This coin, VA 533-1;
BMCC 1421/1449 is a silver unit of Verica
minted between 25 and 35 CE. It is relatively common, though rarely
in such good condition. Most of these are from the Wanborough and Waltham
hoards. This coin was an isolated find, early 1998, from Danebury, Hampshire
(CCI 98-1375). The side with COMMI F (meaning son of Commius) is generally
considered to be the obverse being convex, but I will break with tradition
and consider the portrait of Tiberius, copied from a Roman coin to be
the obverse. Verica was in trouble at home, loosing over half his territory
to Epaticcus and eventually fled to Rome for asylum.
The obverse shows
the laureate head of Tiberius, emperor of Rome from 14-37 CE during
the period Verica was Chieftain of the Atrabetes.
It is obviously a political statement saying, both, "I honor Tiberius
and Rome" and "Liken me to Tiberius".
The reverse is
of interest in the present context.
It shows a nude
male figure holding a lituus, a wand or augur's staff [from the
Estrucan word for crooked] in the right hand, wearing a headpiece with
a chin strap, different from the warrior's helmets, and gazing skyward
holding an object held in his left hand.
This image is
a powerful symbol of divination.
What is he holding in his left hand? It has been suggested (by Chris
Rudd) that he is holding a Druid's or serpent's Egg. [anguinum,
L. serpent's egg)
This earliest reference I can find to this strange object is in Pliny
the Elder's Natural History:
"I have seen
that egg; it is about the bigness of a moderate apple, its shell a
cartilaginous encrustation, full of little cavities, such as are on
the legs of the polypus; it is the Insigne or badge of distinction,
which all the Druids wear. For getting the better of their adversaries
in any kind of dispute, and introducing them to the friendship of
great men, they think nothing equal to the Anguinum; and of my own
knowledge, I can say, that Claudius Caesar ordered a Roman knight,
of the Vecontian family, to be put to death, for no other reason,
but that, when he had a trial at law before a judge, be brought into
court, in his bosom, the Anguinum."
or serpent's egg, was a congeries of small snakes rolled together, and
encrusted with a shell, formed by the saliva and viscous gum, froth,
or sweat, of the mother serpent." [The Celtic Druids, Godfrey
Why is he gazing skyward-- a pose of concentration, perhaps? Or is he
using cloud divination?
function of a druid was divination - forecasting future events - which
was practiced by the pagan Irish in connexion with almost all important
affairs, such as military expeditions. Laegaire's druids foretold
the coming of St Patrick (Trip. Life, 33); and the druid Dubdiad foretells
the defeat and death of Congal in the Battle of Moyrath.... Queen
Maive, before setting out on the Táin expedition, confers with
her druid to get from him knowledge and prophecy: so he prophesies:
-'Whosoever they be that will not return, thou thyself shalt certainly
return.' The druids forecasted, partly by observation of natural objects
or occurrences, and partly by cerain artificial rites: and in the
exercise of this function the druid was a fáith or prophet.
"They drew auguries from observation of the clouds. On the eve
of a certain Samain, Dathi, king of Ireland (A.D. 405 to 428),
who happened at the time to be at Cnoc-ndn-druad ('the druids'
hill': now Mullaroe, and often incorrectly called Red Hill), in the
parrsh of Skreen, Sligo, west of Ballysadare Bay, where there was
then a royal residence, ordered his druid to forecast for him the
events of his reign from that till next Samain. The druid went
to the summit of the hill, where he remained all night, and, returning
at sunrise, addressed the king somewhat as the witches addressed Macbeth:
- 'Art thou asleep, O King of Erin and Alban (Scotland)! ''Why the
addition to my title!' asked the king: 'I am not king of Alban.' And
the druid answered that he had consulted 'the clouds of the men of
Erin,' by which he found out that the king would make a conquering
expedition to Alban, Britain, and Gaul: which accordingly he did soon
This account of cloud divination is corroborated by the existence
in Irish of the word néladóir for an astrologer
or diviner: and neladóracht glosses 'pyromantia' ('divination
by fire'), in an old Irish treatise on Latin declension." But the
primary meaning ofnéladóir is 'cloud-diviner',
and of neladóracht, 'divination by clouds'; for nél,
néul, néll, means 'a cloud', even to this day, and not
star or fire."
Their Functions and Powers, PW Joyce; from A Social History of
Ancient Ireland, 1903