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An anepigraphic Viking coin with a surprising amount to say –with digressions, mainly into Kievan Rus’


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(Well, shoot.  I pasted all of this from Google Docs, and it keeps preemptively showing up in bold type, and then resists fixing, except a couple of lines at a time --when that happens, which it mostly doesn't.  I guess bold type is what's for breakfast.  --Edit: And, Yowie, I eventually figured out that when this happens, you can fix it by editing from here, once you've posted.  ...I Loooove this platform.)

I was just noticing that the medieval section is still the thinnest of the subcategories here, by a pretty wide margin.  Lately, @seth77 reposted an amazing OP from the days before I’d joined the other forum.  On, um, early (c. 11th-c.) feudal issues from eastern Europe.  …Okay, ‘A feudal polity in Pannonia in the 11th century.’

Yep, I’d completely missed it (never got the hang of following members, in the technical sense), and it was profoundly edifying.  But it was seeing how relatively few medieval posts there are here that finally spurred me to follow his example.  Other people are seriously encouraged to do the same.  You wrote it; you own it.  I think you know who you are! 

This is a relatively recent, but favorite one.  Edited for references to other posts in the other forum (other than by yours truly) …and the inevitable details I missed the first time.  I also did some cannibalizing from a separate post of mine, in another thread.



Harald Bluetooth, King of Denmark c. 958-986.  AR ‘half-bracteate’ /penning, likely c.975-980 or later.  The weight is only .34 grams; the module is correspondingly smaller, evoking Ottonian denars, in the lower 10+ millemeters, more than contemporaneous Anglo-Saxon pennies or French deniers, which run to 15 mm. and higher.

Obv.  Abstract design, with curved and straight lines, pellets, annulets, and triangles to left and right, terminating in more annulets and pellets; comparable to earlier variants of the same design, as listed in Hauberg (esp. #2).

Rev.  Cross, terminating in crosslets and annulets, complemented by more rounded lines, including an ‘S’ curve. 

The dealer cites Hauberg (#6, variant), a reference to which I lack access.  Fortunately, other and similar examples are listed on ACSearch and CoinArchives, all citing an early range of listings in Hauberg; 1-6, selectively inclusive.  Between them, they suggest that this variant, along with a clear prototype, dated c. 975 /980 (Hauberg #2), was minted in Jelling.  This in contrast to the still earlier, better known issue (c. 960s -970s), only more consistently attributed to Hedeby.  The initial issue freely imitates Carolingian prototypes, already in a distinctively Viking style.  https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?term=harald+bluetooth&category=1-2&lot=&thesaurus=1&images=1&en=1&de=1&fr=1&it=1&es=1&ot=1&currency=usd&order=0 


While Hedeby was a town on the border between Denmark and the German empire, repeatedly changing hands during Harald’s own reign and later, Jelling, in the middle of the Jutland peninsula, was already established as the Danish royal capital. 


Map of Viking-Age Denmark, showing Hedeby (/Hathabu) and Jelling.


(By Briangotts - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6028459)

This map gives an idea of the more specific political borders under Harald, with vassal states and allies in yellow.  One thing to notice is the level of political contact between Denmark and the southern Baltic coast, along with the close proximity of Sweden, especially,  to the eastern one.  This serves to amplify the better known, archaeologically demonstrated Viking presence in the same neighborhood, in the broader scope of trade, settlement, and cultural influence.  

Over the entire course of the Viking Age, well into and even beyond the 11th century, the eastern Baltic was the gateway between Scandinavia and the system of riverine communication down to Viking /Kievan Rus’, with its two centers, Novgorod to the north, facing Sweden, and Kiev to the south, facing the Byzantine Empire.  As such, serious study of the entire region, during this period  –despite its century-long tradition of being reductionistically characterized as ‘Slavic’– is hollering for attention; banging loudly on its shield with the flat end of its collective sword.  Every reference to the Viking Age that I’ve ever seen has neglected this intuitively crucial dimension of the entire period.  ….Just look at the map: if Vikings were that active in France and the British Isles, in numerous, simultaneous capacities, not to mention Kievan Rus’, what were they doing in the modern Baltic countries –effectively in their back yard?  A simple matter of connecting the obvious dots.

Meanwhile, Hedeby /Hathabu makes intuitive sense as the mint for the earliest issue associated with Harald, riffing on older but well-known Carolingian types (Hauberg #1; cf. the links to ACSearch and CoinArchives, above).  

By contrast, Jelling immediately evokes the Jelling Stone, a monument set up by Harald himself.  While the town gives its name to an entire Viking decorative style, across media (metal and stone –anyone?), Harald’s Jelling Stone is in the related but later Mammen style, c. 950 – 1025.


Here’s one side of it, with Mammen Style flourishes, and runes, for one thing praising Harald for having ‘made the Danes Christian.’  (...Well, for me, Kierkegaard counts for A Lot, all by himself.)  Given that even this late in the 10th century, a royal monumental stone like this would be perpetuating Runic inscriptions, one can get a little more comfortable with the fact that these early Danish coins don’t even pretend to aspire to legends in anything resembling Latin.  

