By Garfield Sagamaster; This article appeared in Valhalla's Svar Vol. 7, No. 7 - September, 1996

In the beginning ... I always thought that was a nifty way to start a story, and in this case it fits. When mankind gained a more materialistic character he found that occasionally someone else had something that he wanted. Assuming a culture was lived in that had laws, some way was needed to obtain the desired object without stealing it or killing it's owner. Thus was born the art of bartering . "I'll give you this war club for that pin", or something on that level. This was the process for early trade throughout the world as well as Scandinavia.



As the Norse culture grew it came into contact with cultures outside the Scandinavian religion. Both the Norse and the new cultures discovered that the others had items that were desirable. (I hope that's not too confusing.) This, then, brought about the need for market places, or fairs. As stated, in the beginning this was simply done on a barter basis, goods for goods. However, something in the fifth or sixth century C.E., a standardization of value began to emerge. This standard was most likely based on cattle as can be seen from the modern word fee, which is derived from the Old Norse word fe, or feoh, meaning cattle. At this point, all items of value, including people, had their equivalent in a specific number, or fraction, of cattle.

This system, however, began to become unwieldy, especially in the cases where a person, such as a jarl, wishes to purchase a number of swords. Soon the market fairs would be overcrowded with the cattle needed to pay for something if the merchants did not wish to take something else in trade. A better system was needed and so silver was bought in a proxy for the cattle.

Silver was the perfect medium to be used in place of cattle. To start, a ertain amount of silver was decided to equal a single cow. For the sake of convenience, let us say that one cow was worth one ounce of silver. This standard would have been worked out over a period of time, facilitated by the reacquaintance of Scandinavia with the Mediterranean world in the late seventh century C.E., where silver coins had been in use for some time. In Scandinavia, the first "money" was the baug (ring). These rings were simple spirals of unadorned silver rod. These rings could be cut, or broken (sound familiar from anywhere?), to the proper weight. Not only was silver ideal because of it's weight, but it was easy to mold into attractive forms or to cover items with, adding value to those items. Thus, if a customer ran out of ring-money, he or she could simply break off a piece of an earring or some other piece of jewelry to make up the difference.



Now the Norse had something more convenient to use then carrying around a herd of cattle, but some sort of standards were needed to use the silver in a uniform manner. Therefore a system of weights and measures was developed. The oldest weight measurement was the eyrir (plural aurar). This was a weight based on gold and the word most likely derived from the Latin word aurus, which means gold. The eyrir originally weighed approximately 26.4 grams. As the Viking Age progressed this weight was reduced to about 24.5 grams.

There were eight (8) aurar to the largest single weight, the mark. this means that one mark was about 196 grams. the next weight down from the eyrir was the ertog (plural ertogar). There were twenty-four to the mark and a single ertog was about 8 grams.

My sources are a bit confused on the last weight. the measurement was the penningar and various sources say the the number of penningar to the mark varied between 10 and 240. However, all my sources say that the penningar weighed about 4 grams. After doing some quick math (all right , so I had to use a calculator and it still took me five minutes), if the 4 gram weight is correct then the number of penningar to the mark should be 49.

There is an interesting little note about the penningar that must be given out of turn. Later in the Viking period, after the introduction of Norse struck coins, the penningar was also the name given to a coin that was to be equal to the weight of the same name. Towards the end of the period, the penningar coin sometimes varied in its weight. This led to people referring to penningar being either a counted penningar or a weighted penningar. This, then , leads to another note which is more in turn. Earlier I mentioned that jewelry could be, and often was cut up to make up the difference if one came up short in the amount of "ring-money" one had on hand. Of all the hoards found throughout the Viking world, none of the hoards that have been found in Norway obtain "hack" silver. These hoards contain whole pieces of jewelry, ingots, and coins, but nothing that looks to have been deliberately cut up.

To weigh out the silver to insure proper payment, merchants carried with them a unique invention called the folding., collapsing, or nesting scales. They received these names for the reason that they were able to do just that. The arms of the scales were hinged and could fold up to be in line with the hanger bar and pointer. These, then, could be laid into one of the cups which in turn would be nested into the other cup. The whole would then be placed into a leather bag or wooden box. Also found with a number of sets of the scales were sets of weights. these were made from lead, bronze, clay, glass, or combinations of any of these. Most were spherical with a flattened spot, although disks and cones have also been found. On the flattened spot would be a symbol to tell the weight of the weight.



This brings me to the third stage in the development of Scandinavian currency, the introduction of coins. Coins were developed in Asia Minor in about the sixth century B.C.E. These then slowly worked their way north. Scandinavia became aware of coins in about the second century C.E. However, they were not used for money except for their value as weighed silver , or jewelry. In the mid ninth century C.E. the Carrolingian coins from Dorstad were copied by Norse minters, probably at Hedeby. These coins were not copied very well and eventually the legends were replaced with designs of Norse origin. These Norse coins corresponded to weights already in use. Because of this, many people still preferred to use ingots and hack silver. Also, it was not uncommon for people to cut up coins to make up the difference in short weights at purchase time. After all, now they didn't have to destroy their jewelry. Norse minters continued to strike coins based on their own designs for about one hundred years. Then they must have decided that the minting of coins was futile. It was not until the turn of the millennium that coinage became a permanent feature in all three of the Scandinavian countries. In Norway they were introduced by Olaf Sigurdsson, by Svein Forkbeard in Denmark, and in Sweden by Olof Skøtkonung.

At first these coins were based on English models but eventually began to take on more Norse characteristics. For instance, shortly after the death of Harald Hardradi, Norwegian coin replaced Latin legends with runic and wrote in the vernacular. Also about this time Sweden abandoned the minting of coins for a short period. This was probably a reaction to the resurgence of the Old Faith. Since the mints were putting Christian symbols on the coins, and the minters were Christian, they would have refused to put Pagan symbols on their product. This brings up another interesting point. The Norse kings in England, Knut, et. al., used motifs that could be claimed to be either Christian or Pagan. For example, one type of coin had a bird on it that could have been either the Alfathers raven or the dove of the Holy Spirit. Another had three triangular shapes that could have been three shields, a representation of the Christian trinity, or a representation of Odin, Thorburn, and Frey. A third example was a coin with a shape that could have been either Mjolnir, or a Tau cross.

In or around the year 1070, minting went through a major reformation. After this was complete foreign coins pretty much disappeared from Scandinavia and only coins minted in the respective countries were considered legal tender there. this brings to mind an idea.

For some time now, members of the club have been tossing around the idea of a permanent site for the club. Many hope to have this site function not only as a learning center where people can come to see a real Viking Age village, but as a place where some money can be made for both the club and the members. Mayhaps we should work out a way that visitors can make purchases with either our own minted coins or ring money. We could have a booth where the guests could purchase coins or ring-money made of pure silver. We would sell the coinage for current market value of the silver and price items within the village accordingly. That way, if the gust does not use up all his/her silver during the visit, they still have something that both has value in the outside world and could be in itself a souvenir. But, this is just and idea.