Reprinted from May, 2004 issue of The Celator, Vol. 18, No.4. Other than the addition of one bibliography item, and the correction of a few typos, the version presented here is unchanged from what appeared in the magazine. (I've also added Class E, Group Iaa, Plated Imitations in Roman Style--Hybrids, to the catalogue, but not to the article.) I've presented it that way with some reluctance, because there have been some careful comments made which I eventually hope to address. In particular, a very astute collector and student of Republican coins both imitative and official, gently but firmly described the "Anomalous" category as "ludicrous". Certainly it bears a certain resemblance to Einstein's Cosmological Constant, a more or less arbitrary factor introduced into a theory to make it work. My only defense is that the "Anomalous-Light" notion seems to yield meaningful results. It's "Heavy" cousin, alas, may be on its way to the dustbin of history.
Dacian and Celtic Imitations of Republican Denarii
Perhaps no series of ancient coins is as consistently misunderstood, vaguely described, or incorrectly attributed, as are the so-called "Celtic" imitations of Roman Republican denarii. Even the placement of these coins in sale catalogues is erratic; sometimes they are found in the Celtic section, sometimes alongside official Republican coins, sometimes as a subsection at the end of a run of official coins. They're variously ascribed to Gaul, Pannonia, Dacia, or the "Danube River basin". This confusion is frustrating, considering how interesting and attractive many imitations are. The wild array of horses with extra or missing legs, flying charioteers, alien Roma heads, and gods on a stick, often clearly identified with legends like IOIOIV, is like nothing else in ancient numismatics. They've appealed to me in a general way for some time, but I only recently began to systematically acquire and examine them. It turns out that much of what I thought I knew about these imitations is wrong. They don't originate in Gaul, although there is a well-known series of smaller Gallic coins, the so-called quinarii, which often also derive from Roma head and chariot or other Republican types. These however are generally signed by the Gallic tribe that struck them, and are a different category of coin altogether. The majority of denarius-sized imitations of Republican coins aren't even Celtic.
In fact these coins were struck further east, in Hungary and the Balkans, more often by Geto-Dacians than by Celts. There is a considerable literature about them in the "source" countries, but much of it is difficult to obtain, and generally written in languages that are not well understood in Western Europe or the US. Numismatists, mostly in the Balkans, who have studied imitations, have often focused on the coins found in their home countries. I'm not aware of an attempt in any language to distinguish the various sorts of imitations. Certainly, there is no such classification in English. I've tried to address this in the system that follows. A true catalogue of these coins will probably never be feasible, as each die combination would require its own listing, but hopefully the following arrangement can at least provide a framework for looking at the diverse coins presently lumped into the catchall category "imitations."
CLASS A Geto-Dacian
Group Ia Monetary Copies. Transfer dies from Republican denarii
Group Ib Monetary Copies. New dies, faithful copies
Group II Monetary Imitations. New dies, derivative, crude and/or fanciful copies
Group III Hybrids.
