Thursday, 19 April 2018

A magical wolf, a riddle of faces, a Celtic horse, & the 'Battle Crow' - bod's Ancient British Coins

Ancient British Coin wall plaques from Justbod

 "For about 150 years Britons minted their own tribal coins until the Romans stopped them in AD 43. During this brief period about 100 rulers of a dozen different tribes issued no fewer than 1,000 different coins. After 2,000 years the imaginative imagery of these ancient British coins remains unsurpassed. This was Britain's golden age of daring coin design."  
Chris Rudd - Britain's First Coins

 (This post was first published 7 July 2015 - this is the updated version)

Ancient British Celtic Coins

I have always loved coins, their history and their connection with another time, culture and people. To hold an ancient coin or artefact in your hand is to go on a trip of wonder and imagination - who made it and when, who has held it, what has it bought, what have people done to possess it, how was it lost, and what stories could it tell?

Iron Age Coin David Nash Publishing 2003
Coin of the Atrebates
Reproduced with kind permission

Of all the coins I have ever encountered, Celtic (Iron Age) coins intrigue and enchant me the most. From a culture that never wrote anything down, whose few remaining stories have filtered down to us orally and in their artwork and artefacts, their coins reveal extra layers which give tantalising glimpses into their culture, beliefs, and lives.

Masters of stylistic, abstract, symbolic and surreal art, most of us know Celtic Artwork mainly from the knotwork designs taken from the Illuminated Manuscripts created by the monastic monks, although these were created in Anglo-Saxon times and contain a mix of Celtic, Pictish, Anglo-Saxon and Christian ideas and motifs. The Illuminated Manuscripts are Beautiful and skilful artworks the manuscripts are, but the coins date from a far earlier time, and exhibit a stunning exploration of artistic skills and ideas, a strange glimpse into the Celtic soul - exciting wild, organic, and whimsical.

The first four coins that I have sought to recreate, are all from the British mainland. There is a lot of debate over the use of the term 'Celtic' to describe these peoples. They spoke a Celtic language, and created artefacts that had stylistic links with the artwork found amongst the tribal peoples described as 'Celtic' on the continent. However, there were many differences and a distinctly 'British' style, particularly with regard to their coinage. Nobody in the Ancient World has been recorded as referring to the Ancient Britons as Celts. However, for me, there are enough similarities to link them culturally, and aesthetically.

The first four pieces I created are based on some of our first coins: coins made between 150 BC and 43 AD - over 2000 years ago. I firstly made them by sculpting each coin design individually from sheet metal, and inlaying these into custom-made oak plaques 22 cm². Those original designs are now recreated in smaller, cast versions.

I plan on making more in the future, covering a wider range of the artistic style and diversity of this fascinating period of time in our history, about which we know so very little: 

'The Battle Crow' - BODVOC

Bodvoc celtic coin wall plaque from Justbod

This was the first 'Celtic Coin' plaque that I made - mainly chosen because his name echoes mine, I wanted an example of a 'head,' and I loved the style

Bodvoc issued coins during the second half of the first century BC. Coins of his have been found in the Northern end of the Dobunni territory, which today coincides roughly with the modern counties of Somerset, Bristol and Gloucestershire. From these finds it is currently believed that he ruled their northern territories. The style of head was clearly copied from Tasciovanos, King of the Catuvellauni, and Bodvoc may have been originally of this tribe.
"Bodvoc's name is appropriately combative and means 'battle-crow' - a great name for an invading prince of the Catuvellauni whose tribal name means 'men who excel in battle.' Bodvoc was evidently named after the fearsome war-goddess Badbh of ancient Irish legends. The presence of the letter C at the end of BODVOC on coins indicates that we are unaware of his full name, which may have been Bodvocos, Bodvocnatos 'born of the battle-crow' or Bodvocoveros 'giant of the battle-crow.' We may never know his complete name, but we now know that he was so proud of it that he had it stamped in large Latin letters on his gold quarter staters as well as his gold staters." Elizabeth Cottam of Chris Rudd.
Bodvoc coin copyright Chris Rudd
Courtesy & ©Chris Rudd

The original coin from which my design is based is an excessively rare Boduoc silver unit with currently only three recorded examples in existence.

Bodvoc - oak wall plaque by bod with hand cast inlaid Ancient British Coin Design cold cast in aluminium from an original sculpture by bod and based on a coin issued by Bodvoc 'the battle-crow,' ruler of the Celtic Dobunni tribe, in the last part of the first century BC. Size ~ 16 cm square x 2 cm deep.

"three eyes say this wolf can see in the dark" - WOLF


'Norfolk Wolf' Celtic Coin wall plaque from Justbod

A fascinating coin design, packed with a wealth of symbology, it is based on the 'Norfolk Wolf' gold stater, struck by the Iceni tribe, who occupied an area corresponding roughly with the modern-day county of Norfolk. They are, of course, best known for their rebellion under Boudicca.

I used an amalgam of several different coins in the creation of this design (they had all been struck with details missing) to create as full an image as possible.

