Kotys 3




One of the greatest contradictions in ancient numismatics is the case of barbarous tetradrachms of the Thasos type produced in Thrace in the late 1st c. BC – previously attributed variously to the Roman puppet kings Cotys IV, VI and, most recently, to  Cotys III (von Sallet 1876:242-24, Добруски 1897:629, Youroukova 1976:43-45; Юрукова 1992:177-178, de Callataÿ 2012:307–322; Paunov 2013, with relevant lit.).

 In fact, the numismatic/archaeological context and execution of these coins, which bear the legend – ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP, meaning the ‘die, stamp’ of Cotys (see Paunov, op cit.), raises a number of fundamental questions about their attribution to the Roman puppet kings in Thrace.






Kotys 1

Tetradrachm bearing the legend ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP (16.76 g., 29×31 mm (ex Dr. Haralanov collection, now in Shumen Museum, no. 73.1.1)

(After Paunov 2013)





The first problem with the attribution of this coinage to the Thracian ‘King’ Cotys III is obviously the nature of the coins themselves. Unlike the barbarian Thasos type tetradrachms, coinage of the Roman puppet kings in Thrace of the late 1st c. BC/early 1st c. AD are almost exclusively bronze issues, and are unmistakably Roman in nature.


Examples of coinage of the Thracian puppet/client Kings (late 1st c. BC/ early 1st c. AD):




Thrac k.

(See: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-thracian-puppet-kings/)




As illustrated, the coinage of the Thracian Sapean Dynasty in Thrace is clearly Roman in nature. Conversely, the artistic execution of the ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP coins conforms to the Celtic ‘Thasos Type’ coinage produced in Thrace in the 1st c. BC, and ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP coins have been discovered exclusively in hoards in association with this type of Celtic coinage (see below).




malak por.


Celtic silver ‘Thasos type’ tetradrachm found in a hoard at Maluk Chardak, Plovdiv region, Bulgaria (late 1st c. BC) (after Prokopov, Paunov 2011; See: https://www.academia.edu/6144182/Celtic_Thasos_Type_Coinage_from_Central_Bulgaria)

While a difference of opinion still remains in academic circles concerning which ethnic group produced the early Thasos copies which remained close to the Hellenistic prototype, there is now general agreement that the ‘barbarized’ Thasos coinage of the 1st c. BC was produced by the Balkan Celts, i.e. “the imitations of Thasos tetradrachms had an international nature and featured interactions and activities of a culture dominated by the east Celts” (Prokopov 2011: 339; See also Mac Gonagle 2013).




Kotys 2

Tetradrachm with legend ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP (16.36 g. (ex Triton VII, Jan.2004, no. 182)




The attribution of these ‘barbarous’ imitations to the Thracian ruler Cotys III would therefore appear to be made solely on the assumption that Cotys is a purely Thracian name – which is clearly not the case. In fact, extensive evidence has illustrated that Cotys (and variations) is also a well documented Celtic proper name, appearing in numerous Celtic single and double element names such as Cotus, Cottus (Holder, AC I:858, Detschew, 1957:235; Duridanov 1997:139-140), Essandecottus (Gallo-Etruscan; Lambert 72) etc., leading linguists to conclude that the name is common to both the Thracian and Celtic cultures (Detschew 1957:235; See also Duridanov 1997:139-140).

 In this context, one should also note the name of the Celto-Scythian (Bastarnae) leader – Cotto, mentioned by Livy in relation to the events of 179 BC, when the Bastarnae formed an alliance with Philip V of Macedonia against Rome – ‘For a few days later the tribe of the Bastarnae, after long solicitation, left their homes and with a great number of infantry and cavalry crossed the Hister. Thence Antigonus and Cotto came on in advance to bring the word to the king: Cotto was a nobleman among the Bastarnae, Antigonus one of Philip’s courtiers who had often been sent with Cotto himself to stir up the Bastarnae’ (Livy XL.57).




Besides the artistic and linguistic data, an analysis of the context in which coins of the ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP type have been discovered reveals further interesting information. Two examples each come from ‘dispersed’ hoards in the area of Kazanlak (near ancient Sevtopolis, Stara Zagora region) and another from the Asparuchovo quarter of Varna, of which the other contents of the hoards are again ‘unknown’. The aforementioned finds therefore provide no information concerning the archaeological context or ethnic group which produced this coinage. However, the other two hoards containing ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP coinage from Bulgaria provide important evidence on this issue. The Obzor 1935 hoard from Varna region, in which 4 ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP coins were recorded, was constituted exclusively of barbarian Thasos ‘imitation’ tetradrachms, while the Silvarovo hoard from Burgas region, containing 2 ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP coins, was also constituted exclusively of Celtic Thasos type tetradrachms (Paunov 2013).




Kotys 3

ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP tetradrachm from the Slivarovo hoard (16.51 g.) (Archaeological Museum Burgas, no. A-270)




Thus, the available archaeological, artistic, numismatic, and linguistic facts strongly suggest that the late Iron Age tetradrachms bearing the inscription ΚΟΤΥΟC XAPAKTHP, clearly non-Roman in nature, and found exclusively associated with other Celtic Thasos imitations, were produced not by the Roman puppet kings but, as with other ‘barbarian’ tetradrachms of this type, by a Thraco-Celtic (or Bastarnae?) chieftain.












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Literature Cited

Detschew D. (1957) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. Österreichischte Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Kl. Schriften der Balkankomission, Linguist. Abteilung XV. Wien.

Duridanov I. (1997) Keltische Sprachspuren in Thrakien und Mösien, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, Band 49-50, 136.

Holder A. (1896-1907) Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz. Bd. I-III. (Nachdruck Graz, 1961-1962)

Lambert, P.Y. (1995) La Langue Gauloise. Editions Errance, Paris.

Paunov E. (2013) From Koine To Romanitas: The Numismatic Evidence For Roman Expansion And Settlement In Bulgaria In Antiquity (Moesia and Thrace, ca. 146 BC – AD 98/117) Phd. Thesis. School of History, Archaeology and Religion. Cardiff University. 2013)

Mac Gonagle B. (2013) https://www.academia.edu/6144182/Celtic_Thasos_Type_Coinage_from_Central_Bulgaria

Prokopov I. (2011) The Imitations of Late Thasian Tetradrachms: Chronology, Classification and Dating. In: N. Holmes (ed.), Proceedings of the XIVth International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow, 31 August – 4 September 2009. London: Spink, 2011, 337 – 349