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


The introduction of money in the form of standardised objects of value made of metal and bearing images marked a new phenomenon in the pre-Roman societies of Western and Central Europe. In the Late Iron Age, the Lower Rhine region formed part of the northern peripheral zone of the La Tène culture, whose influence in this region has emerged as stronger than was previously thought. This is reflected among other things in the large numbers of ‘Celtic’ coins from this region.[1] Although very little was known about these coins until about 1980, the number of coins in the archaeological record, as well as what we know about them, has increased dramatically in recent decades.

This study seeks to survey these earliest coinages in the Lower Rhine region. We start with a few introductory remarks about the development of Celtic numismatics, and follow with a discussion of the research potential of coins from the Lower Rhine region. We then survey the evolution of coinage and coin production in this area from the 2nd century BC. The most important coin groups are discussed, with an emphasis on their distribution, dating and possible attribution to a particular tribe. Finally, we address the implications of these coinages for some broader socio-cultural issues. Our aim is to provide answers to the following questions: Why and by whom were Celtic coins produced and in what types of context were they used? To what extent can we link patterns in the numismatic material to the historically documented formation of a series of new tribes in the decades immediately after Caesar’s conquest of Gaul? What factors attributed to the relatively slow, late start of coin use among Lower Rhine groups, and why did the use of coins stop at the Dutch/Belgian coastal plains and the area north of the Rhine delta? We shall argue that the study of coinage from the Lower Rhine region can make a significant and original contribution to our understanding of both Late Iron Age societies in the broader sense, and of their increasing integration into the Roman empire.