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Celtic Ring Money, or Not

celtic harness ring
28.4 mm and 10.65 grams

In recent years many thousands of simple bronze rings similar to this one have been sold as Celtic ring money. While there is evidence for Celts using metal rings as money, all of types that can be documented as likely money have more complex shapes, and none are of bronze. There is no reason to believe any plain bronze ones are actually money, and it is not difficult to understand what they really are.

celtic harness fragments

These bronze objects were found together. I purchased them in 2003 from a well-known ebay seller in the USA. The object in the top center is an eastern Romano-Celtic bronze strap end showing the group to be Roman period, possibly of Celtic workmanship (or at least inspired by Celtic design). The style dates them to no earlier than the 1st or 2nd century AD and possibly slightly later. Here it is obvious the rings are strap junctions. The object in the upper left with the hook is part of a bit and the size suggests for a horse. This entire assemblage is part of a horse harness.

sky diving harness

This modern skydiving harness was made using steel rings as strap junctions and while it does use strap junctions between the cords the technique is little different than my Roman harness group. Many modern horse harnesses are also made this way.

The bronze fittings used to attach the rings and straps on the Roman example were necessary if the harness used leather straps rather than cord straps. When buried for any length of time all organic straps or cords decay to nothing and only the metal parts remain. A complex harness can have 20 or more rings, and once all that remains is that cluster of rings you can excuse someone finding them for thinking he had found a monetary hoard, but that conclusion would be incorrect.

Considering the role Horses played in the ancient and medieval world, there may be millions of harness rings buried across the ancient world. As harnesses' have been made this way for at least 3000 years, a cluster of simple rings with no other context cannot be dated, and certainly cannot be dated specifically to the Celtic period

Some has been said that the fancy rings, often with multiple lugs, must be the true ring money.

rings on horse bit
Image used by permission of Windsor Antiques in New York.

Here is a group of larger rings, each with four knobs and clearly part of a large bit. Clearly these are also not currency rings, but rather part of a bit. Many other objects commonly sold as Celtic ring money also have other explanations. Spindle whorls used in weaving and spinning yarn are called by the French Les fusaioles with the type discussed there post medieval more than 500 years after the Celtics.

celtic ring harness mount

This ring has six knobs in roughly evenly spaced groups of two. These are often offered as Celtic Ring Money based on the idea the knobs are decorations. This is another harness ring used to joined three straps, with the knobs there to keep the straps separated, helping to keep the harness straps from tangling. These are not monetary items and there is no reason to assume they are specifically of Celtic origin. Roman origin is more likely.

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