anglo saxon coin

Thank you!

Great news! We have raised the funds to keep King Alfred’s Coins in the heart of the region in which it was discovered.

The Watlington hoard is the first large Viking hoard discovered in Oxfordshire & contains over 200 Anglo-Saxon coins.

We would like to thank everyone who donated to the campaign. Lead support was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, towards both the acquisition and to fund a range of educational and outreach activities. Thanks to a further major grant from Art Fund as well as contributions from the public and the Friends and Patrons of the Ashmolean, the Museum reached its fundraising target within days of the deadline.

“The Watlington Hoard is one of the most exciting and important acquisitions we have ever made, particularly significant because it was found in Oxfordshire. To be able to keep the hoard in the county and put it on display with the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon collections, which include the world-famous Alfred Jewel, was an opportunity we could not miss.”
     
    – Dr Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean

An Exceptional Discovery

In October 2015, metal detectorist James Mather discovered an important Viking hoard near Watlington in South Oxfordshire. It dates from the end of the 870s, a key moment in the struggle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings for control of southern England.

The Watlington Hoard sheds new light on the conflict between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, and on the relationship between the two great Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.

The hoard contains over 200 Anglo-Saxon coins, including many examples of previously rare coins of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex (871–899) and his less well-known contemporary, King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874–879). This is the first large Viking hoard discovered in Oxfordshire, which once lay on the border of Wessex and Mercia. The Watlington Hoard therefore has enormous relevance to our county. At the same time this is a find of truly national importance, providing a major new source of information about this tumultuous time in the history of our nation.

Lesson 16 - Viking Money: Commerce, Coins, and Cuerdale.

Note: [If you have not done so already, check out last week’s lesson. Visit “Viking History” on my blog to view all of the lessons.]

Komiði sæl og blessuð, vinir,

We are about to wrap up the first half of this Crash Course (that is, the cultural and society portion), as we dwindle down to these tedious elements of trade and economics. After this, we shall only have Crafts, Art, and Weaponry to discuss before we enter the popular realm of raids abroad (starting with Francia). These next few lessons may be a bit short (with the exceptions of Art and Weaponry, probably). Nonetheless, enjoy some coin hoarding with this lesson on Viking money.

Contents:
1. Commerce
2. Coins
3. Cuerdale: Viking Hoards.


Commerce

We have already discussed aspects of economics as we began to introduce towns into the Scandinavian landscape. As stated before, these were massive production centers and trading hubs. Yet, one thing that we have not really covered would be their exports and imports. What was being traded? What did Scandinavia have to offer? Quite a bit actually.

Exports:
1. slaves
2. furs
3. animals
4. textiles
5. iron
6. whetstones

Imports:
1. luxury goods
2. weapons
3. metals

Of course, those are just the juicy bits. Other items would have been wine, spices, and silks from Byzantium, or even silver from the Abbasid Caliphate. The realm of Viking commerce was very much “global” [1]. It is quite possible that the wealth entering Scandinavia during the ninth and tenth centuries fueled the raids as well. After all, not all “Vikings” were traders. In fact, most only traded seasonally. Off-season they would either farm, craft, or raid. In general, “jobs” in medieval Scandinavia were typically seasonal ones [2].

Coins

The major “import” that resulted from their expansive trading network were coins. “On the Baltic Island of Gotland alone, 40,000 Arabic, 38,000 Frankish, and 21,000 Anglo-Saxon silver coins have been found” [3]. These coins were most likely used for small-scale transactions. There is reason to believe that these coins were sometime used in circulation. Their worth was literal, based strictly on the gold or silver content in the metal.

Of course, not all of these coins were acquired fairly. It could be said that the Viking economy was very much one of both trade and plunder. Most valuable good were the results of raids. Still, such an influx resulted in a strange “obsession” with coins [4]. The product of this behavior were hoards.

Yet, eventually, Scandinavia was producing their own coins, rather than using foreign coins in circulation. Such an example is this coin:

Made in the Viking settlement of Dublin, this coin reflects the change that was in the air among powerful, Viking rulers. Presenting the pagan imagery of a raven with outstretched wings, this coin still portrays Olaf Guthfrithsson, King of Viking Dublin, with traditional symbols [5]. Coins began to hold power in the Viking Age, not just monetary worth. Eventually, coins became symbols of centralizing power and authority. 

