Tag Archives: Medieval European Coinage

Medieval European Coinage update (Name in the Book Somewhere III)

I have time for only a short post this weekend, but happily, I was just asked a question here that can be answered in such a post, and which also fits into the pattern of alternating what we might call ‘historical’ content with a recounting of my various and dubious scholarly achievements. So, this post, let me bring you up to date with that well-known scholarly series, Medieval European Coinage!

Cambridge University Press leaflet advertising the Medieval European Coinage series

Cambridge University Press leaflet advertising the series

Now even my part in this could be a long story, but at least a short version of the full story is worth telling. It begins with the late Professor Philip Grierson, who somewhere towards the last third of his long career decided it would be a good idea to pubish a monographic series of accounts of the coinage of the European Middle Ages, using his own excellent collection as the illustrative basis. Originally, supposedly, he reckoned to write them all himself, figuring that one every two years would keep him busy till retirement, but predictably, it turned out to be a bigger project than that, and before long he had enlisted co-authors for several of the volumes, then assigned several of them to other people entirely, and eventually it was a whole British Academy-funded project which could afford a small staff. The first actual volume, covering the whole of the continent from the fifth to the tenth century, was co-written by Professor Grierson and his Research Assistant, Mark Blackburn, then freshly poached from the legal profession by the museums world and eventually, of course to be my boss.1

Cover of Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage 1: the Earlier Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986)

Before that time, the team had squeezed out a second volume, co-written by Professor Grierson and Lucia Travaini, and covering Southern Italy from the tenth to fifteenth centuries, but since the first had come out in 1986 and it was now 1998, it was clear that this was all taking longer than initially planned.2 The next volume was supposed to be that on the Iberian Peninsula, and it was because the team needed a copy-editor who knew some peninsular history that I first got into the Fitzwilliam. It’s hard to emphasise now how important that job was for me. Not only did it basically keep me alive during three quite difficult months, but it made me a lot of friends in the department, established in Mark Blackburn’s mind that I could work databases, and thus set me up for what would turn out to be five years’ paid employment, several virtual exhibitions you can still see (and some you can’t), my first numismatic publications and some quite important personal ramifications to boot; I am still reaping the benefit of getting involved with the project, and indeed I still sit on its committee. But when I left the employment of the Fitzwilliam in 2010, the Iberian Peninsula volume was still not yet published, and I have to admit, it was not quite clear then if it would be.

Cover of Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6: The Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

Now, that story I’ve told elsewhere and obviously it did emerge, finally, in 2013.3 That was a great achievement, celebrated in two countries indeed, but it left open the question of which volume would emerge next; we had several under work, and obstacles in the way of them all. As with the legendary London bus, however, you wait four years for one and then two turn up at once, or nearly. The volume covering Northern Italy, by William R. Day Junior, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, which we were already celebrating at Taormina as described, finally left the presses in November 2016, and very shortly afterwards, in April 2017, it was joined by Rory Naismith’s volume on Britain and Ireland 400-1066, covering some ground already covered by the Earlier Middle Ages volume again simply because the finds pattern has changed our understanding of the way money was being used in early medieval Britain so radically in the, well, thirty years since the project had last offered any thoughts on it.4 And I’m happy to celebrate this as in some small way my achievement as in 2008 to 2009 I copy-edited as much of the Northern Italy volume as then existed, and though I’ve no idea how much of my work remains visible in the finished volume—I certainly don’t have the files against which to check—nonetheless, this is something I had a hand in and now it exists where people can use it, so I’m happy.

Cover of William R. Day Jr, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, Medieval European Coinage 12: Northern Italy (I) (Cambridge 2017)

So that is where we are, but where are we about to be? Well, obviously, given our pedigree, absolutely the last thing I should do is offer any predictions, and indeed I might seriously offend some of our authors if I were to guess here who will publish next! What I can do is tell you what is currently under work. The volumes actively under work are those on Germany, by Peter Ilisch, on the Low Countries, by Philip Grierson, Peter Spufford, Serge Boffa and now Marcus Phillips and Sue Tyler-Smith, on the British Isles 1066-1279, by Martin Allen, on ‘the Nordic Countries’ by Jørgen Steen Jensen and Elina Screen, on Central and Eastern Europe, by Boris Paskiewicz, and on the Latin East and Crusader States, by Julian Baker, Richard Kelleher and Robert Kool. Other volumes are also under work, but I think it is probably OK to say that they are currently moving more slowly. It will also probably not have escaped the keenly numismatic audience that the Low Countries volumes have also lost two of their authors and gained some others, and indeed when the first of them (Philip) died it was still being conceived of as only one volume, so a lot has happened there but it has not necessarily advanced that much closer to its finish line. I honestly wouldn’t like to guess which of these is closest to the finish line, but if I were to predict anything at all, it would be that although we can’t hope to maintain the current one-volume-a-year output, it should not be, say, 2021 before another volume has emerged, and by then again quite probably two. I’m just not sure which or when…


1. Philip Grierson and Mark Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 1: the Earlier Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge 1986).