CLASS B Pannonian
Group I Uninscribed Series
Group II Eraviscan
Group III Other Pannonian
CLASS C Other Balkan
Group I Serbian
Group II Bulgarian
Group III Other
CLASS D Anomalous
Group Ia Light; debased silver, thin flan, and/or unusual fabric
Group Ib Heavy; unusually large flan
CLASS E Ancient Forgeries
Group Ia Plated imitations in Roman style
Group Ib Plated imitations in near-Roman style
Group II Plated imitations in non-Roman style
Class A, Geto-Dacian. The Geto-Dacians were a Thracian people with a long tradition of coinage, initially comprising mostly imitations of Macedonian types. As economic contact between the expanding Geto-Dacian world and the expanding Roman Republic intensified, these earlier Macedonian-style tetradrachms were almost entirely replaced by massive numbers of Republican-style denarii. Some 25,000 denarii of Republican type have been found in Romania on present estimate, more than have survived anywhere outside Italy itself. How many of these denarii were official coins imported from Rome, and how many were produced locally, is very much an open question, as is their economic function. Michael Crawford has proposed, in "Republican denarii in Romania: the suppression of piracy and the slave trade", that these coins were utilized almost exclusively in said trade, but that notion has been universally rejected by Romanian numismatists, who consider them to be a true national coinage of the relatively developed Dacian proto-state. Whatever the ratio of official coins to imitations, there's no doubt that imitations were produced in Dacia in substantial numbers. Most of the good-silver, denarius-sized imitations of Republican types encountered today in the numismatic market, although typically described as "Celtic", are unquestionably Geto-Dacian, based on find-spots and patterns of circulation. Any Republican denarius was a potential model for a Dacian die engraver, but certain types, such as the coins of C. Vibius Pansa, Q. Antonius Balbus, and C. Naevius Balbus were particularly popular. Some imitations are serrate, generally but not always following the prototype in this; a few are partially serrate. In at least one case (see n.1, below), two coins are known from the same dies, one serrate, one not. The date the Dacian imitations were minted is uncertain, but the bulk of the Republican prototypes were struck within a narrow time band, roughly 90-70 BC, with a few at least as early as 148 BC. Plausibly allowing 15-30 years for the originals to reach Dacia gives an approximate date range of 75-40 BC for the imitations, if the few early pieces are disregarded as "strays" copied many years after they were minted. This corresponds closely with the reign of the great Dacian king Burebista, c.70-44 BC. (The imitation of Roman denarii in Dacia continued well into Imperial times, probably at a reduced rate, but the Augustan and later imitations won't be considered here.) The location of the mint or mints is uncertain; the finds are weighted towards Transylvania, but not overwhelmingly so.
Groups Ia, Ib, Monetary Copies. The term "monetary copies" was coined by Maria Chitescu in "Numismatic Aspects of the History of the Dacian State." She includes within this term both dies mechanically transferred from actual coins and newly engraved dies that reproduce accurately, although not always perfectly, their Republican prototypes, but it seems desirable to more clearly distinguish the two. Examples of both types of die were included in the remarkable hoard of dies found at Tilisca, Romania, in 1961. The British Museum catalogue, for example, notes that most of the Tilisca dies were faithful copies, and "in some cases dies appear to have been made from actual Roman coins." Crawford, in "Imitation of Roman Republican Denarii in Dacia," has identified an example of this phenomenon, a die match between a coin in the Maccarese hoard (Cr-382/1, illustrated on pl. LXV of "Roman Republican Coinage"), and one of the Tilisca dies. The Tilisca die would have produced a coin in shallower relief than the Maccarese specimen, from which Crawford concludes that the die was transferred from a worn original. There are further complications in certain Romanian denarii hoards, including one Augustan-era hoard found in Breaza which consists in part of cast forgeries of Republican coins, accurate even to various bankers' marks on the originals. Crawford calls these coins "horrifying." Some other complex problems can't be addressed here, such as Chitescu's assertion that all the monetary copies can be detected by their slight but consistent reduction in diameter and weight relative to official Republican coins, and their relative lack of bankers' marks. The five examples of this group described below average 3.71 grams.
Group II, Monetary Imitations. The term "monetary imitations" was also coined by Chitescu. It refers to coins which markedly diverge from their Republican prototypes. The designs are more or less fanciful, stylized or "barbarous," often with mismatched obverse and reverse types; the legends are also more or less garbled, or completely absent. Usually the prototypes can still be determined with reasonable certainty, but in extreme cases can only be guessed at. The eleven coins of this group described below average 3.74 grams.
Group III, Hybrids. "Hybrid" may be a surprising description in a series in which a mismatch of obverse and reverse types is typical, but at least one coin exists which is a true hybrid, struck from dies not intended to be used together. This coin combines an obverse of Group Ia, mechanically transferred from an "official" coin of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi, with a reverse of group II. It seems likely that the obverse die was an earlier one reused later. See n. 17, below, for further discussion of this piece.
Class B, Pannonian. The bulk of imitative Republican denarii are sometimes considered Pannonian. Michaela Kostial's catalogue of the Lanz Collection describes most of the imitations in the collection as "ungarische Gruppe", generally with a parenthetical interrogative. This seems to be an echo of Robert Forrer's 1908 work, "Keltische Numismatik." Only Class B coins however can be assigned with confidence to Hungary.
