Review: Nouvel atlas des monnaies Gauloises I. de la Seine au Rhin

Louis-Pol Delestrée and Marcel Tache. Nouvel atlas des monnaies Gauloises I. de la Seine au Rhin. Éditions Commios. Saint-Germain-en-Laye, 2002. 136 pp., 29 color pls. Hb. 87 Euro. ISBN 2-9518364-0-6.

In 1892, Henri de la Tour published his Atlas des monnaies gauloises, the first major attempt at organizing and cataloguing the wide variety of coinages produced by the Celtic tribes of continental Europe. This monumental work, primarily based on the Celtic coins in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, soon became the standard reference for the series and has continued to maintain its status as a primary reference to this day. The importance of la Tour’s work can be gauged by the reprinting of his Atlas with revisions in 2001 and the updates provided by B. Fischer, Atlas de monnaies gauloises, mise à jour and S. Scheers, Un complement à l’Atlas de monnaies gauloises de Henri de la Tour in 1992, the centennial of the Atlas’ first printing.

Despite the general tendency to update la Tour in various supplementary articles and books, Louis-Pol Delestrée and Marcel Tache (D. and T. hereafter) have taken the bold step of a complete revision in their Nouvel atlas des monnaies Gauloises I. de la Seine au Rhin. Rather than simply collecting further addenda and corrigenda to la Tour’s text, the authors have adapted the model of his original Atlas and recast it as a modern catalogue taking into account recent studies, archaeological evidence, and material in private collections, all of which was unavailable to la Tour. Although la Tour’s Atlas was contained in a single volume, the authors have envisioned the Nouvel atlas as a multi-volume work dealing with the coinage of the European Celts on a regional basis. The main focus of the present volume is on the coinage struck in Belgic Gaul and the surrounding regions from the introduction of gold staters imitating Greek designs in the third century BC until the end of coinage in the native Celtic style at the beginning of the first century AD. However, work is already underway on a second volume that will cover the issues of Armorica and adjacent regions, and future books are planned for the Celtic coinages of eastern and southern Europe.

The catalogue of the Nouvel atlas is organized into the following five major chronological sections: “IIIème siècle et début du IIème siècle avant J.-C.,” “IIème siècle avant J.-C.,” “Fin du IIème siècle jusqu’à la guerre des Gaules (ca. 130 à 60 avant J.-C.),” “La guerre des Gaules et la période pré-augustéenne (ca. 60 à 30/25 avant J.-C.)” and “Période augustéenne (fin du Ier siècle avant J.-C. et début du Ième siècle après J.-C.),” within which, the coinages are arranged geographically moving from west to east. Because the vast majority of Celtic coinage is associated with tribal groups, rather than fixed locations, like the urban centers of the Greco-Roman world, or with individuals known from historical sources, its geographical and temporal localization can be a daunting task. However, D. and T. have paid very close attention to material from organized archaeological excavations and especially to provenanced finds in local private collections in an attempt to get the best data available for areas and periods of circulation. Once armed with the provenance information one can make reasonable suggestions about the issuing tribes, based on the regions ascribed to them in Julius Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum. Thus, for example, it is now possible to distinguish between gold staters “à l’oeil” struck by the Treveri in the region between the Meuse and the Rhine rivers and those produced by the Remi between the Oise and the Meuse. Recognizing the importance of the provenance data for future work, the authors consistently include find spot information whenever it is available, along with the current location of individual coins and references to the most recent publications.

