Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009)Nico Roymans; Joris Aarts: Coin use in a dynamic frontier region. Late Iron Age coinages in the Lower Rhine area

3 Survey of the principal coin groups from the Lower Rhine region

3.1 Imported gold coins (2nd – mid-1st century BC)

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As yet, no first-generation Celtic coins have been found in the Lower Rhine region. The first coins did not appear here until the 2nd century BC. Initially, they all came from the more southerly regions (Fig. 4), which points to intensive interregional contacts.

The earliest gold coins to appear here are several quarter staters of the Scheers 23 type, with a male head on the obverse and a winged horse on the reverse (Fig. 5). The coins with a Pegasus originate from the Middle Rhine region (Fig. 6) and can be placed in the 2nd century BC.[16] The gold hoards of Beringen (mid-2nd century BC) and Niederzier (first half 1st century BC), both of which comprise a combination of gold jewellery and imported coins, can be dated to the same early period.[17]


Fig. 4 Find spots of imported gold coins from the Late Iron Age in the Lower Rhine region. a. coin imported from the southwest; b. coin imported from the southeast; c. hoard (after Roymans 2004, Fig. 4.1.).


Fig. 5 Gold quarter staters of the Pegasus type (Scheers 23 type) from the 2nd century BC. a.-b. find spot unknown; c. Limburg province (NL) (Scale c. 3:1. Photo Geld- en Bankmuseum, Utrecht).


Fig. 6 Distribution of gold quarter staters of the Pegasus type (Scheers 23 type). Open circle: exact find spot unknown. Triangle: hoard (after Heinrichs/Rehren 1996, Fig. 12, updated).

3.2 The first Lower Rhine emission: Eburonean triskeles staters (Scheers 31 type, mid-1st century BC)

The earliest coins struck in the region of study are staters of the Scheers 31 type with a triskeles on the obverse and a horse on the reverse. They are made of poor-quality gold, and some even of bronze. This coin group can be dated to the mid-1st century BC on the basis of its low weight and gold content, and its association with other late coins in the hoard of Heers. The date of this coin issue, together with its distribution across the southeastern Netherlands and Central Belgium (Fig. 7), allows us to attribute the coins to the Eburones, a tribe mentioned by Caesar.[18] It is impossible to pinpoint the places where they were minted. The current distribution pattern shows concentrations in Central Belgium and the Dutch river region.


Fig. 7 Distribution of gold triskeles coins of the Scheers 31 type, attributed to the Eburones. a. 1-5 coins; b. >20 coins; c. hoard (after Roymans 2004, Fig. 4.3, with some additions).

3.3 Lower Rhine triquetrum staters and the ethnogenesis of the Batavi (c. 50-15 BC)

The silver and bronze ‘rainbow cups’, which feature a triquetrum on the obverse and a configuration of dots and circles on the reverse (Fig. 8), are also mainly of Lower Rhine origin. They are the youngest variants of a long-running coin series that began with gold staters in the first half of the 1st century BC. These staters came from the trans-Rhine region and were probably struck in the oppidum on the Dünsberg in Hessen. After about 50 BC, production of these coins largely shifted to the Lower Rhine area, where the series was continued in silver and, still later, in bronze. This was a gradual process; even the youngest bronze coins often contain a small quantity of gold or silver, or are sometimes gilded. This points to a conservative adherence to the old series and to the use of these coins in the same kind of transactions as the older gold coins. A salient feature is the presence of small additional marks on the reverse of many silver and bronze coins; in total no less than 20 different variants are now known. The coins still occur in the earliest Augustan forts in the Lower Rhine region, although it is not likely that new coins were minted in this period. All in all, this coin group seems to include a large number of issues spread over time from the period c. 50 to 15 BC. The coins are concentrated in the eastern part of the Dutch river region (Fig. 9), a fact which – together with the relatively late dating – would justify the attribution of most issues to the Batavi.[19] Their production coincides with the historically documented ethnogenesis of the Batavi. The coins may have played a role in the integration of native and migrant groups into the new Batavian community, perhaps dominated by an elite from north of the Rhine. Of interest here is the presence of large numbers of coins (more than 250 specimens) at the cult place of Empel.


Fig. 8 Hoard of silver triquetrum staters from Echt (L). (Photo Restaura, Haelen).


Fig. 9 Distribution of silver and bronze triquetrum coins. a. Roman camp; b. other find spots; c. hoard (after Roymans 2004, Fig. 6.1).

3.4 Rhineland silver quinarii with ‘dancing manikin’ (Scheers 57 type; c. 65 BC - 1 AD)

Another long-running coin series are the quinarii of the Scheers 57 type, with a figure of a ‘dancing man’ on the obverse and a horse on the reverse. Schulze-Forster and Heinrichs have recently discussed the development of this coin group.[20] It began as a trans-Rhine issue, with the oppidum on the Dünsberg in Hessen as the probable minting centre (Fig. 10). A younger group consists of silver with a high copper content and is concentrated in the western Lower Rhine region, where it also appears to have been minted.[21] Circulation was concentrated in the Cologne hinterland, and to a lesser extent in the Dutch river region. Partly on the basis of the dating of these coin issues, the cluster in the Cologne region may be associated with the Ubii.[22] There is a plausible link to historical accounts of Ubian migration from the east to the west bank of the Rhine during Agrippa’s first or second governorship (38/39 or 19/18 BC).[23] There are too few coins from the Dutch river region for the Batavi to have played any role in the more recent issues of this series.[24] Schulze-Forster dates the quinarii of the younger group to after 30 BC. Their presence in Augustan army camps suggests that these coins continued to circulate until about AD 10, although their production will have ceased somewhat earlier.


