Coins and Mints. Scandinavian coinage began in the Viking Age. The Vikings' worldwide expansion and enterprise brought foreign corns to their homelands. French deniers, Anglo-Frisian sceattas, and Anglo-Saxon pennies occur in some small finds of the early Viking Age from western Scandinavia. To Haithabu we can assign the earliest Scandinavian coinage, anonymous strikings imitating, from around 825, Carolingian denier types. This coinage developed, accompanied by declining weight standards, and spread to other, as yet unidentified Danish mints, perhaps at Jelling.
Around the year 1000, or shortly before, pennies were issued for the first time in the names of Scandinavian kings: Sven Haraldsson (Forkbeard; r. 985-1014) in Denmark, Óláfr Tryggvason (r. 995-1000) in Norway, and Olaf Skötkonung (r. ca. 995-1022) in Sweden. Sven and Óláfr had been commanders of the Viking army that attacked England and forced the English king, Æthelred 11(978-1016), to pay tribute (Danegeld) to the aggressors. The two first Danegelds were paid in 991 and 994. The English penny type of that period, the CRVX-type, so named after the explanatory legend of the cross in the reverse field, became the prototype for the earliest pennies of the three Scandinavian kings. Some of their moneyers have Anglo-Saxon names. The late Anglo-Saxon circulation of pennies over a fixed period seems not to have been established in Scandinavia.
The many rich silver hoards from Viking Age Scandinavia reveal a significant increase in the import of Anglo-Saxon pennies to Scandinavia from the 990s onward. Within Scandinavia, the Anglo-Saxon coins mingled with German and other continental pennies.
With the Anglo-Saxon and German coins are also found, in declining percentage of the total number, Arab silver dirhems (also called "Kufic coins" from the epigraphy), originating almost without exception in the eastern parts of the Muslim world.
The period of essential import of Kufic coins was about 870-960. From the silver hoards, we learn that coins now played an important role as means of payment in Scandinavia. The Kufic coins, as later the Anglo-Saxon and German pennies, were convenient pieces of coveted silver, not difficult to adjust to accustomed weight units. Silver was the precious metal of value to the Scandinavians of the period, and these coins were usually of a high and stable fineness. Nonetheless, the foreign coins found in Scandinavian Viking Age hoards show that they have been tested for purity in many cases.
In this period, the native coinage continued in Denmark and Norway. In Sweden, however, coinage at the mint of Sigtuna came to a stop around 1030, and it was not taken up again until around 1180. On the island of Gotland, native coinage seems to have begun around 1140. In Norway, as we can see from the composition of the coin hoards and from the coins themselves, a national currency was definitely established during the reign of King Haraldr harðriði ("hard-ruler") Sigurðarson (r. 1047-1066). The Norwegian pennies were issued to a standard of about 0.89 grams, 1/240 of a Norwegian mc¸rk. The silver content, at first remaining at the international level of about 90 percent silver, dropped successively down to a mean of about 33 percent silver. These coins of more than 50 percent copper are identified as the Haraldsslátta in Morkinskinna: "being mostly of copper, at its best, it was half silver." Coins of this low silver content were continuously issued in considerable quantities throughout the reign of Óláfr kyrri ("peaceful") Haraldsson (r. 1066-1093). Only a small number of these national pennies still have legible legends. We can see that Nidarries (= Niðaröss, now Trondheim) was the mint of the earliest issues. The Hamar mint signature is found on three pennies of King Haraldr's later issue of lower silver content, and is written in the native Norse language: Óláfr á Hamri ("Óláfr at Hamar"). Nidarnes/Niðaröss is nevertheless supposed to have been the main Norwegian mint of the Haraldsslátta period. The same mint is also mentioned on specimens of the reformed pennies of Magmús berfœttr ("bare-leg") Óláfsson (r. 1093-1103), but is now called "Kaupangr." By this reform, the Norwegian penny had its weight reduced by half, 0.44 grams, but at the same time the approximately 90-percent silver content of the old standard was reintroduced.
The old coin reckoning (1 mo¸rk = 8 aurar = 24 ørtogar = 240 pennies) was now changed, as far as the reckoned penny is concerned: 1 mo¸rk = 8 aurar = 24 ørtogar = 480 pennies, the penny still being the only unit to be coined.
