Viking Era

Can’t make sense of one indicator of price of sword during Viking Age

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I’ve been wondering about the price of a sword during the Viking Era. Tripped across two indicators on the same day. One was useful, the following was a dead end. I’m not able to make sense of it.

Price of a sword and scabbard was set at 7 solidi according to the Lex Rubuaria codification of law, as reported by Wikipedia. This was during the reign of Charlemagne.

I previously mentioned this data point but did not take the next step of converting it into some indicator for current dollars:  Cost of weapons in Northern Europe in mid- 7th century.

Charlemagne became king of the Franks in 768 A.D. and expanded his rule until he died in 814, according to Wikipedia. That puts the price in the timeframe of late 700s or very early 800s. This is in contrast to the Lex Rubuaia having first been written in around 630.

I tried to convert that 7 solidi into something we can relate to.

After reading a variety of articles at Wikipedia, I’m quite confused.

For example, the Carolingian currency was reformed by either Charlemagne or his father.

Here is the range of possible solidi values according to different Wikipedia articles:

  • The solidus at the time was a unit of measure equal to 12 pennies, which at 240 pennies to a troy pound would have been 1/20th of a troy pound. (Update: Frankish coin – 1 gold solidus = 1.5 grams gold = 12 silver pennies)
  • Or, a solidus was an actual coin with 4.5 grams of gold. Oh, by 800 the gold content of Byzantine solidus was shrinking. If I correlated the articles correctly. (Update: Byzantine coin – 1 solidus = 4.5 grams gold)
  • Or, a solidus was a unit of weight at 1/72nd of a pound. (Update: Byzantine coin – 1 solidus = 1/72 of pound)
  • Or perhaps all those measures are gold instead of two I think are silver and one I’m sure is gold. (Update: all references to solidus are gold coins but either Frankish or Byzantine, each of with had different weight)

I’ll convert those into grams and troy ounces.

  • 1/20th of troy pound = 18.66 grams = 0.6 troy ounces of silver
  •  4.5 grams = 0.145 troy ounces of gold
  • 1/72nd of pound = 5.184 grams = 0.167 troy ounces of silver

That is such a vast range that I won’t try to quantify any of the amounts any further.

As you can tell, I still have a lot to learn.

Cause of my confusion:

Update 2/8/21:

Reader Peter Bone provides the following comment on 2/8/21:

“Part of the problem is that the Franks used the term solidus (a Byzantine gold coin weighing 1/72 of a Roman lb- so about 4.5 grams) to refer to a smaller gold coin (tremissis or triens in Latin) worth 1/3 of a solidus (about 1.5 grams of gold). The usual exchange rate for gold and silver in the 4th-10th century was 1:12. So a Frankish “solidus” is worth 12 silver deniers (or pennies, for Anglo-Saxons) weighing about 1.5 grams. The Roman (and Frankish, and Anglo-Saxon) lb had 12 ounces, each worth 20 deniers/pennies.
Hope that helps!”

Yup, that helps a lot. Thanks!

I’m mixing different coins above, both referred to as “solidus.”

Here is how I convert Peter’s comments:

  • Frankish solidus or tremissis or triens = 1.5 gram of gold = 12 silver pennies
  • 12 silver pennies ~= 1.5 grams
  • Byzantine solidus = 4.5 grams of gold = 1/72 of Roman pound
  • Roman, Frankish, Anglo-Saxon pound = 12 ounces =240 pennies
  • 3 Frankis solidus = 1 Byzantine solidus

 

3 thoughts on “Can’t make sense of one indicator of price of sword during Viking Age

  1. Part of the problem is that the Franks used the term solidus (a Byzantine gold coin weighing 1/72 of a Roman lb- so about 4.5 grams) to refer to a smaller gold coin (tremissis or triens in Latin) worth 1/3 of a solidus (about 1.5 grams of gold). The usual exchange rate for gold and silver in the 4th-10th century was 1:12. So a Frankish “solidus” is worth 12 silver deniers (or pennies, for Anglo-Saxons) weighing about 1.5 grams. The Roman (and Frankish, and Anglo-Saxon) lb had 12 ounces, each worth 20 deniers/pennies.
    Hope that helps!

    1. Hi Peter:
      Oh, I have a whole list of problems in understanding ancient money with this being merely one of them. Thanks a bunch for your comments.
      Lets see if I have this about right. Converting your comments into some formulas I get:

      Frank solidus or tremissis or triens = 1.5 gram of gold ~= 12 silver pennies
      12 silver pennies ~= 1.5 grams
      Byzantine solidus = 4.5 grams of gold = 1/72 of Roman pound
      Roman, Frankish, Anglo-Saxon pound = 12 ounces = 240 pennies
      3 Frankish solidus = 1 Byzantine solidus

      Thanks for helping!
      Jim

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