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.
Book on the Numismatic Art of the Coriosolites tribe by J. Hooker:
PLASTIC METAMORPHOSIS ART:
The Danube Torc:
The recently published numismatics collection from the Razgrad Regional Muesum (in today’s northeastern Bulgaria, see below) provides us with a valuable insight into the economic and geo-political situation in this region in the centuries directly proceeding the Roman conquest.
In the Razgrad area large amounts of La Têne material testifies to a Celtic presence from the 4th c. BC into the Roman period (see archaeology section). The main settlement in this area was at Abritus (Abritu), located in the Hisarlaka district of modern Razgrad, near the Beli Lom river. Despite the fact that it has hitherto been assumed that the settlement was initially of Roman origin, in light of the pre-Roman archaeological/numismatic evidence found in the area, and the geographical situation of Abritus on the Beli Lom river, it is appears that the name actually comes from the Celtic – abo- (Also recorded in Thrace as the first element of the Celtic settlements bearing the name ‘Ablana’ = river plain – see above) = river, and –ritu- = Ford (MIr -rith, OB rit, ret, OC rid (also in LNN), OW rit (LNN), MW ryt, W rhyd. ADA: 123-124; CPNE: 197-198; DGVB: 297; GPC: 3126; LEIA:R-34; PECA: 91; Falaliev DCCPN 2007; see ‘Celtic Settlements in Northern Bulgaria’ article).
Thus, the initial settlement at Abritu/Razgrad developed around a ford on the Beli Lom river, as the Celtic name suggests.
The Razgrad region of northeastern Bulgaria
Locally produced (non-Hellenistic) coinage circulating in this region in the 3rd – 1st c. BC can be broadly broken into 4 main groups – Celtic imitations based on the Macedonian issues of Philip III and Philip II, Thraco-Celtic Thasos tetradrachms of the Thasos type, and bronze and lead Celtic issues based on the Odessos ‘Darsalas’ type coinage.
1. ‘Philip II’ Type
Celtic coins of the Philip II model are found on the territory of today’s Bulgaria almost exclusively north of the Balkan mountains (see Numismatics section 4, Map 4).
The high concentration of Philip II model Celtic coinage in northeastern Bulgaria is particularly interesting from a geo-political perspective. In this region the Banat and Saddle-Head (Sattlekopf)/Oltenia type(s) (Fig. 1-3) are most common. In northeastern Bulgaria this type of Celtic coinage has been found in particularly large concentrations in the Targovischte, Veliko Tarnovo, Razgrad and Russe areas where substantial numbers of Celtic Philip III, Thasos, and ‘Zaravetz type’ coins have also been registered (see below).
Fig. 1-2 – The Saddle-Head type (3rd – 2nd c. BC), the artistic predecessor of the extensive Oltenia type (2nd – 1st c. BC) (See numismatics section 4)
The Celtic “Philip II” type are distinguishable by the strong ‘barbarization’ of the images, the lack of an inscription, the diminishing of the size of the coin cores, and the lowering of the quality of the metal of the coins (Dzanev G. and Prokopov I. Numismatic Collection of the Historical Museum Razgrad (Anc. Abritus). In: Coin Collections and Coin Hoards from Bulgaria /CCCHBulg./ Volume I. Part 2. Sofia 2007; On the artistic evolution of Celtic coins in Thrace see ‘The Art of Rejection article’). A collective find of that type of imitation was discovered in Razgrad at the village of Hursovo, the municipality of Samuil (Razgrad region) Gerassimov, T. Monetni sakrovista, namereni v Bulgaria prez 1966 g., in: IAI, XXX, 1967, 190).
Fig. 3 – Celtic AR Philip II issues from the Razgrad Museum collection (2nd – 1st c. BC)
Göbl, OTA 300/1 – 305/5
(After Dzanev, Prokopov 2007)
Fig. 4 – Celtic tetradrachms of the Sattelkopfpferd/Oltenia type from Pirgovo/Mediolana, Russe Region (from the 1978 hoard), Northeastern Bulgaria
(see ‘The Mother Matrix’ article)
Other such finds of the Celtic Philip II type in eastern Bulgaria include those from the Veliko Tarnovo and Targovischte areas found at Gorsko Novo-Selo (Veliko Tarnovo region), Kruscheto (Veliko Tarnovo region), Lublen (Turgovischte region), Palamarza (Targovischte region), Veliko Tarnovo and Samovodene (Veliko Tarnovo region), as well as finds recorded at sites such as the Celtic hillfort at Arkovna (Dalgopol, Varna region), Sliven, Dobritsch, Schumen, and from Kavarna (Dobruja region) on the Black Sea coast (Numismatics section 4, Map 4).
