The early kings of Anglo-Saxon Mercia

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Nap, Sep 11, 2018.

  1. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Mercia was an Anglo-Saxon kingdom and one part of the "heptarchy" of the early medieval period of England. Mercia became the dominant kingdom of England during the 7th century and remained so until the Viking attacks of the 9th century decimated the country and considerably changed the political climate, leading to the rise of Wessex and Alfred "the Great".

    The early coinage of Mercia was much like the other Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, small (10-12mm) sceattas featuring abstract designs with Christian, Pagan, and Celtic imagery. Kings and princes were not named on the coinage. In the mid 8th century a powerful king named Offa began coinage in his own name, copying the contemporary deniers of France. Offa was probably the Anglo-Saxon equivalent to the "enlightened despot", such as Charlemagne, and accomplished political, economic, and military goals. He is remembered for "Offa's dyke", an earthwork formation dividing England from Wales, which still partially exists to this day. In numismatics, his main contribution is the coinage reform that led to the first coins that most would recognize as "pennies". The penny coinage would not considerably change in size, weight, or composition for nearly 1000 years.

    Offa was less successful in establishing a dynasty. Despite having a successor in place, his plans were thwarted on his death and his son was only around for a few months before he died, presumably (though not necessarily) violently. A noble named Coenwulf became king and immediately faced political breakdown from other lands that his predecessor had subdued. He seems to have been an energetic king who dealt with a multitude of political and military problems. As can be expected, this was a violent time and kings were expected to lead armies. Coenwulf continued the coinage started by Offa and introduced a few different types.

    The coins produced by both of these kings was extensive and varied, though relatively it's rare compared to the 10th century coinage of a united England that was produced in great numbers. The Mercian kings that followed Coenwulf would be have much less variety to their coinage and much less volume, making coins of other monarchs extremely rare. Mercia would fold in the mid 9th century completely after infighting and destruction by Viking raiders.

    Here are coins of Offa and Coenwulf:

    Penny of Offa by moneyer Aethelnoth
    Most likely produced in Canterbury
    O: M/+OFFA/REX
    R: +/EDEL/NOD
    Ex- Archbishop Sharp collection (formed in mid-late 1600s by the Archbishop John Sharp of York and his father, in possession of his descendents until last year)


    Penny of Coenwulf by moneyer Saeberht
    Also most likely from Canterbury
    O: +COENVVLF REX around central circle, Mercian ‘M’ in center
    R: +SE BE RHT divided by limbs of tribrach
    Ex- M Vosper

    Canterbury, which was part of Kent not Mercia, was nevertheless the ecclesiastic capital of southern Anglo-Saxon England, and remains so to this day. Mercia dominated Kent during this period and there was more coinage there than elsewhere in the kingdom.
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Some great coins you don't see often, congrats and thanks for sharing.
  4. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Gret writeup @Nap I love those anglo-saxon coins.Maybe one day I will own one of these coins. If so, it would probably be Offa as coins of Coenwulf seem to go for crazy money when they appear at auction. Of course Offa is not cheap either.

    If those are your coins then congratulations is in order. These are not easy to find and the examples you have shown are exceptional.
    Severus Alexander likes this.
  5. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Thanks. Yes, these are my coins. Coins of Offa and Coenwulf are rare, but relatively common compared to the succeeding kings of Mercia- Ceolwulf I, Beornwulf, Ludica, Wiglaf, Berhtwulf, Ceolwulf II. The only common Mercian king is Burgred and his coins are very easy to find compared to the others and considerably more affordable. If you’re looking for a representative coin of this era, that’s the one to get.

