A Viking Grail Coin

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by +VGO.DVCKS, Dec 7, 2021.


    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member


    Sihtric /Siggtryggr Silkbeard /Silkiskeggi, Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin. AR penny, imitating the Long Cross coinage of AEthelred II (c. 997-1003).
    Obv. AEthelred (...I guess) facing left. Double strike eventuating in two left eyes, one neatly above the other. (...It helps if you’re a fan of the earlier phases of Cubism.) Wearing a mantle, secured by a broach at the throat. (Cf. the double holes in this example, suggesting that it may have been adapted to a similar use. Further possible abuse can be seen in the internal flan crack above the ear; cf. the description of the reverse.)
    (From 7 o’clock –symptomizing the double strike, if not relatively mild blundering of the legend: )
    (Sihtric [/Sigtryggr], king of Dublin. Regarding proper names, similar adaptations were made between Old Norse and Old English well into the 11th century. Cf. Siward [/Sigurd] ‘the Dane,’ earl of Northumbria and York from the reign of Cnut into that of Eadward ‘the Confessor.’) Peck marks in fields.
    Rev. Voided long cross; the three crescents at the terminus of each arm, as in AEthelred’s original issue. Internal flan crack (cf. above), suggesting either a problem with the original strike or (more evocatively …if not more accurately) someone having begun to cut the coin for halfpence, before having thought better of it.
    (From 3 o’clock: ) + FÆ [/] REM [/] N M Θ [...the holes] DYFLI.
    (Farman, moneyer at Dublin.)
    (Spink, Coins of Scotland and the Isles (22nd ed., 2002), 6103.
    (Blackburn, in an address to the British Numismatic Society in 2007 (https://www.britnumsoc.org/publications/Digital BNJ/pdfs/2008_BNJ_78_5.pdf), notes that
    “In particular, the hoards from List (Schleswig-Holstein) and Igelösa (Skåne) suggest that the large Long Cross issue was pretty well entirely struck during the currency of the type in England.” (p. 123.) Later, he reemphasizes this issue as one of the earliest phases of the Dublin coinage (p. 129, Fig. 6, 2-3; see also --No, Really; you won't be sorry-- the plates at the end of the article).
    Here’s some fun stuff on the origin of the given name, Farman:
    “English and French: from an Old Norse personal name, Farmaðr, denoting a seafarer or traveling merchant.”
    (From this website:
    MAPS, VIKING AGE BRITISH ISLES, YORK, DUBLIN tumblr_ppo29aEg591rasnq9o1_1280.jpg
    This map shows the approximate extent of Viking settlement and political ascendancy in the British Isles, as of the end of AElfred the Great’s reign in Wessex, at the close of the 9th century. A little early, but the best I could find online.
    For me, the following two centuries (10th and 11th) are much more compelling. Within decades of the initial raids, the Vikings’ agenda included organized invasion, along with ensuing settlement, attendant political consolidation, and the ubiquitous dynamic of trade –all of which were happening simultaneously from the 9th century. It was the Vikings’ permanent presence, notably in the British Isles, that ensured their lasting cultural influence there, as in other parts of Europe.
    In this context, it’s particularly relevant to note the disparity (not noted on the map) between the predominantly Danish influence along England’s eastern coast (including the ‘Danelaw,’ established by treaty from the end of AElfred’s reign), and the Norwegian presence to the west and north. The latter comprising the west coast of Ireland; the Irish Sea (including the Isle of Man, and Cumbria on the ostensibly English mainland); and, to the north, the Hebrides and Orkneys. …Not to mention the fact that York spent much of the 10th century under the rule of Norse /Norwegian Vikings, including immediate ancestors of Sihtric. Between the remarkable seafaring practices of the day, and comparably favorable political circumstances on the ground, communication between Norse Dublin and (often /recently) Norse-ruled York was seamless and, by contemporary standards, near-instantaneous.
    It’s in this context that Farman, the moneyer of this example, begins to acquire more resonance. It’s from an Old Norse name, Farmaðr, denoting a seafarer or traveling merchant.