2. Philip Grierson and Lucia Travaini, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 14: Southern Italy (Cambridge 1998).

3. Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer and Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013).

4. William R. Day Jr, Andrea Sacocci and Michael Matzke, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 12: Northern Italy (Cambridge 2016); Rory Naismith, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 8: Britain and Ireland, c. 400-1066 (Cambridge 2017).

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An awful lot of numismatists in Sicily, II

So, after that bit of numismatic self-congratulation, let me take you back for the last time to September 2015 and the town of Taormina in Sicily, where I was then one of many gathered for the 15th International Numismatic Congress. You’ve seen some of the local antiquities, heard about the first two-and-a-half days of papers and visited a local castle, now it’s time to return to the thick of the academic fray. But first, a party!

Party in the coutryard of the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano, Taormina, Sicily

Party in the coutryard of the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano

Indeed, the first thing on our calendar after descending from Castelmola and eating was not an academic session but a party put on by the Medieval European Coinage project, to celebrate its resurgence into activity since the previous INC in the form of the publication of the series’ volume on the Iberian Peninsula and the near-completion of that on Northern Italy (which, much though I often doubted it, has in fact now also emerged, something I should probably announce separately too).1 By now you may well not remember that I am a part of that project still, but I am, so I was there to share in the glory. There were speeches, there was a strictly limited quantity of free wine, but mainly there was a superb setting.

Medieval European Coinage authors by the Cambridge University Press stand at a party in the Palazzo dei Duchi di Santo Stefano, Taormina, Sicily

MEC authors Bill Day Jr and Martin Allen looking very relaxed by the Cambridge University Press stand inside the Palazzo

It was a good way to wrap up the day. The next day was the last day of papers, however, and with certain obligations among them, and so for once I was up and ready right at the beginning. Here’s how it all unrolled. Continue reading

Seminar CCXXVII: towards a more relaxed and flexible late Anglo-Saxon monetary system

My mainline posts may be diverging increasingly from my seminar reports in terms of date covered, but you will have to admit that the subject material is fairly coherent as I move onto the next seminar report, because it’s all about money here on A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe for a while. For lo, on 4th February 2015 my old colleague Rory Naismith, now of Kings College London, was presenting to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London, and so of course I was there.

A silver penny of Cnut, struck by Godman at London, in 1025-1036 from the Lenborough hoard, Buckinghamshire, discovered late 2014

A silver penny of King Cnut, struck by Godman at London in 1025-1036, from the Lenborough hoard, Buckinghamshire, discovered late 2014

Rory is, as those who know his work will appreciate, a man who gets stuff done, and accordingly when the Committee of the Medieval European Coinage Project (on which, full disclosure for those that don’t know, I sit) needed someone to write volume 8, which will cover the British Isles from circa 600 to 1066, it was to Rory we turned, and now it is in press, so chalk one more of many up to Rory on that one. At the point of this seminar he had just about submitted that text, and so was able to give us some preliminary conclusions under the title, “Coinage and the Late Anglo-Saxon State”, and having thus elected to focus on the late Anglo-Saxon monetary system he was necessarily led to address the legacy of this man.

Portrait of Michael Dolley

The late Reginald Hugh Michael Dolley

Thankfully this was not quite literal, as Rory informed us that Michael Dolley (for it is he) had produced not just 860 research outputs in his career but 6 children, but nonetheless there is a particular vision of the late Anglo-Saxon monetary system that we owe to Dolley, which has become fixed into a view of what James Campbell called the ‘maximum hypothesis’ of what he also called the Anglo-Saxon state.1 According to Dolley, extensive study of the coinage revealed that from 973, in the reign of King Edgar, a system of sexennial recoinage operated in which the whole kingdom’s money was called in, melted down and reissued in a new type at any of a large number of mints scattered across the country for this purpose. This allowed very tight dating of the sequence of what were, then, necessarily single nationwide issues, and from this really quite elaborate hypotheses have been hatched about how the weights of these coins were managed to encourage people to bring them in at the end of the run despite the cut that moneyers took at recoinage, and many other aspects of fine detail management.2 It’s been thought for quite a long time that this must be too rigid but only now has someone been forced to write a replacement account, and of course here he was talking to us.

Silver penny of Æthelred II struck by Æthelwine at Stamford around 1009, found at Lenborough, Buckinghamshire, late 2014, a mule of the Lamb of God and Last Small Cross types showing their probably-simultaneous manufacture

Silver penny of Æthelred II struck by Æthelwine at Stamford around 1009, also found at Lenborough, a mule of the Lamb of God and Last Small Cross types showing their probably-simultaneous manufacture

