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CELTIC, Central Europe (Rhineland). "Dancing Mannikin" type

65 -40 BCE, or thereabouts

AR Quinarius, 13 mm, 1.62 gm

Obv: dancing mannikin right, head turned left, holding snake in right hand, torque in left hand.

Rev: horse standing right, head turned left; around, zig zag border.

Ref: SLM 1118. Dembski 73, 396. (I'll have to take the seller's word on that for now. If any of you have a Celtic reference and find this inaccurate, please let me know.)

This is my second ancient Celtic purchase. Admittedly, I know very little about Celtic coins. There are a half dozen on my hit list though. Since I first saw this type posted by a forum member last year, this coin moved to the top of my Celtic wishlist. "Little Dancing Man" quinarii don't come up with great frequency and tend to be pricey. Recently there were two at auction which I hoped would stay within reach. This one did .


It's not the peak of numismatic artistry but it does have a very appealing quality: it makes me laugh. Seriously. What the heck is this scene about? A marionette dancing with a snake, which is biting his nose? Even the horse looks shocked. I'm not though. "He who dances with snake gets bit on nose," everyone knows that.  ;-)

The base coin in this animated gif is the other coin I considered (from Nomos 9)​

Online references for Celtic coins aren't as plentiful as for Greeks and Romans. I haven't found much about the type. fall into two types, an earlier scarcer type and a later one with "larger features". I don't know which mine is, probably the latter.


While there are many interesting questions to be answered about this Celtic coin, the most fascinating is the iconography. What is it about? Is it serious, perhaps a shaman charming a snake? Is it poking fun at a foe? So many Celtic coins look cartoonish. This type certainly does. 


Here's the most comprehensive information I've found about the coin-- and it isn't much. Coin use in a dynamic frontier region. Late Iron Age coinages in the Lower Rhine area; from Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries 1-1 (May 2009), Nico Roymans, Joris Aarts, and AUP:


Another long-running coin series are the quinarii of the Scheers 57 type, with a figure of a 'dancing man' on the obverse and a horse on the reverse. Schulze-Forster and Heinrichs have recently discussed the development of this group. It began and a trans-Rhine issue, with the oppidum on the Dünsberg in Hessen as the probable minting center. A more recent group consists of silver with a high copper content and is concentrated in the western Lower Rhine region, where it also appears to have been minted. Circulation was concentrated in the Cologne hinterland, and to a lesser extent in the Dutch river region. Partly on the basis of the dating of these coin issues, the cluster in the Cologne region may be associated with the Ubii. There is a plausible link to historical accounts of Ubian migration from the east to the west bank of the Rhine during Agrippa's first or second governship (38/39 or 19/18 BC). There are too few coins from the Dutch River region for the Batavi to have played any role in the more recent issues of the series. Schulze-Forster dates the quinarii of the younger group to after 30 BC. Their presence in Augustan army camps suggests that these coins continued to circulate until about 10 AD, although their production would have ceased somewhat earlier.


These "little dancing man" coins have been found in this approximate geographic distribution:


(To fully appreciate the joke, see this page.)

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