Studies in Early Medieval Coinage

Volume 2: New Perspectives

Managing Editor: Tony Abramson


As with the first volume of SiEMC, this book is divided into three sections. The first comprises papers given at SEMC @ IMC, Symposium on Early Medieval Coinage at the Leeds International Medieval Congress, on 8th July 2008. This was an integral part of the University of Leeds’ International Medieval Congress, organised by the Institute of Medieval Studies.

The second part consists of additional papers of interest to students of the coinage of the period and the third section includes useful works of reference, indices and as in the previous volume, features a numismatic collection of particular merit.

The third biennial symposium saw a return to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge on Saturday 20th March 2010, the theme being Trade and Cultural Exchange. The proceedings and other papers will be included, together with an extensive bibliography, in SiEMC volume 3.

Part One: SEMC @ IMC, 2008
Whilst the 2006 International Sceatta Symposium at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge was a long overdue review of the advances since the previous dedicated symposium, Oxford 1983, the 2008 meeting in Leeds, SEMC @ IMC, focussed more on specific topics at both detailed and general levels.

The change in venue to Leeds had a number of significant merits, somewhat more telling than merely the convenience of this organiser/editor. SEMC @ IMC was planned as an integral part of the University of Leeds’ International Medieval Congress, IMC, organised by the Institute of Medieval Studies. IMC is one of two internationally renowned annual gatherings in this field and, according to the Vice Chancellor, is the University’s most prestigious annual event.

Whilst not wanting to create precedents for the treatment of other deserving interest groups within IMC, the organisers permitted SEMC considerable autonomy within the infrastructure of the wider Congress. SEMC was allotted one of the best appointed conference rooms on the Weetwood Hall site, allowed to consolidate all its activities into one very full day and was afforded considerable publicity with the production of an eye-catching poster. So SEMC gained both the advantages of a dedicated event as well as those of a full scale international congress with its onsite catering and accommodation, transport, new, second-hand and antiquarian book fairs, numerous cultural events, keynote lectures all managed by the efficient organisation behind IMC and set in leafy and historic Adel with bustling Headingley only a short walk away.

However, the gains were not entirely one-sided. There has been a paucity of numismatic coverage at previous IMCs, and this under-representation could not be viewed as healthy. Mainstream medieval English numismatics is very well established with a wealth of literature – as evidenced by the bibliography included in SiEMC2. Perhaps numismatics is viewed as having little new to offer; that would be a misguided view in this age of metal detection. More likely, the complexity of numismatics at both the micro- and macro-economic levels is too daunting a challenge. All the more reason why an accessible format, informative speakers and stimulating topics should be deployed to advance our cause. As a measure of success in achieving this objective, presentations attracted considerable “passing traffic” throughout SEMC’s day at IMC.

The papers presented at SEMC @ IMC not only complied with the Congress’s international flavour but expanded the range of the previous symposia to included later material which dovetailed well with many of the papers being presented elsewhere in the IMC programme. It is likely that SEMC will return one day to Leeds IMC.

A clear theme arose from the papers presented at SEMC @ IMC and others included in parts 2 and 3 of this volume: a refreshed view of existing material facilitated by recent finds – new perspectives. Due to time constraints and publication commitments elsewhere not all of the papers presented at the symposium could be included in this volume.

Metcalf’s paper typifies this theme of new perspectives in the most straightforward manner, by demonstrating how the advances in our knowledge of the coinage shine a light on our understanding of the economic activity of a particular region – in this case the East Midlands.