Fig. 10 Distribution of silver coins with ‘dancing man’ (Scheers 57 type). a. coins from the early series; b. coins from the late series; large symbols >10 coins (after Schulze-Forster 2005, Fig. 6; Heinrichs 2005, Fig. 6.0; with additions and corrections for the Netherlands).

3.5 Silver coins with the legend ANNAROVECI (Scheers 58 type) and the ethnogenesis of the Tungri (c. 50-25 BC)

Concentrated in central Belgium is a small, local coin group of silver quinarii with a high copper content featuring a right-facing head on the obverse, a horse on the reverse and the circular legend ANNAROVECI on both sides (Figs. 11 and12). Haselgrove dates the coins to between 60 and 20 BC.[25] However, the strong similarity between the horse on the reverse and the horse of the more recent AVAVCIA coins (Fig. 11) argues for a dating in the third quarter of the 1st century BC. This late dating renders Scheer’s proposed attribution of this coin type to the Eburones an anachronism.[26] More plausible is an association with the ethnogenesis of the Tungri. A leader by the name of Annaroveci may have played a prominent role here.


Fig. 11 Bronze AVAVCIA coin with legend (class I; left) and ANNAROVECI quinarius (right).


Fig. 12 Distribution of silver ANNAROVECI coins, Schemers 58 type (after Schemers 1996, Fig. 3, with additions).

3.6 Bronze AVAVCIA coins and articulation with the Roman monetary system (Scheers 217 type, c. 25 BC-AD 10)

The most recent, comprehensive and widely distributed Lower Rhine coin group is that of bronze ‘AVAVCIA’ coins, the obverse of which shows a swastika and the reverse a horse (Fig. 11). Because the coins occur on such a vast scale in the earliest Roman camps and civil centres (Fig. 13), it is widely assumed that they were fully integrated into the Roman monetary system. It has been suggested that they were minted to make up for a shortage of small-denomination Roman coins. This raises the fundamental question of whether it is still possible to speak of a tribal issue, or whether they are better regarded as provincial Roman coins. A recent study of this coin type identified a fundamental distinction between distribution patterns for class I coins with the circular legend AVAVCIA on the reverse and class II/III coins without a legend.[27] Coins from the former group are concentrated in central Belgium (Fig. 14), with only small numbers known to be from Roman military and urban centres in the Rhineland. We suggest that class I coins be viewed as a tribal emission, struck before the first Roman forts were established in the Rhine zone under Drusus from c. 15 BC onwards. This issue can probably be ascribed to the Tungri. Further evidence to support this, apart from the distribution pattern, is the fact that the horse on the reverse is virtually a copy of the one on the ANNAROVECI coins discussed above. This brings us to the question of whether the functional interpretation of these class I coins as ‘small change’ is still tenable if we accept that this was a pre-Roman tribal issue. After all, a monetized market exchange system can hardly have existed in the Tongres area in the period before Drusus’ arrival. It makes more sense, as with the ANNAROVECI coins, to associate the production to the formative phase of the Tungri tribal confederation.[28] It is not inconceivable, as with Annaroveci above, that this involved a leader by the name of Avaucia.


Fig. 13 Distribution of bronze AVAVCIA coins (Schemers 217 type, all classes). a. 1-5 coins; b. 6-15 coins; c. 16-100 coins; d. >100 coins ; e. Roman camp (after Aarts & Roymans, in press, Fig. 3).


Fig. 14 Distribution of bronze AVAVCIA coins, variant with legend (class I). a. 1-5 coins; b. 6-15 coins; c. 16-100 coins; d. Roman camp (after Aarts & Roymans, in press, Fig. 50).

The coins from class II/III are uninscribed. Their distribution is clearly concentrated in the Roman camps in the Lower Rhine region, where they occur in vast numbers (Fig. 15). The coins appear to have been struck in the camps themselves, as evidenced by the identification of local variants at Haltern and the discovery of a flan mould fragment in the Roman camp on the Kops Plateau in Nijmegen.[29] The excavators associate this find with the local production of AVAVCIA coins.[30] What we can say is that the class II/III coins were struck after 15 BC by order or with consent of the Roman authorities with the aim to satisfy the enormous demand for small denomination coins in the Roman camps.


Fig. 15 Distribution of bronze AVAVCIA coins, variants with no legend (class II-III). a 1-5 coins; b 6-15 coins; c 16-100 coins; d >100 coins; e Roman camp (after Aarts & Roymans, in press, Fig. 6).