Within the Danish coinage, two parallel standards developed. In Jutland, a penny weight of 0.76 grams corresponded with a reckoning of 288 pennies to a Danish mark (ca. 218 grams). A different reckoning in the eastern provinces of the country (Funen, Zealand, and Scania), 192 pennies to the mo¸rk, gave a heavier penny of 1.14 grams. The time of Sven Estridsen (r. 1047-1074) is famous for an impressive group of imitations of Byzantine coin types. The Byzantine prototypes rarely, if ever, occur in Scandinavian hoards, where Byzantine coins generally are not common. For a short period in the later part of Sven's reign, Danish pennies have legends in conic characters, which are also found on contemporary Norwegian pennies. During the reign of Harald Hen (r. 1074-1080), Denmark saw a development toward a national, exclusive coinage similar to, if not so distinct as, the Norwegian coinage under Haraldr harðráði. Down to King Niels (r. 1104-1134), coins had been issued at the following mints: Lund, Roskilde, Ringsted, Slagelse, Odense, Ribe, Viborg, Ørbæk, Gori? (presumably in Scania), Ålborg, Århus, Toftum, Borgeby, and Thumatorp.
The 12th century saw a development of bracteates within Scandinavian coinage. Bracteates are coins struck on one side only and on a flan so thin that the design is clearly visible in negative on the other side. Such one-faced coins were first struck in Norway for Olafr Magniisson (r. 1103-1115). Some beautiful bracteates, obviously inspired by German models and their highly artistic execution, were issued in Denmark (Ålborg, Århus, Hjørring, and Horsens) about the middle of the 12th century. In the great period of the Valdemars, from Valdemar the Great (r. 1157-1182) to Valdemar the Victorious (r. 1202-1241), two-sided coins of normal penny weight and size occur again. As time went on, the coins were debased, and especially the following period, 1241-1340/77, saw a dramatic decline in the "Civil War coins," as they are usually called. The mints were in Lund, Roskilde, Schleswig, Ribe, and somewhere in North Jutland. Notable, too, is the counterfeit minting by outlaws on the island of Hjelm.
When the Swedish coinage was resumed around 1180, by King Knut Eriksson (r. 1167-1195), bracteates were the only coins to be issued both in Svealand (Uppsala) and Götaland (Lödöse, near present Gothenburg). Bracteates mention even Nykoping and Sigtuna as mints around 1230. In the testament of Magnus Birgersson (r. 1275-1290) from 1285, eight mints are mentioned in Svealand: Nyköping, örebro, Uppsala, and Västerås; in Götaland: Jönköping, Skänninge, Skara, and Söderköping. Throughout Sweden, the reckoning of 1 mo¸rk = 8 aurar = 24 ørtogar prevailed, but the number of pennies to the mo¸rk varied: in Svealand 192, in Götaland 384, on Gotland and Öland with some neighboring part of continental Sweden 288. The Svealand reckoning was introduced in Götaland around 1290, but Gotland stayed with its own reckoning until after 1361, when the Danes took over the island. In this period, Swedish coinage consists mainly of anonymous strikings, bracteates, and, during the reign of Birger Magnusson (r. 1290-1318), two-sided coins. These anonymous bracteates and coins bear no kings' names, only a single letter that may sometimes be interpreted as the initial of some coinage authority (e.g., B = King Birger Magnusson; uncial E = Duke Erik, his brother; M = Magnus, Birger's son; R = Rex, W = Duke Valdemar, Birger's brother). Other letters are assumed to refer to mints (I = Jönköping; K = Kalmar; L = Lödöse; O = Örebro; S = Skara, Söderköping and/or Stockholm). Anonymous two-sided coins attributed to the reign of Magnus Eriksson (r. 1319-1364) have some parallel types of undisputably Norwegian provenance. Magnus was king of Norway as well (r. 1319-1355), and from the coins it has been demonstrated that there must have been a monetary union between the two countries down to the 1360s. The national provenance of some types of this period is still questionable.
In Norway, Sverrir Sigurðarson's (r. 1184-1202) two-sided pennies of the halfpenny standard supplemented the monotonous series of penny-fraction values (1/2 and 1/4 pennies); the same dies also produced bracteate strikings. Known mints were Niðaröss/ Trondheim and Bergen; Oslo, Tönsberg, and Veöy have been suggested on the basis of questionable legends. The bracteates attributable to the reign include farthings of a mean weight of about 0.06 grams, among the smallest coins ever struck. Among the great variety of types is a large group of single letters (A, B, E, G, H, K, M, N, S, T, V), interpreted as initials of mints, earlier partly also as initials of princes with coining authority.
From the time of Hákon Hákonarson (r. 1217-1263), only anonymous bracteates are known, except for very few with the king's name and title (Rex Hacu, Rex Haco). The legend Rex et Comes ("King and Earl") may allude to the period of the king's minority (1217-1222/3), when Earl Skúli Báðarson, the king's father-in-law and later opponent, acted as regent. The silver content of the bracteates now dropped to one third, which may have some connection with the value reckoning in forngild mo¸rk, one third of a mark of fine silver.