…Over the next handful of decades, thanks to AEthelred II’s massive ‘danegelds,’ all of Scandinavia was awash in pennies of AEthelred, successive types of which were enthusiastically imitated, at least as far afield as Sweden.  Over the first half of the 11th century, the Scandinavian imitations range from full Latin legends to a level of blundered gobbledygook evoking Germanic imitations of 4th c. Roman bronze coins.  The earlier ones, especially from Dublin, often involve the ‘outsourcing’ of English die-sinkers.  –Sometimes from the mint of York (under Hiberno-Norse rule as recently as 954; cf. this thread:  https://www.cointalk.com/threads/a-viking-grail-coin.390165/#post-8088017  (yep, just lately, I’ve been sort of hanging out in Viking Land).  

By contrast, what makes this issue of Harald so great is that the die sinkers are really given free reign, where motifs are concerned.  As if to say, Yep, (culturally, for one:) I’m a Viking; Just Have some.

Meanwhile, Jonas Lau Markussen’s insanely great website on these 10th-11th-c. decorative styles incudes this, by way of essential characteristics of the Mammen Style.



Here, just to be difficult, is his treatment of the earlier Jelling Style.


Regarding the crosslet motif on the reverse, the inspiration is clearly Byzantine –no less so than the quasi-Carolingian motifs on the earliest half-bracteates of the 9th century.  A still later example of what could happen is an imitation (into the early 11th century) of a very common Byzantine miliaresion; the former from the extreme southeast of Kievan Rus’.  

Here's my intentionally less than museum-quality example of a miliaresion of Basil II Bulgaroktonos and Constantine VII, issued 977-989. BYZANTINE, BASIL II, AR MILIARESION, ALEX.jpg

This is the description from the dealer, Alfa Numismatics (who is highly recommended --I don't care; he's owed that much).

"Byzantine Empire. Basil II Bulgaroktonos, with Constantine VIII. 976-1025. AR Miliaresion (20mm, 2.04g). Constantinople mint. ЄҺ TOVTω ҺICAT ЬASILЄI C CωҺST, cross crosslet set on pellet on four steps; X at center, • above crescent on shaft; to left, facing crowned busts of Basil and Constantine / + ЬASIL / C CωҺSTAҺ / ΠORFVROS / ΠISTOI ЬAS / RωMAIω, legend in five lines; decoration, +-, above and below. Sear 1810. Very Fine, green deposit."

(I can do 'Coin Greek,' picking out proper nouns and titles. If anyone would care to provide full translations, you'd get some serious gratitude. Likely nothing else, but....)

And here's an imitation from the extreme south of Kievan Rus', just across the Sea of Azov from Crimea (right, kind of creepily topical these days).

KIEVAN RUS, Mstislav.jpg



This is the description from Numismatik Naumann (also recommended –if you needed my advice about them).

"RUSSIA. Kievan Rus. Mstislav Vladimirovich Chrabriy. Prince of Tmutarakan (990-1024). Ae “Miliaresion”. Imitating a Constantinople mint AR Miliaresion of Basil II.

Obv: Cross potent on two steps; on either side, crowned and draped facing bust; crown with pendilia.

Rev: Pseudo-legend in four of five lines across field. Cf. Golenko 3 (for type).

Condition: Near very fine. Weight: 1.14 g. Diameter: 22 mm."

Funly, the imitation is a little broader than the obviously clipped prototype. And very evident billon, in contrast both to the good silver of the prototype, and the frank AE of later examples. Suggesting a relatively early issue.  But, I promise you, compared to the prototype, the billon isn't much to write home about.


But I'm really needing how, between the Scandinavian and Hiberno-Norse imitations of Carolingian, late Anglo-Saxon, and Byzantine prototypes, and this Kievan Rus' one of Basil II and Constantine VII, there are conspicuous, if obvious common themes.  The most salient being the celators' willingness to forge ahead with illiterate renderings of the original legends. Complementing a still broader dynamic of the Viking Age, both early and late: the willingness to actively respond to whatever cultural milieu these folks found themselves in proximity to. The gradual Slavification of the Kievan Rus' provides a resonant, nearly contemporaneous parallel to the Francification of the Normans, on the opposite side of the continent ...along with the gradual Anglicization of the Danes and Norse in the Danelaw and Northumbria /York over the course of the 11th and 12th centuries.  


But back to the half-bracteate, here’s where the plot thickens.  Basil II recruited vast numbers of ‘Varangians’* for one of his major campaigns –early enough in his reign to coincide with the later phases of Harald’s issues– and, from hoard evidence, paid them largely in these miliaresions.  And Yes, the same miliaresions would have easily found their way to Denmark, providing inspiration within the chronological range of Harald’s issues with the same motif.


But, at least from here, any direct connection between Basil’s miliaresions and this issue is irreducibly speculative.  The cross-crosslet motif shows up in Byzantine coins from considerably earlier in the 10th century.  …By way of further  context, part of a major gold hoard found on an island in the German Baltic, dating to Harald’s reign, and speculatively associated with his own court.  Here, the crosslet motif is combined with a Thor’s hammer at the top, reflecting the ongoing religious pluralism across much of the Viking world, during the early phases of conversion to Christianity.  





…In other words, apart from any discrete, ostensibly precise relationship between this type of Harald, and a specific Byzantine issue –however tempting to consider– the operant connections (with trade always a primary dynamic) were longstanding, and commensurately general –one could even say organic– in nature.

…Meanwhile, another fun thing about Harald are the ring-forts he built in Denmark, often attributed to his son and heir, Svein Forkbeard, father of Cnut.  Among extant examples, this one is the star of the show: Trelloborg, with outlines of the typically Viking halls for the troops, but arranged in regular squares within the circular earthwork, evoking precedent going back to Roman forts.



Here are a couple of little poems I wrote in my early teens, freely, not to mention anachronistically bouncing off the Viking ethos.  I’d just been turned on to the brilliant old Penguin translations of Icelandic sagas (c. 1960s-’70s), by Magnus Magnusson and Herman Palsson.


Sea-kings bold, in worthy ships and fine,

Fueled by valor, avarice, and wine;

Borne and blessed by Neptune, Thor and Mars,

Set sail, guided by the shining stars,

To sleep beneath an empty sky of brine.


And this very free adaptation of the death of Olaf Trygvasson /Olaf I of Norway, at the sea-battle of Svold /Svolder in the Baltic, in 1000.  Riffing on Olaf’s Saga Helga in Snorri Sturlusson’s Heimskringla.  The operant villain, Svein Forkbeard, was the son and heir of Harald Bluetooth, and the father of Cnut.  (Yes, other culprits were involved, conspicuously a pro-Danish Norwegian jarl (earl), and Olov Skottkonung, king of the Swedish.)


Dead is the archer and broke is the bow;

King Olaf stands glaring, alone at the prow.

He leaps, with his shield-arm over his head;

–’You shan’t take me living; you shan’t take me dead!’--

And feet-first he plummets to slow-rolling sea,

Whose surface is littered with cold, limp debris:

The shield stares mutely at Svein Forkbeard’s knaves,

And slowly is buried by the gentle green waves.


*I like the vagaries of the Byzantine term, ‘Varangian.’  From the early 10th century, following the establishment of the Varangian Guard (not unlike the Praetorian Guard in the Roman Empire, into the 3rd century CE), it referred to ethnic Scandinavians.  By relaxed demographic standards; whether from Rus’, Sweden, or further afield.  Eventually, the Varangian Guard included Anglo-Danes, in exile following the Norman Conquest.  When the Franks of the Fourth Crusade got past the walls of Constantinople in 1204, they were met, in part, by a Varangian Guard, composed largely of English expats.) 

Edited by JeandAcre
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In the other thread that's tagged 'Viking' (so far), @UkrainiiVityaz astutely mentioned Kievan Rus'.  This inspired a couple more  things to complement its history, along with its origins in the riverine and overland trade in eastern Europe, among the Samanids in central Asia.  


Kievan Rus'.  Spear point, from a Ukrainian metal detectorist who (in emphatic contrast to some sellers in the Balkans) had every appearance of being ethical, and knowing what he was talking about.  He dated it '9th-13th century' --a broad enough range, but even the best detectorists aren't archaeologists in the strict, academic sense.

And in this context, who can ignore the vast numbers of Samanid dirhams, acquired by trade in the 10th century CE, which found their way across the Viking world, as far afield as Yorkshire, and, at least as individual finds, in Dublin?  Here's one bought from a dealer in Estonia, exemplifying the 'hacksilver' known, for one other instance, from the early 1oth-century Cuerdale Hoard (Yorks.).



And this one's fun; a single detector find, from the detectorist, who insisted he'd found it in Worcester.  Some details suggest it could be a contemporary forgery ...but note the wear.  (As always with me, dealer's pics.)


The weird part is that in England, there wasn't any substantial Scandinavian settlement as far east as Worcester until the reign of Cnut (1016-1035).  ...I don't want to go too far out on a speculative limb, but the wear certainly evokes a century or so of continuous circulation.  ...Somehow or other, it made the kind of trip that a surprising number of actual Vikings did, just over the course of a lifetime.  

Edited by JeandAcre
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Sometime I am going to dig out a mini hoard of cut halfpennies and farthings that date from as late as the mid 13th century ie 1250AD - it is a broad spectrum of what was circulating in N. England at that time - mostly English of course, but an occasional Scot and even a Dane.  I think circulation patterns of coins in those times is quite fascinating and makes you appreciate the effort that went into trading when coins and goods came from and went to so far - at best at only a few kilometres per day with the primitive transport horses and teams.

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