Celtic coinage and rainbow cups
Use of coins was preceded by use of iron “hryvnia” of standard scales; in addition, barter was never abandoned. At time of their greatest development the Celts began to mint their own coins – the first coins used in Central Europe region. The Celts got to know coins earlier during their war campaigns in the 4th century BC and as mercenaries; but only from the third century, when production began to be higher than domestic consumption, need for their own coinage appeared. The main materials used were silver and gold (on Czech territory it was mostly gold; to the east, silver prevailed and on the west, the ratio was approximately balanced); copper, bronze, etc. were rarely used too. It is an interesting speculation that in Bohemia region (Stradonice oppidum), where there was lack of silver, Roman denarii served as its source for production of Celtic coins.
The oldest documented coins are from the 2nd century, the first coins mimic the Macedonian-Greek patterns – ie. staters and their parts (1/3, 1/8 and 1/24) according to staters of Alexander III of Macedonia weighing 8.4 to 8.6 gram with Greek inscriptions and depictions of Greek goddesses found on several places in Bohemia and Moravia; similar coins were found in the wider region too that had one side with depiction of a warrior and purity of gold up to 97%. On territory of modern-day France, there has been a major influence of Masillia (today Marseille), which used the Greek drachma from Asia Minor and later began to mint its own coins according to their pattern (motif of a head of a nymph and motif of a lion (later bull). Gradually more coins spread among the ordinary people, who began to use coins even among themselves, not only in international trade. International trade was initially oriented towards east and Greece, but with expansion of Rome the trade started to focus there – as reported by Cicero, “Not a single coin moves in the Gaul without record in the books of Roman citizens about it.” Gradually the taken motives became less clear and were replaced by Celtic artistic style. A common motif was a horse. Especially in earlier periods local Celtic names appear on coins (perhaps those are names of local chiefs). In Bohemia region, motif of a boar was common, also coiled dragon occurs (probably inspiration of the Scythians) or solar symbols.
So-called “rainbow cups” (according to their reflection after rain, when they appeared on freshly ploughed fields; their name may be also associated with superstition about treasure at end of a rainbow) occured in the first half of the last century BC. They are bowl-shaped gold coins. More Western type is found in regions from eastern France to Bohemia, especially in Bavaria, usually they are with motif of a coiled dragon on one side and on the other one with torques motif or similar. Just for example, there were about 1400 pieces of them found in Gagers archaeological site in Bavaria. The fineness of the gold used is lower, around 70%. Specific coins were found in the so-called podmokelský treasure (Czech Republic) in 1771 – there were allegedly about 5000 coins of purity of up to 90% and average weight of 7.45 gram, unfortunately most of them were remelted then. The second type of bowl-shaped coin next to the rainbow cups, found rather in the east, is called a shell stater or just gold shell; its fineness is up to 97% and weight about 6.5 grams, silver was used as well, embossed patterns on this type of coin are less clear and distinct.
The youngest type of Celtic coins is large (about 17 grams) silver type called Biatec coined in the southwest of present-day Slovakia approximately between 75 – 50 BC. In addition to visual motifs, there are personal names in roman letters, most often Biatec or Biat, on the coins.
A question remains, who owned right to mint coins; perhaps individual rulers of tribes, maybe oppida (but oppidum could be a seat of a local ruler). Apparently each major manufacturing centre had this right and during exchange, value of the coin was determined after weighing it and determining quality of metal used.
Inserting coins into graves is very interesting, sometimes into mouth of the deceased, however in Bohemia these habits are not clearly documented. However, there was an interesting finding of Celtic coin type Athena – Alkis (1/8 stater) in a woman’s grave from the 10th century in Klecany near Prague; the coin was probably worn as an amulet around her neck.