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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Another indication of average pay for Roman foot soldiers can be found in Wikipedia’s articleImperial 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.
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.
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.