Billung dukes of Saxony: feudal coins from 10th-11th-century Germany and Frisia

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by +VGO.DVCKS, Jul 4, 2021.


    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    The German empire, c. 919-1125, with Saxony to the north. From Shepherd, Historical Atlas (1925), via Wikimedia Commons.

    In the later phases of the Viking Age, the Billung duchy was Germany’s geographic window on the Scandinavian world. Not surprisingly, like much of the later Carolingian aristocracy in France, the Billungs made their dynastic name repelling Viking incursions.
    The dukes’ affinities with Francian precedent didn’t end there. Bernhard II revolted against his Salian overlord, Heinrich II. He proceeded to pursue a unilateral alliance with King Magnus ‘the Good’ of Norway and Denmark, especially against Slavic incursions from the east. In 1042, his eldest son, Ordulf /Otto, married Ulfhild Olavsdotter, a sister of Magnus, and a daughter of St. Olaf /’Olaf the Stout’ of Norway and Astrid Olofsdottir, an illegitmate daughter of Olaf 'Skottonung' of Sweden. This, and an ongoing feud between the dukes and the local archbishopric, earned both of them the ire of its chronicler, Adam of Bremen (an important, if less than consistently reliable source for late Viking history).

    But we can start with the first duke, Bernhard I (973-1011), who fought the Danes from the beginning of his reign through the 10th century, and who was a loyal adherent of the emperor Otto III.

    Bernhard I, denar of Bardowick (in northeastern Saxony); or possibly neighboring Lüneburg, or Jever (on the east Frisian coast).
    Obv. Profile; BERNHARDVS DVX.
    Rev. (From 4 o’clock: ) N NOMINI DNI AMEN. Dannenberg 585; cf. 585a, noting a variant with more blundered legends, anticipating the later issues.

    Bernhard I; denar, with the same range of possible mints.
    Obv. (From 11 o’clock: ) BERNHA[R DV]X.
    Rev. (From 4 o’clock: ) DENMON[IOMO]. Dannenberg 587 (obverse); 589 (reverse).
    Bernhard II, Duke of Saxony 1011-1059. Denar of Jever.
    Obv. Facing portrait. Blundered, indifferently struck legends.
    Rev. Gonfanon (/banner). Legends as above. This side should be turned 180 degrees. Dannenberg 191-3, variant.

    Dannenberg’s most frequently cited plate (25. 591 --in contrast to 593) has been perpetuated in dealers’ pictures to this day. But in this and the following example --despite the endemically haphazard striking of the legends-- one can see the initial cross on the reverse, at 6 o’clock, which generally appears at the beginning of legends (12 o’clock), as in plate 593.

    Similarly, Dannenberg refers to the reverse motif, somewhat anachronistically, as a ‘church flag.’ The origin of this type of banner, known as a gonfanon (Fr. gonfalon), is decidedly secular, drawing from 11th-century (and conspicuously Scandinavian) precedent back to Cnut and Harald Hardraada, before the inception of European heraldry. Which is where, in one instance, it eventually migrated. In the 12th century, a gonfalon was adopted by the counts of Auvergne as their coat of arms. (The right-hand picture is from a later 12th-century seal; both show the correct, non-gravity-defying orientation.)
    SAXONY, BERNHARD II, GONFANNON, Armes_Robert_IV_d'Auvergne.png, from, AUVERGNE.png
    The article on the flag and blason of Auvergne notes a tradition that a gonfanon was used by Eustace III of Boulogne, who accompanied his brother, Godfrey de Bouillon on the First Crusade (1096-1100).'Auvergne. Their father, Eustace II (Count of Boulogne from c. 1049) is shown with a similar one on the Bayeux Tapestry, where he points to Duke William during the Battle of Hastings. The chronology, and proximity of both counties to Flanders (including Bouillon), puts us in easy range of Bernhard’s issues.
    SAXONY, BERNHARD II, GONFANNON, FIRST INSTANCE YOU KNOW, Bayeux_Tapestry_scene55_Eustach.jpg
    (From Wikimedia Commons. Cf. Bridgeford, 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry, esp. 140; 192 and n. 2, identifying the protagonist as Eustace. II.)
    Bernhard II; the more common type, with the facing portrait more nearly a three-quarters view. Still with fragmentary, but evidently variant legends. Cf. (...yep) Dannenberg 191-3.
    Ordulf /Odo /Otto, Duke of Saxony 1059-1072. AR denar of Jever; obverse only.
    Ordulf facing, crowned; (from 6 o’clock, entirely retrograde: ) ODD[O] + D[VX]. Dannenberg 595.
    Herman (brother of Ordulf), ducal regent of Saxony during the minority and imprisonment of Ordulf’s son Magnus (by Heinrich IV, following a revolt in 1070), c. 1059-1080. Obverse only.
    Same motif as above. +HEREMON. Dannenberg 597.

