Viking Era

Another guess on amount of silver looted from France and England by the Vikings

Means by which all that wealth was transferred back to Scandinavia. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Been listening again to The Vikings by Professor Kenneth Harl. Audio lectures are from The Great Courses,

The author makes a wild guess on the amount of silver carried out of the Carolingian Empire and away from England.

Based upon written accounts in the 9th century he estimates between 40,000 and 45,000 pounds of silver was extracted from the Carolingian empire as Danegeld payments.

He says most historians would estimate this was between 1/2 and 1/3 of the total silver hauled off. That means there would have been somewhere in the range of 80,000 or 90,000 pounds up to 120,000 or 135,000 pounds in addition. I will smooth that estimate out to somewhere between 80,000 and 125,000 pounds.

Over in England, king Ethelred paid out an estimated 180,000 pounds of silver.

When Cnut settled up with his warriors so they could go home, he extracted an estimated 87,000 pounds of silver from the population.

There was a bunch more silver extracted from England than that. I will make a wild guess it is an additional amount equal to one quarter or one half of that. So my wild guess is an additional 60,000 to 130,000 pounds. Reason I’m guessing a small percentage is that the size of payments grew over time. Since those listed payouts are later in the Viking era, the unincluded earlier payments would be smaller.

So, what do those wild guesses look like when we string them together?

In thousand of pounds of silver, it looks something sorta’ kinda’ like this:

  • 40 to 45 from Carolingian rulers
  • 80 to 125 additional from France
  • 180 from Ethelred
  • 87 by Cnut in England,  say 90
  • 60 to 130 – wild guess of other Dangeld from England
  • 450 to 570 guess at total

So that means somewhere round about 500,000 pounds of silver extracted from Europe and transferred to the Scandinavian homelands.

That is a massive amount of wealth.

The author points out that would have had tremendous transformative power on the economy.

Before the strong centralized kings emerged there was no centralized government with a massive appetite for taxes, so that money wasn’t extracted by national kings.

Warriors would have been able to use that vast wealth for themselves.

The author points out the huge influx in silver generated large amount of jewelry for personal ornamentation. There is a substantial increase in jewelry found in grave goods over time.

In addition newly wealthy families could afford opulent burials. This produced the wonderful ship finds like the Oseberg and Gokstad ships.

Population of the Scandinavian countries

Also in this section the author gave his estimate on the population of the Scandinavian countries, including what would later become Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Have mentioned this before but will do so again.

Between the immigration for exploration and settlement and the importation of slaves, he estimates the population was relatively stable from around 800 AD to around 1100 AD with a population in the range of 800,000 to 1 million people.

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