What was the price of a Viking sword at the time? How about expressing a price then in some unit of measure we can grasp today? I have looked on the ol’ net but haven’t found any good guesses. Previous post discussed one indicator that I couldn’t process.
Hurstwic website describes one sword that had a reported value. Chapter 13 of Laxdæla saga says a sword given to Höskuldur by King Hákon was worth a half mark of gold.
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.
Short overview of the evolution of the means of exchange during Viking Era can be found in Viking Currency, an article by Dani Trynoski at Medievalists.net.
A basic economic concept to remember: part of the definition of money is a means of exchange and store of value. A silver armband, brooch, or coin can be both a store of value and means of exchange. Standard size silver coins are easier to work with on both criteria than jewelry.
A few pounds of silver is far easier to carry and use to buy stuff later than several dozen (?) furs, a dozen or two cows, or a few shiploads of grain.
Consider there was no secure way to store wealth in the time of the Vikings. There were no banks, no marketable securities, no way to establish reliable title to land. In essence, there was no store of value other than bullion or coins.
So, if you had a huge amount of wealth beyond your livestock and weapons, it would be in the form of bullion or coins. To keep it safe from theft, you would have to hide it in the ground.
Wealthy people who were killed, captured, never came back from another raid or trading expedition, or merely forgot where they buried their wealth abandoned all of their underground accumulation to be found some later time.
In The Age of the Vikings, Anders Winroth says children on a school outing found one hoard of 1,452 silver coins from the Viking age. Almost the entire hoard was Arabic dirham coins.
Author says there have been over 700 hoards found in Gotland. There was so much silver buried that another find is usually discovered each year.
In The Vikings, Else Roesdahl provides a great description of how economic growth took place during the Viking era and how political development was both possible as a result and was simultaneously required for the growth to continue.
Early on men in an area would gather in “things”, local assemblies to resolve conflicts. Local yarls (rulers or strongmen, vaguely similar to a small city mayor) struggled, schemed, and fought to gain influence over larger areas.
Without a modest level of security and property rights, one dare not risk scarce capital in building a foundry or gather lots of goods for trading.
As regional yarls, or petty kings, gain influence, more stability developed.
The opening comments in all the books I read on the Viking Age explore the limits on our knowledge of the Viking era. Seems to me most of the reliable information has been developed in the last century or so.
Like my discussion of other books on the Vikings and Romans, this series of posts will describe some things I find particularly interesting. My hope is this will be interesting to others as well.
With the series on this book I will start bringing in other things I have learned from previous reading.
Researchers don’t really know that much of the Viking Era
Like other authors, in The VikingsElse Roesdahl points out most of what we know of the Vikings is from contemporary victims of the Vikings or from reports written long after the Viking era ended.
As a result, as the author says, it is difficult, if not impossible
“to distinguish pure fiction from an embellished version of an event…”
and to separate
“improvements and additions to make the story more coherent, from what was once objective reality.”