    Here, the absence of the title, ‘DVX,’ along with the seamless continuation of Ordulf’s 'portrait,' underscores Herman’s function as regent.

    You’re cordially invited to post anything from the Viking Age, or of any other kind (or perceived level) of relevance. ...Including, for instance, chronology, regardless of geography. You will get points for the creativity of your associations!
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2021
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  3. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    Just wondering if the Vikings exist during the Roman era? Or did the Romans just consider them an yet another group of Germs?
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Very evocative question. First response from here is that it has to depend on how far you want to get into the anthroplogical /ethnographic tall grass. But my uninformed, correspondingly intuitive guess would be that the Romans would've considered them Germanic ...maybe on more levels than just in contrast to Celtic.
    ...Somebody here has to know a Lot more about this than we do!
    JayAg47 likes this.
  5. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    The start of the Viking age is dated to the sack of the Lindesfarne monastry in AD 793. So no, Vikings did not exist in the Roman age. Viking is not an ethnic designation like Dane, Gutar and Svear, the ancient inhabitants of Scandinavia. Viking is an "occupational" designation. A Dane on a sea raid became a Viking. Back home he was a Dane again. A Svear on a sea raid became a Varanger (not a Viking) and back home he was a Svear again.
    The term is analogous to "pirate and seafaring trader and explorer". The time before the Viking-age is called Vendel age in Sweden or simply pre-Viking period everywhere else.
    The Roman sources knew very little about Scandinavia, primarily from the works of Ptolemy (ca. AD 150). However, the Romans knew of one group of Germanic people called the Heruls (Eruli), who were most likely warrior groups from Scandinavia. Much like the later Vikings, the name Herul was a term for warrior bands that, depending on the situation, attacked Roman territory or offered its military services. There were permanent Herulic units in the Roman army such as the Eruli auxilia palatina and the Heruli seniores and Heruli iuniores. The massive sea raids in the Black Sea in AD 267 includes Heruls. At other times, Heruls attacked and raided the Spanish coast.
  6. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Those are some snazzy eyeglasses on Bernhard II!
    ominus1 and +VGO.DVCKS like this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Many thanks, @Tejas, for your valued emphasis on on the origin of the word, 'viking' in reference to the activity of raiding. (Cf. Gwynn Jones' encapsulation of informed speculation regarding the term, and its likely Old Norse, Old English, and even --less convincingly-- Latin cognates, in A History of the Vikings (2nd ed.; Oxford UP, 1984), 75-6 and n. 1.)
    ...But here we inexorably run into another semantic can of worms, comparable to that involving the distinctions between 'Byzantine' and 'Romaion,' or simply 'Roman.' In both cases, the layers of historical and linguistic revisionism are thick as weeds on an unmowed lawn.
    Although you're absolutely correct about the beginning of the Viking Age being datable to the Lindisfarne raid, and myriad other ones during its early phases, the Scandiavian movement in(/to) western Europe (only most saliently in England and Ireland) had components of political conquest and colonization from the 9th century. Particularly by way of the Rus' (at the eastern extremity of the 'Viking World'), trade was no less integral to the Vikings' aggregate activities from a comparable interval. This is why many academics in Britain and the UK have resorted to the terms, 'Viking' and 'Viking Age' in reference to the broader activities of a loosely distinguishable ethnic group over the course of the late 8th-11th centuries.
    The wonder of the period has a great deal to do with its multifaceted complexity from very near its onset, comprising piratical, military /political, economic and --not least-- cultural components.
    On one hand, there's no need to refer to the 'Great Armies' which invaded England and Francia in the later 9th centuries, with agendas which already included conquest and settlement, as consisting of anyone besides 'Vikings.' On the other, the Danish incursions into England from early in the reign of AEthelred II (c. 985) can be seen as an echo (or, as Mark Twain would say, 'rhyme') of the progression which began two centuries earlier. Beginning as raids, they culminated in conquest and settlement. In each instance, the scope of activity, over time, can be seen as having followed pragmatic adaptation to existing circumstances.
    Granting that (however provisionally), the initial phase which is evident in both contexts --raiding-- is repeated in much later ones. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reports a raid in England as late as the reign of Edward 'the Confessor' (from memory: c. mid-1040s). This is noted as a recurring phenomenon in the Orkneys as late as a century afterward, following the death of the Norse Earl /Jarl Rognvald, when one of his prominent subjects is purported to have undertaken annual 'viking trips' to the Hebrides and Ireland. (Orkneyinga Saga. Ed. /trans. Palsson and Edwards; Penguin, (1978/) 1987, 214-8. As near as the events are to the saga's composition --c. 1200-- this is probably one of its more accurate accounts.)
    This is partly to underscore that what the Vikings got up to, over the course of three centuries, always involved a wide spectrum of activity. Trade, conquest and settlement began as early as raiding ended late. The aggregate cultural legacy (again, notably in parts of England) was profound ...and ultimately my favorite part of the story.
    ...And just because I can, here are my two fragmentary Scandinavian (presumably Swedish) imitations of AEthelred II 'long cross' pennies, temp. Olof Skottkonung or (likely as not) later in the 11th century.

