The Gaulish coins are a specific type of coin production from the continental Celtic peoples that existed from the 4th to 1st centuries BCE. They started to disappear with the establishment of the Roman Empire and during the early years of Tiberius’s reign.
The continental Celts, whose united nation name is unknown, were referred to as the Gauls by Julius Caesar in his “Commentaries on the Gallic War,” in which he distinguished several specific regions. Before the Roman Republic’s conquest waves, their territories covered present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Switzerland, and parts of Germany and northern Italy.
Although these coins were produced over a span of four centuries, they are considered relatively rare. The study of these coins is recent, emerging in the late 19th century, and benefiting from the work of researchers such as Henri de La Tour, Adrien Blanchet, and since 1950, Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Beaulieu, Louis-Pol Delestrée, and Marcel Tache, whose publications remain the basis for research in the early 21st century.
The coins produced by the insular Celtic peoples, such as the Britons, although sometimes similar in certain types, belong to a different field of ancient numismatics.
The Coins and Peoples of Gaul.
Each Gaulish people, of which there were around 60, was independent in terms of coinage, with some being more productive than others, but it can be assumed that precious metal coins circulated among neighboring peoples.
Coins made their appearance in Gaul in the 5th century BC via the Greek colony of Phocaea, which had settled in the site of present-day Marseille: The Phocaean Massalia struck obols and drachmas, among others. Two others, more or less contemporary Greek sites are known: Agathé Tyché colony in Agde and in Béziers.
There is no reason to think that before the use of coins became widespread, these peoples did not use other objects for their exchanges: the issue was raised by La Tour and Blanchet, and does not seem to have been resolved.
Gradually, the use of coins spread among the neighboring peoples located in the Rhone Valley. Gaulish coinage appeared in the 4th century BC and developed under the influence of Celtic trade and mercenary activity with the Greeks, the design of these coins copying that of the Greeks, particularly the Macedonian coinage under Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great.
The modes of production were hammering and casting.
In the 2nd century BC, coinage experienced strong growth, and peoples with gold mines, such as the Arvernes, struck staters, which were also a way to assert their sovereignty and power. In the 1st century BC, the Parisii produced their gold staters with a horse design.
The Gaulish coins have distinct characteristics.
The main challenge for researchers is the lack of inscriptions or alphanumeric characters on the majority of these coins. The coins from different tribes show very different styles and types, from the “more rustic” to the most elaborate, according to Henri de La Tour who published a comprehensive book on the subject in 1892. All of these types of coins are linked to a specific culture, Celtic art. The representations on the coins include animals, stylized anthropomorphic forms, and geometric figures. The metals used are gold, silver, copper, electrum, and an alloy called potin. The dominant form is the circular coin, but there are examples of “globules with crosses” or gold molded beads, and other artifacts such as small bronze-rimmed and hollowed wheels.
Some coins are clearly inspired by the most widespread or circulating coins of the Western antiquity, such as the gold stater of Philip II of Macedon: Gaulish mercenaries brought them back with them and served as a source of inspiration for decades. The coins that copied or were inspired by these staters then adopted the profile of Philip and the original quadriga, whose stylization evolved over time. The original inscriptions on these Greek-Macedonian coins, probably misunderstood by the Celtic engravers, evolved, sometimes transformed into geometric patterns, and often disappeared.
Among the earliest productions and with alphabetic mentions, silver coins from the middle Rhône valley stand out: these series have been studied by André Deroc, who divided the production into four groups, a large part of which is due to Allobroges strikes:
- Gaulish coins with a bust and IALIKOVESI (Type I)
- Gaulish silver coins, of the “rider coin” type (Type IV)
- Allobroges coins with a hippocampus
- Allobroges coins with a chamois
- Galloping horse Cavare coins (anepigraphic or with the legend IAZUS and VOL)
The monetary productions of the Remi, also constitute an exception: a people allied with Rome and notably Latinized, their coins have inscriptions on the reverse in connection with the stamped motifs, such as on the Vercingetorix stater.