Reproduced by kind permission of Mr D.G. Heaton who presented this at the Huddersfield Numismatic Society.
The Saxons, who were they? Where did they come from and why did they come?
By the middle of the 5th Century the Roman Legions had been recalled to defend Rome from attacks by Barbarian tribes.
Similar incursions had occurred in Britain by Picts from the North, Celts from Ireland and Gauls raiding the South West but defence had been provided by the Roman Army.
To fill this void the by now `domesticated’ and largely Christian Britons invited mercenaries from Northern Europe to defend them from these pagan attacks.
Hengist and Horsa are perhaps the best known of these mercenaries invited by a British King Vortigern around AD430 to defend his realm against the Picts, in return for land. However they soon realised their new land was better than their own and turned against Vortigern and were soon waging war on the native Britons killing many and enslaving others!
Many Britons escaped westwards into Wales and Cornwall whilst others escaped across the Channel into a region already settled by Britons known as Brittany.
These invaders from what is now North Germany were known as the Angles and Saxons whilst Jutes from Denmark (Jutland) and Frisians (Holland) also arrived, conquered and eventually settled forming their own Kingdoms within Britain.
These Anglo Saxon lands gave rise to the modern names for Counties and Regions of today`s Britain.
Essex comes from East Seaxe land of the East Saxons, Sussex from Suth Seaxe, land of the South Saxons and Wessex the West Saxons. East Anglia was East Engle, the eastern territory of the Angles. By AD 550 much of eastern and southern Britain was controlled by these Anglo-Saxons with Britons in the North and West.
From the period of Julius Caesar`s expedition to Britain in 55/54BC to the Invasion by Emperor Claudius in 43AD much of southern Britain had been drawn into the orbit of Roman Influence and Roman coins circulated alongside the earlier Celtic coinages.
Following the withdrawal of the Romans, Imperial coins continued to circulate although the supply of new coins from Rome slowly dried up and as the Britons left the Towns to return to the land and a primitive lifestyle where barter was a more useful approach to trading. Those coins that continued to circulate became increasingly worn and many locally produced copies were often of much inferior quality. However much wealth remained and this was no doubt part of the attraction to Invaders and raiders from northern Europe, as the many `Roman’ treasure hoards recently discovered testify.
Gold from the collapsed Western Roman Empire, much of it held by aristocratic families and the churches they endowed, or by barbarian invaders, still existed and some began to flow from the continent, as a result of Frankish control, mainly into Kent, the nearest point, as either tribute, marriage settlements, payment for goods and slaves or brought across by Frankish settlers.
The Anglo Saxons did not produce their own coins until the seventh century. In Kent during the reign of Aethelberht (c509-616) laws specified penalties and compensations in `scillinga’ (shillings), a word derived from an Old Norse verb meaning `to cut’. This shilling was a piece of gold weighing 20 Troy grains (1.3g) cut from a ring or bar and equivalent to the Frankish tremissis. In Aethelberhts laws the smaller unit of value was a gold fragment weighing a grain, i.e. one twentieth of a shilling, called a `sceat’ (skeet) or `sceattas’ (shatters).
However by the seventh century the gold coinage of England and most of Francia had been replaced by silver. This change was brought about by the ending of Byzantine gold subsidies to western rulers and the need for commerce to operate more effectively by using coins of lower value than the earlier gold ones. In England this change was met by the increased production of heavily debased and therefore less valuable, thrymsas. The result was that by around 700 the coinage in south east England and most of Francia consisted exclusively of silver pennies (OE pening, old French denarius).
These silver coins contemporary with the denarii of France were commonly called sceattas which roughly translates as wealth or treasure. In Northumbria they were called stycas and were produced in large quantities often in base silver. Many continental types were melted down and re-coined into English types.
The south of England was much more influenced by trade with the continent where Pepin and his son Charlemaigne had reformed the coinage of the Franks to produce good quality silver deniers struck on broad flans. Denier is from the Latin Denarius i.e. d in £ s d.
Similar coins circulated in south east England, and it is considered that Offa, King of Mercia, who being also the King of Kent, introduced them for universal use in England around AD780.
Obv. OFAR in the angles of a cross fleury with a lozenge centre
Rev. ALHMUN in two lines divided by a line of pellets with fleury ends, a latin cross above and D below, 1.25g (S.904, N.282).
Offa ruled Mercia from 757 to 796 and it was he of course who cut off the ‘troublesome’ Welsh with his dyke built around 874 parts of which still exist today.
This map shows the kingdom of Mercia with Danish Kingdoms to the north and east, Wales to the west and Wessex to the south.
A descendant of King Offa, Burgred ruled Mercia from 852 – 874. At the start of his reign Vikings had already emerged as a significant threat to the coastal areas of Mercia and the other English Kingdoms. Indeed they penetrated deep into Shropshire and these raids brought about an alliance between Burgred and Athelwulf of the West Saxons wherby each agreed to help the other defeat a common enemy. Burgred may be considered the `junior’ partner in this arrangement as Wessex never asked first for help.
However to cement this early alliance Burgred married Aethelwulf`s daughter, Aethelswith at the palace in Chippenham in AD853
Such was the agreement that the spirit of co-operation resulted in an almost common coinage between the two Kingdoms in 860`s. The pennies of King Burgred and that of his contemporary King Aethelred of Wessex, son of Aethelwulf, adopted a common `lunettes’ design for the reverse of their coins. This clearly indicates the economic improvement of the trade and exchange between these two kingdoms.