So, in the Naismith dispensation, not everything has changed but a good deal has. In the first place, since we have 1300+ finds of coins of this period, we can start to say something about relative frequency of types with some basis, and this shows us that not every type was struck in equal numbers. Some, indeed, especially the Lamb of God issue of Æthelred the Unready as above, were apparently struck in very small numbers—if you find one, be careful with it—and while some hoards have only one type in, others do mix, often containing several types at once, all of which puts serious holes in the idea of consistent and total type-by-type recoinage. Instead, it seems ineluctable that some types were only experimental and ran alongside others, that recoinage was not always total and that people did save up over several reigns even when the coins in their hoards should have been legally useless. In discussion, in fact, I suggested that they were still exchangeable for new coins and so people waited until they had to do so rather than pay the moneyer’s cut several times over, which I think still works. The coinage winds up looking like a much less tightly-regulated fiscal apparatus as Rory sees it, anyway, and acquires an aspect of simple moral broadcasting and the performance of royal power, all of which is very much in keeping with how we now view that kingship in certain other aspects too.3

Silver Agnus Dei penny of Æthelred II struck by Sæwine at Salisbury

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge also has one of Æthelred’s Lamb of God pennies, which has suffered a different set of misfortunes but which is described in the article linked through the image. The coin is Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.1-2009, and it was struck at Salisbury by Sæwine.

This is not necessarily to diminish the power of that kingship, one should say, lest hearts in Oxford start to quail, but rather to change its aims. Starting with James Campbell but picked up by many others, a good deal of work has gone into establishing the late Anglo-Saxon kingdom as unusually closely and effectively administered, and the coinage has been a big part of that because of the kind of micro-management arguments I’ve mentioned, which would require a very modern-looking grasp of fiscal economics to dream up.4 If the kingship’s aims were actually more ideological than fiscal, that doesn’t remove the fact that apparently it could, on a fairly frequent basis, call in almost all of the coinage and replace it, a thing that almost no other medieval state could hope to do or even see any point in. Indeed, one could follow Rory all the way and see the flexibility of this system, minting coins as needed in places that only sprang into life as mints occasionally and meeting demand where the demand mainly was (London, Lincoln, Stamford, York and Winchester struck between half and three-quarters of any given type, Rory had told us), as a strength, indicating a responsive and adaptable system rather than a rigid and dictatorial one. What it begins no longer to look like, however, is a prototype for English modernity, and that is probably good to make clear.


1. Dolley didn’t really compile a monographic statement of his theory, and the closest one can get to a summary of it is probably R. H. M. Dolley and D. Michael Metcalf, “The Reform of the English Coinage under Edgar” in Dolley (ed.), Anglo-Saxon Coins: studies presented to F. M. Stenton on the occasion of his 80th birthday, 17 May 1960 (London 1961), pp. 136-168, though one (and by one I suppose I really mean Rory) has also to take account of updates like Dolley & C. Stewart Lyon, “Additional evidence for the sequence of types early in the reign of Edward the Confessor” in British Numismatic Journal Vol. 39 (1967), pp. 59-61 or Dolley, “Some neglected Scandinavian evidence for the ordering of the early types of Edward the Confessor”, Seaby’s Coin and Medal Bulletin no. 693 (London 1976), pp. 154-158. Probably the best place to find the significant references is in fact shortly to be Rory Naismith, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, volume 8: Britain and Ireland, c. 400-1066 (Cambridge forthcoming)! As for the Campbell theory, the starting point is J. Campbell, “The Late Anglo-Saxon State: a maximum view” in Proceedings of the British Academy Vol. 87 (London 1994), pp. 39-65, repr. in idem, The Anglo-Saxon State (London 2000), pp. 1-30, along with several other relevant papers, including at pp. 201-225 idem, “Some Agents and Agencies of the Late Anglo-Saxon State” in James C. Holt (ed.), Domesday Studies: Papers read at the Novocentenary Conference of the Royal Historical Society and the Institute of British Geographers, Winchester, 1986 (Woodbridge 1986), pp. 201-218, and one could also point back to Campbell, “Observations on English Government from the Tenth to the Twelfth Century” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5th Series Vol. 25 (London 1975), pp. 39-54, repr. in idem, Essays in Anglo-Saxon History (London 1986), pp. 155-170.

2. The extent to which Dolley carried the numismatists of his generation with him is to some extent evident in the number of things about his system that he co-wrote, as witness the cites above, but even in 1976 some disquiet was emerging, evident in Stewart Lyon, “Some Problems in Interpreting Anglo-Saxon Coinage” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 5 (Cambridge 1976), pp. 173-224, while on the other hand people who liked to think in systems were having a ball with it, most memorably for me S. R. H. Jones, “Devaluation and the Balance of Payments in Eleventh-Century England: an exercise in Dark Age economics” in Economic History Review 2nd Series Vol. 45 (London 1991), pp. 594-607, which is really special thinking.

3. This new perspective seems to be due not least to Patrick Wormald, The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the twelfth century. Volume 1: legislation and its limits (Oxford 2001), though some influence from the German scholarship focussed on ritual must also be involved, visible for example in Levi Roach, “Public rites and public wrongs: ritual aspects of diplomas in tenth- and eleventh-century England” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 19 (Oxford 2011), pp. 182-203. The Lamb of God coinage is especially useful for emphasising this ideological broadcasting, as it seems to have had no real economic rôle: see Rory Naismith & Simon Keynes, “The Agnus Dei pennies of King Æthelred the Unready” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 40 (Cambridge 2007), pp. 175-223, DOI: 10.1017/S0263675111000093.

