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The History of Anglo-Saxon Coins

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Before the Anglo-Saxons Came

The Ancient Britons had little in the way of hard currency, they preferred to use a barter system to trade among themselves. Coinage did not become widespread until the native Britons began to imitate the design and manufacturing process of Roman coins during the early stages of the Roman invasion. Most of these coins were produced across what is now Essex, Wessex and the Thames Valley area.The minting of native coins was soon stopped when much of Britannia became part of the Roman Empire. After this practice was stopped, only imported coinage was allowed in the newly conquered territories.

In 155 AD, Roman coins were officially allowed to be minted in Roman Britannia. This practice continued until the start of the third century. By this time, the Roman Empire was beginning to fall apart and the Romans were losing control of their territories.

Roman Coinage was Copied

The Romans left behind coinage that was used for centuries after they had left.

The Romans left behind coinage that was used for centuries after they had left.

Early Anglo-Saxon Coins

When the Anglo-Saxon peoples took over much of Great Britain the use of coinage was limited to a primitive barter system. The elites of Anglo-Saxon society would have used gold coinage from Continental Europe . The ‘solidus’ coin was a relatively heavy coin that was used in a similar way to how we use high content bullion coins today.

The 'solidus' was not seen as everyday currency and their most common usage was that as a gift to either ensure loyalty or show favour. Many of the early Anglo-Saxons used the coin as a trinket or as jewellery. In the meantime, the remaining Ancient Britons traded with the coins left over from the Roman Empire or reverted to bartering among themselves.

Minting Anglo-Saxon Coins

The Anglo-Saxons began minting their own gold coins at the start of the seventh century. These new coins were called ‘thrymsas’. These coins are believed to have gradually evolved into the old fashioned coins used before decimalization in the United Kingdom. The Anglo-Saxon coins were influenced by the Roman coins that once existed in their new lands. The Anglo-Saxon minting of coins was not precise and many errors occurred with their new currency.

By the start of the eighth century, the gold coinage disappeared from circulation and coins made of pure silver became the norm. These new coins were known as ‘sceattas’. Anglo-Saxon still used bartering among the lower ranks of society as these coins still represented over a days pay for the normal working man.

Raw Materials Were Imported

Raw materials for Anglo-Saxon coins came from across the North Sea

Raw materials for Anglo-Saxon coins came from across the North Sea

The Anglo-Saxon Mint

Eventually lower value coins began to be minted as the 'sceattas' began to be minted with a poorer grade of silver. The later coins were made from either bronze or brass, before disappearing altogether. The Royal Mint was established in 833 AD and the whole process of creating currency had become more industrialized. The royal mints created ‘moneyers’, who could stamp more than 2000 coins per day in their workshop.

The king wished for his realm's coinage to be focused at just five regional centres, which made the coinage of the land more uniform. During this period, foreign raiders were attacking much of the eastern coast of England and Scotland. Even the descendants of the Ancient Britons in Cornwall, Ireland and Wales suffered devastating attacks on their wealth by the Vikings. Although coins had still been minted, much of it had been sent overseas to guarantee that England would not be attacked.

The Anglo Saxon Royal Mint

Official coins became mass produced with the latest techniques from Europe.

Official coins became mass produced with the latest techniques from Europe.

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Minting Spread Across the Realm

The most important mints were situated in the south-east of England. This was for practical reasons as much of the raw materials for coins came from Europe. By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, the number of mints had steadily grown to nearly one hundred. Many of these new mints were in the north of England. This was due to new supplies coming in from the northern nations of Europe and it was more efficient to mint where the materials were landed, rather than transported down to the south east. It was in this time period that the tradition of showing the king’s head on one side of the coin began.

The Anglo-Saxons Started to Organize Their Minting Process

It is believed that millions of silver pennies had been struck during the Anglo-Saxon period. After King Edgar’s reforms, foreign coinage was ordered to be melted down and re-struck as his currency. English coins had to be traded in for re-striking once they had been in circulation for a number of years. This meant that the circulation of money was becoming tightly regulated.

The end of Anglo Saxon rule came in 1066 after the battle of Hastings. By then, the Anglo-Saxon currency was efficient and well-established. Even when the Normans took control of the country, they saw no need to change the way their new possession handled its own currency. The newly arrived Normans overhauled many over instruments of society but they were happy for the Royal Mint to function as it always had as they found the established system met their needs.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Andrew Stewart


Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 02, 2019:

This article and the comments are critical to understand modern day subcultures. I do not trust you megacorp and I not trust you government because you have screwed me. But I trust some gold in my pocket. Not you coin but my gold.

Huge to modern man kind. I would no more trust a Sudanes or Myramar coin but I trust a pocket full of gold shillings - so to speak.

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on June 02, 2019:

Thank you James, glad I held your interest.

James A Watkins from Chicago on June 02, 2019:

I enjoyed reading your very interesting article. I love history about Britain and I once was a coin collector so you captured two areas of my interest. Thanks.

Andrew Stewart (author) from England on May 31, 2019:

Call me old fashioned, but I like the feel of coins in my pocket. They keep working when the power is switched off!! - Thanks for stopping by to comment Eric!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on May 31, 2019:

Very interesting.

I understand that several countries do no use coins anymore. And "bit" coins are the rage.

Cool history lesson.

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