Group I, Uninscribed Series. This is a compact, closely die-linked body of coins, described in the BM catalogue as the "uninscribed series" (BM 252-260.) "Uninscribed" seems an inapt term, as most of these coins do in fact bear legends; presumably it is used here in the sense of "unsigned," to distinguish them from the later, signed Eraviscan coins. The uninscribed series is relatively well known, being also included in De la Tour's Atlas. The BM catalogue treats these coins as very typical of the imitations in general, but in fact, while they are common enough in public collections like that of the BM, which contains a number of examples apparently from a single hoard, or of the Biblioteque Nationale, they are quite scarce in the marketplace. The Budapest National Museum contains some 150 examples of these coins, reinforcing their attribution to Hungary. The 13 coins of this group in the BM average 3.77 grams, with an unusually wide variation, from 2.79 to 4.59 grams.
Group II, Eraviscan. The Eravisci were a Celtic tribe living in the area of modern Budapest. From roughly 50 BC until perhaps 20 BC, they struck a well-known, thoroughly catalogued series of coins derived from Republican originals. These coins form a tightly die-linked, readily identifiable group, although occasionally other imitations have been described as "Eraviscan." Rob Freeman has published a preliminary die study of the Eraviscan coins in "Essays Hirsch," and extensive runs of them are found in the BM catalogue, Gunther Dembski's catalogue of the Vienna Celtic cabinet, and elsewhere. Many of these coins bear the legend RAVIS or other variations on the tribal name; others, die-linked with the RAVIS pieces, bear legends such as DOMISA which are apparently names of tribal chieftains. They are consistently lightweight relative to their prototypes, the specimens in Freeman's hoard averaging around 3.25 grams. These coins are the only imitative denarii with an unquestioned claim to the appellation "Celtic." The "uninscribed series" coins may well prove also to be Eraviscan, or at any rate Celtic, an earlier manifestation of the same coinage tradition, but that's no more than a reasonable surmise on present evidence.
Group III, Other Pannonian. There are hints of other Pannonian imitations beyond the two series described above, but no coins have been firmly identified as such.
Class C, Other Balkan. Likewise, there are hints of imitative coinages beyond those of Dacia and Pannonia. These peripheral coinages, if they exist, may well be associated with the expansion of the Dacian state under Burebista around 50 BC, as the notion of coinage, or the need for it, spread in tandem with the advancing Dacian armies.
Group I, Serbian. A hoard in the Belgrade National Museum, consisting solely of imitations (fifteen coins), was published by Petar Popoviac in 1974. Popoviac presumes it was a local find. These coins are light, averaging 3.21 grams, with a wide variation from 2.25 to 3.69 grams. Suggestively, most of them form a die-linked sequence (a specimen from one pair of dies is also in the Budapest Museum.) It seems quite likely that these coins were not only found in Serbia, but that they hadn't traveled very far from the place they were struck. If there were coins struck in Serbia from dies not represented in the Belgrade hoard, I see no way at present to distinguish them from Dacian imitations.
Group II, Bulgarian. Imitations have also been found in some quantity in Bulgaria, mostly of Dacian style and fabric. If there was an independent tradition of imitations in Bulgaria, the coins have yet to be clearly identified.
Group III, Other Balkan. The BM catalogue illustrates, but regrettably omits in the text, certain coins of distinctive style, crisp strike, and broad flan, BM 285-289, pl. XII. Richard Abdy of the BM has kindly provided weights for these pieces, which range widely from 2.67 to 4.47 grams, averaging 3.74 grams, but the BM has no information as to provenance. These coins, examples of some of which have also appeared in trade, may form an independent group, of unknown origin.