4. In which respect it’s interesting to compare the works in n. 1 above with Simon Keynes, “Royal Government and the Written Word in Late Anglo-Saxon England” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257, about which I wrote here a long time ago but now seems more prophetic than I then realised.

In Marca Hispanica XXV: la meva primera adreça publica en català

I wrote a few posts ago of having been able actually to talk to fellow scholar of the tenth-century Catalan coinage Xavier Sanahuja, and that is because over 4th-6th December 2013 I was very briefly in Barcelona, and my backlog has now got up to that point so I should tell you about it. The occasion was a very numismatic one, a launch party for two works. The first of these was the then-latest volume of the periodical Acta Numismàtica that I was just showing you pictures from, but the second was a rather weightier work, Medieval European Coinage 6, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula, by Miquel Crusafont, Anna Balaguer & Philip Grierson, at which point you may see where I came in.1 The occasion was put on (and the accommodation for myself and the other UK participant, Dr Elina Screen, general editor of the series, generously paid for) by the Societat Catalana d’Estudis Numismàtics, who publish the Acta, and it was a really nice occasion, but somewhat challenging because it involved me giving a speech. I thought that it would look pretty weak if I, the scholar of Catalonia, speaking in the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, already, didn’t do so in Catalan, but my Catalan isn’t very good.

Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013)

There is a story I tell about my learning Catalan. I’ve never actually been taught either Catalan or Castilian (i el meu castellano és molt pitjor, cosa que no creu cap català!) When I first came up with an idea to work on this area, I was a Master’s student, and I took my idea to Professor Rosamond McKitterick, who was more or less in charge of me at that point. She told me to take it to Dr Peter Linehan and ask him if it was viable, and he said, if I recall, “Yes, I suppose so, if you can read Catalan. Can you?” And I replied, “I don’t know, but I’ll go and find out.” I went and looked through the first two things on the reading list he’d given me, one of them being Abadal’s Primers comtes catalans as I recall, and the other some earlier work of Abadal’s, and I found that what with several years of both Latin and French I could manage, with a dictionary to hand somewhere. When I came to write up the relevant essay, in fact, I realised that the second Abadal piece had actually been in Castilian, but by then it was too late!2

Joan gili's Catalan Grammar, 2nd edn.

As you can see, my guide to good Catalan was extremely second-hand… This is the second edition, it’s now in its nineteenth!

Anyway, I managed, and realised that Rosamond had been right that no-one else in the UK was using this brilliant mass of evidence, and here I still am, except when I’m doing something else. This does not equate to a speaking knowledge of a language, however! In fact, I made a bit more of an attempt to learn by means of picking up a copy of Joan Gili’s Catalan Grammar when it passed through the hands of the booksellers who then employed me, and that and a Routledge dictionary have held me together. Every trip out to Catalonia I make my grasp of the spoken language gets a bit better, too, but it’s still not good, and the fact that I learnt it from a grammar written in the 1940s means that people marvel at my last-century mannerisms while I don’t get half the colloquialisms, especially the periphrastic past tense using anar, which is really common but which Gili obviously didn’t like and mentions only in a footnote.3

Sala d'adreça in the Institut d'Estudis Catalans

It looks less of a challenge in this state than it did when it was full of learned Catalan scholars

So on this occasion I cheated. I didn’t mean to! I wrote a speech, in actual Catalan as far as I could, and passed it to Xavier to correct, and got back what was basically a rewrite, saying what I’d wanted to say but in almost none of my chosen words, and it was so close to the time by then that I just delivered that. I delivered it among the great and the good, though, as Joan Vilaseca has recorded: the occasion was led off by Professor Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, no less, and Xavier, Elina and the surviving authors also both spoke, as well as the President of the Institut and the head of the Consulat Britànic a Barcelona. But I did OK, I think, and I had to speak Catalan for real afterwards as almost everyone I’ve corresponded with in Barcelona was there, most notably Professor Gaspar Feliu i Montfort, to whom I owe a great deal of help, and of course Joan Vilaseca, loyal fellow of this blog and major contributor to the effort of making resources for studying Catalonia available online via Cathalaunia.org. I hadn’t expected to meet Joan—as he says in his report, he had heard about the occasion only that day—and it was great to meet him and put a face to the comments; thankyou, Joan, for coming out for it! And then there was an excellent dinner and late-night gin-and-tonic with numismatists in a cellar bar, making the whole endeavour seem much more underground and gritty than one usually expects, which is where we were discussing hoard provenance of transitional diners, because we know how to have a good time… But a good time it was, and it also gave me about twenty kilos of books to take back to Cambridge or Oxford and a day and a half in Catalonia to do something with, about the latter of which I’ll tell you post after next!