    Last edited: Jul 5, 2021
  8. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    if you consider the Byzantines to be during the “Roman Era” then yes!

    neat coins @+VGO.DVCKS! Very informative
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  9. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I think this would, however, be a strange thing to do. The Byzantine empire ended in 1453, but I doubt that anybody would consider the preceding 800 years or so part as of the Roman era. So I think the answer has to be "no". The Viking Age began some 300 years after the Roman era.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2021
  10. romismatist

    romismatist Well-Known Member

    Love the coins of this period! Yes, I collect the coins of Jever (you sometimes see the legend "GEHEREI" on the cross side of some of the Hermann / Ordulf coins) and Emden (Hermann of Kalvelage) c. AD 1051 with +A / MV / TH / ON on the reverse.

    (Not my coin, although I have several of these types)
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  11. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Magnificent example, @romismatist --yes, even with the typically selective legends. Thanks for your explication of the place names! Medieval Latin is as funny in Frisian and German orthography as it is in French.
    ...Just so happens I'd be in the market for a Hermann of further comment.
  12. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    V.D., Excellent article, fascinating coins, & impressive research :happy:!
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

  14. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    Nice coins and interesting write-up, @+VGO.DVCKS !

    It's no coincidence that the Saxon dukes started to substantially mint coins just after Henry II was elected king in 1002. His accession to the throne certainly was a hard blow to the Saxon nobility. All previous Ottonian rulers had been culturally and dynastically rooted in Saxony. Henry, on the other hand, only was a second grade cousin of the deceased Otto III and came from a distant Bavarian side branch of the Liudolfing family. His rule thus meant that the center of power shifted to the south, much to the distress of the Saxons who found themselves more or less excluded from the inner circle of the new king.

    This also changed the role of the Saxon dukes. German historians often see a sort of "switching sides" taking place at this point. Prior to Henry's election, the duke had mainly been a Saxon king's representative in Saxony. During Henry's reign, though, Bernhard I and his successors started to act as the Saxons' representatives vis-à-vis a foreign king and sought for greater independence. As part of this, the Billung dukes in the 11th century increasingly relied on their own mints instead of royal coinage and formed their own alliances with their Frisian, Danish, and Slavic neighbors. This trend continued in the Salian period.

    I own a few 11th century Saxon coins that reflect this process. The first one was struck by the royal mint at Goslar, the second one by the imperial mint governed by the bishop of Magdeburg, and the last two coins probably come from mints under the control of local Saxon lords:

    MA – Deutschland etc., Otto–Adelheid–Pfennig (neu).png
    Otto III with Adelheid of Burgundy as regent (or immobilized under his successors), Holy Roman Empire, "Otto-Adelheid-Penny," 983/991– ca. 1050, probably Goslar mint. Obv: [+D]'I GR'A + R[EX], cross with OD[D]O in quadrangles. Rev: [A]TEAH[LHT]; "wooden church," pellet to right. 19mm, 1.39g. Hatz IV 5/6.

    MA – Deutschland etc., Sachsenpfennig, Dannenberg 1330, Mehl 30.png
    Magdeburg, Imperial mint, "Saxon penny," probably issued under Otto III (r. 983–1002 AD) and Archbishop Giselher (984–1004 AD). Obv: ...I M I... (corrupted MAGADEBURG); "wooden church" with four pellets inside; three pellets to l. and r. Rev: ...EI°III... (corrupted IN NOMINE DNI AMEN), cross pattée. 16mm, 1.27g. Ref: Dannenberg 1330; Mehl 30; Kilger Mg HP 1; Slg Hauswaldt 14.

    MA – Deutschland etc., Sachsenpfennig, Dannenberg 1335.png
    "Saxon penny", anonymous regional issue, under Conrad II, ca. 1025–1030 AD, struck in the region around Meißen. Obv: legend of wedges and retrograde [C]-V-X-R (CRVX–type), cross trefly. Rev: legend of wedges and H-[E?]-V-R (VERH–type), cross of wedges. 16mm, 1.10g. Ref: Type Mol A 2; Dannenberg 1335a–c.

