given to the Unelli, then it leaves them without a billion coinage. In most of the standard works on Celtic coins, the Unelli have only an earlier coinage of gold. The style of this gold coinage places it very early in the series of Armorican gold, heavily influenced by classical prototypes. Allen illustrates a billion coin attributed as Unelli/Baiocasses: it has a boar in the hair on the obverse, as well as beneath the pony on the reverse. Other similar coins are attributed to the Baiocasses.
To the southeast of the Baiocasses was Aulerci Diablintes. Their coins are distinguished by a figure below the pony holding an object described (possibly erroneously) as a vase in one hand, and a spear and shield in the other. The pony on these coins is more obviously human-headed than the Coriosolite coins of Series X.
The Redones occupied the land east of the Coriosolites; their coins have a wheel below the pony. The head on the obverse has either a beard or is totally clean shaven. On some of their coins, the pony's tail, being beaded, is reminiscent of the Coriosolite coins of Series Z, while the style of the pony and the reins are similar to Series X.
The Namnetes were south of the Redones and had a coinage distinguished by a half-length figure with outstretched arms. The coinage is diverse, and some associate it with the Andes, their neighbours to the east.
The Veneti occupied the southern part of the Armorican peninsula. Their coins resemble the Coriosolite coins of Series X, and are quite varied. Below the pony, which can face to the left or right, there can be a figure, a boar, or a wheel, like that on the coins of the Redones.
North of the Veneti and west of the Coriosolites were the Osismii. Some of their coins are well known for the small heads that are attached to beaded lines around the head. There are two explanations given for this: some believe that this is a reference to the Celtic custom of taking heads as trophies in battle, while others believe this to be a reference to Ogmios (See Chapter 6).
There is an additional explanation for these small heads: note that on one of the coins, the head at the mouth position has no extra decoration. The head above this has a line issuing from its forehead, terminating in a curl that resembles the fronds of a fern as they open. The small head positioned at the back of the main head is decorated with a bud and two leaves. Between the second two heads, which are in the hair of the main head, is the conjoined boar and sun symbol. These associated devices considerably weaken the case for a relation to battle trophies or Ogmios. Instead, we see in the procession of heads from front to back a description of the time of growth from spring to early summer.
The boar with the sun symbol appearing on the horizon refers to the part of the year when the day gains superiority over the night. The passage of the season is expressed by the continuing growth of the plant in three stages, the first of which is not yet visible above the ground, its presence indicated by the first head with no additional growth. All the heads being attached to the main head shows that the growth of plants was one attribute of the god pictured here.
There is also a possibility that, unlike the symbol on the Coriosolite coins, the boar is gaining ascendancy over the sun; it depends on whether we interpret the sun as setting or rising. If it is a setting sun, then the bud on the two leaves of the last head might be the fruit that appears after the summer solstice, or at the beginning of the dark part of the year. In either interpretation, the god is breathing life, or giving inspiration to the entire process, and the circular procession symbolizes the cyclical year.
Unlike the Coriosolite engravers who played their variations throughout a run of dies, the engraver of the Osismii stater uses several variations on a theme in this one coin: in this case, the variation expresses the passage of time. On Coriosolite coins, time is frozen, as with the position of the sun in relation to the boar symbol, and variations are all concerned with visual paraphrases or with the evolution of the design itself. The Osismii engraver was no more skilled than the Coriosolite engraver, but he expresses his ideas differently.
The imagery on all of the Armorican coins, when it can be interpreted, has everything to do with the sun, with day and night, the earthly realms and the underworld, and the junctions between the light and the dark. Obverse and reverse types are thoroughly united when we look at Armorican coins as a whole. Certain symbols are difficult to interpret, particularly those human figures that give no clues to their identity. We may have to accept the fact that the myths they depict, if not completely lost to us, are impossible to identify. Some of these tribes, as well as others in the region, issued gold coins at different times prior to the introduction of billion coins. The earliest tribe to do so was probably the Aulerci Cenomani, and these coins will be discussed in Chapter 8.
The identity and attribution of many of the billion coins must be treated with caution. There are many types illustrated in de la Tour's Atlas de Monnaies Gauloises that are of uncertain attribution; many of these have been found in Jersey. The Gallic war did much to disperse these coins, making their original mints very difficult to locate. Some of these odd coins could be from mints within the tribal territories identified by other coin types, or could be of unknown tribes - clients, perhaps, of the tribes mentioned above. Hoards of coins from Normandy and elsewhere have been dispersed before they could be properly studied, and some of these hoards were found in the early nineteenth century.
Conventional typological methods are inadequate for sorting out the entire Armorican coinage. We have seen how a coin of Group J could be perceived as a link between Classes III and II because of some superficial similarities, and how the divisions between the six classes are treated with equal importance, when some of those divisions are merely subjective, and based on one or two of the many design changes throughout the coinage. Distribution patterns are occluded by such methods. Many believe that each tribe had but a single coinage. I have demonstrated that the Coriosolites certainly had two mints; we cannot be sure of these were official mints, or the private mints of certain chieftains. While what is true for the Coriosolites may not be true for other tribes, there is a strong possibility of multiple series within other tribal territories.
By using the methods I have employed here, new patterns can be found for other Armorican coins. Any complete break in the stylistic evolution of a series of coins should warn us that we are probably dealing with more than one series, and that by grouping more than one series, or by dividing a single series into a number of classes, we cannot construct distribution maps that have any meaning or application. It is a sound statistical practice to make a sample as large as possible, but the integrity of each sample must be ensured. I have divided each series into a number of groups solely for ease of identification, and to aid in the understanding of the design evolution. It is important to remember that these are my own constructs, and are not intended to represent any similar division by the die engravers. In many cases, the divisions are not absolute, and there are some transitions.
As more series are so treated, other questions can be answered. In the next chapter, I deal with the origins of the Armorican style. This is a relatively easy matter, as both time and geography simplify the picture. Much more difficult would be to discover influences from one tribe to another within Armorica, something, which cannot be accomplished without a complete understanding of the stylistic evolution of each series. It is not sufficient to note that a particular motif appears in more than one series, and then surmise that one must have influenced the other. It is absurd to believe that die engravers had this as their sole profession. Many would have been metalworkers of high rank, and in possession of a considerable repertoire of design elements and motifs. Most, if not all, of their other work is lost to us: melted down, or corroded away to nothing.
When a motif is developed by one die-engraver over a number of dies, and that motif appears complete in another series of coins, then there is a possibility that the latter copied the former. If more than one motif is similarly treated, then the likelihood is increased, particularly if the second die engraver does not evolve his designs. The likelihood of copying is further increased by geographical proximity of the two series. In this way, I am confident of the influence to Series Z by Series X.
Patterns of influence cannot be determined by motifs that are dominant on the coins; many of these motifs could be symbols well known to the Celts, and their presence or absence on coins an arbitrary decision. Similarly, devices that are objects themselves, such as reins, sceptres, weapons, and so forth, need no inspiration from other coins for their use in a design.
Eventually, there will be an accessible visual record of all Armorican coin dies; ideally, it will be patterned after the illustrations by Rybot, and maintained as more varieties come to light. Until that time, there must be considerable speculation about the coins of the neighbours of the Coriosolites.