A Glimpse of History [Stamp & Coin Mart, August 2009, Page 98, 99]
Brett Hammond of TimeLine Originals explains how the Anglo-Saxon custom of recording their lives has given coin collectors a revealing insight into the past
Buy any ancient coin and hold it lightly in the palm of your hand. You can say with certainty that in the distant past another human being's hand held the very artefact that now lies in yours. And because coins, as mediums of exchange, went from one hand to another, that solitary coin brings you as close as possible - short of time travel - to the lives of dozens, perhaps hundreds of people from long ago who must also have held it.
For an Englishman/woman, and for anyone in the wider world whose ancestry has English roots, the emotion of genealogical connection feels especially strong with Anglo-Saxon coins. That's because it was the first culture to hand down to us contemporary written records that give us more than the names of rulers and the dates of battles. They also wrote down for us in the language of their day facts about civil laws, commerce, religion and other matters that formed the very bedrock of our English way of life for centuries to come. And if we read between occasionally obscure lines in some of the documents we can also add fascinating background to coins in our present-day collections.
Take, for example, the famous Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which recounts the history of our forefathers from their first arrival in the former Roman province of Britannia in the sixth century down to the year AD 1154. (Several versions of the ASC are available to browse for free on the internet.) The entry for the year AD 991 reads as follows:
This year was Alderman Britnoth slain at Maldon by the Vikings. And soon afterwards it was agreed that an extorted tribute should be given, for the first time, to the Danes, for the great terror they occasioned by the sea-coast. 10,000 pounds [of weight] in silver coin was handed over to them. Later, in the entry for AD 994, we read:
This year came Anlaf and Sweyne … with four and ninety-ships … and wrought the greatest evil that ever any army could do, in burning and plundering and manslaughter, not only on the sea-coast in Essex, but in Kent and in Sussex and in Hampshire. Next they took horse, and rode as wide as they would, and committed unspeakable evil. Then resolved the king and his council to send to them, and offer them tribute and provision, on condition that they desisted from plunder. These terms they accepted and were given 16,000 pounds weight in extorted money. … And Anlaf promised he never again would come in a hostile manner to England. But the Danes were back in 1002 when the Chronicle reports:
This year the king and his council agreed that peace should be made with them, on provision that they desist from their mischief. The Danes accepted and 24,000 pounds was paid to them.
In 1007 the figure rose once again:
In this year the tribute paid to the hostile army was 30,000 pounds.
And it rose very steeply in 1012:
This year the tribute to the Danes was 48,000 pounds.
Just prior to the commencement of large-scale Viking raids on England a new coinage had been introduced. Pennies now depicted a regal portrait on the obverse and a cross plus the name of the moneyer on the reverse. The number of mints producing these coins proliferated to keep pace with the ever-increasing amounts of money that disappeared overseas in Viking long-ships. By the time of Aethelred II's reign (978-1016) more than seventy mints were busy across the kingdom.
The Chronicle devotes just one brief paragraph to a desperate plot hatched by that king to rid himself and the kingdom of its huge burden of extorted tribute. For the year 1002 the entry states: In the same year the king gave an order to slay all the Danes that were in England. This was accordingly done on the Feast of St. Brice; because the king had been warned that the Danes planned to beshrew him of his life, and to have his kingdom without any resistance.
Despite the bloodbath, sufficient numbers of Danes managed to flee to their ships and safety. They vowed to return and to have revenge. And by the year 1016 the Vikings and their king had won so many victories against the English, and now wielded so much power, that Canute, son of Sweyne Fork Beard, became king of England. Aware that his position was resented by some among his Anglo-Saxon subjects, Canute took the precaution of retaining a Viking bodyguard of forty fully manned long-ships. He bought the loyalty and fighting skills of their crews with a huge tribute of 72,000 pounds. It has been estimated that during the Viking period the Anglo-Saxons paid out a total of sixty million silver pennies in extorted tributes. Many of those coins went directly into melting pots. But huge numbers found their way into hoards in Scandinavian countries. In fact, despite the continuing successes of British detectorists at finding lost examples over here, more Anglo-Saxon pennies have come to light in Sweden than in England, with many of the Swedish discoveries turning up in hoards buried during Viking times.
Have a look at TimeLine Originals web page and you will regularly see Anglo-Saxon coins of the 10th and 11th centuries on sale. It is not unreasonable to suppose that some of them may once have formed part of a parcel of newly minted pieces taken aboard a Viking long-ship and then on a long sea voyage ... only to return once more to England in the purse of a now more docile Dane heading for an English market. Quite a conversation piece to add to your collection.
The Chronicle limits its coverage to the lives and doings of the rich and famous. For a sense of day-to-day living further down the Anglo-Saxon social scale you will need to augment your coin collection with a sprinkling of artefacts ... a strap-end ... a decorative mount ... or a humble spindle whorl. Such additions will make your coin collection even more interesting and attractive. Have a look at the Anglo-Saxon web pages of TimeLine Originals for an overview of what is also available as antiquities from this fascinating age.
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