The most exciting and enigmatic late Iron Age barbarian images are those found in the artistic processes on Celtic ‘imitations’ of the coinage of the Paeonian kings (on the chronology and dispersion of these coins see ‘A question of Perspective’ article).
The gradual Celtic migration into the western and central Balkans during the 4th c. BC (Mac Congail 2008; see also ‘Flight of the Ravens’ article) quickly resulted in the development of Celtic coinage based on Hellenistic models, including those of the kings of Paeonia. As with the Macedonian and Thasos models, initial Celtic ‘Paeonian’ models remained quite true to the classical style and iconography of the originals. However, by the 3rd /2nd c. BC artistic experimentation with the Hellenistic models had resulted in a metamorphosis of the core iconography, and the development of unique barbarian imagery – a fusion of Hellenistic and Celtic cultures which resulted in the first non-classical European numismatic art.
Fig. 1 – Early Celtic Imitation of Audoleon AR tetradrachm (c. 315-286 BC)
(BMC Celtic 116-117. Gobl OTA 402/1)
Fig. 2 - Early Celtic Imitation of Audoleon AR tetradrachm
In this context, best recorded is the coinage based on images of the Paeonian king Audoleon (315 – 285 BC), which developed in a number of artistic directions, including the ‘Boxer’ process outlined below.
By the 2nd c. BC coinage based on the ‘Audoleon model’ has been transformed to such an extent that the original is barely recognizable, and in the barbarian issues the images on the reverse have developed a unique style which brings to mind the 20th century artistic movement known as naivism.
Fig. 3 – Celtic ‘Imitation’ of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf
While the portrait on the obverse of fig. 3 displays the classical idealization of the subject, the rider on the reverse is represented only by a head and torso. The composition of both increasingly conforms to the circular nature of the canvass/coin.
In fig. 4 the classical idealization of the subject on the obverse has been transformed into a naturalistic portrayal of a Celtic chieftain – a rare phenomenon in Celtic art.
Fig. 4 – Celtic ‘Imitation’ of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type
In fig. 5/6 the naturalistic features of the chieftain are further developed, and the subject is portrayed with a broken nose, logically indicating (if this is the same individual) that these are chronologically later than fig. 4.
Fig. 5 - Celtic ‘Imitation’ of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf. Broken Nose type.
Fig. 6 – Celtic ‘Imitation’ of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf. Broken Nose type (2nd/1st c. BC)
However, just as the process appears to develop logically towards a naturalistic portrait of the subject on the obverse, and a naivist approach to the horse/rider on the reverse, it takes an unexpected twist.
During the final phase of the process we see a return to the idealization of the subject on the obverse, wholly conforming to the circular composition. Perhaps most remarkable is the schematic/iconic portrayal of the horseman on the reverse. In this final phase the head/torso of the rider fuses with horse and the head is represented by a solar symbol – 9 smaller dots ‘revolving’ around a central larger dot.
Fig 7 – Late Celtic ‘Imitation’ of Audoleon AR Tetradrachm, Kroisbach type with Reiterstumpf (1st c. BC)
Both the ‘rayed sun’ and the fusion of rider and horse into one creature are common developments in late Iron Age Celtic art (fig. 8-10), and may represent the fusion of the human and the divine – the transformation of man into God.
Fig 8 – Celtic Scyphate AR Tetradrachm from the Transylvanian Plain. (Ringelkopfreiter type)
Fig . 9 - Celtic AR tetradrachm (Serbia). (3rd/2nd c. BC. Helmschweifreiter type)
(Göbl, OTA 165)
Fig. 10 – Reverse of a Celtic AR Tetradrachm, Lower Danube (2nd c. BC)
*Text after Крусева Б. / Мак Конгал Б., Хората, които се превърна в слънце – Krusseva B. / Mac Congail B., The Men Who became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv, 2010; see also ‘From Gods To Matchstick Men’, ‘The Art of Rejection’ and ‘The Birth of the Icon’ articles).