However this Alliance was unable to stop the Viking raids that in AD 867 had defeated the Northumbrian army, slayed the rival kings, Osbehrt and Aelle and effectively ruled the North from York. The Vikings set up their own mint in York and produced similar pennies to the rest of England to retain a common unit of trade.
The Vikings continued their occupation of England and following their takeover in Northumbria moved onto East Anglia where King Edmund, who had previously appeased them, chose to fight but was slain in a battle near Thetford in AD870.
The Vikings started making their own coins, often inferior copies of English types but distinct in their own right. York was the main mint for Northumbria.
Obv. CNVT at limbs of patriarchal cross, REX between, crosslet and pellets in two angles
Rev. +CVИ::NET::T, small cross, 1.23g, (S.993, N.501).
Mercia at this time under Burghred had avoided confrontation which caused unrest and when the Viking grand army sacked Repton, Burghred was forced to abdicate whereupon he and Queen Aethelswith took pilgrimage to Rome where they both died some years later.
The Vikings then set up a `puppet’ king, Coelwulf II, who then rejected, no doubt under duress, the alliance with the West Saxons.
The Vikings now turned their attentions to Wessex whose new King, the 20 year old Alfred, had just succeeded his brother Aethelred. Initially defeated by the Danes he paid them to keep out of Wessex, they left but returned 4 years later!
Alfred rather than face total defeat retreated westwards to the Isle of Athelney in present day Somerset and sat out the winter of 876. Having burnt his cakes as well as his bridges he attacked and defeated the Danish Army in 878 and forced them to give up the lands of southern Mercia and Wessex. However, Alfred had to acknowledge the rule of Danelaw to the north.
The area of The Danelaw
Large quantities of treasure, coins and bullion that the Vikings had obtained in Francia as well as England were taken to the Danelaw. This wealth was dispersed following a Viking defeat in 896. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle reports that some went into East Anglia and some to Northumbria, and those that were moneyless took ships south across the sea to the Seine. The chronicler clearly believed or claimed that the first generation settlers were only prepared to accept newcomers who brought new wealth.
By the mid 9th century the coinages of Mercia and Wessex were progressively debased and by 870 their silver content was only 20%. This was partly due to the Viking exactions that reduced the amount of silver outside the Danelaw, but there was also a general shortage of silver in Western Europe.
Rev. MON / HEREMOÐ / ETA with the H and E ligated, 1.02g, (S.1057, N.625)
Rev. .LDMO / HEREBEA / NETA. with the N and E ligated, (S.1057, N.626)
The famous `London monogram type’ was produced at this time.
Although the number of coins circulating after 875 must have greatly reduced their value was much greater than those they replaced.
Alfred`s coinage reforms were for the purposes of his government, not commerce. It manifested his control of London and his claim to be `rex- anglorem’.The new coins increased his revenues from traditional dues, rent, taxes and legal penalties. The number of moneyers also increased at London and Canterbury but this was unlikely to be caused by increased trade but more likely to increase Alfred`s revenues from fixed fees and the supply of dies! The number of moneyers in London for instance went from 1 to 30!
In the Danelaw copies of Alfred`s coin types were common but were lighter weighing only 1.3g and usually of inferior workmanship.
Alfred proved to be a wise ruler and wrote down the laws of England and his lands grew wealthy from trade continued by his successors up until 979.
Alfred died in 899 to be succeeded by his son Edward `The Elder’.
However by 900 the reduction in cross channel trade meant that very little new silver reached England. Only 30 moneyers are named on Edward`s coins and not all of these were active at the same time. Seventeen of these also struck coins for his father Alfred. With one exception, Bath, mints are not named on Edward`s coins, but a number can be identified by style of lettering and there is good reason for thinking there were fewer than 10 active Mints, Winchester being the most important.
London and Canterbury which had supplied most of the coinage of the 9th century produced few if any for about 5 years. The Mercian mints at Shrewsbury, Chester and Gloucester may have obtained new silver from Wales, but the others largely depended upon the metal from coins withdrawn from circulation by taxation, rents and other dues collected by royal agents.
Edward the Elder
Edward was a warrior king and with the aid of his sister Aethelflaed of Mercia rode north and conquered all the Danish lands south of the Humber. The treasure taken during this campaign allowed Edward to greatly increase his coinage, After 915 Edward had well over 100 moneyers, 27 active in the old Danelaw presumably replacing the Danish coins with those of Edward.
Obv: +EADVVEARD REX
Rev: moneyer's name in two lines with crosses between and above and below +BEORN / NER Mo, 1.67g, (S.1087, N.649 HC1).
Edward died in July 924 but by the time of his death he was the acknowledged overlord by all the surviving powers in northern Britain:- Scots, Vikings and Angles alike.
There was resistance of course to this vast increase in Saxon power particularly in the North by the Scots and Northumbrians as well as the Vikings. The result was a rebellion following the death of each West Saxon monarch and a reassertion of northern independence.
To defend his realm Edward had established fortified towns or Burghs throughout his realm many of which exist to this day.
Edward had 3 wives and 18 children! He strengthened his Kingdom by judiciously marrying his sons and daughters into many of the royal families of Europe.