Full text of the magnificent work of Dr. Evgeni Paunov of Cardiff University – 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) – an overview of all the available ancient numismatic evidence from the territory of modern Bulgaria relating to the period between the 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD.
Besides an expansive study on all ancient coinage from this region pertaining to the period in question, for the first time since the Communist Period numismatic material relating to the later Celtic presence/settlement in Bulgaria (2-1 century BC) is also presented in a comprehensive and objective manner:
UD: Jan. 2020
UD: November 2018
One of the most iconic symbols on Celtic coinage, the oval shield appears either alone or as a central element in the artistic composition on Celtic coins (and other artifacts) across Europe and Asia-Minor in the 3-1 century BC period, as well as being represented on numerous Greek and Roman images depicting Celtic military equipment.
Kings Of Galatia, Deiotaros I (c. 62-40 BC) AE. Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus right. Reverse: Large monogram and Celtic oval shield
Mounted warrior with oval shield on the reverse of a silver issue of Tasciovanus – King of the Catuvellauni tribe in southern England (25-10 BC)
Celtic military equipment, including oval shield and carnyx, represented on the reverse of a Roman gold stater (c. 48 BC)
The fact that oval shields are depicted with such frequency by both the Celts themselves and their enemies, in such a broad spatial and temporal context, logically indicates that they had a political and cultural significance that went beyond their purely military function, i.e. also served as a symbol of political authority and power.
Mounted Goddess with oval shield depicted on the reverse of a Celtic gold stater from the Rennes Region, Brittany (2nd century BC)
Wild boar over Celtic oval shield motif, recently discovered by ‘treasure hunters’ in southern Germany. Such a ring would have belonged to a high ranking member of society, probably a chieftain.
(1 c. BC)
Among the Balkan Celts oval shields first appear on coinage of the ‘Tyle’ state in today’s eastern Bulgaria in the mid 3rd century BC, and are to be found on both tetradrachms and bronze issues of the Celtic kings of Thrace during this period.
Bronze issue of the Celtic king Cavaros with oval shield on the reverse – minted at Arkovna (Varna reg.), Bulgaria (2nd half of the 3rd c. BC)
Reverse of a tetradrachm of Kersebaul, one of the Celtic kings of the ‘Tyle’ state in today’s eastern Bulgaria (mid 3rd c. BC)
Also noteworthy in this context are the Celtic shield coins minted by the Greek city of Mesembria (modern Nesebar) on the Black Sea coast during this period. These coins, which feature a helmet on the obverse and a Celtic oval shield on the reverse (viewed from within; Price 1991, Karaytov 2000, Mac Gonagle 2013) illustrate the influence of the Celtic state on the Greek Black Sea colonies during the 3rd c. BC – a phenomenon also testified to by archaeological evidence, and confirmed in ancient sources (Lazarov 2010, Manov 2010, Mac Gonagle 2013).
Bronze Mesembria Celtic Shield Issue (last quarter of the 3rd c. BC)
(After Karaytov 2000)
Also connected to the Tyle state are the Apros Celtic shield coins minted in today’s European Turkey in the second half of the 3rd century BC, which provide further archaeological evidence, again confirmed in ancient sources, that the area of south-eastern Thrace, including the immediate environs of Byzantium, was under Celtic control during this period (Manov 2010, Lazarov 2010, Mac Gonagle 2013). Exactly which tribe minted the Apros coins remains unclear, but one possibility is that that they were produced by the Aegosages tribe prior to their migration into Asia-Minor in the summer of 218 BC.
Bronze Celtic shield coins minted at Apros (After Draganov 2001)
(Apros was located either at present-day Kestridge or further west near present-day Kermian, both in European Turkey above the Thracian Chersones and on the route of the later Via Egnatia)
On the Aegosages tribe see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/death-of-a-dream-the-aegosages-massacre/
Statue of a Celtic chieftain wearing a sagum, and holding an oval shield and torc – from Mondragon (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), France
(late 2nd / early 1st c. BC)
Dimitrov K. (2010) Celts, Greeks and Thracians in Thrace During the Third Century BC. Interactions in History and Culture. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c BC). Sofia 2010. P. 51- 66
Draganov D. (2001) Coins of the Unknown Mint of Apros in Thrace. НСФ 8, 1-2, 25-31.