1. Full cite, because I’m still proud of it, Miquel Crusafont, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage 6, with a catalogue of the coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013). This won’t be Philip’s last work, either, not bad for a man who died aged 96 eight years ago!

2. Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els primers comtes catalans, Biogràfies catalsn; serie històrica 1 (Barcelona 1958, repr. 1980), still not a bad place to start, in fact, and probably idem, “El dominio carolingio en la Marca penínsular hispánica. Siglos IX y X” in Cuadernos de Historia. Anexos de la Revista «Hispania» Vol. 2 (Madrid 1968), pp. 38-49, transl. as “El domini carolíngi a la Marca Hispanica (segles IX i X)” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó which is why it’s worth mentioning in this post you see, Estudis i Documents 13 & 14 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, I, pp. 139-152.

3. Joan Gili, Introductory Catalan Grammar, with a brief outline of the language and literature, a selection from Catalan writers, and a vocabulary (Oxford 1943, 2nd edn. 1952, many more since), periphrastic future dismissed at p. 50 of the 2nd edn. n. 1, “very often in use”. That’s exactly the problem!

Name in the Book Somewhere II

[This is a repost of a piece of one of the sticky news posts above, now unstuck and free to assume in its rightful place in the chronological scheme. I repost this bit because I have just got to the point in the backlog where it would originally have occurred and it still seems worth celebrating! There are some light edits to supply larger context.]

In May 2013, there was also a rather large chicken finally come home to roost, to wit Miquel Crusafont i Sabater, Anna M. Balaguer & Philip Grierson, Medieval European Coinage, with a Catalogue of the Coins in the Fitzwilliam Museum, 6: the Iberian Peninsula (Cambridge 2013). There’s no secret here about the labour I’ve poured into this; it was in fact the thing I subsisted on after finishing the Lay Archives work previously referred to, and it was mostly wrapped up and ready to go in 2006 when I got the full-time job at the Fitzwilliam that would, in the end, keep me going for four and a half years. When explaining to people some of the reasons why the volume still then took seven years to appear, I have taken to starting with, “Well, the two surviving authors…” Death, life-threatening illness and then death, divorce, pregnancy, unannounced changes of contact details, unemployment and over-employment (especially this last) have all played their part in delaying the work of the various parties involved, even to the very last minute—a launch party had to be cancelled because of the aforementioned illness, but unbeknownst to authors or editors the book was already on sale anyway—and I think the most amazing thing is that all parties involved have always been reasonable and pleasant to deal with, whatever the new problem was that had arisen. Anyway, it exists, and this is a great comfort to me, as not only do I actually have my name over two small parts of it (well, one small one and the Bibliography, which I think I contributed about a tenth of) but at some point or other in my role as copy-editor and then series editor I’ve probably changed or moved almost every word in it. It’s not my work, but it has been one of my labours, for sure.

Those curious about such matters will probably also want to know how things stand with the rest of the series, and to that I can say from the inside, with suitable caution, that volume 12, which covers Northern Italy and is by Andrea Saccocci, Michael Matzke and William Day Jr, is scheduled to be next and is in its final stages now, and that volume 10, on Scandinavia, by Jørgen Steen Jensen, has been making reliable and steady progress for years and will also soon be finished, we hope, after which it becomes a contest between Britain and the Low Countries to be next. What’s the timescale, you no doubt ask, and fair enough, but you understand that in 2006, there was no way, it was quite frankly impossible to conceive that MEC 6 was seven years away from publication. What could possibly go that far wrong? If I had not lived and worked through those seven years, I would now say: there is no way the next volume can be more than a year away. But I did, so I won’t, because if I do it probably can… [And that paragraph, sadly, I didn’t have to edit at all…]

Lost in citation II: slaughtering sacred cows

For a variety of reasons, only one of which is my imminent departure, my department is currently in full-on publication frenzy. The boss has calculated that, if we include our personal work, the department is trying to send nine books to various presses by the end of the calendar year. One of these, Derek Chick’s corpus of the coins of King Offa, is already with the press; my magnum opus will be finally with the printers soon after mid-October, hopefully still available for Christmas :-) and that leaves me only three which remain my job for a short while longer. Of one of these will I speak. I shan’t say which one, though it will I guess be kind of obvious; that’s not the same, however, as making it web-searchable… It involves, once again, the ghost of Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, so you may want to tune out now…

Gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.8162 (Grierson Collection)

Gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, PG.8162 (Grierson Collection)

In this text, the question is covered of what was used as a medium of exchange in Asturias and León before there was coin being struck there. There have been a range of theories about this, and a fairly recent article by Wendy Davies that is characteristically thorough covers most of the options.1 She detects several regions of practice, some using metal-based standards and possibly, in León, actual metal proto-currency, but others using several value referents, including livestock:2

… there are some very clear regional differences: before 930, price in Sahagún texts was usually expressed in terms of clothing or farm produce, especially animals, which were sometimes given a valuation in silver solidi but more often not; and it was once expressed as a silver vessel.20 Thereafter, price was often expressed in terms of solidi until the 970s, when this mode of expression came to predominate. Although the number of cases is smaller, Cardeña transactions more often used solidi to express price before 930, as they did from the 960s, but frequently used produce and objects in the 930s and 940s. Half of all tenth-century cases also had a valuation in solidi attached; records of Cardeña sales were more likely to use the concept of the solidus than records from the other collections, at any point in the tenth century.21 Celanova transactions, on the other hand, used metal concepts only rarely and they never predominated in this period. The contrasts between the three are therefore stark: western Celanova essentially non-metal-based; eastern Cardeña more metal-based than not; and central Sahagún changing its practice across the century….

