15.10.19, Naismith, Allen, and Screen, eds., Early Medieval Monetary History

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Nathan Pilkington

The Medieval Review 15.10.19

Naismith, Rory, Martin Allen, and Elina Screen, eds. Early Medieval Monetary History: Studies in Memory of Mark Blackburn. Studies in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. pp. 646. ISBN: 978-1-40945-668-1 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Nathan Pilkington
Cornell University
nlp48@cornell.edu

The essays in this volume are dedicated to Mark Blackburn and seek to celebrate his scholarly legacy. As such, the contributions, while focused on medieval coinage and centered on the British Isles, are as much about the impact numismatics makes on wider issues in history and archaeology as well as the diverse geographies in which Blackburn researched. The editors have divided the collection into four main parts, corresponding to the honoree's primary areas of research. Parts 1-3 offer synthetic studies, integrating monetary history into broader debates about politics, economics, art, culture and daily life. Part 4, by contrast, concentrates on particular coin finds and demonstrates a variety of interpretive methods for this evidence.

Part 1 explores progress in the early medieval monetary history of Viking and Norman England in three articles. Gareth Williams revisits the history of coinage in Viking England, AD 865-954. He begins with an overview of previous research, denominating six main phases of Anglo-Scandinavian coinage visible in the record. For each phase, Williams elucidates the ways in which numismatic studies have contributed to a firmer understanding of political power and economic life. He concludes with a discussion of lacunae in present knowledge, arguing that only particular phases are likely to benefit from new coin finds. Building chronologically from Williams' contribution, Rory Naismith analyzes the development of coinage in tenth century England with special attention paid to the political, military and numismatic changes that preceded Edgar's coinage reform of the early 970s. Through detailed analysis of coins, mints and coin distribution, Naismith demonstrates that Edgar's great reform owed much to existing practices developed under Æthelstan and was supported by an already extant network of mints. Part 1 concludes with Martin Allen's study of the earliest Norman coinage in England, under the reigns of William I and II. He argues that the chronology of the various types of coins remains inexact but does permit some basic understanding of the flow of coinage in this period. Allen concludes that the volume of coined silver was insufficient to fully monetize the economy but appears to have served an important role in taxation collection and expenditure by the monarchs.

Part 2 explores interdisciplinary approaches to numismatic studies. The part opens with a series of articles that examine art or other imagery on coins. Martin Biddle offers an interpretation of Charlemagne's portrait coins bearing the inscription XRICTIANA RELIGIO. Of particular interest is the reverse of these coins, displaying a Roman style temple with Christian iconography. While previous scholarship has identified a number of potential models for the structure, Biddle presents evidence that the building represented is a part of the Tomb of Christ in Jerusalem, commonly known as the Edicule. He bases his argument on reconstructions of the east entrance to the Edicule that show great similarity with the building on Charlemagne's coins. Additional evidence is found in an extant model of the building that circulated in early Medieval Europe. Simon Coupland continues the study of Charlemagne's portrait types by providing a catalog of known coins, not just those bearing the XRICTIANA RELIGIO inscription. Returning to Anglo Saxon coinage, Anna Gannon presents a new study of the iconography of Series M samples, dating to c. 720. These coins often feature a quadruped on the obverse. The author suggests the figure represents the Lamb of God using parallels with other Anglo-Saxon iconography. Tuuka Talvio revisits the ten commonly accepted coin types of Edward the Confessor's coinage in order to explore the die-cutters behind the differing artistic styles of each type. The evidence indicates the presence of national die cutters, whose dies were widely distributed, in addition to continued local production at a few regional die cutting centers.

From Talvio's contribution, the interdisciplinary perspective shifts away from imagery to other concerns. Jonathan Jarrett criticizes previous studies of land transactions recorded in Spanish records of the period 796-1010. In these transactions, one of the values is represented by a phrase in which an ancient coin type is paired with an animal. The most prominent example is the bovo soldare, or a cow worth a solidus. He concludes that the value implied was influenced by coinage, either the memory of it or the developing Carolingian standards, but also was notional and subjective in each transaction.