    MA – Deutschland etc., Sachsenpfennig, Dannenberg 1337 (neu).png
    "Saxon penny", anonymous regional issue, under the early Salian emperors (Conrad II – Henry IV), ca. 1025–1060 AD, struck in the Saale region close to Naumburg. Obv: legend of wedges and retrograde [R?]- X-I-V (CRVX–type), cross with pellets and ringlets in quadrants. Rev: legend of wedges and C-V-X-[R?] (CRVX–type), cross of wedges. 16mm, 1.17g. Ref: Type Sal D 2:1; Dannenberg 1337.
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  15. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Many thanks for the illuminating historical background on the Saxons, @Orielensis --obviously much deeper than I went. And some cool coins! The origin of the 'Saxon pennies' was always a complete mystery to me.
    Can you recommend a book in English that treats the Billungs with this level of depth?
    Orielensis likes this.
  16. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    why not? The Byzantines were the Romans.

    I guess my point is the question is flawed because it rests on the modern concepts of periodization. Did the Pagan Romans have contact with “Vikings”? Probably not. Christian Romans certainly did.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  17. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Maybe we are talking about different things here.
    1) there is the historical periodisation according to which the Roman Imperial Age ended around AD 500 and (in Scandinavia) the Viking Age begins in AD 793. Hence, in this historical periodisation, Romans never met Vikings. However, Romans met Heruls, as I explained before.

    2) there is the confusion about ethnic terms. No Roman source, pagan or Christian, ever mentions any Vikings by that name or similar. The Byzantines (Romanoi) came into contact with Norsemen, called Varangers. The term Viking was never applied to Norsemen who sailed down the Russian Rivers to Constantinople. In this sense, Christian Romans, Romanoi or Byzantines (let alone pagan Romans) ever came into contact with Vikings.
  18. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    [Edit: I started this before @Tejas's latest reply; then my keyboard went through one of its scheduled electro-neural episodes, and I had to restart the machine.]
    The way I interpreted @JayAg's question --and what I thought made it as interesting as it was-- ran to asking whether, on an ethnic level, the Vikings' ancestors were in Scandinavia (or elsewhere, presumably not far) early enough to be known to the ancient Romans.
    ...In a sense, pretty much everyone here is right. Regarding the semantics, I wish people would just lighten up a little. Particularly along the lines of ethnic labels, I always have to think of how Shakespeare spelled his own name three different ways. More a metaphor than an exact parallel, but resonant as such. ...Then you get the American censi, in which people of multiple origin were labelled 'Negro' or 'Mulatto' depending on which decade it was. [Edit:] ...When the census taker didn't give up (as in the Midwest in the 1850's) and forego checking a box.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2021
  19. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist Supporter

    Okay, here’s my points:
    periodization in and of itself is arbitrary. The end of the ‘Roman Age’ being ‘around 500’ with no firm date is it’s own proof. Why 500? Roland were still around - but they viewed their capital as being in Constantinople. End of Romulus Augustulus’s reign? Why? The Romans at the time likely didn’t view that as their “end.” Why 793 for the beginning of the ‘Viking Age’? Sure, it’s the sack of Lindesfarne, but are we to believe Scandinavians didn’t attack ANYONE before that time? It’s just recorded in English sources, and the beginning of more attacks. But again, it we modern people who are trying to put time in nice neat little boxes, and time doesn’t work that way.

    no confusion on ethnic terms - I completely agree that “Viking” is not an ethnicity but an occupation. But why would you expect Romans/Byzantines/Romanoi to call them “Vikings” in their sources? When Harald Hardrada had to flee Norway and eventually ended up serving in the Varangian guard, I guarantee he went a Viking to get to that point. It’s a common motif in the Icelandic sagas that many men choose to to gather a ship to go Viking, or are forced to because they had been outlawed.

    I’m sorry my nit-picking on historiography has derailed this thread. I’ll back off. And @Tejas - we’re on the same page, we’ve just taken different routes to get there ;)
  20. romismatist

    romismatist Well-Known Member

    I have recently noticed that there are also (Scandinavian?) imitations of the Hermann of Kalvelage type from Emden (AMVTHON). They are going for a lot more than I could afford (so these are all not my coins, but posting to show style differences with the original):
    emden imitation eur350.jpg Emden imitation EUR400.jpg emden imitation eur700.jpg
    Then there are the earlier types from Emden from Wichmann III with the town written as "ERBRI-DOMVS" on the front. This used to be my coin, but I sold it...

    Lastly, there are some rare issues of Godefroid for which the mint was originally identified as MEER or HLERE (Leer, Ostfriesland), but is now most likely from a mint in the Netherlands (this one is my coin - auction pics, as I can't photograph things well):

  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    @romismatist, those are All Brilliant. Yes, I'm rooting for them being Scandinavian.
    And I'm on your paragraph (never mind the page) where photography is concerned. Is that last one of Godrey the Bearded? ...I have one of the commonest type of his, awaiting an upgrade.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2021
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