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Nap’s Top 10 2023 (*honorable mentions added)


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Thankful for another good year where I was able to add a number of important pieces to the set.  The majority of my interest is in British Isles coins, particularly the early stuff from Anglo-Saxon times, but over the past year I've branched out to Scandinavian coins, from the Viking age but to more modern time.  These latter pieces began as imitations of English and other coins, but developed their own character, and the Nordic countries can also take pride in 1000 years of more or less continuous coinage.



Anglo-Saxon Sceat, series QIII

A quadruped with a coiled tail stands opposite a walking bird, both with triquetras, on this East Anglian secondary phase sceatta, from around 720-740.  East Anglian sceattas often feature birds and sometimes other animals.  The triquetra is an ancient symbol that is thousands of years old, but also became popular in Britain and Ireland, when it was adapted to Christianity to represent the trinity.



Sceat of Beonna, king of East Anglia ca. 749-760

Beonna, who ruled the petty kingdom of East Anglia in the mid 8th century, is an individual barely known to history apart from his name.  He was likely a co-ruler with another individual, Aethelberht, who also minted coins.  Beonna's coinage is much more prolific though.  His coins are the first coins of southern England to name a ruler on them.  This marked an important transition, as the anonymous sceatta coinage gave way to the later pennies.  Coins of Beonna are somewhat more plentiful than those of his contemporaries, with one hoard known (Middle Harling), though individual finds remain rare.



Penny of Ecgberht, king of Kent ca. 765-780

Ecgberht, probably a relative of the later king Ecgberht of Wessex, who was descended from the house of Kent, was king during the 760s and 770s. He is known to have signed charters in 765 and 779, so those are usually the dates given for his reign. During his reign, he vied against Offa of Mercia, who was trying to assert control in Kent and at various times was able to take control of the Canterbury mint. Ecgberht may have ruled jointly with Heaberht early in his reign.

Ecgberht’s and Heaberht’s coinage are among the earliest broad pennies which followed the sceatta coinage. Heaberht is only known from a single surviving damaged coin, which surfaced in Rome, and was formerly owned by Lord Grantley and given by CE Blunt to the Fitzwilliam museum. Coins of Ecgberht are somewhat more numerous- Derek Chick listed 22 examples and a few have surfaced since his publication. However many are in museums and the coin remains quite rare.

I think many comprehensive Saxon penny collections begin with this coin (even though some of the Offa coins and the transitional coins of Beonna of East Anglia might have been earlier). Including the classic comprehensive sets of yesteryear, but also the modern collections of Lord Stewartby, Allan Williams, Stewart Lyon, Andrew Wayne, Lawrence Stack, and John N Cross.



Penny of Aethelheard, Archbishop of Canterbury 793-796, 803-805, with Coenwulf, King of Mercia 796-821.  From Æthelheard’s second Archepiscopate 803-805, fifth issue

Æthelheard had a troubled time as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was made Archbishop during the time of Offa, but shortly after Offa of Mercia's death Kent fell out of the Mercian sphere of influence and asserted its independence under a local leader, Eadberht Praen. Æthelheard, who owed his position to the Mercians and was no friend to Eadberht, took refuge in Mercia. However, he found himself in a tricky position, as his predecessor Jaenberht had long feuded with Offa, leading to the latter creating a rival see in Lichfield with its own archbishop. Æthelheard found himself in exile and not even the top dog in Mercia.

It would take some time for the situation to improve, but eventually the new Mercian king, Coenwulf, was able to restore Mercian rule over Canterbury and restore Æthelheard. Meanwhile Æthelheard went to Rome to petition the pope to demote the rival Archbishopric in Lichfield, which was ultimately done, leaving Canterbury's archbishop the head of ecclesiastic matters in England, a situation that essentially has continued to this day. In 803, Æthelheard returned and was able to resume his position for a short time before his death.

Æthelheard struck coins with Offa and with Coenwulf. It is not clear whether there were any coins of his made in his lengthy absence, and there are several different varieties, but all are pretty rare suggesting that the coinage volume was pretty small.



Penny of Berhtwulf, king of Mercia 840-852

Berhtwulf, possibly a relative of a prior king of Mercia, Beornwulf, became king after the previous king's grandson, Wigstan, declined the throne and took monastic orders instead.  Little is known of Berhtwulf, or of his reign, though it is known that he faced significant turmoil from Viking attacks during the 840s and early 850s.  Despite a long-ish reign, compared to some of his contemporaries, coins of Berhtwulf are rare, as the main Mercian mints in Canterbury and East Anglia had been lost to Wessex.



