Featured Used and Abused: Coins and the Vikings

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by FitzNigel, Sep 14, 2019.

  1. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    The role of medieval Scandinavia in international trade has become more clear in recent decades through archaeological studies, in addition to examining numismatics. In early Scandinavian History, coins would be used primarily as bullion, and payments made through weight rather than the number of coins. This is clear due to the number of Viking hoards that have been found containing silver coins along with other precious metals folded and mutilated. In the early Middle Ages, large numbers of Abbasid Dirhams have been found in Scandinavian hoards. There have been some records of contact between Muslims and Scandinavians, particularly the account of Ibn Fadlan who spent some time with a people called the Rus (the fore-bearers to the Russians, which some believe to be Scandinavian, but could possibly be Slavs). Ibn Fadlan describes many aspects of the Rus’ lives, most famously the burial ritual surrounding one of their chieftains. In addition, he describes the women of the Rus wearing “gold and silver chains. If the husband possesses ten thousand dirhems, he has one chain made for his wife; if twenty thousand, two; and for every ten thousand one is added.” While it is not clear from Fadlan’s description if this jewelry is made from coins, coin jewelry is consistent with some of the hoard finds, as many Abbasid Dirhems found in Viking hoards are pierced to be worn as jewelry.

    Med-19a-Abb-0936-Al-Radi Billah-Dir-Marinate al Salam-255-1.jpg
    Abbasid Caliphate, Third Period
    Al-Radi Billah, r. 322-329 AH/934-940 A.D. (324 AH/936/7 A.D.)
    AR Dirhem, 27.08 mm x 3.0 grams
    Obv.: Outer Margin: لله الأمر من قبل و من بعد ويومئذ يفرح المؤمنون بنصر الله. Inner Margin: بسم الله ضرب هذا الدرهم بمدينة السلام سنة اربع و عشرين و ثلث مائة. Center: لا شريك له / الله وحده / لا الاه الا
    Rev.: Margin: محمد رسول الله ارسله بالهدى و دين الحق ليظهره على الدين كله ولو كره المشركون Center: د / الراضى بالله / الله / رسول / محمد / لله
    Ref.: Album 255.1 (Without Heir)
    Note: Holed. Potentially from the Vikings

    As you can see, my recent purchase contains a piercing which was made in the Middle Ages. This is by no means proof that it was used by the Vikings (the provenance of where it was found has been lost), but the date of issue is in line with other dirhams found in Viking hoards, and the piercing is in a spot unrelated to the legend, which suggests that the person who pierced it was not familiar with Arabic, and was not wearing it for the statement of faith in Allah the coin contains.

    Trade routes of the Vikings. The Vikings appear to have interacted with the Muslim world regularly, as many Islamic coins have been found in Viking hoards. Image from: https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/4a1tw7/regional_frequency_of_the_cys282tyr_mutation/

    Ibn Fadla’s trip to the Rus took place in 922, but Scandinavian trade connections to the Muslim world dates back to the eighth century. However, that trade seems to have slowed by the ninth. This has caused some scholars to speculate that the weakening trade ties might have been what prompted the Viking invasions of the west in the ninth century. If this is the case, then the Scandinavians certainly did find hoards of treasure in the unprotected monasteries off the coast of England. Lindesfarne was first attacked in 793, but perhaps more significant to the coinage was the Battle of Maldon in 991. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that a Norwegian chieftain named Olaf (likely Olaf Tryggvason, future king of Norway) defeated the English Earl Byrhtnoth at the battle. Following the Battle, the English King Æthelred Unræd made peace with Olaf, by agreeing to pay a ‘Danegeld’ or tax to the ‘Danes’ of 10,000 pounds of silver. Future Danegelds were also paid in an attempt to maintain a peace.

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

    A surprising amount of this Danegeld must have been in coin. Firstly, English coin types begin being imitated in Scandinavia (included a rare issue from Olaf Tryggvason copying the ‘Crux’ type issued by Æthelred), and we have even found evidence of some of the same dies used for English coins being used in Scandinavian issues. We can also tell that Scandinavians were using English coins due to the presence of ‘peck marks’ found on many coins (such as my example above). The peck marks were a means to check that the coins contained good silver, and weren’t just a simple wash; again, evidence that the Vikings looked to the weight of the metal rather than the supposed value of the coin. This coin also contains a contemporary hole, suggesting that it too was used as jewelry. Peck marks are occasionally found on the obverse, but the location of the hole and lack of marks on the obverse certainly confirm this coin was meant to be worn.

