Subjects represented on Gallic coins

During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, Gallic coins initially took inspiration for their graphics from neighbouring cities in Gaul or from the people recruiting Gallic mercenaries. Thus, the profiles of Mediterranean kings (Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander the Great), portraits of goddesses, or Greek ears of wheat appeared on Gallic coins, which at times depicted them in a rather archaic form. The “skill” of an engraver from a Gallic tribe makes it difficult at times to recognise the original Greek subject.

These images were only gradually replaced by more “Celtic” motifs during the 2nd century BC. The coin became a favourite medium in Celtic art, with highly stylised interlace and volutes, and with an infinite variety of traditional motifs: chariots, warriors, weapons, triskelions, birds, wild boars, moons, eyes, faces with jewellery, etc. Flora and fauna were particularly common, the horse for example, sometimes with the head of a man (the Gauls excelled in the use of cavalry). On the other hand, their gods seemed strangely absent from the production of coins, in total contrast to the Roman tradition for example. 

Even though today some see the images on Gallic coins simply as surprising modifications of Greek models, André Malraux himself recognised the talents of the Gallic engravers, and was impressed by the emotion that some of these pieces reveal. On the subject of the representation of horses on coins, he wrote: "you find them in the work of the Parisii, winged, riderless, bursting out here in arabesques, in an almost ornamental style which resembles Persian earthenware"* 

During the 1st century BC, during and after the Roman conquest, Roman influence dominated in Gallic numismatic iconography with representations of divinities, temples or emperors. Some coins even bore the heads of women directly inspired by the helmeted heads of Roman goddesses struck on to the coins of the Latin conquerors.



* Psychologie de l'Art, La Monnaie de l'Absolu (1950)