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10 Symbols of Celtic Britain

The coins of Celtic Britain are some of the most diverse of the entire ancient world. Just as the ancient Greek city-states had their own symbols (the owls of Athens and turtles of Aegina being two of the most well-known), the tribes of Britain had theirs.

The earliest Celtic coins were simple copies of Greek originals – most notably the gold staters of Philip II of Macedon, but through time these designs would become stylised, incorporating the popular ‘La Tene’ art style. Celtic coins would forge their own path, with countless beautiful symbols appearing, inspired by the beliefs and traditions of the Iron Age world. Roman coins would also influence those tribes which were friendly to the ever-expanding Empire, though some would reject Latin influence.

Horses appear very frequently in the numismatic record of ancient Britain, they are depicted in wild and beautiful designs, supported by patterns and symbols. In this concise blog, we’re going to be delving into some of the more unusual Celtic motifs. Looking past the more well-known animal symbols – wolves, wild boar and, most commonly, horses, we’ll explore ten of the most the obscure, mysterious, weird and wonderful numismatic symbols of prehistoric Britain and attempt to decipher their significance.


The ‘domino’ symbol appears on scarce gold staters of the Corieltauvi tribe. They were issued around 45–10 BC by an unknown ruler of the tribe. It is possible that the motif resembles a row of seeds in soil, as suggested by Rudd (Auction 108, 2022), similar to the Egyptian symbol for ‘earth’. It may also represent some sort of mark of value. Some rare examples show a ‘V’ in front of the horse. Dr. Jeffrey May has suggested this may be in reference to the king, Vepo, who may have been responsible for this issue of and a pioneer of inscribed coins of the Corieltauvi.

Corieltauvi, ‘Domino’ type, gold stater, c. 45-10 BC. Corieltauvi, Gold Stater, Domino Type | Baldwin’s

Vine Leaf and Ear of Barley

These two motifs were adopted by two of Iron Age Britain’s greatest kings. Verica, ruler of the Atrebates, adorned his coins with a large vine leaf. His rival, Cunobelin, king of the enormous Catuvellauni and Trinovantes tribes, chose the humble ear of barley as his emblem. These intricately engraved obverses show the plants in fine detail and have been the subjects of much debate over the years. Victorian scholars chose to interpret the rival designs as symbolising British beer, vs. Roman wine (Creighton, 2006), evidence of Verica’s pro-Roman beliefs, and anti-imperial sentiment from Cunobelin. This has been disproven through archaeology, with both tribes showing rich evidence of imported Roman luxury goods including wine and fish sauce. The two designs may simply have emerged through changes in the numismatic traditions of Britain. Roman influence was displacing the traditional Greek-derived designs.

The ear of barley used by Cunobelin, along with its Latin inscriptions, may have merely been a symbol of the wealth and abundance of grain from his enormous domain. In the Greek world, the coin designs of Metapontum served a similar purpose in promoting the city’s prosperity. Verica, also seeking an emblem, may have chosen the vine leaf as a symbol of Roman power, it having been a key symbol of the principate under Augustus. Creighton suggests these symbols may have been seen as the building blocks of how to create an empire.

Cunobelin, (c. AD 10-43), gold stater. Cunobelin, Gold Stater | Baldwin’s


While the larger staters of the Durotriges derive from the Greek gold pieces, bearing designs of the stylised Apollo head, horses and chariot, the silver units of the South-Western tribe are much more intriguing. Of particular interest is the ‘starfish’ type silver ¼ stater. Issued towards the end of the 1st Century BC, it features a prominent five-armed starfish of excellent style. While this may be a solar symbol, the large coastline of the Durotriges, stretching from the Wash, down the Jurassic Coast and west to what is now Devon, may suggest marine influence. The Durotriges tribe was home to many key ports including Poole harbour and Hengistbury Head, where large quantities of foreign goods were imported. A fascinating and unique Celtic coin motif.

