One usuable indicator of the value of a Viking sword. How many weapons you could buy today for that price?

Viking warrior with sword and shield standing near Drakkar on the seashore. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

Hurstwic says that is equal to 16 milk cows.

Continue reading “One usuable indicator of the value of a Viking sword. How many weapons you could buy today for that price?”

Overview of silver and coin usage in Viking Era

Viking silver hoard. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

Some fun highlights from the article:

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Recap of payments made to Viking raiders, called Danegeld.

Viking Coin Hoard. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Some day I plan to collate all the comments I’ve read on the amount of Danegeld and other money accumulated by various Viking raids.

In The Vikings, Else Roesdahl provides details on payments to Viking raiders:

France:

  • 44,250 pounds gold and silver during 9th century – from context I think this is from the Frankish rulers – doesn’t include ransom collected, food plundered, or side raids

England:

  • 991 – 10,000 pounds silver- Olaf Tryggvason.
  • 994 – 16,000 lb. – Olaf again, with Svien Forkbeard and 94 ships loaded with their buddies.

Continue reading “Recap of payments made to Viking raiders, called Danegeld.”

Coining money in Viking Age and more details on found hoards

Viking coin replica based on archaeological findings. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

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Galea – helmet worn by Roman Legionnaires.

Roman Legionnaire re-enactor wearing lorica hamata (chain mail), with gladius (sword) and pugio (daggar) on his balteus (belt), carrying a pilum (spear) and holding a scutum (shield). Also wearing what appears to be Imperial Gallic galea (helmet) with large plume on top of helmet. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

With a shield held in front of you, the most valuable and most exposed area to be protected is your head. Helmets were in used during the entire Roman Era, as well as routinely used by their predecessors and opponents.

Researchers have identified five major types of helmets, with large number of subtypes for each.

Common thread of all the helmets is the basic design was obtained from some other people group, adopted, then refined. That fits with a broader pattern I have observed that the Romans were aggressive in adopting good ideas used by enemies which they found helpful.

 

Galea – plural galeae

Wikipedia provides an introductory overview of galea.

Roman Soldier Operations Manual: Daily Life * Fighting Tactics * Weapons * Equipment * Kit by Simon Forty provides more detail, but alas, is not linkable and all the images are copyrighted.

The Complete Roman Army by Adrian Goldsworthy has several pages providing great discussion of helmets.

As is typical for the book, Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual by Philip Matyszak provides great ’advice’ to a Legionnaire shopping for a helmet.

 

Montefortino helmet

A Roman Montefortino helmet by Matthias Kabel  is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 . Notice the short and narrow neck guard and place to add cheek guard, which would probably have been made of leather.

Used from 4th century BC through 1st century AD

Earliest helmets were simple, with a round shape and small neck guard. These would have been easy to produce and cheaper than the later designs. They were made out of bronze.

The basic design was developed from Celtic helmets.

They apparently had cheek guards as well, since they typically have holes in the sides of the helmet. Reportedly, most of the Montefortino helmets discovered do not have a cheek guard, leading to speculation the cheek guards were made of leather instead of metal.

 

Coolus helmet

Continue reading “Galea – helmet worn by Roman Legionnaires.”

Roman legionnaire’s pay over time. Increases are an indication of debasement of currency.

Marching Roman legionnaire reenactors. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Pay for a legionnaire soldier in the Roman army increased substantially over time, from 225 denarii a year around the turn of the millenium to 600 denarri in the early 200s.

The amount of silver in a denarii was also steadily reduced over that same time. That is called inflation, which as we know from other reading, was driven by Roman Emperors intentionally debasing the currency as a way to help finance the empire.

A Wikipedia article, “Imperial Roman Army” provides data to analyze the gross pay and real pay over time.

First, let’s look at the declining value of a denarius. Here is the silver value of each coin, measured as the number of denarii minted from each pound of silver, along with my point estimate of the year of the change:

Continue reading “Roman legionnaire’s pay over time. Increases are an indication of debasement of currency.”

Average pay for Roman Legionnaire

Silver Roman denarius. About one and a half day’s pay for a Legionnaire. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Another indication of average pay for Roman foot soldiers can be found in Wikipedia’s article Imperial Roman Army.

This pay rate applied during the reigns of Emperors Augustus and Vespasian, which means until about 81 A.D. After that point, debasement of the currency led to inflation and rising pay for soldiers. More on that later.

For general framework, this is the pay structure in effect during the time of the New Testament.

Here is a recap: 

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More data points on payments to Vikings

Viking Coin Hoard. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

For some specific data points on hostage payments, tributes, and bribes paid to the Vikings, check out Janet Nelson’s chapter 2, The Frankish Empire of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, edited by Peter Sawyer.

On page 37, she lists some specific tributes and ransoms paid out of the Frankish Empire during the 9th century:

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More background on coins and storing wealth in hoards during Viking Age

Replica of Viking coin. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Comments I’ve accumulated from a few other books fit well with the previous post Background on Viking Age – money, trading centers – 2 of 5

In Vikings: Raiders, Traders, and Masters of the Sea on page 99, Rodney Castleden explains much of the trade carried out by Vikings was in barter. For example, swapping furs for linen or pottery.

Eventually bullion became a store of value. This would have been in the form of silver coins usually, with gold being used sometimes. The coins had value because their precious metal not because of the particular coin.

This is a different framework from today where coins and bills have value because the government says so. It would be extremely rare to encounter a coin today that has precious metal equal to its face value. To further the contrast if you happen to have an old coin that has lots of silver in it (that would be dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars dated 1964 and earlier in the United States) their value is a large multiple of the face value. If those coins happen to be in fairly good condition their value is an extreme multiple of their face value.

The contrast in the Viking Age and medieval era is coins had value because of the precious metal they contained. Thus the bullion value was the means of exchange. As an aside is also a store of value and a unit of measure. That is the definition of money.

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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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