3.4.1 The distribution of coin finds

Interactive map

Given the extensive pre-existing literature on monetary history, this section is deliberately limited in its scope, looking for broad trends in the data, through using the interactive mapping facility, rather than an in-depth attempt to trace the evolution of Anglo-Saxon coinage from its distributions.

The study of the distributions and mint places of early silver sceattas is a well-developed field with a very large published literature, and the use of metal-detected material has a long history here (e.g. Hill and Metcalf 1984). The late 7th and early 8th centuries saw large-scale circulation of sceattas in numbers not equalled again until the 11th century. Archaeologically, this coincides with the foundation of the emporia and arguably their most active economic phase, illustrating widespread contacts around the North Sea littoral. The earliest sceattas, known as the Primary Phase, were mostly minted in southern and south-eastern England, and their distributions are concentrated around these areas and in East Anglia, although their circulation stretches inland along major routes into the southern Midlands and north into North Yorkshire (Metcalf 2001; 2005). Around 710 a major change occurred when the early coinage ceased to circulate and a new phase of sceattas began (known as the Secondary Phase). This saw the number of different types produced increase greatly, and a decline in their silver content with minting expanding across the country (e.g. Grierson and Blackburn 1986, 168-73; Metcalf 2000; Naylor 2007). These coins exhibit an overall broader distribution, stretching in greater numbers into the Midlands and northern England, although there remains a dearth of finds in the northern Midlands, north-west, Wales and south-west England. Many individual types, such as the Hamwic-issued Series H, show relatively restricted distributions, reflecting their circulation as local currency, and illustrate the rise of issuing authorities based around both economic and political zones. Alongside these, sceattas were minted in Frisia throughout this period and are also found in England in high numbers, with a similar distribution to the Secondary Phase of English coins. As single types these are the most frequently found and indicate the importance of England's contacts with the Rhineland. Most issues of sceattas ceased by around 750, although Northumbrian issues continued until c. 790 and Danish coins possibly into the 9th century (Grierson and Blackburn 1986, 173; Feveile 2008).

By the third quarter of the 8th century, sceattas were replaced with broad flan pennies following the reforms made by the Frankish king Peppin the Short (see exceptions above). These, in general, named the issuing king, and sometimes the mint place can be discerned. The dominant kingdom of the period, Mercia, continued much of its minting in London and Canterbury, with other kingdoms probably minting more locally (Grierson and Blackburn 1986, 270-303). Far less work has been undertaken on their distributions than for the preceding sceattas, probably owing to their comparative rarity. Distributions and quantitative analysis have been covered in detail for eastern Yorkshire and Kent showing a distinct correlation with the coast, navigable rivers and both ancient and Roman routes (Naylor 2004, 37-56, 88-105; Naylor 2007). More broadly, Metcalf (1998a, fig. 1) showed 9th-century coinage to have a similar, if sparser, distribution to the sceattas, indicating areas of monetisation remained stable even if the numbers of coins lost appears to decrease dramatically. From the interactive mapping, it can be seen that issues from each kingdom are found all across the country, reflecting the continued inter-connections between regions. There are broad concentrations in each kingdom of its own coinage, although the overlordship of Mercia is plainly visible, as is the extent of Middle Anglo-Saxon monetisation, in the fact that the Mercian heartland is an area of few coin finds.

Individually, the issues of Kent have a sparse distribution across south-east and central England, hardly surprising given their political domination by Mercia and the highly intermittent issues of Kentish kings, ceasing entirely after Baldred in 825. Mercian issues from Offa to Ceolwulf II (757-874) are dense across the whole of south-east and central England, in an area roughly bounded by the River Humber, the Pennines and the Welsh mountains. A few outliers appear north and west of this region (three in Wales, one in Cumbria, and three in East Yorkshire). Regal Northumbrian sceatta issues (Eadberht to Ælfwald II, 737-810) are concentrated around Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire, extending along the 'Humber corridor'. A number of finds are also scattered across southern and eastern England, with a suggestion of a coastal pattern although individual finds are often some way inland. Northumbrian stycas (Eanred to Osbert, 810-867) have a dense inland concentration around Yorkshire, extending south of the Humber into north Lincolnshire. In East Anglia there is a smaller inland concentration, with a group of finds appearing to join the two. There are other dispersed inland finds in north-west England and the Midlands. There are coastal findspots along the east and west coasts of Northumbria, with the distribution extending to the west with two finds on the coast of North Wales, and to the east down the coast of East Anglia to the tip of Kent, then along the south coast to Southampton. Coins of Wessex (Beortric to Æthelred, 786-871) are divided in two. The densest distribution is in a wide band roughly covering the area between London and Southampton, but notably not extending east into Kent nor into the Thames Valley, possibly indicating tight Mercian control here, although a few Wessex coins are known from the Midlands. A second group is found from Suffolk, running around the Fens and continuing into Lincolnshire and eastern Yorkshire. There is a dearth of material in west Norfolk, including only one find on its coast. Issues of the Kingdom of East Anglia (Beonna to Æthelred, 749-880) have a high concentration in East Anglia, especially on the routes between the fenland and Ipswich, with multiple finds spreading out inland as far as Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Dorset, and a few finds suggesting a distribution along the south coast.

Those coins issued by archbishops of Canterbury and York show similar patterns, although few are found in each other's territory. All coins of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Jænberht to Plegmund, 766-924) are in the south-east of Britain, following the same pattern seen in the coins of the Kingdom of Mercia, though with no outliers to the north or west, and only a single findspot north of the Humber, in the ecclesiastical see of York. There are possible slight concentrations around East Anglia, again in the region between the fenland and Ipswich, and London. Sceattas of the Archbishop of York (Ecgberht to Wulfhere, 732-900) are centred on east Yorkshire, with finds radiating out towards Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and these may have formed part of the financial policies of the archbishops in funding their monasteries (Metcalf 2002). Stycas of the Archbishop of York have the same east Yorkshire focus seen in the earlier coins, but with a clear distribution now also up the east and west coastlines of Northumbria. Another group of finds appears in East Anglia.

Coins of Late Anglo-Saxon kings (Alfred to Harold II, 871-1066) have a dense and wide-ranging distribution, covering all areas where coins are known from the EMC, including coastal finds in western Britain, and illustrate the accumulation of power by the kingdom of Wessex. The notable exception is the area covered by the kingdom of Northumbria, where finds of the Late Saxon kings are much rarer than finds of coins from the Middle Saxon kingdom, a situation also seen in some 'typical' Late Saxon artefact groups such as horse fittings. The latter part of the period, from Eadgar reforms in c. 973, have been studied in detail previously (Metcalf 1998b). Finds of Arabic dirhams are almost entirely fragmentary and there is an apparent concentration in East Anglia and just west of the Pennines in north Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire, reflecting their use as early Anglo-Scandinavian hacksilver. A few outliers are dotted around the Midlands and Hampshire/Dorset, but none have been found in the south-east. Danelaw coins (c. 880-954) have a distribution mainly limited to the Danelaw region in northern and eastern England, but with two isolated west coast finds, showing that these coins were not in use as currency further south.


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Last updated: Tues Apr 21 2009