The original was approximately 1.5 cm in diameter and made of gold. Mine is about 11.5 cm in diameter, and made in bronze (the Justbod budget didn't quite run to gold!) Every detail in all of my metal plaques, has been individually sculpted by hand, using a combination of techniques, and then cold-cast in bronze or aluminium.

"Since medieval times the wolf has had predominately negative associations in Europe and in children's stories is often referred to as 'the big bad wolf.' It wasn't so in ancient times. Because the wolf can see in the dark he symbolised the morning sun and was linked to the Lycian Apollo." Chris Rudd - coin list 124

"Three eyes say this wolf can see in the dark. The fen bird (an avocet?) on his rump says he could be an Iceni cousin of Fenrir 'the fen-dweller.' And his jagged jaws remind us of Skoll, the Norse wolf who swallowed the sun, and his brother Hati who slew the moon. See Rainer Kretz - On the track of the Norfolk Wolf." From Britain's First Coins by Chris Rudd

A bold, wild and strange design to our modern sensibilities, I love this image with its evocative intimations of a world-view so different so different to our own.

Wolf - oak wall plaque by bod with handcrafted inlaid design cold cast in bronze from an original sculpture by bod, based upon an Ancient British Celtic gold coin of the Iceni c. 50-40 BC ('Norfolk Wolf' gold stater) ~16 cm square x 2 cm deep. 


A Celtic Horse - CORIEL

Horses were extremely important in Celtic/Iron-Age culture and appear in various forms, mostly highly stylised, on coinage of the period.

Coriel - Ancient Celtic Coin wall plaque from Justbod

The coin upon which this is based was a silver unit of the 'Boar and Horse' type (the reverse side features,unsurprisingly, a boar,) struck by the Corieltauvi tribe (formerly thought to be called Coritani.) They occupied a territory south of the Humber, roughly similar to today's Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and parts of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Rutland and Northamptonshire.
Rather than being a single tribe, they were more like a loose confederation of people with a shared outlook, and their name loosely translates as 'host or army of the broad land or host/army of many rivers.' 
It appears that they offered little resistence to Roman rule and Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum - ratae meaning ramparts, implying it was fortified) fell to the Romans in AD44. 

I love this piece. Although there are some incredible examples of stylised horses to pick from, amongst the many ancient British coins that have been recovered, I love the simplicity of this and the beauty of the horse design. It is one of my favourites.

Coriel - oak wall plaque by bod with handcrafted inlaid Ancient British Celtic Coin design cold cast in aluminium from an original sculpture by bod and based upon a coin struck by the Corieltauvi tribe c. 55-45 BC. Size ~16 cm square x 2 cm deep.  


A Riddle of Faces - TASCIO


Tascio - Ancient British Celtic Coin wall plaque by Justbod


Tasciovanos was the King of the Catuvellauni tribe in the South East who occupied the territory currently comprising of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and southern Cambridgeshire, with their centre based around the modern town of St Albans. His son was called Cymbeline (Cunobelin.)

Starting around 20 BC Tasciovanus minted gold, silver and copper coins and was the first King to issue inscribed Celtic coins marked with the name of Verulamium (Roman City of St Albans.)

My design is based on a very rare gold stater of his, considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Celtic decorative art. It also displays a whimsical and humorous side, as it features several 'hidden faces.' Chris Rudd, dealer in ancient British coins, says in his literature, that there are no less than six. He also mentions a "stylised badger face with corn-ear stripes is a visual pun on the King's name (Tasciovanus) 'killer of badgers.'"
"A hidden face on an ancient British stater has eluded numismatists for two hundred years. Tasciovanus hid the face on his staters and it took me seven years of owning one of them to see it. Celtic artists liked to hide faces on their artwork. They had a fine appreciation for the surreal. They loved now-you-see-it-now-you-don't images. The art tied in with their religion. Things are not what they seem. Behind everyday scenes lurk unseen forces manipulating the action." Robert Van Arsdell
Hidden Faces coin copyright Chris Rudd
Courtesy & ©Chris Rudd

How many faces can you see?

I loved making this design, and its sense of humour, and, as I do with all of the work I create, thinking about the unknown artist who created the die for the original.

Tascio - oak wall plaque by bod with handcrafted inlaid Ancient British Celtic design cold cast in bronze from an original sculpture by bod and based upon a gold coin of Tascio vanos of the Catuvellauni c. 20 BC - 10 AD ('Hidden Faces' gold stater) ~ 16 cm square x 2 cm deep. 

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More designs...

The more I find out about Celtic / Iron-Age coins, the more interesting it becomes. I'm sure that these won't be the last examples that I make, as I already have several others in mind.

If you are interested in finding out more about this fascinating subject, please see the 'sources and further information' section at the bottom of this article. I can particularly recommend the books.

Thank you for reading!

Justbod Team 

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Celtic, Viking & Mythical Wall Plaques by Justbod

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Sources and further information:

Britain's First Coins: Chris Rudd
Celtic Coinage in Britain: Philip de Jersey
Ancient Celtic Coin Art: Simon Lilly