UD: March 2016
The migration of Celtic tribes into south-eastern Europe from the first half of the 4th c. BC logically brought them into contact with the Greek world. Although in the initial phase this contact was violent in nature, one of the positive results of this cultural interaction was the rapid adoption by the ‘barbarians’ of a coinage system based on the Hellenistic model. From the 2nd half of the 4th c. BC highly stylized coins based on Greek prototypes became common throughout the areas of Celtic settlement in s.e. Europe. Among the first Hellenistic numismatic models to be ‘imitated’ by the Celts was the coinage of the kings of Paeonia – Lykkeios, Patraos, and Audoleon.
Paeonia (Greek Παιονία) coincided with parts of today’s northern Greece, the modern Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo and parts of western Bulgaria. It was situated to the north of ancient Macedonia, and south of Dardania, its borders being fluid over the centuries, depending on the geo-political situation. Celtic coinage based on Paeonian models had a wide range of circulation ranging from Noricum to western Thrace. The earliest ‘imitations’ of Paeonian coins (those of the Paeonian king Lykkeios, 356 – 335 BC) give us a taste of the artistic experimentation which is further developed in later Balkan Celtic issues.
AR Tetradrachm. Lykkeios (356 – 335 BC)
Laureate head of Zeus right / Herakles strangling the Nemean Lion
AR Tetradrachm. Celtic ‘imitation’ of Lykkeios.
(late 4th c. BC)
On the obverse of both coins a male head (Zeus) is depicted. On the Hellenistic prototype we observe conformity to anatomical principles in the composition of the subject, an approach typical of classical art of this period. In sharp contrast is the portrait on the ‘barbarian’ coin which is highly stylized, the composition conforming to the circular form of the coin, rather than the anatomical characteristics of the subject – the nose is represented by a straight line, the eye is presented en face, etc.
On the reverse a similar disparity is to be observed. On the Hellenistic prototype there is again obvious intent to portray the animal and human figures in an anatomically correct manner, while the schematic approach on the Celtic coin disregards anatomical precision. The result is two very different images emanating from the same subject matter. The emphasis on anatomical precision on the Hellenistic coin has the effect of ‘freezing’ the image, while the expressionistic approach by the Celtic artist conveys the sense of movement in the battle between man and animal.
On the evolution of Celtic numismatic art from Hellenistic prototypes See also: