While the oldest runic inscription in Thorsbjerg has been found on a dendrodated object from AD 164, nothing prevents the barbaric script imitations from representing a continuous tradition that existed alongside Latin, Greek and runes well into the 4th century AD. The find of a 4th century barbaric gold coin imitation with a partially legible text in Greek at Gudme – a central place often considered the origin of the runic bracteates – ought to remind runologists of the importance of barbarian script imitation as a long-term impetus for runic writing.
This paper focuses on the so-called barbarous imitations of Roman Imperial denarii, copying coins with the portrait of Roman emperors from AD 69 onwards. These were probably made outside what was once the Roman Empire, presumably by Germanic peoples. Presently there are more than 700 of them, of which some 500 only recently have come to be known, via an Internet site in the Ukraine, managed by amateurs. The denarius was the most important silver coin in antiquity. In modern times denarii have been unearthed within as well as outside of the Empire, in Europe, in Asia and in Africa. In Europe outside of the Empire first/second century denarii have been dug up, most often casually, in southern Scandinavia, in the northern parts of the Netherlands, in Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the “non-Roman” parts of Hungary and Romania, usually in the form of hoards, occasionally amounting to several thousands of coins. During the Imperial era, from 30 BC onwards, a denarius usually had a portrait of the emperor or some member of the Imperial family on the obverse, and a god or goddess in full figure on the reverse. On both sides there was a legend in the Latin language. Emperors’ titles and names were often abbreviated. The barbarous imitations are as a rule found with regular denarii, almost everywhere outside the Empire where regular first/second century denarii are found, although especially common in the Ukraine. They are of about the same weight and general appearance as genuine coins, which they clearly try to copy as closely as possible, with a variety of results. The “legend” shows various degrees of barbarization, and not rarely try to render the Roman name ANTONINVS on the obverse, in various ways, such as IIITONIИVZ – ΛV – ZƆOIIIPXXIII, probably intended as ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXIII (“AVG” is short for “augustus” and TR P XXIII is a dating device) or ΛИIOИIИVZ – IʘNPIVZAVC, possibly ANTONINVS .. PIVS AVG. More often, however, the “legend” is mere nonsense, although Latin letters are used, or imitations of Latin letters. To my knowledge there is no “denarius barbaricus” with Runic signs or an intelligible Greek legend. Apart from the fact that these coins show that people outside the Empire, from the first/second century onwards, reacted in different ways to Latin letters, this is about all one can say at the present on this subject, which is virtually a new and untried area of research.