Part 3 studies the use and circulation of currency and begins with an article on Byzantine Coins in early Medieval Britain by Cécile Morrison. Morrison argues that the geographic and chronological distribution of Byzantine coins in England suggests direct contact through at least the middle of the sixth century and subsequent mediation by Frankish Kingdoms in the seventh. Finds of Byzantine coins are thus not modern losses by modern possessors of curiosities. Rather, they represent an indication of the wide economic reach of the Byzantine Empire, most notably during the reign of Justinian. D. M. Metcalf then turns the reader's attention to cross-Channel trade in the period before the Viking invasions. Metcalf challenges Pirene's thesis that monetized economies of export and import across the English Channel only developed after the end of the Viking period. Metcalf argues that important trading connections linked the economies of the English Channel before the Viking invasions, c. 720-750. In fact, it was this trade and earlier trade with Merovingian Gaul that may have created sufficient wealth to interest the Vikings in the conquest of England. Numismatic evidence is central to the argument, as sceattas from the Netherlands make up a substantial portion of the coinage circulating in England during the first half of the eighth century, attesting to a balance of payments surplus for England and resulting in the circulation of large numbers of foreign coins. Simon Coupland contributes a second article in this section. Here, his concern remains the Carolingian Empire but with a much broader perspective on the use of coins in the ninth century. Coupland sets out to discover the degree to which coinage circulated throughout the different socio-economic classes of the population. Such an approach naturally places his argument within the larger debate over the monetization of Carolingian economy. He draws together evidence from hoards, single-finds, mints, minting and texts in order to show that the use of coinage gradually increased across the entire empire and all classes during the ninth century, though areas near mints in the Carolingian heartland remained much more monetized than outlying areas. Consequently, the ninth century Carolingian Empire was an economy in the process of monetizing. Coupland thus stakes a middle ground between the diametrically opposed positions previously argued by other scholars. Andrew Woods then turns our attention to Viking-Age Ireland, 900-1170, with an article that explores the distribution of single-finds. From this evidence, it appears that the use of coinage initially spread outwards from Dublin in the early tenth century. Coinage circulation reached its peak distribution in the first half of the following century, only to quickly recede. By the twelfth century, coinage was again only in significant use in Dublin. Continuing with the Viking Age, Svein Gullbeck presents a monetary history of the Vestfold in the ninth and tenth centuries. Rather than center his study on the well-known site at Kaupang, the author presents evidence from new excavations at Heimdalsjordet, fifteen kilometers north, and other finds in the Vestfold in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of coin use. Interestingly, many recovered coins appear to have been used in a hack-silver economy. Most of the dirhams found in hoards are severely fragmented, likely to obtain a weight needed for a transaction. Elina Screen adds to the study of deformed coinage with a contribution on pierced coins in Norway during the tenth and eleventh centuries. Certain coins are both pierced, indicative of use as an ornament, and cut, indicative of coin testing or fragmentation for payment. From these examples, the author suggests that these coins, previously removed from circulation and used as ornaments, returned to circulation due to increased monetization in the Norwegian economy over the course of the eleventh century. Increased monetization meant coins gradually lost their ornamental value. The final essay in this part is also the latest chronologically. Marion Archibald explores the history of gold coins minted in Spain, 1050-1250 AD, but found in England. Though the number of finds is quite small, Archibald argues that the coins still present a pattern, one that indicates a higher frequency of gold coins circulating during the Almoravid period than the Alhomad or later periods.

Though the studies in parts 1-3 differ in geography and chronology, the majority share two common traits. First, nearly all contributions acknowledge Blackburn's important contributions to the recording of coin finds, first in written form and subsequently online in the Early Medieval Corpus of Coin Finds. The data assembled therein is central to many of the synthetic studies presented. Second, many authors follow Blackburn's methodology with respect to single-finds and emphasize strongly the value of this evidence for reconstructions of monetary history.

Finally, part 4 contains a multitude of detailed studies of coin finds and hoards. The articles generally present new evidence for the first time in publication and thus demonstrate many of the interpretive methods that Blackburn helped pioneer. Stewart Lyon discusses an unusual seventh century English pendant designed in the form of a coin- a solidus with a fourth century design on the obverse and a seventh century design on the reverse. David Symons studies a newly discovered small hoard of Burgred pennies from the mid-ninth century recovered in Oxfordshire. Hugh Pagan revisits the coin collection of James Sutherland, who lived 1638-1719. He searches for those coins in the collection that are likely to have come from a hoard discovered in Glasgow in 1699, marshalling new evidence from the letters of Reverend Robert Woodrow, a contemporary of Sutherland, and Sir Andrew Fontaine's 1705 publication of Anglo-Saxon coins. Jens Christian Moesgaard analyzes the activity of the Rouen mint during the Viking invasions of 885-889. Carolingian pennies produced at this mint during this period are interesting due to their comparatively low weights. The author attributes the low weights to the disorder created by Viking invasions and shows the weight standard became again higher after the Vikings left. Megan Gooch clarifies the history of Swordless St. Peter coins produced at Viking York from 905-919. The author argues that the scale of production of this type makes it unlikely that Viking Kings would have ceded their authority over a large source of revenue to the church at York. Kristin Bornholdt Collins, Allison Fox, and James Graham-Campbell then report on a Viking hoard brought to the Manx Museum in 2003. The artefacts were discovered by a detectorist and included a multitude of coins and silver ingots. All told, the silver weight of the hoard was 1.39 kg and represented a substantial fortune in its time. Joe Leighton and Andrew Woods study imitations of Æthelred II's Long Cross coin type. They conclude that the imitative coins circulated with official issues and thus represent successful forgeries. Kenneth Jonsson provides a list of the English objects found in a hoard recovered in Gotland. The English coins range in date from the Anglo-Saxon (Æthelred II) through the Norman period (Henry I). The author suggests four generations of same family likely built up the hoard. Ivan Leimus, Mauri Kiudsoo and Ulle Tamla provide the final contribution to the volume. They analyze a Viking-Age hoard discovered at Linnaske, Estonia. In total, 1357 coins were recovered spanning the tenth and eleventh centuries. The chronology and origin of coinage is used to show changing patterns of economic activity for the medieval residents of the area.

Taken collectively, the contributions in this volume are impressive and illuminating. They serve as a testament to Blackburn's impact on the historical study of northwestern Europe in the early medieval period. They also highlight the dynamic economic life of a period often considered economically stagnant.

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