The Roman Empire
Celtic Tribes





Coin Details

Design Description: Celtic Drachm imitating Massalia
Item Description: AR Drachm Celts, Northern Italy types of Massalia or Northern Italy(?)
Full Grade: NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 5/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

Before the advent of the Romans, there thrived throughout Europe an ethnolinguistic society collectively referred to as the Celts. The earliest relevant records date to 6th century BC and the Greek explorers who settled Massalia (modern Marseille, France). The colonists made a strong impression on the Celts, who imitated Hellenistic culture and customs, including the striking of coinage.

As an example, consider this silver drachm, struck by the Salluvii (or Salyes) sometime during 2nd or 1st century BC in Galia Cisalpina (northern Italy). Over that period, a relatively large number of these coins circulated, evidence of Salluvii dominance over the region. Consequently, the Salluvii were among the first transalpine tribes viewed as a serious threat, and subsequently subdued, by the ancient Romans.

This Celtic coin’s design mimics Greek drachms struck several centuries earlier in Massalia. The obverse depicts the head of a nymph, and the reverse portrays a stylized lion sometimes referred to as a “lion-scorpion.” On the original Massalian drachm, the lion was struck in realistic fashion; over time, the Celtic interpretation became progressively more impressionistic. Interestingly, the lion’s evolution occurred concomitantly with a decrease in the drachm’s silver content, foreshadowing the debasement later employed by the Romans.

Besides the Salluvii, numerous other Celtic tribes came into increasing contact, and often conflict, with the growing Roman Republic. By the time Julius Caesar decided to conquer Gaul, Celtic communities existed throughout much of Europe. From about 58 to 50 BC, Caesar encountered many different peoples, as documented in his Commentaries on the Gallic Wars. Caesar referred to those he encountered as Gauls, and classified them according to various regions: Celtica (central Gaul), Narbonensis (southeastern Gaul), Aquitania (southwestern Gaul), Gallia Cisalpina (Northern Italy on the Roman side of the Alps), Gallia Transalpina, (Italy north of the Alps), Belgica (northern Gaul along the modern day English Channel), and Britannia.

Caesar began his conquests by halting the Helvetii, who were planning a mass migration westward from their base in modern-day Switzerland. Along the way, Caesar defeated the Sequani, who threatened another Celtic tribe, the Aedui, who happened to be Rome's allies. Caesar then proceeded to conquer the Belgae, including peoples known as the Nervii, the Menapii, and the Treveri. This resulted in a wedge between central Gaul and Germania that remained strategically important for centuries. Subsequently, Caesar crossed over to Britannia – twice – and, surviving dangerous tides and storms, conquered rebellious tribes therein, notably the Catuvellauni. Although Caesar did not directly claim any Britannic lands for Rome, he left his allies, the Trinovantes, to rule over the defeated eastern Britannic tribes.

Caesar's most notorious Celtic adversary was the Arverni chieftain Vercingetorix, who rallied several other Gallic clans to stand with him against Rome. Vercingetorix won an initial battle (at Gergovia), only to later suffer defeat (at Alesia), but only after Caesar personally stepped in to lead Rome’s last reserves. The Celtic chieftain gave himself up to Caesar, reportedly to save his remaining men. By late 50 BC, Caesar had completed his conquest over Gaul, and returned to Rome, sparking a civil war that raged for years. Rome's newest dictator apparently held his famous prisoner until the optimal occasion for political gain. In 46 BC, Rome celebrated Caesar's accomplishments with an elaborate quadruple Triumph, wherein Vercingetorix served as an impressive war trophy.

Such events promoted Caesar’s rise and the Republic’s subsequent transition into an Empire, just one illustration of the Celts' influence on ancient Rome’s history.

Further reading: J. Caesar, Commentaries on the Gallic Wars.

Further reading: J Corsi et al., Pre-Roman coins from Northern Italy: Characterization with Neutron Diffrcation Analysis and First Results, VIII Congresso Nazionale di Archeometria Scienze e Beni Culturali, Bologna 5-7 February 2014.

Coin Details: CELTS, SOUTHERN GAUL (OR NORTHERN ITALY, Lombard Plain), 2nd - 1st century BC, AR drachm (2.54 g), Imitating Massalia, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Head of nymph right, wreathed in grain, wearing triple pendant earring, Reverse: "Lion-scorpion" with gaping mouth walking right atop double exergual line, ΜΛΣΣΛΛ (blundered version of Greek legend), References: BMC Celtic II 3-17, S5-34; De La Tour 2126.

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