Mike Markowitz had another nice article in CoinWeek this week. The topic is one we touched on in a couple of articles in last
week's E-Sylum - Anglo-Saxon coinage. Here's an excerpt. As always, be sure to read the complete article online. -Editor
The earliest Anglo-Saxon coins were imitations, or close copies, of gold tremisses that circulated
across the English Channel in France. Since the 17th century, numismatists have called these rare coins “thrymsas” but they were probably known as
“shillings” (or scillingas) and represented the price of a cow or sheep.
A handful of larger coins, copied from late Roman solidi, were probably struck as royal gifts for special occasions. A hoard buried before 650 and
discovered in 1828 at Crondall in Hampshire contained 73 diverse thrymsas, now in the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford University. Many have a crude bust
on the obverse and a cross, surrounded by the name of a moneyer (such as WITMEN) on the reverse. “Moneyers” were private contractors, possibly
goldsmiths, who produced coins on order for a king or bishop. Some thrymsas were struck at Canterbury, others at London. A few are known from
Thrymsas became more and more debased over time, until they were just silver coins with a trace of gold. About the year 680 gold disappears from
the coinage. The silver coins that continued to be struck were probably called “penningas”, but thanks to one of those historical misunderstandings
so common in numismatics, they are known today by a different Anglo-Saxon word: sceat, or sceatta, which means “wealth” or “treasure.”
The so-called “primary sceattas” were struck for a period of about 25 years (c. 675-700). Thick coins, 12 – 13 mm in diameter, they weigh from 1.0
to 1.3 grams and are nearly pure silver (90-95%). Twenty grains of barley from the middle of the ear weigh almost exactly 1.3 grams, and this may
have been the theoretical standard. The obverse design is typically a crude bust, with a few letters or runes of a fragmentary or garbled
pseudo-inscription. A common reverse is derived from a “vexillum” – a Roman military standard or flag commonly depicted on fourth century coins.
Another reverse type shows a bird atop a cross.
One of the most
common types is the “porcupine” – a whimsical description of the simple abstract obverse design, which may have started out as a bust (with the
“quills” representing hair brushed back) or as a depiction of a wolf (with the “quills” representing the bristling hair on the beast’s arched
To read the complete article, see:
Coins of The Anglo-Saxons (www.coinweek.com/education/anglo-saxon-coins/)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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