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Serdi Celts

The Serdi were a Celtic tribe inhabiting Thrace, around modern Sofia, Bulgaria, the Roman Serdica. They probably established themselves in this area during the Celtic migrations at the end of the 4th century B.C. There is, however, no literary evidence for their existence before the 1st century B.C. The coins discussed in the article below might have been struck by them. The Serdi were gradually Thracianized over the centuries but retained their Celtic character to a late date in the Roman period.


THE DANUBIAN CELTS

(From Alex G. Malloy Auction Sale XLVI, June 24, 1997 - used with permission)

Click here to see bronze coins of the Danubian Serdi Celts For Sale at Forum Ancient Coins.

The mid-fourth century B.C. saw the flow of the Celtic incursions down the Danube River. The pressure of the advancing Celts caused the Thracian Triballi to push on to the Macedonian frontiers. Alexander the Great, just crowned king in the spring of 335, crossed the Haemus Mountains and the Danube, pursuing and finally defeating the Triballi. The Celts, impressed by the young ruler, sent a delegation to swear allegiance to him. The oath they swore to Alexander was still used by the Irish Celts same 1000 years later: ''We will keep faith unless the sky fall and crush us, or the earth open and swallow us or the sea rise and overwhelm us."1

The Celtic tribes of the third century B.C. had established their domain all along the Danube River from its sources down to the Danubian Delta on the Black Sea. Rather than forming a distinct and recognizable over-class, they tended to assimilate and blend with their conquered foes. The eastern Danubian Celts would copy the primary coin of the region that they controlled. The Larissa drachm with facing bust of Larissa and standing horse reverse was copied north of Thessaly. The coinage of Philip and Alexander was a popular design used especially north of Macedonia. The Celtic kingdom of Tylis copied Alexander tetradrachms and drachms for two generations, from 275 to 225 B.C.2 Along the coast of the Black Sea, the Thasos tetradrachm was subject to Celtic copies. Most of these coins were copied in silver.

Celtic power and influence were strong in Thrace and Dacia during the second and first centuries B.C. (the middle La Tene period)3 Celts served as mercenaries on both sides of the struggles between the Macedonian kings. during the Mithradatic Wars, and later against Rome in the Macedonian Wars.

The nature of Celtic coinage is imitative, copying the coins of tile nearby region.4 The bronze and potin coinage of the first century B.C. in Gaul has been extensively researched. But little work has been published on the small change markets of the eastern Danubian region during the second and first centuries B.C.

A series of coins was struck in the Serdi region of Moesia, ranging from the Danube down to the Macedonian border all along the rivers Oeseus and Strymon to the western part of the Haemus Mountains, an area which is now western Bulgaria. This coin type, in the Celtic tradition, was copied after the rare Konion Macedonian issue struck after 187 B.C. The Macedonian bronze coin has an obverse showing the head of the river-god Strymon right, wreathed in corn. The reverse has a trident with dolphins between the prongs. The choice of this issue is appropriate to the Celts as the river Strymon runs through the Serdi region. These coins were certainly official Celtic issues due to the various overstrikes found on coins of Pella, Thessalonica and Amphipolis, all struck after 187 B.C. This obviously dates the Serdi Celtic copies to after 187 B.C. Of the 88 coins studied here, all were randomly found in Southwestern Bulgaria, placing the coining area in the Serdi region.

The obverse encountered is predominantly from a very worn die depicting the River Strymon, or a very crude rendering of the River Strymon also from overused obverse dies. The portrait most often encountered is a simplified linear barbaric rendering.

HEAD TYPES

[Comment added by Joseph Sermarini:  Due to coin wear or worn dies, it can be difficult to determine the head type.  In addition, the heads shown are the most typical types. Some heads may combine features of more than one type.]

The reverse shown is the trident, and is usually much clearer than the obverse. The die cutting of this reverse is simple and easy to copy, making it a good choice for imitative coinage.

The reverse legend is divided into six groups, as follows:

Group 1. Better quality rendering with inscription similar to MAKEDONWN.
Group 2. Inscription MAKEDONWN retrograde.
Group 3. Inscription but illiterate.
Group 4. No inscription, but one to three symbols or letters.
Group 5. No inscriptions or symbols.
Group 6. No inscription, with random pellets.

Eight different trident types are illustrated below.

TRIDENT TYPES


1Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. VI, p. 355.
2Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. VII, p. 559.
3ibid., p. 65. 4
4Allen, Derek, Catalogue of the Celtic Coins in the British Museum, Vol. 1, p. 7.