Class D, Anomalous. Certain imitations seem distinct from any of the preceding classes. They are either very heavy or very light. Although of good silver, they visually stand out from the rest, and are difficult to plausibly place into any of the main sequences. Chitescu obliquely confirms this distinction, opting to simply disregard weights of less than 3.0 grams or more than 4.5 grams as artifacts of wear or faulty recording. This can't be the entire explanation, as I have in my collection coins, accurately weighed, past either extreme. I've labeled these "anomalous" as a stopgap description, until new evidence or new insights allow them to be more properly placed. Perhaps some of these may prove to be among the elusive Class C coins. (Note that Class D is not defined entirely by weight. A few pieces, slightly to either side of the arbitrary range 3.00-4.50 grams, but otherwise of typical Dacian fabric and style, have been placed, with some hesitation, in Class A.)
Group 1a, Light. The single coin described below is a very thin serrated piece, possibly of debased silver, although clearly not plated. It weighs only 2.62 grams.
Group 1b, Heavy. The single coin described below is of distinctive style, struck in high relief on a large, thick flan. It weighs 4.82g.
Class E, Ancient Forgeries. Plated denarii are sometimes described as "Celtic imitations." There's no real justification for this, but neither is the matter of fourrées as simple as I initially believed. I've had to completely rethink the subject, as some inconvenient facts popped up to muddy a perfectly good theory.
Group Ia, Roman Style. These are straightforward ancient forgeries, of purely official style. (The notion, still sometimes encountered, that some plated coins are official products of the Rome mint, is obsolete and can be disregarded. I think it is possible that some plated Imperatorial denarii, struck in silver-strapped traveling mints, are "official" within the context of those mints.) They are often hybrids, but the obverse and reverse generally date to within a few years of each other. Whether they are struck from new dies transferred from actual coins, or are the "after hours" products of mintworkers using official dies, or both, is a matter of some controversy, but in either case, they are generally assumed to have been produced by Romans. The situation is in fact somewhat more complex. Chitescu describes a small hoard found in Bozieni, Romania, in 1965, in a Geto-Dacian settlement. Much of this hoard consists of plated Republican or legionary denarii, some of them broken, of impeccable Roman style. The hoard is relatively late, ending in a single coin of Vespasian, also plated. She describes it as a forger's stock, and assumes it was produced locally. This must be the case, as two fragments of coins of M. Volteius in the hoard were struck from identical dies. At least one other small hoard consists solely of plated coins. But the largest and most typical of the Romanian hoards of Republican denarii contain very few plated specimens, or none, while fourrées are frequently encountered among Dacian imitations of Imperial denarii. The imitation of Republican types in Dacia continued sporadically long after the production of the prototypes, and most or all of the plated "Republican" coins produced there may well be the products of Imperial times, as enterprising Dacians acquired an unfortunate sort of sophistication. Despite occasional ambiguity, the bulk of Republican plated coins encountered today are no doubt the products of forgers working within the Empire.
Group Ib, Near-Roman Style. There is an interesting series of plated coins, which mimic "official" style closely, without however quite duplicating it. The differences are difficult to quantify, but are clear enough to anyone familiar with the originals. The obverse and reverse of these coins are generally correctly matched; the legends are never badly blundered, but are sometimes abbreviated or imprecise. The coins of this group are often described as "Celtic" or "barbarous," but I believe they are simply ancient forgeries, struck from new dies produced by inexpert engravers. There is no evidence to suggest that they were struck by non-Romans, or outside the borders of the Empire, but the caveats pertaining to Group Ia apply here also.
Group II, Non-Roman Style. Plated coins exist, in some quantity, of an unmistakably non-Roman style. These can be as fanciful and bizarre as the most outlandish good silver imitations. To my mind, these coins are completely mysterious. As far as I know, they have never been systematically examined. It is impossible to believe that they were produced by Romans. If one accepts the assumption that all plated coins were intended to deceive the recipient, for the profit of the producer, these "barbarous" plated pieces can only have been the product of non-Roman counterfeiters. Die links between these coins and good silver imitations would explain a lot, but I'm unaware of any such links, and I doubt if any exist. To my eye, these coins, though certainly "barbarous," are very different in fabric and style from any of the known good silver imitations.
