UD – Nov. 2015
‘…the Gauls on the Danube who are called Bastarnae, an equestrian host and warlike’.
(Plut. Aem. 9.6)
The Peucini were the southern branch of the Bastarnae tribal confederation, initially settled in the Lower Danube region, specifically around the island of Peuce, from which they took their name – ‘while those who took possession of Peuce, the island in the Ister, are called Peucini’ (Strabo Vii, 3,17).
From the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 2nd c. BC (coinciding chronologically with the collapse of the Celtic Tyle state in eastern Thrace) the Peucini began to expand southwards into sub-Danubian Thrace, where they are referred to variously as ‘Galatians’, ‘Bastarnae’ or ‘Gauls’. In 179 BC they first appear in historical sources as allies of the Scordisci and the Macedonian king Philip V, who intended to send them against Rome. The geo-political significance of the Peucini at this stage is noted by ancient authors. Livy informs us that:
‘The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation’ (Livy. History of Rome. Book 40:5).
Although Philip’s sudden death meant that this Macedonian/Celtic coalition against Rome never materialized, the same source makes it clear that by this time the Bastarnae were firmly established in eastern Thrace (Livy 40:58).
( on the Bastarnae tribes see also: https://www.academia.edu/4835555/Gallo-Scythians )
Celto-Scythian (Peucini Bastarnae) burial from Durankulak Island (Dobrudja), north-eastern Bulgaria
(2nd c. BC)
THE “LAND OF ESUS”
The main centre of Peucini political and economic power in southern Dobruja (n-e Bulgaria) was concentrated in the territory around the Kavarna/Balchik/Kaliakra area on the Black Sea coast, where we encounter the settlement of Peuce in the Balchik area (IGBulg V, 5011 (terr. Dionysopolis), probably the center/capital of the Peucini kingdom. This is confirmed by the fact that many of the Peucini Bastarnae coins were minted in Dionysopolis/Balchik. Close to Peuce was the settlement of Tirizis/ Τιρίζης, located on cape Kaliakra (Men. Perg., Per. 156; Strabo 7. 6.1) which appears to bear the name of the Celtic deity Esus (Proto-Celtic = *tīrro – land, *tīros- ‘land, earth’ [Noun] – GOlD: OIr. tir [0 n]; W: OW tir, MW tir [m], BRET: MBret tir [m], Co: OCo. tir gl. tellus, Co. tyr; the second element from the Celtic deity Esus (Lucanus, Bellum civile I.445, Marcellus of Bordeaux, De medicamentis 15.106, p. 121), – the name meaning literally ‘the Land of Esus’.
Archaeological and numismatic evidence from this area of north-eastern Bulgaria, particularly around the aforementioned Kavarna area, indicates that by the 2nd/1st c. BC the material culture of the Peucini was a mixture of La Têne and Hellenistic cultures (Mac Congail 2008:52), which explains why archaeologists have hitherto been unable to identify a distinct Bastarnae culture.
Numismatic material from this period is particularly indicative of the geo-political and economic status quo in this region in the period directly before the Roman conquest. Coinage circulating in this area in the 3rd – 1st c. BC, besides issues of the Greek Black Sea colonies, consisted of coinage of the Celtic Tyle state (3rd c. BC) found at the villages of Bozhurets, Septemvrijtsi and Sveti Nikola, again in the Kavarna area, Celtic silver Philip II and III type drachms and tetradrachms, and Zaravetz bronze and lead issues.
In addition to this highly complex mix of Greek and ‘barbarian’ coinage, during the 2nd / 1st c. BC the Celto-Scythian leaders of the Peucini Bastarnae also issued a limited number of their own coins.
BASTARNAE ROYAL COINAGE
So far coinage of six Bastarnae kings in the Dobruja region of southeastern Romania/northeastern Bulgaria have been identified – Kanites, Tanousas, Charaspes, Aelis, Akrosas and Sariakes, and their coins have been found almost exclusively around the West Pontic Greek cities of Istrus, Tomi, Callatis, Dionysopolis and Odessos. They are roughly dated to the 2nd / 1st c. BC and, as with the coinage of the Celtic Tyle state in this region of the previous century, are Hellenistic in nature, in terms of artistic style and iconography. Some of the iconography, notably the obverse Head of beardless Heracles in lion skin, are also similar to the Celtic Tyle coins and, as with the Celtic kings of Tyle before them, the Peucini leaders used the royal title ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ on their coinage.
( On the Coinage of the Celtic Tyle state in this area see: https://www.academia.edu/5420363/THE_TYLE_EXPERIMENT )
a. Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r. from above) ΑΙΛΙΟΣ (l. from above). Two horse foreparts jugate, r. (AE; 23 mm; 8.80 g; Kavarna museum (Bulgaria)
b. Obv.: Head of Helios radiate facing. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (l. from below) ΑΙΛΙΟΣ (r. from below). Rayed sun. (AE; 17 mm; 4.52 g)
a. Head of Demeter veiled and wearing corn wreath, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΚΑΝΙΤΟΥ (l., from above). Torch and corn ear. (AE 24 mm; 11.08 g)
b. Obv.: Head of Zeus diademed, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΚΑΝΙ (l., from above). Bird on thunderbolt, r. (AE; 22 mm; 9.25)
a. Obv.: Heads of Demeter and Kore jugate, veiled and wearing corn wreaths, r. Countermark, head of Hermes, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΤΑΝΟΥΣΑ (l., from above), ΒΑΚ (below). Two corn ears. (AE; 24 mm; 8.40 g)
b. Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΤΑΝΟΥ (l., from above), ΒΑΚ (below). Two horse foreparts jugate, r. (AE; 15 mm; 3.34 g)
a. Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΧΑΡΑΣΠΟΥ (l., from above). Bird on thunderbolt, r. (AE; 23 mm; 9.50 g)
b. Obv.: Head of beardless Heracles in lion skin, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΧΑΡΑΣΠΟΥ (l., from above). Corn ear, quiver, bow. (AE; 22 mm; 8.54 g)
a. Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΑΚΡΟΣΑ (l., from above). Two horse fore-parts jugate, r. (AE; 24 mm; 9.50 g)
b. Obv.: Heads of Demeter and Kore jugate, veiled and wearing corn wreaths, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΑΚΡΟΣΑ (l., from above). Two corn ears. (AE; 24 mm; 6.22 g)
a. Obv.: Head of beardless Heracles in lion skin, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΣΑΡΙΑΚΟΥ (l., from above). Bow, quiver, thunderbolt (above), corn ear. (AE; 24 mm; 9.25 g)
b. Obv.: Head of Zeus diademed, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΣΑΡΙΑΚ (l., from above). Bird on thunderbolt, r. (AE; 24 mm; 10.80 g)
The fact that these Celto-Scythian kings issued only bronze coinage is significant from a geo-political perspective. The theory of a unitary (Scythian) state in this region during the late Iron Age, based only on a number of lower value (bronze) coins, minted by the Greek Black Sea colonies for these leaders, is logically flawed. The Bastarnae coinage had a mainly symbolic function, and comprised only a small fraction of the overall coin pool in the area during this period, which consisted primarily of Greek and Celtic coinage.
The Bastarnae royal coinage adds an important piece to the puzzle, and increases our understanding of the socio-political and ethnic status quo in this part of south-eastern Europe. The available archaeological, linguistic and numismatic evidence from this region clearly indicates that a unique culture developed between the 3rd and 1st c. BC, based on a symbiotic and prosperous relationship between the barbarian (Celtic, Bastarnae, Getae) tribes, and the Greek Black Sea colonies.