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Candidate no. 101 Themes and Sources: Option (i) - Money and Society from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period Question 1: How do coin finds contribute to our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon monetary system?
The last four decades have seen enormous improvement in the body of coin find evidence available for study. Advances in technology have helped amateurs as well as professional archaeologists recover coins in record numbers, while the frequency and accuracy of single-find reporting in particular has improved significantly as numismatists have instituted a more systematic policy of recording and publishing such finds.1 As a result, we are much better placed than once we were to deploy this evidence in an attempt to answer questions about money and its uses in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Attempts to date the coinage and establish a chronological sequence of types have rested on comparison of multi-type hoards and relationships between dies used within particular issues.2 Hoards may also shed light on the structure of the currency: what types were in circulation at what times. Estimates have been made of mint output, extrapolated from estimates of the number of dies used for a particular coinage and of the average number of coins that could be struck per die.3 Comparisons of the number of single-finds from different periods have also yielded estimates of the relative size of the money supply at different times, providing a valuable check on those provided by hoards.4 From these 1
M. A. S. Blackburn, 'Znaleziska pojedyncze jako miara aktywnosci monetarnej we wczesnym sredniowiecze (Single-finds as a measure of monetary activity in the early Middle Ages', Prace I Materialy, Muzeum Archeologicznego I Etnograficznego w Lodzi. Seria numizmatyczna I konserwatorska 9 (1989), 67-85, p. 67. 2 P. Grierson, Numismatics (Oxford, 1975), pp. 142-3. 3 Ibid., p. 156. 4 See for example M. A. S. Blackburn, 'Productive sites and the pattern of coin loss in England, 600-1180', in Markets in Early Medieval Europe. Trading and 'Productive' Sites, 650-850, eds. T. Pestell and K.
2 figures have naturally proceeded attempts to quantify the size of the currency - that is, the amount of coin available for circulation in England - at different periods, and consequently to draw conclusions about the degree of monetary activity within the economy.5 Thus we come to the most interesting questions we can put to our evidence. Find evidence has done much to answer how far the English economy was monetised and has shed light on commercial patterns, and here the expansion of the corpus of reliable single-finds has been particularly useful. 6 Any conclusions about the Anglo-Saxon monetary system drawn from coin finds must be placed, too, within a political and economic context, but the process works both ways. If we ask what factors might have affected the pattern of hoarding or apparent variations in the quantity and quality of money, it becomes clear that coin finds can contribute not only to our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon monetary system, but also the 'big picture' of English (and indeed European) political and economic history.7
All this is well in theory. However, while in a better state today than ever before, coin find evidence can still rarely be used without first overcoming considerable difficulties, and never unambiguously. The crux of the problem is that the finds we have available to us may not be a representative sample of the coinage from which they come; still less the
Ulmschneider (London, 2003), 20-36. 5 M. R. Allen, 'The volume of English currency, c.973-1158', in Coinage and History in the North Sea World c.500-1250, eds. B. Cook and G. Williams (Leiden and Bosten, 2006) is a recent attempt to model the currency, incorporating earlier studies. 6 D. M. Metcalf, 'Continuity and change in English monetary history c.973-1086, part 1', British Numismatic Chronicle 50 (1980), 20-49; Blackburn, 'Productive sites', throughout. 7 M. A. S. Blackburn, 'Coin finds as primary historical evidence for medieval Europe', in Kaheinimiru Dynamism: Ou Chu Nichi Hikakuno Shitenkara (Dynamism in Coinage: Europe, China and Japan, Comparative Viewpoints), Dai 12 kai Shutsudosenkakenkyukai Houkokuyoushi in Fukuoka 2005 (Proceedings of the 12th Conference of the Coin Finds Research Group held in Fukuoka 2005), ed. S. Sakuraki (Fukuoka, 2005), 7-34, p. 13.
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