Kарайтов И. (1996) Месамбрия и келтският цар Кавар. In: More 4, 9-10, 10-14; Kарайтов И. (2000) Месамбрия и владитетелите на крайбрежна Тракия (според нумизматични данни) – INMB 3, 66-81
Карайтов И. (2000) Месамбрия и владетилите на крайбрежна тракия според нумизтични данни. Известия на Народния Музий Бургас. Том 3, 2000. 66- 82
Lazarov L. (2010) The Celtic State In the Time of Cavaros. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c BC). Sofia 2010. P. 97-113
Mac Gonagle B. (2013) https://www.academia.edu/5420363/THE_TYLE_EXPERIMENT
Manov M. (2010) In Search of Tyle (Tylis). Problems of Localization. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c BC). Sofia 2010. P. 89 – 96
Price M. J. (1991) The Coinage in the Name of Alexander the Great and Philip Arhideus. A British Museum Catalog, vol. 1, Zurich-London.
Topalov S. (2001) Contributions to the Study of the Coinage and History In the Lands of Eastern Thrace from the end of the 4th c. BC to the end of the 3rd c. BC. Sofia 2001
Celtic Strymon/Trident Coinage:
UD: March 2019
One would imagine that an invasion by hundreds of thousands of barbarians would have a catastrophic effect on the economy of a region. However, this presumption has been challenged in recent years by the archaeological and numismatic data emerging from the territory which fell under the control of the ‘barbarian’ Tyle state in eastern Thrace during the 3rd c. BC.
The traditional description of the Celtic tribes who arrived in this area has been one of ‘thirsty savages’ or ‘gangs of mercenaries’ (latest Emilov 2007, 2010), and we have been repeatedly informed that ‘their aim was not to settle, but money and booty which could be acquired in different ways … by attacking wealthy cities, and by ravaging the countryside’ (Nixon 1977, cited by Mitchell 1993; Emilov 2010). However, repeating a simplistic stereotype does not make it true, particularly when the depiction of a culture entirely contradicts all the available archaeological and historical evidence. In this case the facts tell a rather surprising tale – a barbarian invasion that brought political stability and economic prosperity in its wake…
Updated: July 2019
Ancient coins, and particularly hoards of such coins, are probably the most valuable indication of the geo-political situation in a region during a given historical period. A perfect example of this are a large number of hoards from Bulgaria dating to the 2nd / 1st c. BC, which contain a mixture of Celtic coins and Roman / Hellenistic issues. Particularly interesting are such hoards dating to the period of the Scordisci Wars (second half of 2nd c. BC / 1st c. BC) found at various sites across Bulgaria, which reflect the historically recorded events of the period.
An interesting example of this are the exceptionally large amounts of coins of the Roman Quaestor Aesillas found in hoards together with Celtic issues. Such hoards from Bulgaria include those from Chirpan, Nova Zagora, Haskovo, Levka (Haskovo region), Stroyno (Jambol region), Belitsa (Blagoevgrad reg.), etc. Aesillas was Roman quaestor in Macedonia from circa 90 – 75 BC, the period of the most frequent and devastating raids on the Roman province by the local Celtic and Thracian tribes.
Other such hoards of mixed Celtic and Roman issues dating from the same period (the first third of the 1st c. BC) include those from Topolovo (Plovdiv reg.), Kolyo Marinovo and Bratya Daskalovi (both in the Chirpan area of Stara Zagora region), Dolno Botevo (Haskovo region), and the Boljarino hoard also from the Plovdiv region (Prokopov 1995). It appears that the presence of such a high number of Roman issues from this period, found together with Celtic coins in Thrace, is a result of the aforementioned attacks on Roman territory in the southern Balkans and Greece, particularly those during the first third of the 1st c. BC.
Roman First Macedonian Region and Aesillas issues from the numismatic collection of the Kyustendil Regional Museum, Western Bulgaria
Hoards including coins of the Roman quaestor Aesillas have been found in the villages of Zhabokrut and Krumovo (Kyustendil region, Western Bulgaria), and near the village of Chepino, Pernik region (IGCH 646). Tetradrachm hoards of the First Macedonian Region have been found in the village of Skrino, Kyustendil region, in the village of Kralev Dol, Pernik region (IGCH 894), in the village of Studena, Pernik region and from the village of Turokovtsi, Trun area, Pernik region.
(After Filipova S., Ilya Prokopov I., Paunov E. The Numismatic Collection of the Regional Historical Museum at Kyustendil (Ancient Ulpia Pautalia) Part 1: Greek, Thracian, Macedonian, Roman Republican and Roman Provincial Coins. ( CCCHBulg ) Volume II. Sofia 2009)
Original Aesillas AR Tetradrachm (90 – 75 BC) and Celtic Thasos Tetradrachms discovered during the recent excavations at Bratya Daskalovi, Chirpan region, Bulgaria.
