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A Viking trade weight with gilded inset

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Life has been rather busy for me, wrapping up my Ph.D (public defense scheduled at 10 October 2024!), but I've been lurking the forum. My night shifts in the hospital are usually the moments I've time to write down some of my new additions, but even those have been extremely busy. I have been adding some really nice early medieval coins and artifacts. So I decided to write a short thread on those, instead of a long write-up as I had planned. 

This super cool weight was offered as part of a group-lot of early medieval and Roman metal detecting finds. It included a broken Saxon disk head pin (see below) and some random scrap pieces. As I eyeballed a Viking coin weight with a gilded sceatta-inset shortly before, I immediately noted and recognized this weight as a Viking weight.

Gilded Viking trade weights are rather rare and sought after. Not much is known about the trade economy of Vikings (at least, not by me). A master thesis on the subject by Rebekah Hiett, kindly brought to my attention by Gary Jonhson, a collector of these weights, tried to answer the questions (1) why did the Vikings inset their lead weights, and (2) why did they choose the items that they did. Hiett suggests the weights are related to the Great Army conquest in East Anglia in 865, after which the Anglo Saxons paid their 'piece money', i.e. large sums of silver and gold to maintain peace. As far as I understand, the Viking trade economy was mostly bullion-orientated, meaning that silver and gold objects were cut in pieces which had to be weighed. The trader probably had an abundance of cut brooches, fibulae, jewelry, and other valuable objects readily at hand to choose from.  

This still doesn't answer the question why the Viking traders inset their weights. Hiett suggests that the objects were both symbolic and valuable. The persons responsible for weighing - likely a smith or perhaps the leader of a small band of Vikings - probably were involved in acquiring these objects in a raid as well. Using symbolic objects, as in my weight, probably showed a certain authority.

This weight was found in the 1990s by a metal detectorist in Norfolk. It's heavy at 121.33g - one of the heaviest weights in the corpus of Hiett. My interpretation of the gilded silver inset, which is probably cut from a brooch or fibula, is two birds with open wings looking towards each other. The large pellet-within-annulet perhaps shows the sun. The weight is very chocolate brown and pleasantly heavy in hand. 



ARTEFACT, Viking. Mostly lead, with gilded silver inset
Find location: Presumably Norfolk Published: emailed to British Museum, no response
Chocolate brown heavy round lead weight with a gilded silver inlet. The inlet shows two birds facing each other. A central pellet-within-annulet between. Various sratches under the patina, but no markings. The object is slightly oval, and measures 33x31x16mm (inset: 15.7x9.5mm). It weighs 121.33g.

As a bonus, this is the broken Saxon disk head pin that was included in the group lot as well. 



Kindly share your interpretation of the gilded silver inset, or anything else you find relevant!

Edited by Roerbakmix
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The objects are really neat and the write-up is literate and professional. Best wishes on finishing your dissertation, I went through that very same process and, believe it or not, I have fond memories of that time of life.

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This is in no way comparable, but it’s the one silver inset weight I have. 1 unica, barrel weight, I think 5-7th century, I want to say it’s a Bendall 27 attribution but I’m no in front of my tags. 27.1g or there about.


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16 hours ago, Roerbakmix said:

Life has been rather busy for me, wrapping up my Ph.D (public defense scheduled at 10 October 2024!),

Been there in 2021. The final yards of doing a PhD tend to be strenuous. Good luck with finishing the thesis and all best for your defense!

Also, that's a lovely trade weight you have there. To me, the design on the inset looks like an eye, with the central pellet and annulet representing the iris and pupil. I'm not an expert on early medieval artifacts, though, so this is pure speculation.

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