Some fun comments on money in the Viking era were covered in the delightful book Viking Weapons & Warfare by John Kim Siddorn.
Posts in this series:
- Spears, cost of iron
- Shields, armor
- Helmets, ships – the post you are currently reading
A brief recap of the money extracted from England by the Vikings:
- 16,000 pounds – 994
- 24,000 pounds – 1002
- 36,000 pounds – 1007
- 48,000 pounds – 1012
- 114,000 pounds – total for this simple summary
How much would that be worth today?
Author speculates that may have been equivalent to something vaguely in the range of $1.2 British pounds in 2000, or around $1.7 billion US.
British money system
Author explains the British money system at the time.
In contrast to now when they are several coins and six paper bills in general circulation in the United States, during the Viking age there was exactly one coin in circulation in England. Specifically, it was the silver penny.
All references to pounds or shillings was an accounting convention used to talk about larger amounts.
The structure of British currency so confusing to me, an American completely accustomed to a decimal system. A silver penny would be one pence (d). There would be five pence making one shilling (s). Then 48 shillings make 1 pound (l). This means there are 480 silver pennies in a British pound.
The pound discussed was actually a pound, using the Troy system. That is equal to about 11.5 ounces today according to the author. I’m missing something in his measurement, since I looked up 1 troy pound is equal to 13.16 ounces afoirdupois.
Value of silver
Silver and gold were far more valuable in relation to goods and services hundreds and thousands of years ago than today.
Author provides ranges of valuations different people have come up with to interpret coins in the Viking era.
The wide range of estimates of the value of a British penny run from a low of £10 to high of £200. He says most valuations are in the range of £20 through £50.
He suggests the following values, to which I added my conversion to US dollars using exchange rates in May 2021:
- 1 – £20 – $28
- 1 Schilling – £100 – $142
- 1 pound – £4,800 – $6,790, rounded to $6,800
Cost of stuff
He then provides three pages of items, with the valuation in the medieval era, converting that to grams of gold, and adjusting to British pounds in 2000. These pages of information are based on data from Regia Anglorum, a group in England dedicated to reenacting the medieval era.
All of the data in the book is from the Regai Anglorum website at the page For What It’s Worth.
I will cite a few of his data points, giving price at the time, grams of silver, British pounds in 2000, and adding US dollar valuation in 2000 with silver at $5 and valuation in May 2021 with silver at $27.66, rounded to $28. I will also add a few additional prices for animals listed at the website.
|d (penny)||g silver||£||US$ @ $5||US$ @$28|
|Ox||E||80.5||125||1,610||$ 2,254||$ 12,622|
|Ox||C||88.5||137||1,770||$ 2,478||$ 13,877|
|Pig||E||20.0||30||600||$ 840||$ 4,704|
|Sheep||E||10.0||15||300||$ 420||$ 2,352|
|15 chickens||C||1.0||1.6||20||$ 28||$ 157|
|Cow||E||64.5||100||1,290||$ 1,806||$ 10,114|
|Cow||C||88.5||137||1,770||$ 2,478||$ 13,877|
|Horse||E||193.5||300||3,870||$ 5,418||$ 30,341|
|Horse||N||197.5||306||3,950||$ 5,530||$ 30,968|
|Horse||C||308.5||478||6,170||$ 8,638||$ 48,373|
|Helmet||C||265.0||410||5,300||$ 7,420||$ 41,552|
|Mailshirt||C||529.0||820||10,580||$ 14,812||$ 82,947|
|Shield and spear||C||88.5||137||1,770||$ 2,478||$ 13,877|
|Spear||W||33.0||51||660||$ 924||$ 5,174|
|Sword||W||81.2||126||1,625||$ 2,275||$ 12,740|
|Sword & scabbard||C||308.5||478||6,170||$ 8,638||$ 48,373|
|1 kg corn||W||2.0||3||40||$ 56||$ 314|
|1 lb corn||W||0.9||1.4||18||$ 25||$ 143|
Prices are from different regions. There is obvious large price variation based on different areas of Europe.
Locations listed are:
- W – Western Europe
- N – Northern Europe
- E – Eastern Europe