All coins are in the author's collection, and all photography is by Aaron Berk. The photos are arranged according to the preceding classification. Not all categories are represented by illustrations. Although I've suggested a possible prototype or prototypes for each coin, some of these are speculative.
Class A Group Ib, Geto-Dacian Monetary Copies.
1. Types of Q. Antonius Balbus, after 82 BC; cf. Lanz 106, 10 (same dies, serrate), cf. Cr-364/1d; 4.33g. Faithful copy, but not serrate. Reverse horses have six legs in front, eight in back. I know of no parallel to this case of serrate and plain edge coins struck from the same dies. The obverse die of the present coin shows evidence of reengraving or repair. Perhaps an old pair of dies was found and reused, with no serrate prototype at hand?
2. Types of C. Mamilius Limetanus, after 82 BC; cf. Cr-362/1; 3.29g. Obverse double struck; V under Mercury's chin, no letter behind; otherwise, slightly stylized but faithful copy; poorly engraved but accurate reverse legend.
3. Types of C. Naevius Balbus, after 79 BC; cf. Cr-382/1b; 3.80g, serrate. Head of Venus left, otherwise very faithful copy.
4. Same types; 3.68g, serrate. Head of Venus right, faithful copy, somewhat stylized.
5. Types of P. Satriena, after 77 BC; cf. Cr-388/1b; 3.45g. Close copy, Mars' hair and helmet slightly stylized, reverse legend P. PATRI. Obverse not a match for known control XVI die.
Class A Group II, Geto-Dacian Monetary Imitations.
6. Types of L. Antestius Gragulus, after 136 BC; cf. Cr-238/1; 3.63g. Types correct but quite stylized, legend badly garbled and apparently meaningless.
7. Types of P. Laeca?, after 104 BC?; cf. Cr-301/1; 3.54g. Barbarous Roma head, X both behind and before; remarkably barbarous and opaque reverse scene, with no legend other than X and large retrograde C. The identification of the prototype as Cr-301 is barely more than a guess.
8. Obverse type of Publius Calpurnius or L. Minucius, reverse type of C. Vibius Pansa, after 90 BC; cf. Cr-247/1 or Cr-248/1, obverse; cf. Cr-342, reverse; 3.75g. Barbarous Roma head, seemingly mounted on a stick, with hair like three snakes; reverse slightly stylized but faithful copy, with accurate legends.
9. Types of C. Vibius Pansa, after 90 BC; cf. Cr-342/4; 3.51g. Stylized head of Apollo, remnants of inappropriate SC behind; reverse sketchy and double struck, with meaningless legends.
10. Types of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi, after 90 BC; cf. Cr-340/1; 3.64g. Very barbarous head of Apollo, barbarous horseman, garbled and apparently meaningless legends. Possibly debased silver.
11. Obverse type of C. Vibius Pansa?, reverse type of C. Norbanus, after 83 BC; Chitescu 112 (same dies), cf. Chitescu 204 (same obverse die), cf. Cr-342, obverse, cf. Cr-357/1, reverse; 3.45g, Barbarous head of Apollo, meaningless legend before; sketchy but accurate reverse.
12. Obverse type of Pub. Crepusius, reverse type of various moneyers, after 82 BC; cf. Cr-361/1, obverse, cf. Cr-282, reverse; 4.62g, serrate. Somewhat stylized head of Apollo; somewhat stylized warrior in biga, remnants of legend below.
13. Obverse type of C. Annius with L. Fabius Hispaniensis, reverse type of Q. Titius, after 81 BC; cf. Cr-366/1c, obverse, cf. Cr-341, reverse; 3.70g. Stylized bust of Anna Perenna, scales under chin misinterpreted as XXI; long, apparently meaningless legend behind; slightly stylized Pegasus on reverse. The reverse shows clear signs of being overstruck, possibly on an earlier imitation. This coin is placed in this group with little confidence. Its style and fabric do not seem Dacian. It was found in a Balkan hoard of Flavian date. The preservation of this coin is more consistent with denarii of Augustus and Tiberius in that hoard than it is with Republican pieces in the same hoard, most of which were quite worn. The date suggested here for this coin may well be 100 years too early.