When finalised, it is hoped that Blackburn’s revised chronology can be published in a future volume of SiEMC. His presentation reviewed both the relative and absolute chronology of C6-7th coinage, first presented in 1983. The wealth of finds during the intervening ‘detecting era’ has failed to undermine the fundamentals of his universally accepted chronology. By reference to new material, Blackburn reinforced the original scheme, enhanced by a number of specific refinements. Such new material includes the 1985/6 Fishergate, York hoard, the 1993 Woodham Walter, Essex hoard, more metal analyses and significant contributions to the literature from Metcalf (Thrymsas & Sceattas) and Feveile (Ribe stratification, tertiary phase). Eadberht’s coinage is reviewed on the evidence of the South Newbald and “North of England” productive sites and other Yorkshire finds. The chronology remains largely intact – Series S and T are pushed into the 740s, Beonna towards the mid-750s and Series K and L, and continental Series E and X are all extended – that is, what were dotted lines in the original are now solid.
Abramson’s brief review of De Wit’s own narrative supporting the publication of De Wit’s outstanding collection of sceats, demonstrates that not all new perspectives can be sustained. Indeed, De Wit’s erratic restructuring serves, perversely, only to strengthen the conventional classification.

Karkov’s paper is an illustration that Gannon’s watershed volume on sceatta iconography opened the conversation on this subject and was very far from the final word. Karkov addresses: “the elevation of the purely mundane to the level of religious mission by couching it in an appropriate visual language.” Gannon herself reinforces this approach with specific reference to the sequencing of eclectic sceats. She states: “The theoretic framework here proposed is that no pairing is casual, but carries reciprocally-defining meaning. What I also hope to demonstrate is that meaning remains implied and enriched when pairings change, so that we might postulate chains of iconographic dialogue running through different Series of coins.” a statement which could prove fundamental to future interpretations.

Naismith’s erudite and scholarly exploration of kingship in the context of Offa’s innovative coinage is informed by the forthcoming The Coinage of Offa and His Contemporaries, ed. M. A. S. Blackburn and R. Naismith, British Numismatic Society Special Publication 6 (London).

Op den Velde’s introduction to his forthcoming, ambitious, re-evaluation of the entire Series E coinage , is a clear example of this new perspective, whereby collating all available specimens facilitates clarification and expansion of the prevailing classification as well as a better understanding of the longevity and volume of the Series.

Unfortunately, Feveile’s ongoing work cannot be published at this time but his paper was an object lesson in the analytical presentation of findings facilitated by the structured Ribe archaeology and the degree of monetary control exercised by the issuers.
Gooch’s perspective of the Viking coinage is that it “challenge(s) the assumption that adopting a coinage was the natural evolution of an economy” but rather “a political process driven by determined individuals” employing coinage as propaganda.

The Vale of York hoard as presented by Ager (artefacts) and Williams (coins) demonstrates how a hoard containing some very scarce material can give a fresh insight, in this instance into the fluid political situation early in Aethelstan’s reign.

Part Two: Additional Papers
Moving beyond what was presented at SEMC @ IMC, Bonser’s return to the “North of England” hoard, first listed in YN3, in the light of further finds from what seems to be the same site, shows what may be revealed when a site is accurately located – an East Yorkshire productive site with much Frisian coinage as well as Southumbrian secondary types from the hiatus between Aldfrith and Ecgberht.

The importance of Lyon’s brief note lies in the way a single specimen, albeit in superb condition, has extended our knowledge of the activities of both of a moneyer and a mint leading up to the time of the reform of Eadgar.

Pol continues the focus of his article in SiEMC1 applying forensic analysis to the unearthing of a false artefact whilst revealing a novel idea on how dies may have been cleaned.

Part Three: Accumulations and Indices
Booth’s commentary on the Chapman collection of Northumbrian sceats, in terms of robust analysis and well-grounded foresight, has much in common with Blackburn’s revised chronology. The work of both has withstood the onslaught of the detecting era and has been strengthened by useful refinements. The return of Booth with an updated revision would be most welcome.

Finally the “databases” here appended by the editor do not represent new work, simply a re-arrangement of current knowledge in a more accessible format, hopefully to facilitate research.



