February 12, 2016 by M Grant
The ancient Celts are something of a pet obsession of mine. Have you seen their coins? They’re an amazing combination of abstract, badass, and beautiful.
“The images found on Celtic coins include giants trailing severed heads on rope, horsemen charging into battle, gods and goddesses, skulls and chariot wheels, thunderbolts and lightning, the sun and the moon. They are miniature masterpieces of surreal art .”
I’m going to reiterate this: Imagine going down to the corner store, picking up a soft drink and some chips, and paying with money that bears an image of “giants trailing severed heads on rope.” This was a real coin that people used to buy things in their real lives.
In fact, there were a tremendous number of coins that the Celts used and spread throughout Europe during the iron age, when they were popping up and fighting all over Europe and laughing in the faces of the Romans. So many coins that tons of them survived, and Oxford has a gigantic collection of them. Occasionally someone will stumble on a trove of them left behind by some ancient army and suddenly be a millionaire.
Given that we have virtually no surviving writings by the Celts, these images are one of the few windows we have into their world.
Oxford a searchable database of coins you can look at, online, here. Most of them are horses with (solar?) wheels, but some of them are really cool. There are thousands.
Here are some of my favorites:
Look how crazy abstract that horse is! The enormous eye, the stylized mane,
Sometimes the Celtic horse-with-wheel motif gets a little more elaborate, and the horse has crazy horns or, in this case, a sweet serpent tail.
A female rider with a spear is also really common. Often she’s nude, and also wielding a thunderbolt, but in this one she’s clearly wearing armor, which is cool because it’s an easy “screw you” to historians who say the Celts didn’t have female warriors.
Some of their coins are just insanely abstract, and with others it’s difficult to tell what they were supposed to depict because . But they definitely had a really unique aesthetic.