The Vates (modern Ovates) were the shamans of the Celts, who foretold the future through augury and human sacrifice, The Latin word VATES, [prophet], probably derives from the Celtic and is cognate with the Irish, Fáith [prophet, seer] and the Welsh Gwawd.

Click for enlargement of the reverse (96k)

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."

"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 Higgins, 1857]

Why is he gazing skyward-- a pose of concentration, perhaps? Or is he using cloud divination?


"An important 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 afterwards."

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."

The Druids: Their Functions and Powers, PW Joyce; from A Social History of Ancient Ireland, 1903