Issues of chronology are somewhat more difficult to solve, especially for coinages of entirely native type, often requiring D. and T. to rely on the less than precise dating evidence provided by excavations of La Tène period sites. Although iconography can play an important role in reconstructing the chronology of Celtic coinage, particularly where imitative issues are concerned, some of D. and T.’s chronological arguments based on iconography should perhaps be treated with caution. For example, it is suggested that DT 172, an unpublished stater “à l’oeil” variety of the Suessiones, should be dated to the 60s BC because of the appearance of an oblong “bouclier” above the horse on the reverse. According to the authors (apparently thinking of the shields on the famous Gallic War denarii of L. Hostilius Saserna (RRC 448/2), D. Iunius Brutus Albinus (RRC 450/1), and Julius Caesar (RRC 452/2 and 452/4-5), this particular type of “bouclier” was used by Celtic warriors during Caesar’s Gallic Wars (58-51 BC) and thus provides criteria for dating the coin. However, the value of the “bouclier” as a chronological marker becomes dubious when we consider the artistic and archaeological evidence that shows the adoption of oblong shields by the European Celts centuries before the great Gallo-Roman conflict (P. Wilcox, Rome’s Enemies (2): Gallic and British Celts (1987), p. 18). Because related staters “à l’oeil” (DT 166-169 and 171) all include an oval shape with a central dot (thought to be a disengaged chariot wheel (“roue”)) above or behind the horse, it seems somewhat more likely that the “bouclier” may simply be an enlarged and more ornate “roue.”

One of the great pleasures of Celtic numismatics is the frequent discovery of formerly unknown typological variants and even entirely new coins. The Nouvel atlas is a veritable treasure trove of new and previously unpublished material from private collections that will be of great interest to specialists. Readers will find at least one new coin or variant in each of the chronological sections, but the greatest quantity and most important material clusters around the late second and first centuries BC. New bronze coins (DT 174A and 179A) using the same types as the gold staters “à l’oeil” and “à l’epsilon” of the Remi and Nervii, respectively, show that these tribes were actually on a bi-metallic coinage system in the late second and early first centuries BC. The typological linkage of a new bronze coin (DT 551) to the CRICIRV staters “à l’oeil” struck in the period c. 60-30/25 BC indicates that by this time the Suessiones were producing connected gold and bronze series, just as the Remi and Nervii had earlier. Thus all three of these recently discovered bronzes strongly point to a pattern of associated gold and bronze coinage emissions, once only hinted at by the later first century staters and bronzes “à l’oeil” struck by the Treveri in the name of ARDA (DT 601-602). It will be interesting to see whether future finds will also reveal similar bronze sister coinages for the gold staters “à l’oeil” produced by the Suessiones and Treveri before the Gallic Wars and those struck by the Meldi after c. 60 BC.

At the same time that new coins serve to give us a more nuanced picture of certain tribal issues, they can also go far to help us understand the size of other series. For example, D. and T. record some twenty-nine previously undocumented varieties and one entirely new type (DT 495C) for the silver and bronze “fonds commun” coinages struck by the Ambiani in the period c. 50-30/25 BC. These new additions make it possible to more fully appreciate the truly vast scale of the “fonds commun.” Likewise, our knowledge of the coinages struck by tribes less well represented in the numismatic record has also expanded thanks to the new coins published in the Nouvel atlas. A formerly unknown individual signing bronze coinage as VONTEO (DT 659) can now be added to the list of names appearing on the late first century issues of the Veliocassi, while the type corpus for late anepigraphic bronzes of the Caleti has almost doubled with the addition of two new coins (DT 664 and 667A).

The twenty-nine plates that appear in the Nouvel atlas will almost certainly impress anyone accustomed to working with the black and white line drawings employed by La Tour, or the photographic plates of more recent works on Celtic coinage. Not only is the digital photography generally of a high caliber, but D. and T. have even gone so far as to present the illustrations in stunning full color. Although this decision must have had a great impact on the cost of producing the book, in the opinion of this reviewer it was well worth the expense. Thanks to the authors, readers are now treated to the true beauty of many of the coins that could not be fully appreciated in black and white photos or line drawings. The gold issues of the Parisii, Suessiones, Remi, Treveri and Nervii seem to glow right on the page, while the vast majority of the bronze coins have wonderful green patinas, making them look like they were struck from emeralds. Even the non-specialist in Celtic coinages will find something in the plates to delight the eyes.