    Blackburn, among others back to Dolley, suggested that the earlier issues of Sihtric involved die engravers ‘outsourced’ from England. …In the absence of independent documentation –apart from the coins themselves– positing any coherent correlation between actual die engravers and individual, named moneyers (/’mintmasters’) already plants us firmly in the speculative weeds. But of AEthelred’s known moneyers, as of 1994, only one was named Farman. (This while many moneyers, in several English mints, had Scandinavian names, well into the early Angevin period of the 12th century.) While anything but conclusive, it is no less resonantly evocative that this Farman is only of numismatic record as having been active in (the recently Norse, as well as Danish) York. North goes on to note that, during AEthelred’s reign, three other moneyers at York –two with conspicuously Scandinavian names– used “[o]bverse dies of Hiberno-Norse style [...] in ‘Long Cross’ by Hildulf and Thurulf and in ‘Helmet’ by Colgrim” (North, English Hammered Coinage, 3rd ed., v. 1, p. 167 and note 321).
    Maybe this is enough for one minute. Here are some other websites on the Hiberno-Norse series that are really fun, if you’re into this sort of thing. The first is the earliest one I ever saw, for which it gets my ongoing gratitude.
    …Then there’s this much later one, from CoinWeek.
    After which, there are two really fine, recentish academic studies, from divergent and, as such, resonantly complementary perspectives. (Even in terms of the preponderant primary sources; Downham is more Gaelocentric while Hudson is more, what, Norseocentric.) Both are recent enough to take numismatic evidence seriously, and to emphasize the complexity and nuance of the political and cultural dynamics between the Norse and the native Irish. (It’s been asserted, cogently –albeit somewhere that I can’t find in print, in the present light– that by way of various maternal lines, Sihtric himself was only a quarter Norse; the rest being Irish, via several generations of marriage in the immediate neighborhood. Not unlike his equally maternally Slavic contemporary, Jaroslav the Wise of Novgorod and Kievan Rus.’ –Who nonetheless features in the Heimskringla as having hosted two sons of Olaf II, Magnus the Good and Harald Hardrada, while they were in dynastic exile from Norway. In both cases –along with the Norman counts of Rouen at the same time– one can sense that lingering ties of Scandinavian family and culture continued to inform and animate what else was happening on the ground. Leading one to conclude that the word, “assimilation” is speciously simplistic. …And guess what? Often enough, the Irish Kicked some Serious Norse –well, broadly rhymes with “what.”)
    Downham, Clare. Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ivarr to A. D. 1014. Edinburgh: Dunedin, 2007.
    Hudson, Benjamin. Viking Pirates and Christian Princes: Dynasty, Religion, and Empire in the North Atlantic. Oxford 2005. (With a whole chapter on Sitric “Silkenbeard” [sic].)
    Then –just because I can’t shut up– there are these primary sources, all translations of c. 13th-century Icelandic sagas.
    …There are fleeting mentions of Sihtric in Snorri Sturluson’s Heimskringla, and the Orkneyinga Saga. Both refer to the Battle of Clontarf (1014 …which, Big Fat Oops, will now have to be another story).
    Forging ahead, Njal’s Saga (written down c. 1270’s) gives a very entertaining account of the same battle, with some of the political context and attendant military alliances, along with ostensible details regarding the adventures of certain Icelandic participants. The old Penguin Classics translation by Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson (with lots of fun annotation) is a literary tour-de-force. I never imagined that I could aspire to like Hemingway’s prose until I read this.
    Then there’s “The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue” [/”Worm-Tongue” –either translation denotes him as having been a poet, who, when need arose, could also extricate himself from difficult situations by other verbal means]. Here’s the translation I’m looking at.
    The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection. Viking /Penguin, 2000.
    Gunnlaug ostensibly travels a fair amount of the Late Viking world, from Iceland to Sweden, and various points south, and in between. He briefly lands in Dublin, apparently early in Sigtrygg’s reign. Gunnlaug then recites a drapa (skaldic praise poem) to Sigtrygg, effectively hoping that he will perpetuate the martial prowess of his father, Olaf Kvaran. (See esp. pp. 574-5.)
    But this has to be end of the story, for this minute.

    Anyone is cordially welcome to add anything Viking, late Viking, or otherwise c. 10th-11th century CE. –Yes. From Anywhere. I think we all could use more of that vibe of things happening at more or less the same time, in widely divergent parts of the world.
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2021
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  3. lordmarcovan

    lordmarcovan Eclectic & Eccentric Moderator

    Boy, if that thing could talk, eh?

