The Early Celtic Coinage J. P. Morgan Donated to The MET
In 1917, J. Pierpont Morgan donated the very same type of early 1st and 2nd century coinage of Celtic Gaul Sénones to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Accession Number: 17.191.210
The Celtic Gaul Sénones
Since the 2nd century BC, these Sénones coins—as payments for mercenaries and traders—were widely circulated from France to northern Europe and even across the channel to Scotland. Numismatics and enthusiasts sometimes call them Celtic coins, Celtic being a modern generalized adjective for any coin bearing abstract Celtic motifs, but note that the term Celt (Keltoi in Greek) first appeared in late sixth century B.C. in the works of Greek geographer Hecataeus of Miletus, who used the term to refer to the “barbarian” people. So, Greeks called them “Celts”; the Romans, on the other hand, preferred to call them “Gauls” (Galli, Galatae).
We would be misleading to group Celts, Gauls, or Sénones as a single race located in specific place or a single culture, when in fact these were multiple tribes and heritages engaging on occasion to fight against mutual hostilities, trading with each other frequently and sharing certain physical similarities, cultures, and perhaps the same language (these ancient tribes spoke Ligurian, some historians suggest). Likewise, the coins of Gaul, the Sénones being one of them, circulated largely and extensively, and in times of wars, the Sénones coins were often buried in treasure troves.
But the autonomy of the Gaulish currency ended in 27 B.C., when Augustus, carrying out Agrippa’s plans, changed the constitution of the conquered Gaulish people and established the Roman Mint of Lugdunum (Lyon, a Roman city in Gaul in the past), producing gold and silver coins.
The Sénones coins were made out of potin (or billon), a base silver-like alloy common to be used in Celtic and Greek coinage; potin is mixed with copper, tin, and lead.
Not long ago, many numismatics consider the abstract designs of the Sénones coins and other Celtic coins as crude, primitive. Only recently have many come to appreciate the beauty of these highly abstract, symbolic, and avant-garde coinage designs. The reverse features an abstract horse, framed by two globules. The obverse features an abstract warrior’s head with seven strands of hair pulled back.
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