    So while my two purchases above will never win any beauty contests, their damage is what sets them apart as artifacts used in trade outside of the homeland where they were minted. It is the damage that suggests they were used by Scandinavians who went a Viking, and adds to their story as objects of value beyond a mere coin.
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  3. Yorkshire

    Yorkshire Well-Known Member

    Very nice, talking of holed coins and vikings:

    This isn't mine but heres one of my favourite anglo saxon coins. Its from Æthelred the Unready and If i remember right only 20 or so have been found and majority of them have been found in Scandinavia and they all have holes in.
    Lamb of god on one side a dove on the other
  4. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Great coins and write up. Curious if Byzantine gold also was used by the Vikings, the so-called bezant.
    +VGO.DVCKS and FitzNigel like this.
  5. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Great write up and wonderful coins!(looks like no silver necklace for my wife)
    Always READY to bust out my Aethelred II ;)
    Monne - Styca Anglo-Saxon Coins - Northumbria -
    841-844, 844-849 AD. Obv: small cross with +EDLIRED REX legend. Rev: pellet rosette with +MONNE legend for the moneyer Monne. S. 862. 1.17 grams.
    Very fine. Ex: Timeline Auction
    galba68, +VGO.DVCKS, TheRed and 10 others like this.
  6. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    I don’t know if Byzantine gold spread widely in the North. The Rus certainly imitated Byzantine Coins when they formed their kingdom.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  7. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Nice coin @Ryro - but different Æthelred! Your Æthelred was just King if Northumbria, but the later Æthelred was king of all of England
    +VGO.DVCKS and Ryro like this.
  8. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    I have just sold this Cnut II in the last CNG 112 auction (https://cngcoins.com/Coin.aspx?CoinID=388294)

    My own photo:
    Ruler: Cnut II (1016-1035, or Cnut the Great). Silver penny. Small cross type.
    Mint: Lund (Danmark)
    Obv: + CNVT REX DÆNOR. Diademed head of Cnut, draped, to the left. Inner circle.
    Rev: Small cross pattée, garbled legend around. Partly readable: GOD. Should probably be: +GODPINE M-O LVND.
    Details: diameter 20 mm, weight 1.64g. Peck mark on reverse.
    Reference: Malmer chain 158, dies 639/1832; cf. Hauberg 2 (Lund); Hede –

    Cnut was a son of the Danish prince Sweyn Forkbeard. Leading a coalition with the Swedes, Cnut invaded England in 1015, then ruled by Æthelred II ("the unready"). In 1016, Æthelred died, leaving the defence of London to Edmund Ironside. Edmund's reputation as a warrior was such that Cnut agreed to divide England, Edmund taking Wessex and Cnut the whole of the country beyond the Thames. However, Edmund died (under questionable circumstances) on 30 November and Cnut became king of the whole country. Upon the accession to the Danish throne in 1018, and later in 1027 the Norwegian and Swedish throne, Cnut effectively combined England, Danmark, Norway and Sweden, marking the peak of the Viking Age (793–1066 AD)

    I found one comparable: https://www.numisbids.com/n.php?p=lot&sid=1442&lot=247
    Though I really liked the coin, which I acquired more or less by chance as part of an old collection I bought, it was not within the scope of my collection (mostly Roman, Greek and Celtic). There were two other Anglo-Saxon coins in this collection, both of Aethelred II.

    To me, a relative novice, bringing this coin from The Netherlands to the CNG office in London was really a nice adventure (and it created a nice coin budget as well). I decided to keep one though, as a souvenir on this adventure, and I liked the odd hairstyle of Aethelred on this one, though it's a bit a weak mint and partly double struck:
    Ruler: Æthelred II (978-1017, or Æthelred the Unready). Silver penny. Long cross type
    Mint: Winchester, Moneyer: Ælfsige.
    Head of Aethelred II, draped, to the left.
    No inner circle-type.
    Rev: +AELFSIGE MO PINT. Long cross without inner circle.
    Details: diameter 19 mm, weight 1.74g. Some peck marks on reverse. Spink 1154. Looks better in hand, text easier readable. Reverse a bit weak at "PINT".

