PATHWAYS TO BRITTANY (part one)
In the preceding chapters, I have approached the subject of Coriosolite coins from many perspectives. This was not by choice, but by necessity. In the past, these coins had been divided into typological groupings. From these groups, further studies were made of the average metallurgical content, and distribution patterns were sought. The latter task met with only moderate success, the reason being that the coins were never divided according to their stylistic differences. That this was not undertaken is not simply an oversight: only one method could possibly expose these differences, and this method has not been part of standard numismatic research.
Only by studying the stylistic evolution of the coins could anyone divide them into the three series. I have used a typological method to separate the coinage into fifteen groups, an expansion of the previously accepted six classes. These groups exist solely for ease of identification, and are, in the main, constructs imposed on the coinage, and are not meant to imply any sort of similar purpose in the minds of their creators.
The subject of stylistic evolution is not something that can be applied to every group of Celtic coins, or for that matter, to every group of Celtic artifacts. Conservatism of design, or a paucity of design elements in many other types of Celtic coins, or the lack of sufficient numbers of artifacts attributable to a single workshop, can negate the use of this technique. For these reasons, the subject of stylistic influences and evolution has been treated with considerable scepticism by art-historians specializing in Celtic art. And so it should be: much of art criticism is subjective; significances and similarities between works of art remote from each other by time, geography, or both, are too often a matter of individual perception. What is true for one observer may not be true for another.
Internally, however, these coins are not limited by such subjectivity. They fall into three closely associated sets: every coin in each set was created by the same people, at the same place, and within a short period of time. The numbers of different elements in the designs are considerable, and the problems of the designs were resolved as they went along.
Externally, there can be many problems. We can see a general similarity in Armorican coins: shared motifs, a unity in the metals employed to make them, and the presence of the coins of different tribes sometimes within the same hoard. All of these things are unifying features, but it is impossible to establish a genesis for the coins' designs with the same degree of certainty as the internal chronology and progressions within each series.
The process of design evolution is not simple. An overall design consists of design elements and motifs. An element, that is, a small part of a design, might be called such only because it is part of a design, might be called such only because it is part of a number of other elements that make up a motif. A motif may be a recognizable symbol, a design that may or may not be a symbol, or a design that was created purely for aesthetic reasons. Sometimes a design element can be, if isolated, a motif in its own right. Sun symbols such as a circle, or a pellet-in-circle may be incorporated into a large motif. Within that motif, they are referred to as design elements. If they are isolated, or only slightly connected to another part of the design, then they are a motif.
The die-engraver evolves his design by changing elements within the design. Sometimes these changes will not alter the design itself, but the various elements will be altered in their position or proportion so that the overall design will either be more pleasing, or fit better on the finished product. When the design is changed, it often moves through a number of transitions. It can incorporate new designs invented for the purpose, or it may incorporate elements from the artist's repertoire. The design may be changed in one place to echo, or oppose, some other part of the design, or it may be changed to introduce some novelty.
A series, or the products of a single mint produced as a single project, will be internally related and usually show much evolution. This is best expressed here by Series X. Series Z introduces changes apparently for their own sake and does not gradually change any element. Most of the motifs of Series Z are borrowed, presumably from Series X, and are introduced in a different order than they appeared in Series X. After following the changes in Series X, where they are subservient to the success of the design, the changes in Series Z appear random: the chronology can be read forward or backward, and make as much sense either way.
The phrase, "the success of the design," may be criticized by some that would argue that this is measurable only if we understand the tenets followed by the artists. This is not really the case here: most of the changes are undertaken to improve the harmony of the whole. The ability to perceive harmony and balance is a human trait that traverses boundaries of time and geography; one example is the Golden Mean, a system of proportion utilized by the Greeks, and later, the Italians during the Renaissance. This proportion is appreciated by people today, even if they have no intellectual knowledge of its existence. Other such schemes may be formulated in the future, and if they are, they will be found to have already been used by artists who just "felt" that the particular proportion was pleasing.
From the designs of the coins, we cannot establish a chronology that encompasses all three series; the introduction of a design element or motif that appears borrowed from another series may be merely part of the existing repertoire of the artist that he had no previous occasion to utilize, or it may be from a coin of another series minted any time previously.
The same problems of chronology exist when we compare coins of different Armorican tribes: because of an existing repertoire, what may be an early development in the coins of one tribe might be a late development in the coins of another.
