Essays On Coin Inscriptions


Very considerable advantage has been obtained in these inquiries, in combining the Celtic inscriptions of the moneys of Gaul with those of Britain, the latter not being intelligible except by means of the former.

The references to the Celtic, in explaining the inscriptions noticed in these pages, have been made through the various dialects of that language, as the Armorican, Gaelic, ancient British or Welsh, and the Gaelic of Scotland, or Erse; but the Manx dialect has not been used. The Welsh has usually been found sufficient for the part of the inscriptions relating to Britain; and in cases where words are not now extant in the Welsh, they will almost invariably be met with in the Gaelic of Caledonia, which I have found more to my purpose than the Gaelic of Ireland, which closely approximates to it, considering it not so much encumbered with superfluous letters.

Illustration to the history of a country by inscriptions on coins, is always in proportion as the ancient affairs of that country arc more or less known. If these be but little known, the illustration will be great, if there be only sufficient specimens to consult; whilst, if a country's history be already well known, as is the case of many countries ancient and modern,—Greece, Rome, France, or Great Britain, for instance,—a copious coinage will then only supply matters of collateral interest, as incidental points connected with biography, chronology, or the arts, present themselves. In this point of view the ancient British coinage may appear to afford us a fair prospect of success. The loss of early documents and of written materials of ancient British history, in many points is indeed irreparable, except as far as it can be replaced by coins.

We shall find our supply of materials in this way not deficient.

Our ancicnt British types cannot amount to much less than nearly four hundred in number, of which possibly as many as two hundred may have inscriptions.

A titular mode of interpretation of the legends of ancient British coins will be usually adopted in these pages. The import of the inscriptions is thus far more correctly explained, much more agreeably to the idiom of the Celtic language, and more conformably to the manners and customs of ancient nations, and to what we know of the general outlines of ancient British history.

I have only followed in this the pattern afforded me by Mr. Layard, Mr. Bosanquet, Sir Henry Rawlinson, and others, in their explanations of Assyrian antiquities. They have found that the inscriptions of ancient Nineveh could only be so explained; and that there was no choice otherwise. It was only either to adopt that mode, or to leave them locked up in their former obscurity,—indeed, hermetically sealed for ever. They fortunately followed the correct path, and so we have the benefit of their labours. Their proofs may frequently appear light and insufficient to some; but in the result they will be seldom found to be in error, and their combined discoveries confirm one another. I may, in the like manner, refer with confidence to many of the discoveries and altogether new explanations in the following pages. Some may object to them in their first and second stages; but few will do so as to their ultimate results.

It is much to be regretted that our eminent lexicographers of the last, and, indeed, of the present century, have so much neglected Celtic etymology, as Johnson, Todd, Richardson, and others. They have usually contented themselves with tracing words up to the Latin or the Greek, and there they leave them; forgetting that they might often more faithfully have assigned them to this earlier source. Celtic has thus been excluded from our national etymologies; but there seems no good reason why their example should be followed, and why we should similarly neglect not only the light incidentally supplied to our English etymologies, but also that thrown on the history of our island in remote times, by Celtic inscriptions on coins; which these pages will be sufficient to shew is very considerable.

One thing which, I think, will be found of interest in these inscriptions, is, that they will shew the elements of the Celtic mind, which in those days was certainly somewhat versatile and fanciful, and very different from the Roman or Teutonic mind, which was composed of elements of a more severe cast; and varying also from the temperament of other ethnological classes of the leading divisions of the human family.

As to the phrase employed in these inscriptions, O'Connor (vol. i, p. 332), in his explanation of the titular name of Cartismandua, expresses it to be, " She herself is in (the) quality of (the) chief of the citizens"; which, whether or not he may explain it rightly, may be taken as giving an idea of the tenor and vein of the numerous titular appellations of the Celtic rulers; though, of course, a legend on a coin would be expressed with much greater brevity. They were vain-glorious, too; for they took the names of their gods freely, as will be shewn in the following pages; and sometimes even with additions implying the superlative degree.