    And the other is currently for sale in CNG E-auction:
    Ruler: Æthelred II (978-1017, or Æthelred the Unready). Silver penny. Last Small Cross type (BMC i, Hild. A)
    Mint: York mint; Sumerleth, moneyer. Struck circa 1009-1016.
    Obv: + (retrograde Z)VMRLEÐ • Λ • M - O EOFR
    Head of Aethelred II, draped, crowned, to the left. Inner circle.
    Small cross pattée
    Details: diameter 20 mm, weight 1.41g. Some peck marks on reverse.
    Reference: SCBI 29 (Merseyside), 591 (for obv; same die); North 777; SCBC 1154.
  9. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    I remember seeing your Cnut from Scandinavia! Lovely coin - sorry I missed it at the auction (I haven’t been very good about keeping up with coining lately). And all of your coins have the peck marks on them too!
  10. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    Thanks @FitzNigel. Sorry you missed it. I was not sure whether or not it is okay to mention it on cointalk (still not sure ...).

    I like those peck marks. It adds history to the coin, as do banker marks on ancients IMHO.
    FitzNigel likes this.
  11. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums

    Wouldn't it be awesome to have a Viking hoard-provenanced dirham? (What are the finders' laws like in Scandinavia, do you know?)

    I have plenty of peck marks on my Aethelred II:
    Screen Shot 2019-09-14 at 1.15.12 PM.jpg

    And here's a coin issued by the Vikings in Dublin based on that Aethelred design:
    Screen Shot 2019-09-14 at 1.16.34 PM.jpg
    Sihtric III Olafsson (Silkbeard) (995-1036)
    galba68, svessien, +VGO.DVCKS and 9 others like this.
  12. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    Many Scandinavian hoard finds from the late Viking Age contain predominantly Saxon coins, illustrating the trade networks between the German speaking lands, Scandinavia, and the Baltic regions. Vera Jammer has done a very useful map of hoard finds:

    (from V. Jammer: Die Anfänge der Münzprägung im Herzogtum Sachsen, Hamburg 1952)

    Most of these Saxon coins look like this and have been thoroughly 'abused' (bent and pecked) to test the silver:
    MA – Otto–Adelheid–Pfennig.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 – Sachsenpfennig.png
    Under the early Salian emperors, anonymous regional moneyer, "Saxon penny", ca. 1025–1060 AD, struck in the Saale region close to Naumburg. Obv: legend of strokes and I-X-?-V (CRVX–type), cross with pellets and ringlets in quadrants. Rev: egend of strokes and C-V-X-?(CRVX–type), cross of wedges. 16mm, 1.17g. Ref: Dannenberg 1338 var (1337 on plate due to printing error).

    Also, here is a denier of Charles the Bald, who paid the Viking fleet under Ragnar a ransom of 7,000 French pounds in gold and silver to end the siege of Paris in 845 AD. Some of this ransom will have looked like this:

    MA – Karolinger, Karld der Kahle, denier.png

    Charles the Bald, Western Carolingian Empire, AR denier, 840–877 AD, "Curtisasonien" mint (Courcessin or Courgeon). Obv: +CRATIA D-I REX; Karolus monogram. Rev: +HCVRTISASONIEH; cross. 19.5mm, 1.69g. Ref: MEC I, 860–864. Ex Teutoburger Münzauktionen, Auction 123, lot 1823.
  13. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    I am enjoying all of the early medieval beauties (uglies?) showing up here... thanks guys!
  14. Pellinore

    Pellinore Well-Known Member

    My contribution is this coin of Dorestad, a thriving market town in the Netherlands not far south of Utrecht, on the river Rhine. It was pillaged by the Vikings in 839 and 850 and declined afterwards. This (not so attractive) penny was issued by Lothair I about 850-855.

    4508 s Dorestad.jpg

    Silver denier, 9th century. Dorestad. Chlotarius or after. Obv. DOR/ES.TA/TVS in 3 lines. Rev. Short cross in circle +HLOTIARIVS IMP. 20 mm, 1.39 gr. (MG 521-524/ Grierson Blackburn 820).
    galba68, +VGO.DVCKS, TheRed and 6 others like this.
  15. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Yes - the strongest evidence that the Vikings traded by weight of metal is the huge number of small weights found on their sites, also the random chopping up of both coins and artifacts in hoards.

    But you are commenting on as slightly different matter - pecking and the purity of the silver. Pecking is to check for plated fakes. The best evidence that they valued the purity of the silver is this. A couple of years back in Stockholm I was shown a Shahi bull and horseman jital found in Sweden. As such it is apparently unique. The Shahis maybe struck a billion of these coins, but we found only one that ever got to Sweden. Very likely indeed that Vikings would not accept coins that were only about 70% fine silver (this one was used in jewellery)

    For decades now I have been banging on about the fact that professional scholars do not understand this whole matter properly. The interesting question before us is not the very well known one everyone mentions: why were the Vikings buying into silver? It is this one: why were the Arabs dumping their silver on the world market?