    Here is @Aethelred's namesake Aethelred II penny, which I owned for a few years, before it ended up back in his possession.


    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    [Boy, if that thing could talk, eh?]
    Yep, @lordmarcovan, you kind of nailed it.
    Hearty commiserations on that (IS ONE seriously toned) AEthelred penny. Never mind the insane detail of the motifs, for which you could gladly give up the weak strike on some of the legends. Good to know it went back to another (/the old) good home.
    lordmarcovan likes this.
  5. Spaniard

    Spaniard Supporter! Supporter

    @+VGO.DVCKS .....A most interesting write up thoroughly enjoyed it and came away having learnt a great deal too! Thanks.
    Really nice looking coin!
    +VGO.DVCKS and lordmarcovan like this.
  6. Deacon Ray

    Deacon Ray Ancient Kingdoms Supporter

    Great research article @+VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  7. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter Dealer

    Your post comes at a coincidentally good time for me, as I've been reading Bernard Maier's The Celts, and I've just reached the chapters concerning the history of Ireland. The Irish had adopted Christianity before the 9th century, but they had adapted it to older Celtic traditions, often to the chagrin of Rome. Then the Vikings arrived and Ireland became a melting pot of Celtic, Christian, and Norse cultures. It's nice to see a coin from that period.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  8. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Lovely Hiberno-Norse coin @+VGO.DVCKS! I need to nab one of those, but I like that it comes holed and with peckmarks - it has served it’s time. My comparable English example:

    Med-09a-Eng-997-Aethelred II-D-LC-Canterbury-Leofric-1151.jpg England
    Athelred II, r. 978-1016 (997-1003)
    Canterbury Mint, AR Long Cross Penny, 19.65 mm x 1.8 grams
    Obv.: +ÆÐELRED REX ANGLO[rum]. Bare-headed bust left
    Rev.: +LEO FRIC MΩO CENT. Voided long cross, each end terminating in three crescents
    Ref.: North 774, SCBC 1151
    Note: Peck marked and holed, likely by the Vikings

    as a random aside, I made it a point to find Bergþórshvoll (Njal’s farm) when I visited Iceland this summer. My wife was not amused by the detour…
  9. expat

    expat Remember you are unique, just like everyone else Supporter

    Although not viking, but related subject, here is the Wiki page concerning Edmund the Martyr.
    I spent more than 30 years living and working in Bury St Edmunds. He was venerated by the Vikings who created Memorial coinage in his honour
    image from Wiki
    He was buried nearby at Hoxne (the site of the largest Roman treasure find
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoxne )
    after being killed by the Danes when he was captured during a battle for his territory and refusing to disavow Christianity
    EDIT apologies the coin image does not show, but it is in the Wiki link
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  10. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @John Anthony, thanks for mentioning that book. I have no idea when it comes to good studies of the Celts.
  11. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Congrats!! The Farman connection is very cool!!

    Here's my phase II issue (moneyer Ndremin):

    sihtric iii.jpg
    My writeup on the history: Issued during a tumultuous period when various Norse and Irish clans were competing for control of the island. Sihtric (or Sigtrygg) was actually of dual descent, and he fought with both Irish and Norse allies, depending on the situation. He was connected at various times with the founder of the O'Brian dynasty Brian Boru (his father in law), the Ui Neill clan, and king Cnut of England, among others, and he features in both Norse saga and Irish story. He may also be descended from Ivar the Boneless (cf. Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom) and Ragnar Lothbrok (the hero of the History Channel's Vikings).

    And here's my Aethelred II complete with Viking peck marks. :)
    aethelred ii.jpg
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  12. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @FitzNigel, you are The Man --or should that be, The Iceland!!! Nearest I got was the one time I was ever in Europe, age 11. We flew Icelandic, and I got the window seat flying into Keflavik Airport. I Will Never forget the 100% volcanic, correspondingly lunar landscape from the air. The landscape had to have been a huge influence on the entire culture --maybe vaguely along the lines of Ingmar Bergman. --There's a great BBC "In Our Time" show about the sagas, and their inimitable prose style.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Brilliant on all counts, @Severus Alexander. --Hudson (Viking Pirates, etc.) is especially good on the post-Clontarf phase of Sihtric's career --he made a real comeback, locally, over the 1020's.
    Severus Alexander likes this.
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