Durotriges, ‘Starfish’ type, silver unit. Image: Baldwin‘s


The ‘Chute’ staters of South-Western Britain, minted around 80-50 BC, are difficult to pinpoint, but they have been narrowed down to either the Durotriges tribe or Belgic settlers. They are uninscribed and feature the standard stylised stater design, with a key addition, that of a small crab-like emblem between the horse’s legs. The meaning of the symbol is uncertain, but it may be indicative of maritime influence.

Durotriges/Belgae, ‘Chute’ type, gold stater. Belgae, Gold Stater. ‘Chute’ Type | Baldwin’s

Wine Cup

Verica, ruler of the Atrebates and client king of Rome, was instrumental in the justification for Rome’s invasion of Britannia in AD 43. His coinage is heavily inspired by the coins of the Roman Empire and can be seen to promote all things Roman. The ‘Wine Cup’ silver unit is indicative of this. Taking pride of place on the small silver coin, the wine cup reflects the substantial Roman imports of luxuries into Southern Britain at the time and is a fitting accompaniment to his larger issue of gold staters featuring the vine leaves.

Verica Wine Cup. c.AD10-40.  Image: Baldwins.


The coinage of the Dobunni is notoriously difficult to date accurately. Inhabiting the Cotswolds and areas around what is now Gloucestershire, North Somerset and West Oxfordshire, their coins were issued under various rulers, many of whom are believed to have ruled simultaneously. The tribe is distinctive for its main emblem, that of a stick-like object. The exact nature of this image is still debated. Some consider it a form of the ‘Tree of Life’, or perhaps merely a tree. Others have suggested a fish skeleton, or perhaps, somewhat more macabre, a human ribcage.

Dobunni, Eisu (c. AD 20-43), gold stater. Dobunni, Eisu, Gold Stater | Baldwin’s


Attributed to the reign of Boudica by the numismatist, Van Arsdell, silver units of the Iceni tribe are some of the most fascinating issued in East Anglia. Depicting a stylised portrait with wild hair, facing right, debate has raged as to the true date of these issues, with many settling on a period around 20 BC – AD 10. The type has been named the ‘Norfolk God’ in ‘Ancient British Coinage’, alluding to the mysterious nature of this Celtic portrait. Allen (1970) has suggested that this issue was inspired by Roman Republican silver denarii issued by Fabatus in 64 BC, though adapted to fit the beliefs of the Iron Age Britons. De Jersey has suggested that the copying of a Republican coin type suggest that much of the Icenian silver may have come to Britain in the form of Roman Republican denarii.

Iceni, ‘Norfolk God’, silver unit, c. 20 BC – AD 10. Iceni, Silver Unit | Baldwin’s


Secret faces gaze out from many Celtic coins. This ‘hidden face’ is one of the most instantly obvious – appearing on an uninscribed gold stater issued by the Corieltauvi tribe, who inhabited much of what is now Lincolnshire. Why the Iron Age die-engravers took such care to engrave these hidden faces is still a mystery. They never appeared on the ancient Greek prototypes which were copied by the Celts, but were brand new additions, showing ingenuity and originality on behalf of the designers, who were working in their own art style.

Corieltauvi, uninscribed, (c. 60-20 BC), gold stater. Corieltauvi, Gold Stater | Baldwin’s


The unusual depiction of a strange crescent-shape and three ‘blobs’ has puzzled numismatists for decades. Nicknamed the ‘Three Men in a Boat’ design, these coins were inspired by imported gold coins issued by the ‘Morini’ tribe of Gaul. The Durotriges adopted the design and used a version for their gold and silver ¼ staters (‘Duro Boat’ types). These designs have been interpreted as three figures in a boat, various animals, a devolved ‘Romulus and Remus’ design (Rudd 2021) and many more. What do you think the design represents?


Please view our selection of ancient British coins here and contact our specialist, Dominic Chorney, for more information.

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