Cuerdale

For the sake of alliteration, I refer here to a famous coin hoard called the Cuerdale hoard. Like all pirates, the Vikings had a passion for burying their treasure [6]. Such hoards were coins buried in bulk, generally at least a few thousand coins. The idea was to come back for them later, but, of course, that did not always go as planned. It is quite likely that this hoard was the result of the Vikings being expelled from Dublin in 902. As they made their way to York, they decided to bury their valuables, but never returned for them [7]. Here are some of the treasures some poor Vikings left behind:

1. 8,500 silver objects
2. 40 kilos of silver
3. ingots
4. amulets
5. various foreign goods


Wrap-up

In the end, the story of Viking money comes down to a discussion of both trading and raiding. There is much more that can be told, namely the trading expeditions of the Swedes into the East, for they could not easily raid the lands of Byzantium nor the Caliphate [8]. Viking Money was a new concept, at least in the form of coinage. It began for them as foreign coins, either looted or fairly bargained for. Yet, eventually, leaders used coins to exert their authority. The classical world, and later Christendom [9], knew well how to express authority through coinage, as was done with Alexander the Great. Viking money was symbolic and ever-evolving. Truly, it is a story of both raids and trades as well as new and old.

Skál og ferð vel!

Next Week’s Lesson: Lesson 17 - Viking Crafts.


Sources and Notations

[Gen.] Jennifer Dukes-Knight, “Settlement and Trade,” Lecture, Viking History, University of South Florida, 2015.

[1] Of course, this statement is meant to be our understanding of global. It stretch all across Europe and into the East. It also, after 1000, reached into North America through Vinland. However, many connections were somewhat indirect. There is a fascinating map on Viking trade networks in Penguin’s Historical Atlas. I did not scan it because it would look silly, but here is the source for it: John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. (Penguin Books, 1995), 38-9.

[2] This goes back to the nature of the word “Víkingr” in Old Norse, however, in this context, it came from this source: John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. (Penguin Books, 1995), 38.

[3] Direction quotation from: John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. (Penguin Books, 1995), 38.

[4] I only used the word “obsession” for the sake of creative speech. I have not personally seen an article that seriously discusses a real obsession with coinage. Though, I have not exactly looked into such a subject with depth either.

[5] The Image comes from the British Museum and the information from this source: John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. (Penguin Books, 1995), 70.

[6] I use this loosely and comedically. Vikings were pirates, yes, but nothing like those that may come to mind. They stole money from ships, but they were different than the pirates of later centuries.

[7] Viking Dublin (settled by Norwegians) was contested by Irish and Danish alike. In this case, it would likely have been Danish Vikings being expelled, since they are heading to York, which was the heart of the Danelaw in England. Though, I have not done extensive research into such a claim. Regardless, I will go into more depth into these areas in lessons to come.

[8] I really could have spent this entire lesson (and more) on the Swedes in the East alone, and I am sorry for those that may have been looking forward to such a discussion. Do not fret, I will be covering this region in a future lesson. There is actually quite a bit that goes on in the East, with tremendous amounts of trading. Though, that is not everything to it, either. There is a long history of integration with Scandinavian expansion east of the Baltic that pre-dates the Viking age. John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings. (Penguin Books, 1995), 100.

[9] I use “Christendom” to refer to areas of Europe that were Christian nations (Francia, England, etc.). At the time, they did not always consider themselves a unified “west” or “Europe.” Also, since there were non-Christian “nations” at this time, it is a more clear way to make distinctions.

Largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins found in recent years goes on display

Rare treasures from the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins discovered in recent years, found by a metal detectorist, have been put on display at the British Museum.

The archaeological hoard, of about 5,200 coins, buried during the reign of Cnut in the 11th century, was discovered in the Buckinghamshire village of Lenborough shortly before Christmas wrapped in a lead sheet.

A total of 300 coins will be on display at the British Museum while the collection goes through the “treasure process” of valuation ahead of a potential sale, possibly to a Buckinghamshire institution. Read more.