Most impressive is the heavy concentration of Philip II model Celtic coins in the Rousse area on the Danube, to the northwest of Razgrad. The finds from Rousse itself, the Sredna Kupa district, and the nearby villages of Belyanovo, Mechka, Pirgovo, Slivo Pole, Nikolovo (On these finds see Numismatics section 4, with cited lit.), and Pissanets (Gerassimov, T. Kolektivni nachodki na moneti prez 1939 IBAI, XIII, 1939, 344; Shkorpil, K. An Inventory of the antiquities along the Roussenski Lom River, Sofia 1914, 47 (and item 46, 2) come from an area along the Danube where the Celtic settlements of Mediolana (modern-day Pirgovo), Tegris (modern-day Marten) and Transmarisca (modern-day Tutrakan) were situated (see ‘Celtic Settlements in Northern Bulgaria’ article). Numismatic data thus confirms the linguistic and archaeological evidence which indicates that the Russe/Razgrad area was one of the key political and economic centers of the Celtic culture in northeastern Bulgaria in the 3rd – 1st c. BC. Numerous finds of Celtic ‘Philip II’ type coinage have also been registered in other areas of modern day Bulgaria, particularly from the area of the Scordisci in the north west of the country (see Numismatics section 4).
In the case of a number of hoards the Celtic Philip II types have been found together with other Celtic coinage from the same period, for example the aforementioned hoards from Pirgovo, Belyanovo, and Mechka, as well as in the city of Russe – where the coins of the “Philip II” type were unearthed together with other Celtic types, notably the Philip III/Cavaros types outlined below.
Fig 5 – Mother coin for the production of Celtic Sattlekopf/Oltenia issues, Rousse region
(See ‘The Mother Matric’ article)
2. PHILIP III/CAVAROS TYPE
Besides single finds, two major hoards of Celtic Philip III/Cavaros model coins have hitherto been found in the Razgrad area. The first was discovered in February 1940 when a find of 52 pieces of that type, placed in a pot, was uncovered just next to the southern end of the village of Kamenovo, the parish of Senovo. The hoard consists of early examples of this type of Celtic coinage, and from an artistic perspective should be dated to around the mid 2nd C. BC:
Fig. 5 – Celtic Philip III/Cavaros type issues from the Kamenovo Hoard (Razgrad region, northeastern Bulgaria)
(after Dzanev, Prokopov 2007)
In the 1950’s another large find of the same type of Celtic coins was uncovered on the land of the village of Kostandenets, (Tsar Kaloyan district, Razgrad region). Unfortunately, this hoard was stolen/dispersed, and is no longer available for scientific research (Dzanev, Prokopov op. cit.).
From a more general perspective, besides the aforementioned hoards from Pirgovo, Belyanovo and Mechka, as well as in the city of Russe – where the Celtic coins of the “Philip III” type were unearthed together with other Celtic issues, hoards consisting of imitations of only the “Philip III” type have been recorded across northern and central Bulgaria – for example, from the villages of Pepelina, and Ostritsa in the Rousse region, from the town of Gorna Oryahovitsa, from the village of Radanovo, in the region of Veliko Turnovo, from the area of Veliko Turnovo, from the village of Pordim, Pleven region, from the village of Alexandrovo, in the region of Lovetch, from the village of Smotchan, Lovetch region (see Lovech article), from the village of Glavatsi, in the region of Vratsa, from the village of Vrachesh, in the region of Botevgrad (Dzanev, Prokopov op cit.), etc. (On the circulation of these coins in Bulgaria see Numismatics section 1).
Particularly interesting are Celtic Philip III issues found in a hoard during recent excavations at Bratya Daskalovi, Stara Zagora region (South-Central Bulgaria) which, according to the authors (Prokopov, Paunov, Filipova 2011; see Numismatics section 1), indicates that this area of Thrace was also settled by a Celtic population in the immediate pre-Roman period.
Fig. 6 – Celtic (Philip III type) drachms, recently found together in a hoard at Bratya Daskalovi (Stara Zagora region, south-central Bulgaria). Together with Celtic ‘Thasos’ issues and a Roman Republican issue. The hoard has been dated to the late 1st c. BC.
(After Prokopov, Paunov, Filipova 2011; see Numismatics section 1)
The third main ‘barbarian’ coinage in circulation in the Razgrad/Northeasten Bulgaria area in the immediate pre-Roman period was Thraco-Celtic imitations of the Thasos tetradrachma. Judging by the artistic features of these coins, which remain relatively close to the Hellenistic original, they should be dated to the last decades of the 2nd c. BC:
Fig. 7 – Early Thraco-Celtic Thasos ‘Imitations’ from the Razgrad Museum collection. Late 2nd c. BC.