A few observations may be required in regard to the Glossary. It is brief, and only comprises twenty-seven pages; but I must claim some special importance for it, as it supplies the opportunity, not hitherto afforded in this country, of obtaining a close and accurate view of the early Celtic language. The valuable work of Baxter (his Glossary of British Antiquities) would have accomplished this; but he failed, not so much because he is sometimes obscure, and very frequently very fanciful, but actually from an absolute want of sufficient materials. For a range of all the classical authors of antiquity, and of all possible mediaeval authorities, it seems was not enough. He still wanted the solid basis of Celtic coin-inscriptions; which, till the last five years, could not be attained; when the onward progress of modern numismatics, like a tide coming in, has enabled it to be done. We are now in more favourable circumstances; and the some hundreds of Celtic inscriptions on coins which an inquirer on the subject has in the

present day in his power to bring forward, will sufficiently remove obscurities. To 6hew the value of this species of illustration, I will observe that each inscription is a sentence, sometimes merely idiomatic and conventional, sometimes partially inflected, after the manner of the Romans and Greeks, and according to Roman or Greek formula;, as may happen. But still each inscription is a separate sentence.

I will ask, then, whether it be possible to have some hundreds of sentences of the ancient Celtic language of the century before, and the century after the Christian era, which have become accessible of late years to the moderns, and not to have superior advantages of understanding the Celtic of the date spoken of, than were enjoyed by M. J. B. Bullet, Bouteroue, Rostreven, Owen Pughe, Edward Davies, or any of the old writers of lexicons or philologists ? or even are so by the modern ones, if they disregard or neglect the great advance which has been made 1

I will go on to observe, and I will confess that what I shall now say will almost look like some sort of abatement to what has been just stated in the immediately preceding remarks, that if our British branch of numismatics has advanced, forgery, the crimen falsi of the ancient Romans, has quite proportionably progressed with it, and, indeed, much outstripped it in the race. There is at the present day a vast manufacturing of forgeries going on in this country and on the continent, especially in Germany. Thus, with the great accession of fabrications everywhere meeting the view, it is obvious that the execution of the present work, in any satisfactory mode and form, would have been next to impossible if the publication of it had been long delayed. This would have been so from the numerous forged legends introduced, many of which might, of course,'be expected to bear on controverted points. True enough it is that this influx of forgery is becoming so great as to give reason to apprehend that the authentic legends of many most important historical types may soon be superseded by those which have been manufactured for the sake of pounds, shillings, and pence.

Speaking of forgery, this crimen falsi, it may be said, with some degree of truth, that through its baneful influence the study of ancient British coins is already almost come to an end. There is an embarrassment introduced, which types or readings to select and the majority of the vehicles of antiquarian and numismatic intelligence have been wholly unable to bar out for years past many highly suspicious specimens. Indeed, the present epoch is almost the very gala-day of forgery, in the production of fabricated coins of various nations, swords, arrow-heads, pottery, etc., etc. For one instance : I scarcely need refer to the very great and noticeable multiplication of particular types of ancient British coins, which has become at the present time so obvious.

This, be it remembered, is in addition to the vast mass of forgery which has come down to us from former times, both those of a century back and those comparatively recent. It is not so many years since that a customary and annual trade in choice forged specimens of Greek coins manufactured in Birmingham existed with Constantinople and Asia Minor, to be vended among travellers and virtuosi. The fabrications of ancient British coins also in the last century are very noticeable.

I do not profess to be able to state the prices at which rare coins were accustomed to be sold in former times, but certainly the excessive sums now so freely given for reputed rare and valuable specimens supply the greatest possible inducement to the very culpable criminality of forgery. When it is mentioned that an aureus of Allectus, worth, intrinsically, seventeen or eighteen shillings, has produced at a coin sale £60, and that the marketable price of a gold coin of Antiochus the Great, value half a sovereign, is £35, enough may be perhaps said on this subject: and rare silver and bronze coins are of course understood to bear proportionable prices. Thus the marketable values supply a great premium to the unprincipled; and for this there is no imaginable remedy. The only safeguard is a person's own scrutiny and discretion.

An attention to coins as historical evidence is, I think, the thing which excites the most scrutiny as to their authenticity. When a person knows that a coin is perfectly valueless for his historical purpose, nay, would deceive him and be a detriment to his research unless it be genuine, he very naturally is not swayed by any other considerations except those which bear upon the question, whether it be an authentic remnant of antiquity or not.

