Merovingian coinage

Presented below is a selection of images of Merovingian deniers found in England.

Gold tremisses and silver deniers imported from Merovingia around the last quarter of the sixth and first quarter of the seventh centuries were used in early Anglo-Saxon England before a native currency was developed. The transition would appear to be around the 630s, between the deposition of the Sutton Hoo burial and the Crondall, Hampshire, hoard. Finds of Merovingian material are scarce, with the silver denier possibly being rarer than the earlier gold tremissis. The Merovingian coinage of the period was diverse and is catalogued in:

Prou, M., 1896a, 'Les monnaies carolingiennes', (Catalogue des monnaies françaises de la Bibliotheque Nationale) (Paris), and

Belfort, A. DE, 1892-5, 'Description générale des monnaies mérovingiennes', 5 vols. (Paris).

Both references are difficult to obtain.

Transmission & Transition

In the 370s pressure from the Central Asian Huns pushed Germanic peoples westward. The Danube was crossed with Roman permission, a decision that ultimately proved fatal for the Western Roman Empire, as Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Lombards and other tribal peoples (such as Saxons and Suevi), became dominant in the west. It is a tribute to the stability and organisation of the coinage which these people inherited, that they chose to continue the 'Pseudo-Imperial' type, essentially that with the Victory reverse, into the third quarter of the sixth century, albeit on a lighter standard. That they were able to achieve this seamless monetary migration is also a tribute to their energy and sophistication – hardly the conduct of barbaric races.

The 'Pseudo-Imperial' solidus as unit of account, with the more practical third – the triens or tremissis – circulating as the dominant denomination, conveyed the authority of Rome, the authenticity of a long established medium, cohesive monetary control and a coherent iconography for the conveyance of not merely imperial authority but also the absolute ethical power of the newly adopted Roman religion.

The Merovingians clearly provide the predominant influence on the early Anglo-Saxon coinage in the transmission of design concepts and practices to England. Finds of imported gold coins, which were probably in use for high value transactions, cover most of the sixth century until perhaps thirty years after Augustine's arrival in 597 at the Kentish court of Æthelbert and Bertha. That Augustine brought Rome to Britain in more senses than Christianity is fundamental to the direction and pace of Anglo-Saxon monetary development.

By c.587, the second Merovingian phase, the gold 'National Coinage' had superseded the Pseudo-Imperial Victory type. These types, naming mint and moneyer, backed by a cruciform reverse, a clear break from Roman prototypes, gave way to the third phase around 670.

This phase is made up of the diversely styled silver deniers, minted to a uniform standard, from a large number of local mints, implying a high level of control. The reform of the Carolingian Pepin the Short (Pepin III, Mayor of the Palace, 741-51, King of the Franks, 751-68) ushered in the broad penny, which was then adopted by Offa of Mercia.

The hoard evidence reveals a significant watershed in monetary development in England. A purse containing 37 different Merovingian tremisses (plus 3 gold blanks and 2 ingots) was found in the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. A terminus post quem of the late 620s is now broadly accepted. Native Anglo-Saxon gold thrymsas were minted from about the 630s, initially in the style of their continental prototypes or copied from obsolete Roman coinage, and later in pure Anglo-Saxon style.

The mixed Crondall hoard of 101 gold coins (1 Byzantine, 24 Merovingian or Frankish, 69 Anglo-Saxon, 7 others), deposited a decade or two later than Sutton Hoo evinces resurgent native activity and gives structure to the arrangement of thrymsas.

Just as the Merovingian monetary system evolved into a uniform silver denarial coinage, albeit it with a huge variation of style, so the Anglo-Saxon system developed into a single denominational silver sceatta coinage more aligned to daily economic transactions. Throughout this transition from gold to silver, and through the various phases of the silver sceatta coinage, Romanitas remains a strong presence.

       Based on “The Roman influence on early Anglo-Saxon Coinage”, Tony Abramson, YN4, p. 73-104

A selection of Merovingian deniers found in England