The Armorican tribes shared this similar repertoire of design elements, and often adapted them in their own ways. The coinages of tribes outside of this area are of different styles. These styles are either Belgic or Celtic, but no one could confuse them with the Armorican style.
There are some early gold coins that have been found in an area later known to be occupied by the Treveri, a Belgic tribe, and have been attributed to them solely because of this provenance, other coins of the Treveri being of a completely different style. These coins are focused in Saar, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Luxembourg. The similarity of these coins with early coins of Armorica is marked, especially with those of the Aulerci Cenomani. The German coins have a human-headed pony on the reverse; beneath it is a winged figure. On the coins of the Aulerci Cenomani, the pony is also human-headed, and of the same style. On some of the coins of this tribe, the pony is also winged.
There is no evidence of a continuity of style in the lands between the two places. The intervening country being occupied for the most part by the Belgic tribes with coinage of a completely different style, much of it of a later date, although some coins attributed to the Ambiani could be from roughly the same time period. The dating of the coins is ascertained by the degree of purity in the gold.
What solutions could there be to this problem? We could guess that the style of the coins prior to the expansion of the Belgic tribes was similar to that of the Armorican coins, and that these earlier coins were all melted down. This would be farfetched, and we already know that other early Celtic coinage styles, such as that of the Parisii, bear little resemblance to Armorican coins. Another solution might be influence caused by trade between the two places, but similar influences do not occur elsewhere, and there is no material evidence of, nor indeed any obvious reason for trade.
This leaves one other possibility: people from one place migrated to the other. This is the accepted solution. But in what direction? In the nineteenth century, the route was believed to be from Armorica to Germany, although there were no explanations of why this would be. The coinage came to be referred to as "Armoricains émigrés" and was largely ignored by both French and German numismatists The coins were studied by D. F. Allen, who concluded that the German coins were connected to and predated the Armorican coins, but he could not say how the design traveled to Armorica, suggesting that future archaeological or historical research might provide the answer.
History is silent on the matter, but does provide some hints as to why people might have left the west side of the Rhine in large numbers. The Suebi (a generic name for tribes from north Germany) has been expanding their territory south-westwards for about a century before Caesar's time. They were merciless fighters; at a later date, the mere rumor that Germans were on the way was enough to chill the blood of Roman soldiers serving in Gaul. Two Celtic tribes, the Arverni and the Sequani, made the fatal mistake of hiring Suebian mercenaries between 70 and 65 B.C. Fifteen thousand of them arrived. When they saw how much easier life was in Gaul, more of them came. Finally, a hundred and twenty thousand of them defeated the combined Gallic forces at Admagetobriga (probably in Alsace) in 61 B.C. Their commander, Ariovistus, became a cruel tyrant to the Gauls. Diviciacus of the Aedui was thus forced into seeking aid from Caesar in 58 B.C., one of the events that signaled the end of an independent Gaul.
The Treveri, themselves formidable warriors, claimed German ancestry; their coins subsequent to those of the Armorican type start out in a wide scatter, the centre of which is further west than the Armorican type. As the series progresses, they move eastward, both north and south of the region of the Armorican type, until finally they are concentrated in that area. The Armorican type starts out in gold of good quality; in the next issue, the gold content drops by more than half. It appears from this that the Treveri were on the move, expanding their territory; for some reason, they at first avoided much settlement in the territory where the coins of Armorican type were distributed. Later, they came together there, and it became the centre of their territory.
The earlier people issued the coins of Armorican type. At some point, Germans from across the Rhine moved either southward or westward from their homeland forcing some of the inhabitants, most likely the elite class of chieftains and their retinue , to leave in search of new lands. taking much of their wealth with them, they would have forced their fellow tribesmen into a devaluation of their currency.
At a later date, the Treveri, either dislodging the German occupation, or waiting until they left, occupied the territory by force or by consent, the original people probably preferring domination by a Belgic tribe to that of the Germans.
Alternatively, the original people suffered harassment from the Germans, but were not occupied. This could have taken the forms of raids for loot rather than attempted conquest. Some members of the tribe, seeing their fortunes eroding, decided to move elsewhere. This would have weakened those who remained, and allowed for future domination by the Treveri, either as conquerors or as protectors.
While the evidence of the coins points to an influence on the Armorican coinage from the Rhineland, it does not directly address any future on the Coriosolite coins, other than the human-headed pony, which is not found in other parts of Gaul. This is a thin thread, and in order to confirm the connections between that part of the Rhineland and Armorica, and add greater weight to the idea of a Celtic migration, we must turn our attention to other examples of Celtic art.