In the spotlight: Bloodaxe, Vikings and other early coins

I am Georgia Charitou, and I am an intern from Greece, where I study at the University of Thessaly. For the last couple of months I’ve been working on the Stenton Coin Collection owned by the University’s Special Collections and Department of Archaeology, which span from the 7th to the 20th century. The main task has been to re-house the coins in new, secure drawers and ensure that our photographs and information relate to the correct coins. So far it’s been a really interesting procedure for me which has helped me learn more about the history of the British Empire. I have to concentrate and consider every detail of each coin as it has to match with the information and the number of photograph we have in the database.

It’s difficult to select my favourite coins of the six hundred (!) so far, but I decided to choose those which caught my eye and made me observe them again and again. Here are my top five.

1. Eric Bloodaxe (885–954)

 

Eric

Eric Bloodaxe is the nickname of Eric Haraldsson, the last Viking king of York. He was the King of Norway and twice the king of Northumbria in the 10th century CE (c. 947–948 and 952–954). The nickname ‘Bloodaxe’ is generally seen in the context of his Viking raids in Scotland, and his glorious crowning as the last independent king of Northumbria. He also more than earned it by murdering several of his brothers in order to secure his succession to the Norwegian throne. The name Eric Bloodaxe conjures up an immediate image of the archetypal Viking warrior: huge, hairy and heroic, and the proud owner of a large axe. More careful examination of Eric’s story suggests that things were rather more complicated. Despite his reputation as a warrior, Eric apparently abandoned Norway to his brother Hakon without a fight, and he was subsequently driven out of Northumbria at least twice. The sagas represent him very much as a henpecked husband, with a wife generally portayed as an ‘evil witch.’ As you can imagine the origin of his nickname is murky, and perhaps less glorious than being down to his prowess in battle.

The coin on the obverse side depicts a sword with the inscription ‘ERIC’ ‘REX’ and on the reverse depicts a cross in the centre with the inscription ‘INGELGARA’

The coin reflects the changing relationship of Eric Bloodaxe with the Anglo-Saxon dynasty in Wessex. His early coins had a small cross on each side, like contemporary Anglo-Saxon coins, while this later coin instead shows a Viking sword. The sword was the symbol of St Peter, and had earlier been used on Viking coins struck at York in the name of the saint. However, it also symbolised warfare and conquest, and may signify that in his later years Eric tried to hold York by force against his former overlords.

2. Early Anglo-Saxon Sceatta

anglo saxon

These coins belong to the Early Anglo-Saxon period and are a valuable source for the economical and political history (for instance, the coin in the middle is most likely Frisian and traded from the Frankish empire on the continent). However, apart from wider context, we don’t have any other information about these coins individually. Physically they are very small with various geometrical shapes.

3. Anlaf Guthfrithsson (939–41)

vikings

Throughout the Danelaw period, during which parts of the northern England fell under the control of the Vikings in the late ninth century, Viking rulers issued their own coins. The main areas of coin production were York and East Anglia. Some of the Viking coins were closely copied from Anglo-Saxon designs, but others were more distinctively nordic

Some of the most remarkable coins are those of Anlaf (or Olaf) Guthfrithsson who ruled in York and also parts of the East Midlands. His most famous type, such as this one, shows a bird of prey, probably an eagle or a raven. Both birds were associated with the Norse god Odin, but the eagle is also associated with St John the Evangelist, so the religious message of the coins is uncertain. It could be a deliberately pagan symbol, or one which both pagans and Christians could accept. However, the inscription ANLAF CVNVNC means ‘King Olaf’ in Old Norse. Most Viking coins had Latin inscriptions, like Anglo-Saxon coins, and the use of the Scandinavian language of Old Norse seems to be a clear indication of Viking independence.

4. King Alfred (849–899)

alfred22

Alfred the Great was the only Anglo-Saxon King to successfully defended his kingdom against the Viking conquest and subsequently he is the only English monarch to be called ‘the Great’. Alfred had the reputation of a man who encouraged education and improved people’s quality of life.

alfred11

 

Alfred the Great was King of the Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, in the South of England. Although London was not part of this region, one of his coin types has a monogram of the name LONDONIUM. These coins have traditionally been linked with a reference in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to Alfred ‘restoring’ London in 886CE. This has been taken to mean that Alfred captured London from the Vikings that year, and celebrated his conquest with new coinage. Either way, the coins have nothing to do with Alfred’s ‘restoration’ of London in 886, as reported in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as by 886 London had been in Alfred’s hands for several years. The ‘restoration’ is more likely to refer to repairs to damage done during a Viking raid of 885 than any new conquest by Alfred.

5. Edward III gold noble (1312–1377)

edward

Edward III is noted for his military success as he transformed the Kingdom of England into a powerful military force in Europe. By the 1340s CE England was in a position to join other western European lands in successfully circulating a gold coinage. The English Parliament petitioned the monarch, Edward III (132777), for the innovation of gold coins to help with international trade. The Noble was the first English gold coin produced in quantity, having been preceded by the Gold penny and the Florin earlier in the reigns of King Henry III and King Edward III, which saw little circulation. The value of the coin was six shillings and eight pence, which was equivalent to eighty pence or one-third of a pound sterling, and the weight was changed from issue to issue.

The coin was introduced during the second minting (1344-1346) of King Edward III and it depicts the king holding a sword and shield in a ship.

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  1. Pingback: In the spotlight: Coins continued – Gloriana to Victoriana | Beckett, Books and Biscuits: University of Reading Special Collections

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