Penny of Robert I, king of Scotland 1306-1329

Robert "the Bruce" was probably the most famous medieval king of Scotland, a hero of Scotland who along with William Wallace fought against the English in Scotland's wars of Independence.  The conflicts have been memorialized in works of literature, art, cinema, etc. and are part of the story of Scotland.  Robert's family, the Bruce's, were one of the leading aristocratic landholding families at the time of the untimely death of the Scottish king Alexander III and the unfortunate death his granddaughter and designated heir, Margaret.  Scotland was without a king, and Edward I of England stepped in to mediate.  The kingdom went to one of Bruce's rivals, John Balliol.  This situation pleased nobody, and both internal and external conflict ensued.  The English saw an opportunity and tried to create a vassal state in Scotland.  Ultimately, Balliol would abdicate into exile, and ultimately Bruce would become king, after the murder of his rival, the "Red Comyn" (possibly by Robert's own hand).  Robert was in a tough spot.  His legitimacy was shaky, the English were still trying to conquer Scotland, and his own forces were a mess.  Robert's first decade was spent in a guerilla war with the English, refusing to meet on a battlefield, where the Scots would be outnumbered and outgunned, and annihilated by cavalry.  The conflict dragged on, but ultimately came to a conclusion at the famous battle of Bannockburn, where the Scots handed the English a crushing defeat.  This was Robert's defining moment, and a turning point in English-Scottish relations.

Robert's life and campaigns have been depicted in movies, including Braveheart and Outlaw king.  Unfortunately the battle of Bannockburn is conspicuously absent from both of these!



Penny of Sihtric III, king of Dublin ca. 989-1036, phase II

Sihtric (or Sigtrygg) "Silkbeard", was, for the greater part of 40 years, king in Dublin and a major figure during this transformative period in Ireland. Vikings had settled in Ireland around the year 800, and there were a number of coastal Viking cities, including Dublin, Waterford, and Limerick. Sihtric's father Olaf was also king in York, England, and the Hiberno-Norse dynasty was a thorn in the side of Anglo-Saxon England until subdued in 954.

Ireland's early history is complex and the surviving sources are bits of history mixed with legend. At the late 900s, the main power in Ireland was in the north, where the Uí Néill dominated the southern kingdoms, and some of the leaders were recognized as "High King of Ireland", more of a tributary title than a ruling monarch. However by the year 1000 a powerful southern leader, Brian Boru, had asserted overlordship over much of Ireland, and was the first southern "High King". However, factions persisted and in 1014 Brian fought against Sihtric at Clontarf and won, but Brian was killed in the battle. Sihtric managed to hold on to power in Dublin for a while longer, but remained a mostly petty king.

While not a major power in Ireland after his defeat, Sihtric has the distinction of being the first Irish leader to put his name on coinage. His pennies copy the contemporary coins of Aethelred II "the Unready", king of England.

Sihtric’s more famous adversary Brian Boru is well remembered as an Irish hero but sadly has no coins



Bracteate quarter penny of Sverre Sigurdsson, king of Norway 1184-1202

Sverre Sigurdsson.  That's certainly not a household name.  If you were to try to name a famous medieval Norwegian, assuming you don't just blank out, you might recall Harald Fairhair, the first recognized king of Norway.  Or perhaps Eric Bloodaxe, the adventurous Viking who also left his mark in northern England.  And maybe Harald Hardrade, the "last Viking", who made his bones in the Varangian guard of the Byzantines, before becoming king of Norway, and finally dying at the battle of Stamford Bridge (against Harold Godwinsson, the "last Anglo-Saxon", who himself would be dead just a few weeks later at Hastings).

But Sverre is not well remembered.  Sverre was a product of the chaotic 12th century, in which rival dynasties and relatives vied to be rulers in the medieval state of Norway.  Sverre, called Sigurdsson, might have been the son of Sigurd Munn, one of the prior kings.  Or he might have made that up to justify his claim.  Sverre became leader of the Birkebeiners, a rebel group in Norway that ultimately gained power in the 1170s and 80s.  However, king Sverre had the opposition of the church, and a group of disaffected nobles called the Baglers, who supported the prior regime and doubted Sverre's paternity.  Sverre himself ended up excommunicated, and Norway placed under interdict.  The conflict would continue after Sverre's death.

Sverre is an interesting character from a numismatic perspective, because of the large amount of coins of his that survived. In 1840, a large group of coins was found in Dæli, Norway. A few pennies in Sverre's name were found, but the majority of coins were bracteates. These extremely thin small coins were the main currency of the Birkenbeiner party during these troubled years. Because of the presence of the pennies with Sverre's name in the hoard, it is possible to attribute these otherwise minimally marked coins.

Coinage in Norway had come to a halt in the late 1000's, and ceased for more than 50 years.  Norway seems to have picked up on the bracteates from northern Germany shortly after they became established there.  The bracteates are found with single letters, and many letters are represented. These are thought to represent mints, but it is not certain whether that is truly the case. This coin, with the 'A', may be for Asloia (Oslo).

In other parts of Europe, bracteates were produced with a high degree of artistry.  Not so much in Scandinavia.  With a few exceptions, bracteates have fairly basic designs in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.  Frequently, and not just for Sverre, it's just a single letter.