In some cases, particularly where rare pieces are concerned, the coins themselves were not easily available to the authors, making it necessary for D. and T. to illustrate them with images derived from the black and white plates of earlier publications or from plaster casts. For the sake of visual consistency within the plates of the Nouvel atlas these images were digitally colorized. Unfortunately, while this colorization certainly enhances their appeal from an artistic perspective, it also compromises their scientific value to some extent. There is no way to be sure that the shade of gold used to colorize DT 115, a “type janiforme” stater struck in the Meuse-Moselle valley faithfully reproduces the toning of the actual coin, just as it is unclear that the green used to colorize DT 213, a potin “aux chèvres affrontées” of the Suessiones accurately represents the coin’s real patina. Thus, for casts and reproduced black and white photographs, the authors might have been well advised to leave them unaltered, like the coins depicted in L. Reding’s plate of late potins “aux anneletes” reprinted from CN (1968) at the bottom of plate XI in the Nouvel atlas.

The great value of this volume to specialists in northwestern Celtic coinages is hard to miss, but it should also be pointed out that the Nouvel atlas will also appeal to students of Roman Provincial coinage in Western Europe and those with an interest in numismatic imitations and the affects of outside cultural-economic influences on Gaul during the La Tène and Roman periods. When specific Greek and Roman numismatic prototypes are known, D. and T. do their best to point them out, either in the text of the catalogue under the rubric of “observations éventuelles” or in the notes accompanying the plate images. However, readers should be warned that the identification of these foreign models is somewhat haphazard and not always as complete as one might like. There are a few numbered references to the Roman Republican prototypes published in M. Crawford, Roman Republican Coinage (1974), but other references might have been useful as well. Consultation of the appropriate Sylloges would have helped to more fully describe the Massiliote, Tarentine, and Macedonian models for the early gold coinage, and reference to the first volume of Roman Imperial Coinage would have provided the specific Augustan prototype for the so-called “Gallo-Roman” bronzes with the schematic type of the Altar of Lugdunum (DT 695-695) struck in the region of Vendeuil-Caply (Oise).

The RRC reference for DT 356, a bronze issue of western Belgic Gaul bearing the obverse type of a head “aux cheveux calamistrés” appears to be incorrect. For its model, the authors cite the denarii of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi (RRC 340-341, dated to 90 BC) depicting the laureate head of Apollo, but give the unconventional date of 88 BC as the year of their issue. It seems that D. and T. actually intended to cite the denarius series of C. Censorinus (RRC 346/2), which was struck in 88 using a similar head of Apollo, but wearing a taenia. A close examination of DT 356 shows that the head on the Celtic coin does in fact wear a taenia, rather than a laurel wreath.

Nevertheless, for those with an interest in Roman Provincials, the Nouvel atlas is excellent for placing the late issues of Belgic Gaul struck in the names of the Roman governors Hirtius and Carinas, and the Romanized local official Germanus (Roman Provincial Coins I (1992), 501-503 and 506) = DT 612, 677-679 and 706), into their wider context at the end of a long period of imitating Roman models. It also catalogues some coinages, such as the “Gallo-Roman” series (DT 694-706) produced in the Augustan period, which perhaps should have been included in RPC I despite their lack of inscriptions.

There can be little doubt that by producing this first volume of the Nouvel atlas des monnaies Gauloises D. and T. have done an important service to both scholars and collectors of Celtic coinages. Now all of the previously known and much brand new material struck by the tribes of Belgic Gaul and the surrounding areas has been catalogued in one place, making the proper identification and dating of coins in collections and in archaeological sites much less of a research odyssey. This reviewer, and no doubt all those with an interest in the Celtic coinages of Armorica, look forward to the next volume, which promises to be a similar tour de force.

—Oliver D. Hoover