    I fear I have just run out of energy on that. Contact me if you have an idea about what I have been getting at (eg around page 42 of "Jitals". 25 years ago :arghh:)

    Rob T
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2019
  16. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Were they dumping silver, or did they find an alternative slave market with the Slavs/Scandinavians after the Zanj Rebellion in the late 9th century? I don’t know, but considering the area traded slaves, and the Arabs lessened their trade with East Africa after the rebellion, this would be my guess.
    EWC3 likes this.
  17. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    Many thanks – an interesting idea to play with. A lot of things here I am unsure about. As I recall the Zanj was a rebellion of black slaves, but I think it was defeated? So do we know import of Black slaves stopped after that? Do we know that Arab trade with Africa slowed during 800-1,000 AD?

    Anyhow, we agree that a lot of the silver going north would be in trade for slaves. Actually, wearing a different hat, I know that Ireland is covered with souterrains from the Viking period, and I feel sure these were slave raid shelters. I never discovered the likely destination of those slaves.

    However I would defend my point by pointing at what happened to coinage within Islam. Islam was surely moving away from a market economy. Copper coin went first, by about 800 AD as I recall Then there is a long pause with silver issue, which seems to coincide with the first flush of silver coin to Scandinavia. When silver coin reappears in Islam it is no longer circulating by count but only by weight. So again, only for bigger payments, not so much for retail trade. After that a lot of the silver coin is newly minted Saminid stuff. Looks like a lot of it was struck specifically to export to Scandinavia. Finally after c 1000 AD (for the area west of Afghanistan) silver coin issue stops in Islam.

    This cannot to my mind be a routine trade thing. If demand for coin was constant in Islam, and you started to ship some of the coin out in trade, demand for what remained would go up. If we try to stick with the export for trade model, and keep internal demand for coin constant, the internal price of coin heads to infinity as it is shipped out and internal remaining supply headed for zero. A lot of historians seem to turn a blind eye to that.

    Actually, in practice it would be be absurd, and we more or less know the routine trade model is not what happened. We understand this from the Afghan experience. What was going on was military leaders were carving out estates for themselves, and pushing their tenants into serfdom. Serfs do not need coins. We know this from the Ghaznavids, who specifically boosted silver coin issues around 1000AD in order to pay soldiers in cash, specifically saying it was to block them seeking to bail out from central control and set themselves up as independent landed aristocrats.

    States run by taxes on market economies need coins. Military states run as serfdoms do not need coins, they need foreign soldiers to police the local population. I judge that was what swapping the silver for slaves was mostly about - slaves to train as soldiers in a different kind of economy altogether.

    Rob T
  18. TheRed

    TheRed Well-Known Member

    That was a vey enjoyable read @FitzNigel those are some great coins you have acquired. They have a wonderful history to them. Unfortunately I have no coins to add to the discussion though I recently came across a book that seems quite germane to this topic. The current price, around $200, had prevented me from picking it up.
  19. FitzNigel

    FitzNigel Medievalist

    Ooooo.... that looks interesting. The price tag of books is certainly one of the greatest frustrations of academic publishing.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  20. EWC3

    EWC3 (mood: stubborn)

    I am less sure that the main aim of this volume is to unpick profound problems for the benefit of the general reader. In the professionalised atmosphere of modern academic life, this looks to me more like an opportunity for individuals to pad out their CV’s with short and very specialised papers.

    I judge the price tag reflects the fact that Brill are aware of this and did not expect many sales.

    Note the account of the contents here


    Thick with typing errors!

    Brill did not even bother to run a spell checker through it

    I once discussed these matters with Marion Archibald. I remember her as an erudite, thoughtful and attentive critic.

    Rob T
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2019
    galba68 likes this.
  21. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    Nice post @FitzNigel !
    Here are some plates from C. I. Schive «Coins of medieval Norway»

    EDE82FBA-6325-4D6B-936E-ED8B1D238AD2.jpeg 794E34D5-3BC9-4C1C-B1A7-271E8B6E28C8.jpeg F184764D-16C0-4C14-80A0-6D0FBF8A7FBF.jpeg
    FitzNigel and galba68 like this.
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