Background on Viking Age – money, trading centers – 2 of 5

The Cuerdale hoard” by akhenatenator is in the public domain (CC0 1.0)

In terms of economic life, Viking Age: Everyday life during the extraordinary era of the Norsemen, by Kirsten Wolf, points out geography affected the size of settlements. On the coasts of Denmark and Sweden there were villages, meaning a group of three or more farms. In contrast, across most of Norway, the interior of Sweden, and the island colonies, the typical settlements were individual farms.

Fish were obviously a major component of the diet, particularly since there were a lot of fish and they were close in to land.

Author points out blacksmiths, who made tools and implements, had high prestige and had some of the richest grave goods.

Imports and exports

Author thinks that fur was one of the main exports. Slaves captured on raids were another major export.

Major imports would have been salt, spices, wine, silk, pottery, and glass. Weapons and semi precious stones would have been other major imports. Silver flowed into Scandinavia as the result of both trading and raiding.

Author says the pottery, wool cloth, and glass would have been imported from Western Europe. Silk came from Byzantium. Much of the silver came from the Muslim world.

Coin hoards

Text says that over 85,000 Arab coins have been found in Scandinavia, mostly from the 9th and 10th centuries. Over 40,000 Anglo-Saxon coins have been found in Scandinavia, dating from the 10th and 11th century. That is a larger tally of Anglo-Saxon coins than has been found in England.

Native coins were struck in Scandinavia starting about 825. In about 1000, pennies were issued. Sven Forkbeard of Denmark, Olov Skotkonunh of Sweden and Olaf Tryggvas of Norway all issued pennies.

Shift from bullion to foreign coins to domestic coins

Early in the Viking age silver was used as bullion instead of as currency, even though much of it was in coin form.

Later on, coins became the primary means of exchange, replacing bullion.

Author says toward the end of the Viking Age foreign coins dropped out of circulation and domestically produced coins were used instead. Eventually the domestically minted coins were the only form of legal tender.

Major trading towns

Hedeby, in Denmark, was one of the most important trading towns. It was started likely around 800. In the 10th century the estimated population was around 1,000. It was about 60 acres in size and had a semicircular rampart protecting it on the landward side.

Birka, in Sweden, came into existence in about 800 and was abandoned in about 970. Guess on population is probably between 500 and 700. It was about 30 acres in size. It also had a semicircular rampart protecting it.

Kaupang, in southeast Norway is estimated to have been in operation from around 750 until about 920. It was neither as rich nor large as the other two major trading centers.

Dublin, Ireland was founded by the Norwegian Vikings somewhere in the middle of the 10th century. Major export of Dublin is believed to be slaves.

Interesting tidbit is that Icelanders going to Norway for trade were charged a harbor toll. They could pay either in cloth, coats, or silver. Author points out this indicates the homespun cloth in Iceland was valuable.

Additional discussion on money at More background on coins and storing wealth in hoards during Viking Age

Next: explaining the limit of our knowledge.

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