14. Types of C. Naevius Balbus, after 79 BC; cf. Cr-382/1; 3.51g, serrate. Both sides very sketchy; remnants of SC behind Venus' head, no other legend.
15. Obverse type of C. Naevius Balbus, reverse type of P. Furius Crasipes, after 79 BC; cf. Cr-382/1, obverse, cf. Cr-356/1, reverse; 3.62g. Stylized head of Venus, remnants of SC behind; stylized chair, blundered but recognizable legend below.
16. Types of L. Rutilius Flaccus, after 77 BC; cf. Cr-387/1; 4.18g. Stylized Roma head; stylized Victory in "biga" with added third horse (not truly a "triga"); rear legs of horses' total five; remnants of correct legend below.
Class A Group III, Geto-Dacian Hybrids.
17. Obverse type of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi, reverse type of L. Papius, after 79 BC; cf. Cr-340/1, obverse, cf. Cr-384/1, reverse; 3.53g, serrate. Obverse mechanically transferred from known control XXXVI die (cf. Banti 44/21 for an example); while "exact", it illustrates the softness expected from a casting process. Reverse depicts a stylized Pegasus, possibly double-struck, apparently a misunderstood griffin copied from an original of L. Papius; legend is blundered, but recognizable as that of L. Papius (not however as that of Q. Titius.) I know of no parallel to this combination of obverse and reverse dies manufactured via different processes, probably at different times.
Class B Group I, Pannonian, Uninscribed Series.
18. Types of C. Coelius Caldus, after 104 BC; BM-258 (same dies), DLT-1072, cf. Cr-318/1; 4.07g. Very stylized Roma head; stylized horses with "flying" driver, meaningless legend below.
Class B Group II, Pannonian, Eraviscan.
19. Types of C. Postumius, after 74 BC; Freeman 17/P (same dies), Chitescu 173 (same dies), cf. Cr-394/1; 2.87g. Both sides somewhat stylized, remnants of correct legend on reverse. Unusual surface with droplets and depressions implying casting, but a "wrapped" edge seam more consistent with a plated piece. The author knows two other examples of these dies, averaging 3.31g and with normal surfaces. Another piece, also of the same dies, but weighing 3.56g, is illustrated in Chitescu, pl. X, 173. It has a similar surface to the present coin. The first two are apparently Eraviscan imitations; the latter two are possibly contemporary forgeries of that Eraviscan prototype, but even the prototype differs from other Eraviscan coins in many ways.
Class D Group Ia, Anomalous. Light.
20. Types of C. Poblicius, after 80 BC; cf. Cr-380/1; 2.62g, serrate. Barbarous bust of Roma left, blundered legend before, traces behind; very barbarous Hercules and lion, blundered legend behind.
Class D Group Ib, Anomalous, Heavy.
21. Types of Gar, Ogvl, Ver, after 86 BC; cf. Cr-350A; 4.82g. Somewhat stylized head of Apollo; somewhat stylized quadriga, front legs of horses total four, rear legs seven; meaningless legend below.
Class E Group 1b, Plated Forgeries, Near-Roman Style.
22. Types of C. Piso L. Frugi, after 67 BC; cf. Cr-480/1b, cf. Hersh 339; 2.83g. Apollo head in near-official style, degraded symbol behind; horseman in slightly sketchy style, degraded symbol above, slightly degraded legend below.
Class E Group II, Plated Forgeries, Non-Roman Style.
23. Types of M. Tullius, after 120 BC; cf. Cr-280/1; 3.54g. Somewhat sketchy, stylized head of Roma, blundered legend behind; sketchy, stylized quadriga left, retrograde but otherwise correct legend below.
24. Obverse type of L. Cassius Caecianus, reverse type of Q. Antonius Balbus, after 82 BC; cf. Cr-321/1, obverse, cf. Cr-364/1, reverse; 1.53g. Barbarous bust of Ceres, blundered legend behind; accurate reverse of slightly sketchy style, with correct legend. The resemblance of the obverse of this coin to the Hungarian "uninscribed" pieces is probably coincidental.
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