So, OK, the question that arises is what these various populations thought a solidus was and what it was worth, and that’s where we come in. This certain work I’m copy-editing said, until quite recently, as follows:3

It has to be remembered that when there are no coins in circulation, the use of units of account is possible only on condition that a verifiable value referent exists. In the case of Galicia this referent was the ox, and logically that has to be taken to mean an ox of average stature, neither extraordinarily strong nor particularly thin. This could be modulated by a practice whereby more or less than the stated value changed hands if the ox that was actually given in payment was especially excellent or manifestly deficient. Some authors (Gautier Dalché, 1969a, pp. 49-50; Sáez, 1946, pp. 5-6) have failed to grasp this mechanism of fixing prices by equating a value of account with physical goods (an ox, a modio (measure) of grain, a sheep, etc.). On the other hand, Mínguez, 1979, p. 43, n. 5, accepts that an average value served as a reference. He admits that there could occasionally be some upwards or downwards variation in prices, but from a fixed referent.

You see here that we are in good old regula magistri territory here, and so I thought it would be best to cite some actual evidence for the practices we’re talking about here, not least because I’m not sure I believe in any value standard where an ox could be worth the same as a sheep. Would you believe, the evidence turns out to be harder to find than you might expect? I mean, there are some fabulous prices: “a chestnut-coloured cow, a quilted and lined linen cloak, 12 cheeses, and this price in the place of 4 gold solidi and 1 tremiss”, but this just doesn’t help at all because (a) the authors quote it wrong, reading ‘IIIIor’ as ‘4 or’ not as a short-form of ‘quattuor’, whereas there is really no gold referred to, (b) in the manuscript there are seventeen spaces after the word for ‘cheeses’ so the price is probably incomplete (and was perhaps never actually fulfilled) and (c) there are of course no gold solidi for them to be talking about, Louis the Pious’s above being unknown in this area and the only coin of that denomination that has been minted in the West for more than a century.4 Of course, arguing from silence with Spanish coin finds is a dangerous game but it’s a problem.5 So what about them there magistri? The authors cite three works that tried to address this very problem by collecting references to prices in León, Galicia and Portugal in this period. Surely exactly what’s needed! Well—you know what’s coming—no.

The most up-to-date of these references was the first blow from Don Claudio, a paper from the Spoleto conference of 1960. However, that only actually refers back to an earlier article of his for the data—yup, we’ve played this game before—and it also makes it clear that the equivalence of a sheep to a solidus is being made via the grain measure known as a modius; that is, we see that a modius can be worth a solidus and that a sheep can be worth a modius, and therefore…6 And OK, that is logical, but it still gives us a chain at whose ends we can have supposedly equivalent sheep and cows and I don’t reckon this much. Also, Sánchez-Albornoz thought these were probably sometimes being paid in leftover Roman silver coin, which numismatists and historians since him have found frankly implausible.7 Next up would be the Portuguese contribution, which was published in Don Claudio’s own journal, and that has a long list of equivalencies, but only one mentions a sheep with an equivalence to something else, and that’s a modius. Only halfway there I’m afraid. It’s slightly better for cows, but their value (where it can be clearly averaged to a single cow, which is very rarely) is usually around the two-solidus mark and sometimes rather higher. The lowest it gets is one-and-a-half.8 And then there’s a study on Galician Celanova, and that messes things up further by having two sheep that were worth four modios (which the author suggests may be because the modios were of barley not wheat, thus unhinging any hope of using his own evidence that way because of course this is never specified) and eight sheep elsewhere that were worth twelve solidi.9 And these two and Sánchez-Albornoz’s paper all refer to an earlier paper of his, and that refers you back to almost his first paper of all from 1928.10 How anyone who doesn’t have access to an incredible research library is supposed to follow this up is beyond me.

Thin cows grazing

Some cows will sell for more than other cows at market

So with the 1928 paper, at last, we reach port. Here are 266 price equivalencies from the early eighth century to well after 1000, meaning that another factor that we simply can’t calculate for is inflation. We can tell it’s a factor because he cites a Celanova reference in which four cows are worth forty solidi from 1001. In 796, however, the other articles all said, there was a cow worth one solidus; but it turns out that when you actually check the real document’s text it’s actually two separate prices, a cow and a solidus.11 What there is quite a lot of is boves soldades, which it is assumed are cows worth a solidus. It’s not clear to me that that’s what it means at all, however, I could equally argue that soldadis is derived from solidus the adjective, solid, worthy, especially as this is also the period in which people start referring to their liege followers as homines solidi, which I don’t think means they are people worth a solidus. (Slaves usually go for much more than that.) And, furthermore, the prices are off still: Castile shows us a bovis soldadis worth two modios and a goat worth one, and Celanova often talks about ovelias modalias, which by analogy ought to be sheep worth a modius.12 The prices, if they suggest anything at all overall, may suggest that an average cow was worth roughly twice what an average sheep was, but we’re still talking median not mean and it’s still not matching neatly to any currency equivalent. These animals vary in worth and that’s all there is to it.

