Under the Roman empire, the province had benefited from the use of a sophisticated coinage in three metals – gold, silver and copper – lubricating the economy with a guaranteed and abundant medium of exchange. In the first decade of the fifth century new coins ceased to reach Britain from the imperial mints on the continent, and while some attempts were made to produce local substitutes, these efforts were soon abandoned. For about 300 years, from around AD 420, Britain’s economy functioned without coin.[From FT.com / Comment / Opinion – Call this a recession? It isn’t the Dark Ages]
During what are now called the “Dark Ages”, the inhabitants of our sceptred isle were reduced to barter or the exchange of goods for precious metals. They often cut up jewellery to make tradable units. But they weren’t barbarians — just take a look at the goods in the amazing “Staffordshire Hoard” — they were just people who didn’t have an economy that needed money.
Just how long money continued to be used is guesswork. It probably went on into the very early years of the sixth century. By then, with nothing to buy, no taxes to pay, no business to conduct and society in disarray, money as such would have had little meaning.[From Coinage In The Dark Ages?]
The slow introduction and acceptance of Anglo-Saxon currency meant that the economy could begin to function again and the resurgence of trade with Europe was, as I understand it, a clear milestone on the way to more prosperous nation. A fascinating topic, and I’ll spare you the four pages of notes I took while listening to one of the world’s leading experts on the topic of Anglo-Saxon money, Dr. Rory Naismith.
One thing I learned from Rory’s superb lecture on “Mints, Moneyers and Authority in Anglo-Saxon England” is that as England (well, there was no such thing at the time – we’re talking about the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy that subsequently became England under Athelstan in 927) moved out of those Dark Ages and developed its economy, the Anglo-Saxon silver pennies (the “sceatias“) that carry any inscriptions were marked with the name of the moneyer, not the secular or religious authority. In other words, you didn’t care that your penny had been minted in a geographic region such as Mercia controlled by, say, King Offa (the chap who built a dyke to keep the Welsh out) around the end of the eighth century. What you cared about was that you could trust your penny to be of the right weight and quality for commerce.
The coinage of early medieval England consisted of silver pennies and some much rarer gold coins. These represented not only a means of payment and a store of value with implications for economic history, but also provide scholars with an important window onto developments in culture, political history and administration.[From Dr Rory Naismith – Clare College Cambridge]
I’m very curious about the relationship between cash and trust, between coins and the economy and always keen to learn more, so I’m absolutely delighted that Rory has very kindly agreed to come along to this year’s Digital Money Forum to present on the topic of Anglo-Saxon minting. So if you want to broaden your knowledge of money, get some ideas about how technology might open up new opportunities for the post-modern moneyers of our electronic age, and meet a really nice guy then pop over to the Digital Money Forum and register now while there are some of the 100 places left.
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