Anonymous penny of Denmark, the "Stridsperioden", 1044-1047

These anonymous coins are thought to have been made from 1044-1047 when Magnus the Good, Harald Hardrade, and Svend Estridsen were all competing for the rule of Denmark. It is thought that because the Lund mint was changing hands so frequently, it was likely that the coins were purposely given garbled nonsense obverse legends.  The reverse has a legible moneyer and mint signature.



Penny of Anund Jakob, king of Sweden 1022-1050

King Anund Jacob of Sweden was born as just Jacob to king Olof "Skötkonung" of Sweden and Queen Estrid , his parents had converted to Christianity prior to his birth and gave their son a Christian biblical name. Sweden was only just adopting Christianity at this time, and the name Jacob was not very recognizable or acceptable to the Swedes, so he was also named Anund, and is remembered to history by this name. He became a co-ruler with his father late in Olof's reign, and became king in 1022. Despite a long reign (1022-1050), Anund's history is poorly remembered.

He did produce coins, but the volume of coinage seemed to take a sharp decline after Olof's death, and would cease altogether at some point during Anund's reign. Coins of Olof are by no means common, but those in the name of Anund are very rare. Anund's coins take three main flavors-

1- Those in his name imitating Aethelred's long cross type
2- Those in his name imitating Cnut's pointed helmet type
3- Blundered coins that die link or stylistically link to the above two

There is the likelihood that much if not all of his coinage was produced in the first few years of his reign, and may have ceased by 1030. The coins were probably all produced at Sigtuna.

Anund is remembered to history as "Kolbränna" or "coal-burner". Sadly, this was not because he cooked a mean steak on the barbecue. Rather, it presumably is due to his tactic of burning down the houses of his enemies. Keep in mind that this was probably not just an act of property vandalism. If you've read "Njáls saga", an Icelandic saga, you might recall the climax of the story, when the protagonist's house is burned by his enemies with the family still inside. This was a raiding tactic familiar to the Nordic people. A force would besiege a house, or hall, or fort, where people lived and farmed, and set the building on fire. Women and young children were usually permitted to leave, but the men would not be allowed exit and die by fire. This is brutal medieval Viking era stuff. This is our Anund.



Thanks for looking and let me know your favorites.

Edited by Nap
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  • Nap changed the title to Nap’s Top 10 2023

Love these coins. Can't pick a favourite, though I do like the portrait coins. I always wanted a collection of early English pennies, find them really interesting and historical, but spent all my money on ancient Greek coins, so have to be satisfied looking at photos instead. Thanks for posting!

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Although this is miles from my collecting preference, I enjoy seeing and reading about the coins. It's like an episode of time team on paper 🙂 I don't know enough to chose a favorite, in terms of rarity e.g. So I chose a favorite merely based on what appeals to me most. And that it your first coin, the sceatta. The obverse is interesting, but I also really like the rendering of the reverse, as most sceattas I've seen so far are rather abstract/vague when it comes to their designs. Have a great 2024!

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Some honorable mentions.  This ended up being a pretty productive year for me-

No long write-ups on these, but let me know if there's anything you'd like to know more about.



Finally, an ancient coin!  Allectus, the Romano-British usurper.



Anglo-Saxon sceat, series H, type 48



Anglo-Saxon sceat, series Z-related



Anglo-Viking penny, St. Peter of York, swordless type



Groat of James II, king of Scotland 1437-1460



Bracteate penny of Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson, king of Denmark, 958-986 and Norway 970-986.  And yes, the wireless Bluetooth technology is named after him



Penny of Eric I "Ejegod" or "Evergood", king of Denmark, 1095-1103



Hvid of Hans, king of Denmark (1481-1513), Norway (1483-1513), and Sweden (1497-1501)



Penny of Olav III "Kyrre" or "the Peaceful", king of Norway 1067-1093.  The son of Harald "Hardrade", the famous Viking



Bracteate penny of Cnut Ericsson, king of Sweden 1173-1195

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  • Nap changed the title to Nap’s Top 10 2023 (*honorable mentions added)
  • 2 weeks later...

Really fascinating array of so-called “Dark Age” material.

This sceat in your honorable mentions really caught my eye.  All those swirling beasties and the rosettes!  Love it.  It really has the look I like for something from this era.


PS- the Series QIII sceat you opened with is also very cool.  I love the mysterious birds and beasts in the early Anglo-Saxon art.

Also: I found it interesting to see some Scandinavian bracteates.  I am much more familiar with the German ones.

Edited by lordmarcovan
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Really cool set of coins from a period I know almost nothing about. Thanks for the education. I don't feel qualified to even have a favorite given my ignorance of these coins, but if I had to pick one it would be the Sceat of Beonna, king of East Anglia ca. 749-760 because of the association with such a shadowy figure. 

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