    Nonportrait coins of Offa are probably a little more common and less expensive than Coenwulf. On the other hand, portrait pennies of Offa, especially those of good style, tend to be considerably more expensive than those of Coenwulf so it depends on what you’re after.
    Orfew likes this.
  6. TheRed

    TheRed Well-Known Member

    Great coins @Nap I always have wanted a penny of Offa. As you say, he introduced the penny to England and set the standard for the silver penny for centuries to come.
    Orfew likes this.
  7. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Here are a few other coins of Mercia-

    Wiglaf of Mercia (827-829, and possibly 830-839)
    Produced in London
    Moneyer Redmund
    R: N +REDMV D

    Burgred of Mercia (852-874)
    Moneyer Guthere
  8. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    That Burgred is beautiful. I would love to have a coin like that.
  9. EWC3

    EWC3 Active Member

    I did some work on this matter a couple of years back - but since gave up on trying to publish it formally - (sheesh - just too hard to find appropriate editors and referees). Here is a rough outline of the conclusions - taken from memory

    The long lasting penny reform (the introduction of sterling weight) seems to be in the 790's. According to contemporary histories a proposed dynastic alliance between Offa and Charlemagne broke down at that time. However, if you read the letters of the crucial go between - Alcuin of York - what really went on was more a sort of trade war or "proto-brexit". All we really know is that around 790 all import/export trade across the English channel stopped. A situation that was apparently only resolved after about 2 years.

    Then around the period 793-4 both Offa and Charlemagne reformed their penny weight standards - it seems according to the same principle

    Offa seems to fix his weight standard for gross goods/bullion at 12 troy ounces and struck 256 sterling pennies from that. But he applied a tariff of c.12% - 1/16 - which at the mint was interpreted as a seigniorage - making 240 sterling pennies to the value pound - each penny of c. 1.46g

    Meanwhile Charlemagne fixed his weight standard for gross goods/bullion at 16 Roman ounces and struck 256 pennies from them. But he also applied a tariff of 1/16 - which again at the mint was interpreted as a seigniorage - making 240 Carolingian pennies to the value pound - thus each penny of c. 1.7g

    Probably theology and trade got mixed up at the time. All this apparently started when Charlemagne set on Alcuin and his friends to rediscover the true Biblical weight standard decreed by Moses. The standard Offa ultimately chose was the one of the biblical lands in the 8th century AD - that of the Umayyad Caliphs, (but apparently with much earlier Ancient Egyptian roots). The one applied by Charlemagne was Roman in origin, (although the Romans seem to have got it from the Greeks)

    More details available on request - and as ever - criticism sought

    Rob T

    PS -on the very ancient roots of the troy standard - see the "King Brut" thread
    TypeCoin971793, Orfew and Pellinore like this.
  10. TypeCoin971793

    TypeCoin971793 Just a random nobody...

    Great coins that hold a very interesting story!
  11. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member

    Another coin of Coenwulf
    566DEBB1-2C1C-418E-84F4-FC18AEB43D7C.jpeg 7A7186F9-1832-444E-B1C7-AA40DD9C7BB9.jpeg
    Some die rust but otherwise a reasonable portrait penny of the Mercian king from East Anglia (possibly Ipswich) which was under Mercian control
  12. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Very nice coins! I have absolutely no knowledge in early British history, but I have always been fascinated about the viking invasion of Britain. I am actually wondering, did the Viking kingdoms (for example in Danelaw) also produce coins? If yes, do you or someone here own one? I am very interested how these coins look, if they for example had Viking inscriptions on them or if they were already influenced by Christianity and Latin/British.
    Nap likes this.
  13. Nap

    Nap Well-Known Member


    Yes the Vikings in England did produce coins. These were produced in the Viking kingdom of York as well as the Danelaw surrounding East Anglia. The coins were somewhat different in the two regions.

    In the north (York) there were a number of types including inscribed coins in the names of kings or warlords, as well as anonymous coins in the name of St Peter of York or St Martin of Lincoln. There are a number of different types and most are extremely rare as the Viking kings didn’t tend to stick around all that long, maybe a year or two, until they went to Valhalla.

    Here is my Viking anonymous coin of St Peter of York:

    In the south (East Anglia) there was more of an imitative phase, where coins of Alfred the Great and Louis the Pious (in France) were copied. A very small series named Viking rulers; these coins are extremely rare.

    Here is my Viking imitative coin of Alfred the Great, copying his famous “Londonia” monogram type (issued around 880):
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  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Redditor Lucis Aeternae

  15. Pavlos

    Pavlos You pick out the big men. I'll make them brave!

    Very interesting thank you! and once again very nice looking coins.
  16. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Wow @Nap those are superb!
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