PART ONE: SEMC @ IMC July 2008: Studies in Early Medieval Coinage at Leeds International Medieval Congress Proceedings
English money, foreign money. The circulation of tremisses and sceattas in the east midlands, and the monetary role of `productive sites'. Michael Metcalf.
The De Wit Collection of early Anglo-Saxon coinage at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Tony Abramson.
The boat and the cross: church and state in early Anglo-Saxon coinage. Catherine Karkov.
Kingship and learning on the broad penny coinage of the "Mercian Supremacy". Rory Naismith.
Coins, Images and Tales from the Holy Land: Questions of Theology and Orthodoxy. Anna Gannon.
Series E reconsidered. Wybrand Op den Velde & Michael Metcalf
Viking kings, political power and monetisation. Megan Gooch
A preliminary note on the artefacts from the Vale of York Viking Hoard. Barry Ager.
The Vale of York Viking Hoard: Preliminary Catalogue. Barry Ager & Gareth Williams
Coinage and monetary circulation in the northern Danelaw in the 920s in the light of the Vale of York hoard. Gareth Williams.

The “North of England” Productive Site Revisited. Mike Bonser.
The Earliest Signed Penny Of Cricklade: A Local Find Of Edgar’s ‘Circumscription Cross’ Issue. Stewart Lyon.
Madelinus beyond imitations and sceats: trial pieces, fake brooches and some modern promotional copies. Arent Pol.

Notes on the Keith Chapman Collection of Northumbrian Silver Sceattas: c.700-c788. James Booth.
BNJ Coin Register Sceatta Index. Tony Abramson.

               261pp, p/b © Contributors, 2011. Production: The Boydell Press


British Numismatic Journal, vol. 82, 2012, Rory Naismith

Tony Abramson has for more than three decades been a leading organiser and facilitator in the field of medieval numismatics, lending his skills and energy to the Yorkshire Numismatic Society and to the focus of his collecting interest: the early Anglo-Saxon coinage. This volume is one of several which have resulted from his dedication, and presents the proceedings of the second of (at the time of writing) four biennial symposia on early medieval coinage arranged by Tony at Cambridge and Leeds since 2006. The particular symposium on which New Perspectives is based took place in Leeds in 2008, under the auspices of the International Medieval Congress, and attracted a considerable audience of historians and archaeologists as well as numismatists. The symposia organised by Tony at the IMC have benefited considerably from the increased exposure offered by a major academic gathering, and the breadth of the 2008 audience is reflected in the scope of the papers offered here, which showcase ways in which the coinage can be used to shed new light onto aspects of early medieval history, culture and society. This is particularly apparent with the first six papers in the volume. Michael Metcalf (‘English Money, Foreign Money. The Circulation of Tremisses and Sceattas in the East Midlands and the Monetary Role of “Productive Sites”’) provides a characteristically incisive dissection of the implications of finds from one part of England, finding an unusually high proportion of foreign coins (especially at productive sites) that might betoken trade links spanning the North Sea. Tony Abramson (‘The De Wit Collection of Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’) picks out highlights from a major new acquisition by the Fitzwilliam of over 450 top-quality sceattas. This superb collection includes many rare and unique specimens, and Tony quite rightly highlights the exhibition based on it – ‘Anglo-Saxon Art in the Round’ – which visitors to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, Norwich Castle Museum and Ipswich Town Hall Galleries may have seen in 2008–9. Catherine Karkov (‘The Boat and the Cross: Church and State in Early Anglo-Saxon Coinage’) and Anna Gannon (‘Coins, Images and Tales from the Holy Land: Questions of Theology and Orthodoxy’) both address the religious iconography of sceattas. Gannon’s previous research into this subject has left little doubt of the strong Christian overtones found in the sceattas’ iconography (Gannon 2003), but these two explorations show how much more there is to the subject. Here, Gannon looks especially to a selection of facing images, which she suggests might be representations of Christ and the Virgin Mary, while Karkov delves into images of ships and the metaphorical meanings they impart. A different approach is taken in this reviewer’s paper (‘Kingship and Learning on the Broad Penny Coinage of the “Mercian Supremacy”’), in which I survey how kings involved themselves with the issuing of coin in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. The role kings took in managing coin-production emerges as far from straightforward, and there was considerable room for influence from moneyers, clergy and others. The last paper in this first section (Wybrand op den Velde and Michael Metcalf, ‘Series E Reconsidered’) is a summarised prelude to a major new study of the ‘porcupine’ sceattas, which has since appeared in two volumes of the Jaarboek voor Munt- en Penningkunde. This vast and complex coinage has been a challenge to numismatists for centuries, and in these two publications op den Velde and Metcalf put forward solutions to many of the problems posed by Series E. In particular, differences in weight standard seem to betray two distinct groups within the series, probably to be associated with different mint-places.