Catedral de Le&ooacute;n

The Catedral de León, still home of the eponymous Archivo

So, even if I could find the two documents that Sánchez-Albornoz cited as proof that a sheep could be worth a solidus too, documents from 1001 and 1008 that pay 100 sheep or 100 modii, or 100 modii or 100 solidi, I might still be inclined to dismiss them as singletons. But since a hundred of anything ought to average out quality variations a bit, it’s still worth investigating, of course. Sadly, however, these are the only documents Sánchez-Albornoz cited from the Archivo del Obispo de León, as opposed to the Archivo de la Catedral. You might think these two would be the same things, but apparently not. The latter has been edited, for a start, and these documents aren’t there.13 So, where are they? You’ll notice that if you search on Google for ‘”Archivo del Obispo de León”‘ the only hits are from Don Claudio’s work. I can’t find any other reference to this archive. Complete-looking lists like this one don’t mention it. I realise not everything is on the web, but it’s also not mentioned in the edition of the cathedral’s documents. I do not know if it was a separate thing (which happened at Barcelona, so quite plausible14) or what. Maybe it got destroyed or dispersed during the Civil War. I presume Don Claudio didn’t actually make it up! But it’s not apparently there now and its documents’ shelf-marks can’t be traced. So there’s basically no proof of this solidus sheep at all, and the cow looks pretty weak also (otherwise it’d be worth more, oh ho ho). This, by itself, cannot constitute evidence of social practice over three very different economic zones over a century and a half of considerable economic change. This bit has therefore been removed from the text and I hope that in the long run our authors will agree that was for the best. As to the actual situation, perhaps it’s best to leave Wendy the last word there:15

Different valuation systems clearly meant different things to different people in northern Spain in the tenth century. All those considered here were notional units of account – mental constructs…. In some parts – near Celanova and Sahagún especially – they related to active systems of commercial exchange; in others – near Cardeña – the systems belonged to the world of writing and had less to do with buying and selling. The Atlantic systems were distinctive, but not wholly cut off: they certainly indicate thriving exchange economies, with some commercial aspects – the very existence of valuations makes this a sale culture. The systems of the meseta were even more obviously thriving, more commercial, as also more urban and less characteristically rural, and already by the late tenth century were beginning to be related to the wider economic networks of Spain and of the world beyond. Their relationship to the economic mainstream of western Europe obviously cannot be assessed in respect of the tenth century alone and needs a forward look into the eleventh, but the fact that transaction practice was already changing in mid-tenth century is an important signal of wider
and deeper change.

Slaughtering the sacred cows of Iberian numismatics one at a time, Jarrett, out.


1. W. Davies, “Sale, price and valuation in Galicia and Castile-Leon in the tenth century” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 149-174. Not only is this thorough about saying what the evidence says, it also sets out how much evidence there is and how it’s distributed over time. There are graphs of charter survival. That’s what I call thorough.

2. Ibid., pp. 157-158.

3. I shan’t give a citation for this, partly because of the nod towards discretion already mentioned, partly because I gather that the one of the authors who had their name on it may actually have let the other write it, and largely because this text is not going to survive so even if you knew what the finished book was you still wouldn’t find this there.
4. Actual text P. Loscertales & G. de Valdeavellano (edd.), Tumbos del Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 18: “Precio, id est bove colore marceno, manto laneo vilado et chomacio, kaseos XII [                 ], et est ipso precio in aderato solidos IIIIor et I tremese”. On the absence of gold solidi in the West, which went back to the Visigothic kingdom at least, see Mark Blackburn, “Gold in England during the ‘Age of Silver’ (eighth-eleventh centuries)” in James Graham-Campbell & Gareth Williams (edd.), Silver Economy in the Viking Age (Walnut Creek 2007), pp. 55-98. On the Visigothic coinage the new work of resort is Ruth Pliego Vázquez, La Moneda Visigótica (Sevilla 2009).

5. Jonathan Jarrett, “Digitizing Numismatics: Getting the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Coins to the World-Wide Web” in The Heroic Age Vol. 12, online at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/12/foruma.php, last modified 12th June 2009, §5.

6. C. Sánchez-Albornoz, “Moneda de cambio y moneda de cuenta en el reino asturleonés” in Moneta e scambio nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 8 (Spoleto 1960), pp. 171-202 at p. 183.