(after Dzanev, Prokopov 2007;See Thasos article in Numismatics section; On the artistic evolution of Celtic Thasos imitations in Thrace in the 2nd/ 1st c. BC see Mac Congail, Krusseva (2010) – Mac Congail B., Krusseva B. The Men Who Became the Sun, Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv)
Along with single finds of ‘Thasos’ imitations, a find consisting of an unknown number of tetradrachms of this type was uncovered to the west of the village of Krivnya, the parish of Senovo (Razgrad region) ‘some years ago’. Apparently, four tetradrachms plus one Roman Republican denarius from this hoard reached the local museum, and are enlisted in the register of the Museum collection of the village of Krivnya. However, after ‘a number of robberies’ the coins themselves have disappeared (Dzanev, Prokopov op cit.). Of another hoard of Thasos coins found at Lipnik (Razgrad district, Razgrad region), dated 90 / 80 BC (Prokopov, 2003:141 = Прокопов И., Няколко Бележки Върху Тасоските Тетрадрахми От Колекцията На Народния Музей В Белград. In: Известия на Катедра Българска история и археология и Катедра Обща история – ЮЗУ ‘Неофит Рилски’ – Благоевград, 1/2003. P. 139-153), there is strangely no mention in the recent catalogue of the Numismatics Collection of the Razgrad Museum.
From a more general perspective, in the 2nd/1st c. BC the Celtic Thasos ‘imitations’ were in circulation virtually over the entire territory of today’s Bulgaria (see Numismatics section 2). Most noteworthy is the concentration of these coins in the region of central Bulgaria called – especially in the area east of Plovdiv stretching to Nova Zagora. As mentioned, in the Chirpan/ Bratya Daskalovi district (Stara Zagora Region) recent excavations have uncovered such Celtic Thasos model tetradrachms together with other Celtic coins. This data, in combination with other previous such finds from this area of Bulgaria (from Benkovski, Kolyo Marinovo, Medovo, Naidenovo, Bolyarino, Nova Zagora, Stara Zagora, and Zetovo) strongly suggests that this was an important center for the production of Celtic coins of the ‘Thasos’ type in the 2nd / 1st c. BC (op cit).
Fig. 8 – Late Celtic tetradrachmas of the Thasos type, dated circa 50 BC
Bratya Daskalovi, Stara Zagora region (After Prokopov et al 2011; see Numismatics section 2 – Thasos)
Also interesting is the number of finds along the Maritza (Hebros) river valley in the Plovdiv and Haskovo regions of Bulgaria, which suggests continuing trade contacts between the Celtic and Thracian tribes of the interior with the Aegean during the 1st c. BC. While other Celtic coinage from this period is localized in certain areas of Bulgaria, the Thasos model is found in all areas of the country, frequently together with other Celtic, Hellenistic or Roman coins. This would appear to indicate that the Celtic Thasos ‘imitations’ represented a de facto ‘pan-barbarian’ currency among the native Thracian and Celtic population of today’s Bulgaria in the pre-Roman period.
4. ‘ZARAVETZ’ ISSUES
Most interesting of the Celtic coinage recorded in the Razgrad region are local Celtic issues. Particularly surprising is the presence of Celtic Strymon/Trident type bronze issues in the Razgrad area. Finds of this type of coinage, which was produced by the Celtic tribes in western Bulgaria in the 2nd/ 1st c. BC (see Numismatics Section 6), in the Razgrad region, indicates trade links between the Celtic tribes in the west and northeast of modern Bulgaria.
Fig. 9- Celtic Strymon/Trident Bronze issue from the Razgrad Museum collection.
(after Dzanev, Prokopov 2007)
Perhaps most interesting in the Razgrad Museum collection are bronze issues of the Celtic ‘Zaravetz’ type, dating to the 3rd/ 2nd c. BC. The Celtic Zaravetz type coins are based on autonomous bronze emissions of the Greek colony of Odessos which had been previously dated generally to the 3rd – 1st c. BC. The fact that the Celtic ‘imitations’ have been found in an archaeological context which dates to the end of the 3rd – beginning of the 2nd c. BC logically dates the Greek prototype to the period prior to the end of the 3rd c. BC (see numismatics section 8 – ‘Zaravetz’).
In terms of distribution the Zaravetz issues bronze and lead issues have been discovered in an area which includes most of present day northeastern Bulgaria, with a particularly high concentration in the Veliko Tarnovo area. Besides the Zaravetz hillfort , further examples have been recorded in Veliko Tarnovo itself, the Hill(fort) at Rachovetz – 7 km. north of Veliko Tarnovo, and in the vicinity of the village of Samovodene, slightly to the west of Veliko Tarnovo. Other finds have been recorded in northeastern Bulgaria at Byala (Russe region), Schumen, Tutrakan (Silestra region), Opaka (Targovischte region), from Razgrad, as well as in large numbers from the western Varna region (op cit).
Fig. 10 – Celtic ‘Zaravetz’ bronze issues from the Razgrad Museum collection
(after Dzanev, Prokopov 2007)
The recently published numismatic evidence from the Razgrad Museum collection confirms that the coinage produced by the local population in the Thracian interior of northeastern Bulgaria in the late Iron Age ranged from Celtic silver issues of the Philip II, Philip III and Thasos types, to lower value coinage which consisted of the aforementioned Zaravetz bronze and lead issues. This broad spectrum of coinage of differing intrinsic and economic value indicates a highly developed and organized economic system among the ‘barbarian’ population of this area of northeastern Bulgaria in the pre-Roman period.