            The final four papers adapted from the original symposium in Leeds all concern later coinages, principally of the early-tenth-century viking kingdoms set up in northern England. The catalyst behind this burst of activity was the 2007 discovery (and subsequent acquisition by the British Museum) of the ‘Vale of York’ hoard: a find of over 600 coins and other objects concealed in a silver pot around 928. Gareth Williams and Barry Ager, who have been at the forefront of analysing the hoard, join forces to provide a list of its contents (‘The Vale of York Viking Hoard: Preliminary Catalogue’), and both provide a further contribution on aspects of its interpretation. Williams provides an overview of what the ‘Vale of York’ hoard has to say about coinage and circulation in northern England in the 920s (‘Coinage and Monetary Circulation in the Northern Danelaw in the 920s in the Light of the Vale of York Hoard’), while Ager (‘A Preliminary Note on the Artefacts from the Vale of York Viking Hoard’) comments on the origins and parallels of items of metalwork. Megan Gooch’s paper (‘Viking Kings, Political Power and Monetisation’) complements those on the ‘Vale of York’ hoard by opening up wider perspectives on the meaning of coinage in Viking-Age Britain, and on what its issue and designs might reveal about the authorities behind it.

            As in the first volume of Studies in Early Medieval Coinage, contributions are not restricted just to those delivered at the corresponding symposium. In this case five further papers are provided. Three, those by Mike Bonser (‘The “North of England” Productive Site Revisited’), James Booth (‘Notes on the Keith Chapman Collection of Northumbrian Silver Sceattas: c. 700–c. 788’) and Tony Abramson (‘BNJ Coin Register Sceatta Index’), provide largely self-explanatory catalogues of important numismatic material. The other two are brief notices of intriguing new finds. Stewart Lyon (‘The Earliest Signed Penny of Cricklade: a Local Find of Edgar’s “Circumscription Cross” Issue’) highlights a rare single-find of a coin of the tenth century, in this case the first known with a mint-signature from Cricklade, which was discovered within five miles of the mint of origin. Finally, Arent Pol (‘A Square Madelinus from Katwijk: Trial Piece or Die Cleaner?’) draws attention to a lead object probably identifiable as a trial piece used in the production of imitative gold tremisses in the seventh century. Trial pieces – unlike coins – stood little chance of being transported long distances before being deposited, so that one can be confident that the find-spot of this object (Katwijk) lies very close to the location where the imitative coins were being made.

            The editor has, in short, done it again: he has produced a handsome and well put-together volume which demonstrates the vibrancy of early medieval numismatic studies. Abramson’s series is setting a precedent for effectively combining academic research and numismatic resources, all packaged with great professionalism by Boydell & Brewer. Images are generally of high quality – higher overall than in the previous volume in the series – though there is some fluctuation, not least in the material assembled (probably from diverse sources) by Mike Bonser. Also, Karkov’s paper would have benefited from the use of photographs rather than simplified line drawings. In Naismith’s paper one pair of images has erroneously been repeated. The omission of an index is unfortunate, but defensible in a volume of this nature. Overall, this is a book which will be of value and interest to all those with an interest in early medieval coinage and its interpretation.

David a. Hinton (University of Southampton)

This is the second volume in a series on the post-Roman coinage of the first millennium; neither volume roams beyond Britain and its continental neighbours, but whereas the first concentrated on the small silver pennies of the late seventh and eighth centuries known colloquially as ‘sceattas’, the second broadens out into post-sceatta topics, including four papers on the viking coinages of the late ninth and early tenth centuries, although sceattas remain well represented.