I may here, perhaps, make the remark with advantage, that incidentally a collateral proof or two in the present volume will supply a considerable security against forgery. For one instance. If we have veric, a commi(os) f(irbolg)., which reading is supported by two types and is only consistent with the word fir, seeing that the Celtic conjunction A, that is, and, is introduced, we may readily understand that the f on Cunobeline's coins may be expected to stand for fir likewise ; particularly in a country like Britain, where it appears to have been most usual to mention the names of states on coins, as the Iceni and others did.

The reader is not to suppose but that forged coins in our days frequently make their appearance with much show and attestation of genuineness, and thus modern numismatists are exposed to some additional peril. Many, indeed, are slow to consider at fifst that it is but a slight sacrifice for manufacturers of the class of which mention is now made, to expend a few specimens to be deposited in places where they can be rediscovered as alleged proofs, to secure a profitable and recurring sale of particular types.

I say the above the more pointedly, as being so material to the present inquiry; and being well aware that if the very obvious explanations of the Gaulish and British coinages which have been submitted in these pages be ever shaken, it will only be by the means of forged coins fabricated by unworthy persons for the motives of gain and for the diffusion of error.

I may here recommend some very excellent observations on the subject of the forgery of antiquities, by A. W. Franks, Esq., of the British Museum, read before the Society of Antiquaries, December 16th, 1858, and also printed in No. xvii of the Wilt shire Archceological Magazine for 1859, pp. 183-186. The papers of H. Syer Cuming, Esq., on the forgery of antiques in the Journal of the British Archceological Association, vol. ix, pp. 89-94 ; vol. xi, pp. 67-73 ; and vol. xiv, p. 94 ; displaying both a correct judgment and great archaeological experience, may likewise be associated to the above, by which much information will be supplied relative to prevailing impositions. There was a strange fraud practised on the celebrated Gough, then Director of the Society of Antiquaries, now three quarters of a century ago. This consisted in the pretended discovery of an Anglo-Saxon inscription relating to the death of Hardicanute: the accounts of this must be sought for in the periodicals of the year 1790, viz., in the Gentleman's Magazine for March and April, and in the European Magazine for the latter month. Sir Joseph Banks obtained the tablet, we are told, and kept it in his museum as supplying the materials of a species of permanent joke against antiquaries.

I have thus given much caution on the score of forgery; but after all it comes to this, that my readers must take their choice whether they accept the explanations of the coins and inscriptions as given in the present work on the vouchers and arguments which have been brought forward, or whether they suffer themselves to be swayed by the alleged discoveries of doubtful and very suspicious new specimens, though it is like enough in perfect preservation, which may be brought forward for the purposes of trade and falsification. When it is considered how elaborated has sometimes been the proof got up for notorious forgeries, and how closely veiled the folds of deception employed; and viewing also the grave suspicions entertained in some quarters of the genuineness of various objects assumed to be of great value, this may be, perhaps, saying enough.

Before concluding these preliminary remarks, I cannot but make an allusion to the astonishing spread of archaeology and antiquarian research, of every species, of late years. It shews, I think, the judgment of the public, that, notwithstanding all abatements and scoffs from some quarters, archaeology brings the mind up to a vigorous tone, in drawing aside the curtain of revolving years, and giving us faithful glimpses of times past. Not always, indeed, history ; but frequently something more than history, in supplying us with closer and more real views. I here may advert to a circumstance somewhat slight in itself, but yet of much import in support of what I now say, which is this, that a public journal of a very graphic character, and altogether of very unprecedented circulation, has poured forth, from a short interval from its commencement, a most copious stream of archaeological illustration and description ; which has not ceased in its issue, and is still progressing in its course, without, indeed, any symptom that public interest flags,—and this, too, notwithstanding that there is in the first number a notice, if I interpret rightly, that no communication of that nature should be received. The publication meant is the Illustrated London News.

There is another point which may be adverted to with satisfaction. There is a cheering hope that archaeology displaces reading of a more unprofitable complexion. The hope, I repeat, is cheering ; and should the low class of novels and other reading of a trashy description go more into the background by works like the present, I certainly should feel very highly gratified that my labours may have had collaterally this effect.


Page 13, 1. 36,/or pronounced, read have the power of.

— 46,1. 36,/or Catticuchlani, read Cattieuchlani.

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