Today, when you want to acquire something that you don't make yourself, you buy it with money. How did people acquire things in the pre-Roman Celtic world?

Let's say you wanted to acquire something expensive, like a chariot. Would you gather up enough things to trade for it? Would someone simply give you a chariot and you'd be expected to give gifts in return?

I'm aware that currency showed up at once point, but I'm particularly trying to learn about non-currency methods of buying things.

  • "Let's say you wanted to acquire something expensive, like a chariot" - You'd probably get your slaves to build you one, or pilfer one from one of your enemies....
    – user2590
    Sep 3, 2013 at 5:30
  • 2
    @vector nonsense. You'd likely trade for one using whatever valuables you have in your posession. There was currency in those days.
    – jwenting
    Sep 3, 2013 at 10:42
  • @jwenting - that comment was a bit "tongue in cheek". :-)
    – user2590
    Sep 3, 2013 at 19:11

3 Answers 3


The Celts were using "ring money" as early as 800bc, up until 300bc, when they picked up the idea of using coins from the Greeks.

  • While this is true, it misses the point. All historical and archaeological sources seem to suggest bartering was by far the dominant means of trade.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 0:49
  • The main trade partners of tribes and little kingdoms in pre-Roman (essentially Celtic) Britain (circa 500-0 BC), for example, were neighbouring tribes, Irish tribes, and northern Gallic/Belgic tribes.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 0:51
  • It's also a fallacy to think the arrival and establishment of the Romans as the ruling power completely eliminated the bartering system. On the contrary, it's well known that bartering persisted not only in Britain but in many other parts of the Roman Empire, well into the first few centuries AC. In fact, for a time it became the predominant form again during the hyperinflation period of the 4th century, even in Italy and Greece.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 0:53
  • Ring money was used for expensive purchases, like chariots, where it would be impractical to amass enough barterables, and it was unlikely a chariot seller could use or redistribute them if you could. You wouldn't use it to buy a dozen eggs, but it was the backbone of larger scale economic activity and trade. Dec 18, 2013 at 1:37
  • I don't think that's true, from what I've read. Only tribal leaders, princes, and kings would be buying chariots as far as I'm aware. From what I've read, this sort of trade was simply dwarfed by that done via bartering!
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 17:56

As far back as 8th century BC there was evidence of 'proto money' in the form of rings, bracelets and other wearable currency items. They were often roughly made and sometimes had marks on them so they could cut them into segments to buy smaller items.

They tended to be made of gold, silver or bronze and there are plenty floating around in museums and even for sale and they were also used by the vikings.

not a lot floating around online although this (non academic) page has some details on it.

This would have been in addition to barter, the primary method of commerce of the time.

  • See my comment on @Ri Swamp Yankee's post, but in summary while this is true, the predominant form was overwhelmingly barter still.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 0:49
  • @Noldorin You are quite correct; Barter was certainly the dominant form of trade. Probably not emphasised enough in my answer.
    – Ben Neill
    Dec 18, 2013 at 2:30
  • No worries. I see your point; I suppose you were focusing on the proto-money aspect because it's more interesting/unexpected for the context, which is true.
    – Noldorin
    Dec 18, 2013 at 17:55

Barter, gifts, and payments - same as now. For example,

"I'll swap you a sheep for half of that pig I just slaughtered."

The head of the tribe gives weapons and jewelry to people to both bind them in his debt and to show his wealth and power.

"I'll work on your fields for a day in return for food and lodging."

P.s. The Celts had coins before the Romans and rather better quality coins and jewelry than the Romans for most of the period.

  • 1
    Were there no markets in those times? Just curious.
    – code4life
    Sep 25, 2012 at 13:51
  • 4
    Great answer, but it would benefit from sources.
    – Russell
    Sep 26, 2012 at 8:35
  • @code4life - nothing in this answer precludes the idea of markets, which there certainly were.
    – user2590
    Sep 3, 2013 at 5:32

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