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Medieval Monday | To Trade with a Viking

In this week’s Medieval Monday topic, I thought I’d continue with the theme of ancient coins, specifically, the Vikings.

If you look at history, most of the civilizations economy was based on a bartering system, including the Vikings. Two men or women might meet and say, "You have goats, I have some grain. I need a few goats and you need grain. So, why not swap?"

Eventually, the Vikings developed a coinage system, using precious metals instead of bartering for goods. Silver and gold were used, based on weight. Yet silver was the main metal of the day. Most of the evidence we have for Viking coinage comes from archaeological finds in the British Isles and Scandinavia. Known transport routes of the Vikings, such as rivers and ancient roads, often presented vast hoards of buried wealth.

Precious metals were also a symbol of wealth and power. Like many others throughout history, the Vikings demonstrated their wealth and status by wearing beautiful jewelry, or by having expensively ornamented weapons. In many cases, imported coins were melted down as the raw material for arm-rings, torcs (neck-rings), or brooches.

The Vikings encountered coins through two routes. The first was through trade through what was known as the Silk Road, stretching from China to Southern Europe. Not only did it allow for goods, but it also brought coins. Most likely, the first coins to be known in Scandinavia were from the Islamic countries.

The second route was through Viking raids. Coins were well established in Northern Europe, including the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the British Isles. From the initial raids on the East coast, the Vikings quickly became familiar with coins. The Vikings managed to accumulate a large quantity without making their own. Eventually, this would change.

Scandinavia mints sprung up around the end of the 10th century. The Danes in Britain had enforced what was known as the Danegeld. Initially it was raised as tribute to the Viking invaders to effectively pay them off and stop them attacking. Once the Danelaw was established it was kept on as a land-tax. In addition, these coins gained through the Danegeld became the models of the first Danish coins and often included the same imagery even though they were minted in Denmark.

To view a selection of ancient Viking coins, check out this article about a discovery in Wales of 14 silver pennies, whose origins lie in Viking Age Dublin.

As a collector of old-world coins, I often ponder the previous owners and their lives. Who were they? What goods did they barter for with these coins? And how many times did this coin pass from one person to another? A tale to weave for another day...

***IMPORTANT UPDATE*** One of the lovely ladies of Medieval Monday, Barbara Bettis, has a post in her "Solar" for today. Take a peek here:


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