7. References to the debate in Davies, “Sale and valuation”, pp. 161-164.

8. P. Laguzzi, “El precio de la vida en Portugal durante los siglos X-XI” in Cuadernos de Historia de España Vol. 5 (Buenos Aires 1946), pp. 143-147.

9. Ernesto Sáez, “Nuevos datos sobre la costa de la vida en Galicia durante la Alta Edad Media” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho España Vol. 17 (Madrid 1946), pp. 870-885.

10. Sánchez-Albornoz, “El precio de la vida en el reino astur-leonés hace mil años” in Logos: Revista de la Faculted de Filosofia y Letras, Buenos Aires Vol. 3 (Buenos Aires 1945), pp. 245-264, repr. in idem, Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales españolas (Mexico City 1965), pp. 369-410, citing idem, “La primitiva organización monetaria de León y Castilla” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español 5 (1928), pp. 301-345, repr. in idem, Estudios sobre las instituciones medievales, pp. 441-482.

11. L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948), doc. no. 67.

12. Homines solidi: Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutation d’une société (Toulouse, 1975-1976), II pp. 743-746. Bove soldado worth two modii: Loscertales & Valdeavellano, Tumbo de Sobrado, no. 29. Goat worth one modius: J. A. Fernández Flórez (ed.), Colección diplomática del monasterio de Sahagún (857-1300) (León 1987-1993), doc. no. 357. Oveliae modaliae: J. M. Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII), Fontes Documentais para a Historia de Galicia (Santiago de Compostela 1995), doc. nos 340 & 403.

13. They ought, if they were going to be there at all, to be in José María Fernández Caton (ed.), Colección Documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León, III: 986-1031, Fuentes de le Historia Leonesa 55 (Leó 1995), but they ain’t.

14. As with many cathedral and monasteries, in the high Middle Ages the bishop’s property at Barcelona was administered separately from the cathedral’s proper, which was held by the chapter: unlike most of them, this separation still persists today meaning that there are two parallel editions of the early cathedral’s documents divided according to which half of the operation wound with the lands concerned!

15. Davies, “Sales, prices and valuation”, pp. 173-174.

Eleventh-century Vikings at the Two Towers?

At the time of writing, which at current rates is something like three weeks behind appearance here, when at work I am mainly doing copy-editing of a certain book that it would be tactless of me to identify, given what I’m about to say and what I think of its chances of actually emerging. However, it has set me on a hunt, because it mentions as an unreferenced throwaway that the city of Lugo, in Galicia, north-west Spain, was sacked by Vikings in the early eleventh century. Now, I will confess, it was news to me that the Vikings were anywhere near Spain then, but it transpires that actually Norse sea-raiding was The Genuine Problem at that time and there was certainly enough of it to become a cliché in relic translation narratives and so on. However, sacking a whole city? There are books that ought to mention this and they don’t. However, Richard Fletcher’s St James’s Catapult, so much more than an incomprehensible title, does find a quote from Sampiro’s Chronicle suggesting that Lugo was threatened and also says that Tuy was sacked, which we apparently deduce from episcopal vacancy and which is associated with a serious raid of 1015-1016; this association appears to go back to Ramón Menéndez Pidal’s La España del Cid but Fletcher was suitably cautious so I guess no-one actually says straight out that the vacancy was the fault of Vikings.1 I will check Sampiro, but I think this bit has to come out, or at least be heavily modified. That wasn’t actually what I was going to talk about.

The ruins of a tower at Catoira, Galicia

The ruins of a tower at Catoira, Galicia

While searching the web for something that included Lugo in the relevant destructions, I found this, a write-up of a visit to a place in Galicia called Catoira. Here stand the Torres de Oeste, ‘Towers of the West’, which are alas two opposite ends of a ruined castle through which a road has been driven. Before that mishap this place Catoira apparently did pretty well using this fortress to hold off Viking attacks, and indeed English ones hundreds of years later, and every year the town has a festival celebrating this.

Longboats in Catoira harbour for the annual festival

Longboats in Catoira harbour for the annual festival

As for the post title, the site whose pictures I’m cheerfully linking to here reckons that either Tolkien or Tolkien’s illustrators had seen the pair of towers divided, so iconic are they. I have no idea if Tolkien ever went to Galicia, though certainly some of the Lord of the Rings names are familiar from my work (Frodo, as far as I’m concerned, was a Bishop of Barcelona, 862-90, pro-Carolingian, property reclaimer and first bishop of the see to strike coin, height and hairiness unrecorded), but it is certainly a nice idea. You can picture this as a suitable illustration quite easily:

The Two Torres de Oeste at Catoira, Galicia

The Two Torres de Oeste at Catoira, Galicia


1. Referencing Richard A. Fletcher, St James’s Catapult: the life and times of Diego Gelmírez of Santiago de Compostela (Oxford 1984), online at LIBRO, last modified 16 August 2000 as of 17 October 2009, p. 23 & nn. 52 & 53, and Ramón Menéndez Pidal, La España del Cid (Madrid 1934), 2 vols, transl. H. Sutherland as The Cid and his Spain (London 1934).