As the first in the series, with the same editor and publisher, came out in 2008, the goal of biennial publication has already slipped! We all know the problems of bringing together multi-author books, however, especially when some papers derive from a conference and others have come in by invitation or by chance. More important is that a high standard has been maintained, both in the quality of the texts and in the standard of reproduction of the photographs. The former has long distinguished the specialist field of numismatics, but the latter is a welcome innovation, even though the new clarity enables a reviewer to carp over a coin being reproduced twice, on pp. 72 and 73. Placing notes down the side of each page, not at the foot as before, seems to waste a lot of space.

More important than comparison of production, however, is the difference in sub-titles; the first was Two Decades of Discovery, which stressed the very large numbers of finds of coins of all types that have been made recently, nearly all by metal-detector users. The significance of this new material has to be assessed by the few scholars with the detailed knowledge to make sense of it all – they are the ones creating New Perspectives. They also have to establish a relationship of trust with the finders, who range from the responsible to the criminal. In consequence, the locations of some find-spots are not revealed, and anyone concerned with trading patterns often has to be content with a very vague provenance – for a site to be in ‘South Lincolnshire’ does not tell us whether it was well-connected by land, sea or river. But at least in that case it seems that the detectorist has diligently reported all that he has found, now amounting to sixteen seventh-century gold coins, and 151 silver ones of c. 680-760 – the site had either ceased to be a trading-place by King Offa’s time, or he suppressed it soon after he took control of the area. During its operation, most of the coins, particularly the earliest ones, came from the continent, so the trade was overseas rather than local. These are inferences drawn by Michael Metcalf, who considers the site within the context of the East Midlands as a whole.

But how can one make any valid inferences about a site originally kept so secret by finders that no more was known than that it was in the north of England? It has now been narrowed down to the ‘Sledmere area’, i.e. in the Yorkshire Wolds, and Michael Bonser has very patiently tracked down and recorded 155 coins from it – but at least a thousand are thought to have been removed, and many of the 155 are only known from vague descriptions, not the coins themselves. The range of types seems very different from that found in excavations in nearby York, but would the missing coins correct that impression? All that seems established is that a place where hundreds of coins were randomly lost – a single hoard would not have such a varied content – was in use from a slightly later date than ‘south Lincolnshire’ and went on into the early ninth century. Furthermore, coins were not the only artefacts found; it could have had an element of permanent occupation, but how can we really know? 

Two detectorists who acted responsibly were the finders of a small metal cup full of coins, which they did not simply empty out. Consequently the ‘Vale of York’ hoard is now known to be the second biggest of the viking period to have been found in England, with the coins, identified by Gareth Williams, showing that deposition was c. 928, allowing him to place it within a very precise historical context, just after Athelstan, the English king, had taken York, and some viking jarls were hoping to fight back. As well as coins, the hoard contained metal rings and ‘hacksilver’, studied by Barry Ager, which  were of considerable value for their weight in metal, and part of the ‘dual economy’ of that part of Britain, with mixed use of currency and bullion. Megan Gooch contributes a paper on the coins issued by the viking kings, probably encouraged by their archbishops, who saw in coin designs a means of communicating messages inimical to the ambitious kings of Wessex; the Northumbrians had no reason to prefer an Athelstan to a Sihtric.

Study of coin designs was given new impetus by Anna Gannon in her recent book on their iconography, in which she revealed Christian messages where we used to see Germanic motifs. Her paper here explores a series with front-facing heads, which she sees as icons of Christ, and other designs that have Christian, Eucharistic meaning. She is supported by Catherine Karkov, who finds Old and New Testament imagery in other eighth-century coins. This changed with King Offa’s new pennies, on which, as Rory Naismith shows, the emphasis was on kingship, with royal names and titles, and regal imagery. Other papers explore Low Countries and Northumbrian sceattas, a Wessex penny, a lead sheet intriguingly identified by Arent Pol as for cleaning coin dies by removing metal particles from them, and various private coin collections, one now purchased by the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum. Sadly, Mark Blackburn, the Keeper of Coins and Medals there, was too ill to contribute to this book, as he undoubtedly would have wished; his early death deprives us of a scholar who was in the forefront of those creating new perspectives on early medieval coinage.