(after Prokopov I., Paunov E., Filipova S. Coins and Coin Hoards from the excavation of two burial mounds near the village of Bratya Daskalovi, Stara Zagora Region. In: Тонкова М. (ed.) Thraco-Roman dynastic centre in the Chirpan heights area. Sofia 2011)
Philip III (or Alexander III) original (?), Celtic ‘Philip III type” drachmas, and a Roman Republican Dinar (C. Naevius Balbus, minted in Rome in 79 BC), found together in a hoard at Bratya Daskalovi, Chirpan region
(after Prokopov et al 2011)
The area of modern southwestern Bulgaria in particular has recently provided us with especially valuable information pertaining to the period of the Scordisci Wars (2nd half of 2nd / 1st c. BC). Hoards of silver coins dating to this period from the area of the western Rhodope mountains and the Upper Mesta river valley typically contain a mixture of Celtic and Roman/Hellenistic issues, i.e. – tetradrachms of the Celtic ‘Thasos type’ together with tetradrachms of the Athens ‘New Style’, First Macedonian Region, and the aforementioned Roman Quaestor Aesilla, as well as large numbers of Roman Republican dinars. Examples of such hoards have been recorded from the Belitza, Blagoevgrad, Gotsche Delchev, Kustendil, and Razlog areas.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that many of the Celtic ‘Thasos type’ silver tetradrachms from Thrace are struck over Hellenistic/Roman issues, especially Athens New Style tetradrachms, as well as those of the Roman Quaestor Aesillas.
Celtic ‘Thasos type’ Tetradrachma minted over Athens ‘New Style’ original. Second decade of the 1st c. BC. (Popina hoard (#439). Silestra region, northeastern Bulgaria)
(After De Callatay, Prokopov 1994 (De Callatay F., Prokopov I. An Overstrike of a Hellenistic Tetradrachm in the Popina Hoard (ICGH 930). In: Numismatika Hronika. Hellenistic Numismatic Society. # 13. Athens 1994. P. 37-44)
Celtic ‘Thasos type’ tetradrachma minted over that of the Roman Quaestor Aesillas (early 1st c. BC)
On Herakles’ left knee the Q (short for Quaestor – similar to English P) can be seen. There are also faint traces of Alexander’s hair locks at the metal disturbance in Dionysos’ cheek from the Roman original.
A similar phenomenon is to be observed with ‘some thousands’ of bronze Celtic coins from the same period, also from the Rhodope/Upper Mesta area, most of which are minted over the coinage of Macedonian rulers and cities. Example of these ‘Strymon/Trident’ coins come from hoards discovered around the towns of Gotsche Delchev, Bansko, Eleschnitza, Razlog, Belitza, Jakoruka, and Ognyanovo.
Most fascinating about these coins is that in most cases they were not produced from blanks, but overstruck on Macedonian bronze issues (late royal or autonomous/Roman). The overstrikes are clearly visible and it is not hard to identify the host coin. Apparently, no attention was paid to the size, weight, denomination of the original host, or an attempt to adjust the dies of overstrikes. Host civic coins of Thessalonica, Amphipolis, and Pella, or Macedonian ‘autonomous’ issues, most dated to the period ca. 187 – ca. 50 BC, were used for the majority of these imitations (Paunov E. (2012).
Besides thousands of stray finds and smaller hoards, 7 larger hoards of such coins have been recorded in the Western Rhodope mountains and Struma Valley of today’s south-western Bulgaria. A particularly interesting example is that of the Bogolin 1989 hoard, which gives us a valuable insight into the phenomenon which was the Celtic economy in this area during the period in question. The Bogolin hoard initially consisted of circa 400 bronze coins, of which 100+ have subsequently been stolen. At the moment, 285 coins from this hoard are reportedly kept in the Blagoevgrad museum (Prokopov 1991, 1997; Paunov 2012; Paunov, Filipova, Prokopov 2013).
Celtic AE Strymon/Trident from the Bogolin hoard (Blagoevgrad Museum)
(after Paunov et al 2013)
In the case of the Bogolin hoard, according to analysis all 285 coins are overstruck on Macedonian coins (either Macedonian royal coinage or that of the Roman Macedonian province), i.e. all these Celtic issues were struck on coins plundered during the ‘barbarian’ raids, once more emphasizing the extent of the attacks on Roman territory during this period. Archaeological evidence thus indicates a unique phenomenon in European history – the Celtic tribes in the territory of today’s Bulgaria created a complex economy and monetary system based almost entirely on treasure which they looted during raids on Roman territory.
The historical context in which these coins were produced – during a bitter struggle between the ‘barbarians’ and the Roman empire, should also be borne in mind. From a psychological perspective the fact that the Celtic population in Thrace took the trouble to mint over the Roman/Hellenistic coins is a clear political statement – a rejection of the images portrayed on the originals, and by extension the ‘classical’ culture which produced them.