Copy of a gold stater of Philip II of Macedon

Iron Age, 3rd century BC
From Western Europe

Mercenary gold in Iron Age Europe?

At some point in the third century BC, the Celtic peoples of Continental Europe (from the Balkans through Germany and Switzerland to France and Belgium) began to manufacture copies of Greek gold and silver coins. These were the first coins ever made in northern Europe.

At first they imitated the Greek originals fairly accurately. The chariot on the back of the example seen here is a good reproduction of a coin of Phillip II of Macedon (reigned 359-336 BC), the father of Alexander the Great. Even the Greek inscription below the chariot (Philippou - 'Of Philip') is correct. Writing had not yet been adopted in northern Europe, so the engraver of this coin can have had no idea of the significance of the symbols that he had so faithfully copied.

By contrast the obverse (front) side of the coin shows the beginnings of a move away from the Greek style. The face is fatter and less finely modelled than the Greek coin, though it is still recognizably the same image.

Why did people in northern Europe start to copy Greek coins? One suggestion is that mercenaries, hired soldiers, who had served in the armies of the Greek world and had been paid in Greek gold coins, brought the idea back with them to the north. Only a handful of genuine gold coins of Philip has been found in Britain and France. It is not known whether these coins were really used as currency, or for making gifts and religious offerings.

Examples of similar coins to the one shown here can be seen in Room 68 and Room 50 in The British Museum.

Find in the collection online

More information


S. James, The Atlantic Celts: ancient pe (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

K. Gruel, La monnaie chez les Gaulois (Paris, Editions Errance, 1989)

D. Nash, Coinage in the Celtic world (London, Seaby, 1987)


Diameter: 21.500 mm
Weight: 8.550 g

Museum number

CM 1861.5-9.2



Find in the collection online

Related objects

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore