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What region is home to the most medieval Islamic dirhams, you ask?


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@DLTcoins, you're owed serious apologies for my delay in doing anything about this post.  My Viking-age dirhams have been posted multiple times, along with most of what I could intelligently say about them.  But this terrific article has to elicit further comment.  --Huge Thanks for that; never ran across the website; bookmarked and, for another long minute, tabbed!  Really looking forward to spending some quality time with the website.

The two examples I have pics of are detector finds; a cut fraction from Russia (ex Steven Album), and another from Gloucester, in western England, by way of a detectorist, listing on ebay.uk.  Confirming the range that the article gives for Viking Age hoards (and single finds) across Europe.  They're both Samanid, c. earlier 10th c. CE; easily the most common variety of Islamic issues that have been found anywhere in the Viking orbit.  ...Also as far afield as Dublin, York and elsewhere in parts of northern England that were under Norse rule (in the stricter sense, connoting Norwegians rather than Danes) during the period; both as single finds and as a large component of truly massive hoards, such as the famous one in Cuerdale, Lancashire, just across the Irish Sea from Dublin, and bordering Yorkshire.  

Here's a map I could find online, for the Norse and Danish settlement across whole region.  Emphasizing, for one thing, the absence of either a Norse or Danish presence in southwestern England prior to the reign of Cnut.  (Edit:) But also wrong, relative to the largely Norse /Hibeno-Norse hegemony over York through the mid-10th century.

CDN media

Meanwhile, though, here's @Parthicus' latest thread on the Samanid series, only the most recent of (I'll bet money I don't have) several on this forum.  (Shout-out to the 'Non-Western' category!)  This one is especially valuable for its emphasis on the question, well, who were the Samanids, anyway?  As such, very enlightening.

Right, so here's the fractional dirham, found in Russia.  Formerly, with due emphasis, known as Kievan Rus'.  (Thank you, a lot can happen over a millennium.  Certain heads of state will remain nameless.)  



Fractions such as this are prominent in the Cuerdale Hoard, and elsewhere in Scandinavian finds.  Demonstrating the fact that as of the earlier 10th century CE, the Vikings, even in their otherwise astonishing capacity as merchants, still largely inhabited a pre-monetary economy.  Silver was silver; a commodity to be valued solely by weight.

Here's the other one, found in Gloucester by the detectorist listing on ebay.uk.

image.jpeg.d678c1d49f3d4f5ce7cafc22f86dc556.jpeg image.jpeg.c2df39c51e37ae0d8632b73f0c791980.jpeg

This one is interesting for the convergence of the obvious wear and the findspot.  Gloucester, in southeast (Edit, 13 November: Wrong; southwest) England, was effectively innocent of Norse or even Danish settlement prior to the reign of the Danish king Cnut (1016-1035).  Under Cnut's reign, this part of England was settled by a small number of Scandinavian administrative elites.  (Cf. Lawson, Cnut.)  The level of wear evokes a century of circulation, perhaps by way of Norse Dublin or the largely Norse northwestern coast of England.  --In this sort of context, speculation isn't just called for; it's, why lie, Fun

Back to the first half of the 10th century CE, I have to take issue with the article's contention that the reason for the sudden scarcity of Samanid dirhams in Scandinavian hoards can be attributed to the growth of feudalism in Scandinavia, with its emphasis on land over silver (or anything approximating money). 

The primary reason for the indisputible drop in Scandinavian mercantile activity this far to the east is reducible to the fact that, by the mid-10th c. CE, the Samanid silver mines had begun to dry up, and there was just less of the good stuff to be had.  It's from the later 10th century that the Vikings go back to trading with the German empire, and variously raiding, colonizing and ultimately conquering England.  ...Two polities which conspicuously continue to have substantial quantities of, wait for it, silver, both of them coining it at a comparable rate of fineness to Samanid and other Islamic dirhams.  In othe words, the Vikings are going after the Same Old (expletive of choice), just looking for it in other, already familiar places. 

More broadly, regarding the contention that under European feudalism (whether in Scandinavia or elsewhere), money was somehow replaced by land as the driving economic force, that smells like the kind of thing we were taught in grade school.  Back to the Carolingians and contemporaneous Anglo-Saxons, money and land were always resonantly complementary components of the same economic infrastructure.  As late as the 12th century, the upper aristocracy in France (for instance, the dukes of Burgundy) were in abject reliance on their territorial estates precisely for the, wait for it, monetary revenue they generated.  The decline of the western European aristocracy over the course of the Crusades was mainly due to so many of them having literally gone bankrupt, after mortgaging their land to finance their adventures overseas.


Edited by JeandAcre
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On 11/7/2023 at 4:55 AM, DLTcoins said:

Vikings loved their silver!

...and sometimes, they even made their own!

The coins in the picture below may look like Abbasid silver dirhams, but they are in fact forgeries cast from an alloy of lead and tin. They were found in the harbour of the Viking settlement of Haithabu/Hedeby in northern Germany. Numerous both real and fake Arabic dirhams unearthed at Haithabu are on display at the museum of this archeological site. Apparently, the local Vikings were rather apt when it came to both amassing and faking Arabic coins...


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