What is Celtic Ring Money ?


Long before the introduction of struck coinage into ancient Celtic Europe, copper and gold rings were used as currency by Celtic tribes and were often worn on clothing or tied together by ropes.

These particular rings, often referred to as “proto-currency”, were created in ancient Moesia (now Bulgaria) as long ago as 7th century BC.  The sizes range from 10mm-40mm

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Before coinage was introduced to Britain in the Late Iron Age, people had to conduct transactions by bartering their products, goods and/or services.  This process of payment and exchange may have been facilitated by gold “ring money” (most of which seems to date from the late Bronze Age, therefore they are not ‘uniquely’ Celtic and may not have even been used by the Celts as a ‘proto-currency’).

For example, we now know that by the 2nd century BC (the Late Iron Age in Britain) the locals were trading iron “currency bars” shaped like swords, spits, plough-shares and bay leaves.  The use of the so-called ‘ring money’ as a proto-currency may have died out well before this.

Ancient British (Celtic) ringmoney - found in Lincolnshire in 1980s

Ancient British (allegedly Celtic) ringmoney – found in Lincolnshire in 1980s

They may have also traded neck torcs and arm bands of gold, silver and bronze.

  • These objects are found throughout Ireland, England. Scotland and Wales
  • Many are found at Bronze Age sites, or in a Bronze Age context at a site occupied over a long period of time
    • As such, this ring money may have its origins back in the Bronze Age
    • The bronze and gold ring money may even be a Bronze Age cultural artefact
  • Evidence suggests that it may have remained in use as a ‘proto-currency’ until well into the Late Iron Age
  • Given the dearth of Iron Age sites in Ireland, Irish ring money may be attributed to the Bronze Age there
Gold ring money ca. 1000 BC. Ring in torques form. The body is twisted as decoration and ends in plain pointed terminals. 4,39 g. van Arsdell p. 61, 1. Cf. UBS Auction 59, Basel, 29 January 2004, lot 4006. Extremely fine. Ex Auction UBS 78. Zurich, September 9, 2008.

Gold ring money ca. 1,000 BC. Ring in torques form. The body is twisted as decoration and ends in plain pointed terminals. 4,39 g. van Arsdell p. 61, 1. Cf. UBS Auction 59, Basel, 29 January 2004, lot 4006. Extremely fine. Ex Auction UBS 78. Zurich, Sep, 2008.

Many archaeologists and historians believe that ring money made from ‘bronze, of silver, and of gold’ was used by the Celts in trade from Ireland to the Danube region.  However, the dating of Celtic ring money is uncertain.

  • Some authorities date the use of ring money from 800 to 500 BC (Late Bronze Age), but it may have been used as late as 100 BC
  • Some believe the bronze rings are actually just strap fittings, not a trade currency
    • Undoubtedly, some were used as ‘fittings’ and those made from precious metals were likely decorative
  • Others claim, however, that although the rings vary in weight; they are all multiples of a standard unit, indicating a uniform principle regulated their size, i.e. their use as a ‘proto-currency’.
    • Bronze rings have been found in quite large hoards
    • The current concensus of opinion is that this suggests that they were used as a ‘proto-currency’
    • It is, however, equally valid that these hoards might have been an artisans inventory
bronze rings

Simple bronze rings, such as the above, could be used for a multitude of purposes, including fixing clothing, the manufacture of leather goods, etc. It may be stretching the truth a little bit too far to suggest that they are all examples of ‘ring money’

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Caveat emptor

There are a lot of traders on eBay describing their small bronze and copper rings as Celtic ‘ring money’

  • These items have little or no provenance and could be as late as Late Medieval in origin
  • They might even be ‘left-overs’ from chain mail armour, common in Medieval times.
  • Be careful !
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3 thoughts on “What is Celtic Ring Money ?

    • If I were you, I’d put that question to TWO people at the British Museum – firstly someone specialising in the Late Bronze Age and, secondly, someone specialising in the Early Iron Age. They should have the ‘latest’ insights. My understanding is that the so-called gold ‘ring money’ belongs to the Bronze Age but its extended use as a proto-currency into the Iron Age is in some doubt.

      Since you are talking about fiction, you would have the benefit of applying some ‘artistic license’ to the scenario.

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  1. By the 2nd century BC (the Late Iron Age in Britain) the locals were trading iron “currency bars” shaped like swords, spits, plough-shares and bay leaves. Would any of these items fit in well with your ‘fictional account ?

    The use of the so-called ‘ring money’ as a proto-currency may have died out well before this. The people at the British Museum would be better placed to comment on the Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age transition period.

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