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

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Background on Viking Age – life expectancy, family structure, and stray tidbits – 1 of 5

Viking house in the city of Hobro, Denmark. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Viking Age: Everyday life during the extraordinary era of the Norsemen, by Kirsten Wolf, provides a good overview of the Viking Age. The seven chapters discuss domestic, economic, intellectual, material, political, recreational, and religious life. I will paraphrase only a few of the author’s comments of particular interest to me.

Life expectancy, family structure, rights of women

Average life expectancy was something in the range of 30 years to 40 years. This means only a few people lived long enough to become a grandparent.

Author points out women had far more rights in Scandinavia during the Viking Age than typical for the medieval era. They could divorce and had inheritance rights.

Combine this with men being gone for a long time on raids or trading expeditions and one of the consequences is that marriage was more of an economic partnership than a patriarchal system. When men were gone for an extended period of time, the wife would have to tend to all aspects of running the homestead.

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Gokstad and Oseberg ship models

Model of the Gokstad ship” by Softeis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

 

Model of Oseberg Ship in Maritime Museum in Stockholm,Sweden by Karolina Kristensson / Sjöhistoriska museet  (no link provided) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

 

The Gokstad and Oseberg ships were found in burial mounds. They were well-preserved, providing rich information about Viking ship technology.

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Estimate of price of silver and gold in Viking Age

In Viking Age, 1 ounce of gold was equal to 8 ounces of silver. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
In Viking Age, 4 cows were worth about 8 ounces of silver. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
In Viking Age, 24 sheep were worth about 8 ounces of silver. Okay, okay, I count about 31 sheep in the photo, but you get the idea. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

To give you a rough picture of relative values during the Viking Age, the items in each of the above photos would have approximately equal value:

8 ounces of silver = 1 ounce of gold = 4 cows = 24 sheep

This post calculates my estimate of the price of gold and silver during the Viking Age. The point estimates from my long string of assumptions are:

  • $550 for an ounce of silver
  • $4,400 for an ounce of gold

Some comparisons of relative values of precious metals and products are discussed in Units of measure and relative value in the Viking Age.

To develop an estimate of precious metal prices, I’ll use the data from Hurstwic. They are a group that provides training on Viking combat techniques.

They provide some estimates of relative value and provide multiple data points that can be cross referenced.  I’ll keep my eye open for other reference points.

Here is what they provide on their page, Towns and Trading in the Viking Age. Yet another shaky simplifying assumption is that this analysis assumes data from Iceland early in the 11th century is somewhat representative of relative values across the Viking age. Here are their estimates:

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Increase of income per person over last 200 years

(Article cross-posted from Outrun Change because it shows the radical change in per capita income over the last 200 years, which in turn illustrates the challenge of expressing ancient prices and incomes in terms of today.)

Here is an approximation of annual per capita GDP from 1 AD through 1913:

I’ve long been amazed at the radical growth in per capita wealth over the last 200 years. That means since the Industrial Revolution.

Living in dirt-eating poverty as the normal way of life for essentially every person on the planet changed about 200 years ago, give or take.

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Prices in late Middle Ages

Armour of the medieval knight. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

While browsing the ‘net looking for indicators of prices in the Viking Age, I came across a treasure trove of prices for the late Middle Ages. Range of age is from the middle 1300s to the  middle 1500s, with most of the prices in the 1300s, it seems. Items listed are clothing, work tools, food, weapons, and armor. A large number of data points for wages are listed.

As a topic for further analysis, there is more than enough data to compare wages across various skill sets for relative pay. There is also enough data to calculate costs in terms of hours of labor in order to impute current prices.

The data is attributed to Kenneth Hodges at Berkeley.

The listing can be found at two places:

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Units of measure and relative value in the Viking Age

Viking harbor with longboats in Bork, Denmark. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Before trying to quantify some sort of dollar value for items during the Viking era, let’s look at some relative values. My approach will be to find a way of comparing the prices of items during the Viking Age in relation to each other. Value of cows or sheep today will be added into those relative values. That will provide some sort of rough methodology for gaining some sort of understanding of prices.

Notice the vagueness of my description and the number of qualifiers? This is a very rough process and could easily be wrong. However, I will give it a shot and I will show my work so you can assess my methodology and revise it as you wish.

Here is what I’ve found for indications of relative prices and exchange rates.

Iceland in 1200

The Viking Answer Lady provides a variety of information for Units of Measurement from Viking Age Law and Literature. There are not a lot of exchange rates that I will use, but will pick up a few.

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More background on brutality of Viking Era and revised assessment of Viking massacre sites – part 5

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Life was violent in the middle ages. The Vikings were not the only vicious and brutal people around.

In Vikings: Raiders, Traders, and Masters of the Sea, author Rodney Castleden provides a tally of raids by raider. Text also mentions two sites long considered to be the location of a Viking massacre.  Further study has led to reassessments of the sites in recent years which provide more context.

Who conducted raids in Ireland around 800 AD?

Continue reading “More background on brutality of Viking Era and revised assessment of Viking massacre sites – part 5”