Lost silver speaks of trade
In excavations of trading centres many objects which can be linked to financial transactions have been found. For example balances, silver pieces and coins. These were probably lost by tradespeople or their customers.
It was not only silver which were used. Written sources tell us that, for example, cattle and clothing could be used as payment. These are items which rapidly decompose which makes it difficult to find traces of them. It is also difficult to find traces of barter, which was also common.
Excavations of farm environments show that silver was collected and hidden in the ground as hoards.
During the Viking Age there was a weight economy; all payments were made with weighed silver. Silver could be in any form whatsoever and would be cut to pieces to attain the desired weight. Small pieces of silver were called ”hacksilver”.
Towards the end of the period hacksilver was replaced by locally minted coinage, whose value was guaranteed by the producers, the Kings. In a monetary economy, coinage no longer needed to be weighed or tested by the user. For a long time the two systems existed side-by-side.
In addition to the silver economies there was a prestige economy. Kings and local dignitaries, along with their retinues, competed for status by giving each other gifts in the form of, for example, luxury rings and ornaments.
The earliest mints in Scandinavia
In approximately 995, one of Scandinavia’s most important financial events took place, when three Kings had silver coins minted. Sweyn Forkbeard in Denmark, Olaf Tryggvason in Norge and Olof Skötkonung in Sweden. There are links between these events and the earliest town planning in Scandinavia. Political and administrative centres, such as Sigtuna and Lund became the first locations of mints.
However, the coins minted around 995 were not the first in Scandinavia. In Denmark there had been sporadic coin production since the early 9th century, perhaps even earlier. These were minted in trading centres such as Ribe and Hedeby, with no clear link to royalty. But from 995 they bore the king’s name, title and/or image. The aim was to strengthen the legitimacy and authority of the sovereign.
The Mint in Sigtuna
In the 11th century many Scandinavian coins were minted following the English model. Others resemble Byzantine coins.
Many places where coins were minted are known from the inscriptions on the coins. On the other hand archaeological traces of their manufacture are scarce. One exception is the mint in Sigtuna which was excavated in 1989. Here archaeologists found two pieces of lead with coin prints, which were used to check the appearance of the mint stamp.
The mint in Sigtuna was located in the centre of the city, near the church and the royal estates. Traces of bead and weight manufacture were discovered at the same place. It is possible that the king wanted to keep a check on these strategic products too.
Judging by the inscriptions on the coins their work was initially done by English experts, until they were replaced by local workers, who evidently could not read or write. The English mint master Godwine, whose name appears on coins from all three countries, acted perhaps as a kind of administrator over the whole of Scandinavia.