19 July 2024
Early medieval money: Byzantine bullion's surprising impact

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Unraveling the Origins of Early Medieval Money

In the mid-7th century, Europe underwent a revolutionary transformation in its monetary system, shifting from a reliance on gold to the widespread adoption of silver coins. This change was fueled by Byzantine bullion, as recent tests have revealed, only to be later replaced by silver from a mine in Charlemagne’s Francia. These findings shed new light on Europe’s economic and political evolution during the early medieval period.

The Mystery of Anglo-Saxon Silver Coins

Between 660 and 750 AD, Anglo-Saxon England experienced a significant surge in trade and the minting of silver coins, known as ‘pennies,’ marking a departure from the previous reliance on gold currency. The origins of the silver used in these coins had long been a subject of debate among experts. However, a recent study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has finally solved this mystery by analyzing coins from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Co-author Rory Naismith, a Professor of Early Medieval English History at the University of Cambridge, noted the absence of concrete evidence regarding the source of the silver in these coins. By utilizing advanced analytical techniques, including trace element analysis and lead isotope analysis, the researchers were able to determine that the silver in the early Anglo-Saxon coins had originated from the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. This discovery confirmed Naismith’s earlier proposal and highlighted the significant role of Byzantine silver in driving the minting and trade activities in the North Sea region during the seventh century.

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The Byzantine Influence and Trade Connections

The analysis of the silver coins also revealed deep international trade connections between regions such as France, the Netherlands, and England during this period. The influx of Byzantine silver into Western Europe suggested a resurgence in the northern European economy following the decline of the Roman Empire. The presence of Byzantine silver objects in prestigious hoards like Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire Hoard indicated a deliberate effort by elites to liquidate resources and increase the circulation of money, leading to significant social and economic impacts.

Dr. Jane Kershaw from the University of Oxford emphasized that these early silver coins symbolized a shift in economic dynamics and international trade networks, underscoring the interconnectedness of regions through commerce and diplomacy. The sudden surge in minting and trade activities fueled by Byzantine silver highlighted a period of economic revitalization and increased monetary interactions among various societal strata.

The Transition to Francia’s Silver Dominance

As the study delved deeper into the later period of 750–820 AD, a transition from Byzantine silver to a new source emerged. The analysis of coins from this period revealed a shift towards silver with lower gold content, characteristic of the silver mined at Melle in western France. This shift indicated a changing economic landscape, with Melle silver becoming a dominant source across Francia and England after Charlemagne’s ascent to power.

The study suggested that Charlemagne played a pivotal role in driving the widespread adoption of Melle silver, overseeing changes in coin production and distribution within his empire. The management of silver supply became intricately linked to political and economic reforms introduced by Charlemagne and his successors, reflecting a period of heightened control over monetary systems and trade relations.

The findings also shed light on the diplomatic intricacies between Charlemagne and King Offa of Mercia, emphasizing the interplay between trade, politics, and power dynamics in early medieval Europe. The active involvement of rulers in silver trade and currency management underscored the strategic importance of controlling precious metal resources for maintaining political influence and economic stability.

The study’s revelations about the origins of early medieval money not only provide valuable insights into Europe’s economic development but also highlight the complex interactions between different regions, rulers, and societal groups during this transformative period. The transition from Byzantine silver to Melle silver marked a significant shift in monetary systems and trade networks, shaping the economic landscape of early medieval Europe.

Links to additional Resources:

1. https://www.archaeology.org/news/8735-200514-byzantine-bullion-silver-coins 2. https://www.livescience.com/early-medieval-money-mystery-solved.html 3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-66568-4

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Byzantine Empire (disambiguation), Anglo-Saxon England (disambiguation), Charlemagne (disambiguation)

Byzantine (disambiguation)
The Byzantine Empire was the medieval Eastern Roman Empire, that evolved after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century and fell in the 15th century. Byzantine may also refer to:
Read more: Byzantine (disambiguation)

Anglo-Saxon (disambiguation)
Anglo-Saxons were Germanic tribes that settled in Britain and founded England. Anglo-Saxon may also refer to: Anglo-Saxon (anthropology) or Nordic race, outdated racial concept Anglo-Saxon England, the history of Anglo-Saxons Anglo-Saxon model, modern macroeconomic term Anglo-Saxon world, modern societies based on or influenced by English customs Old English or Anglo-Saxon,...
Read more: Anglo-Saxon (disambiguation)

Charlemagne (disambiguation)
Charlemagne (742/747–814) was King of the Franks from 768 to 814 and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire from 800 to 814. Charlemagne may also refer to:
Read more: Charlemagne (disambiguation)

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