Magnús lagabœtir ("law-mender") Hakonarson (r. 1263-1280) again introduced two-sided pennies, whose cross form and legend (Benedictus Deus and Sit nomen Domini benedictum) may reflect the gros tournois, introduced in France in 1266. The earliest penny type of Eiríkr Magnússon (r. 1280-1299), minted at Bergen and Tönsberg, is a very close imitation of the English sterling of the Long Cross type of 1279. The next type of Eiríkr, from around 1285, of unknown mint (Bergen?), is famous for showing for the first time the coat of arms of Norway, the lion rampant with an axe in its forepaws. This type was also issued in three denominations: penny, halfpenny, and farthing, as was also the corresponding type (profile bust) of Duke Hákon Magniúisson, the king's brother and, as it seems from the evidence of the coins, the only Norwegian prince below the rank of king to enjoy the right of coining. Oslo was the ducal mint, and it was also one of the mints (with Bergen) of Hákon when he became king of Norway (Hákon V; r 1299-1319). In 1319, his daughter's son, Magnus Eriksson, became king of both Sweden and Norway, which introduced a very long period (to 1905) when Norway stayed in union with one of the two other Scandinavian kingdoms, or both of them, political circumstances that necessarily had a decisive impact on the coinage.
In the late Middle Ages, from the 14th century, Scandinavian coinage was dominated by multiples of the penny value. The Gotland ørtog, or gote, was issued at Visby presumably from the second quarter of the 14th century. King Albrecht, of the Mecklenburg house (1364-1389), introduced shortly before 1370 the ørtogar on the Swedish mainland, minted at Stockholm and Kalmar. This ørtog coinage was to continue until 1534, the most important mints under the Swedish Crown in this period being Stockholm, Västerås, and Åbo (in Finland). In periods of native rebellion against the Scandinavian Union and the Danish Union king, the coin types aim at representing the patron of the realm, St. Erik the King; the Åbo coins, however, show St. Henrik the Bishop, the patron of Finland. Leaders of the anti-Danish movement, like Karl Knutsson (king of Sweden 1448-1457, 1464-1465, 1467-1470), Svante Nilsson Sture (r. 1504-1512), and Sten Sture the Younger (r. 1512-1520), added their family badges to the coin types. The latter, while not a king, put his own name in the obverse legend: Steen Sture Ritter.
The development in Denmark and Norway had a closer connection to the North German coinage of the Hanseatic League. The cities of Flensburg (Schleswig) and Ribe issued, before 1379, coins of the recently (ca. 1365) introduced North German witten denomination. The Danish King Erik, of the Pomeranian house, followed up with witten struck at Næstved around 1397-1405. He continued his coinage by striking, at Næstved and Lund, the sterling (= 3 pennies) of the same type as the previous witten; and later, he went on striking sterlings of pure copper. Because of this monetary policy, Erik came into a long-lasting conflict with the Hanseatic cities. His successor, Christoffer, of the Bavarian house, resumed the coinage of witten, or hvid as it was called in Danish. The Hanseatic schilling (= 12 pennies) was a model for the Danish skilling now introduced. In the interregnum following King Christoffer's death in 1448, the Privy Council issued coins with the obverse legend running Moneta Regni Dade. Malmö (Scania) became the leading Danish mint, and continued to be so during the reign of Christian I (r. 1448-1481), renowned for a prolific coinage of hvid coins.
Hans I (r. 1481-1513) continued the hvid coinage at Malmö, but mints were established in Copenhagen and Alborg as well. The skilling denomination was again issued, but this king is especially famous for having introduced a coinage in gold, comprising the values of noble and Rhenish gulden. The latter was also issued in Norway (a unique specimen in the Dresden collection), when Hans renewed the activity of the mints (Bergen, Niðaröss/Trondheim, and possibly Oslo), which had been idle for more than a century. With his noble dies, Christian II (r. 1513-1523) struck the first Scandinavian silver gulden (Malmö 1516, 1518). Silver coins of about the same size struck in Stockholm in 1512 for Sten Sture the Younger vary considerably in weight and have been regarded as multiples of the mo¸rk value.
The introduction of larger silver coins, the forerunner of the Taler (daler), marks the end of medieval Scandinavian coinage. The borderline is usually drawn in Sweden by the year 1521, when Gustav I came into power, and in Denmark-Norway by 1540-1541, when Christian III began his monetary reform.
The three Scandinavian archbishops, and occasionally some bishops, apparently obtained coining rights or shares of the coinage. Some bracteates of ecclesiastical types (e.g., a hand holding a crozier, a bishop's head facings crozier) from around 1190-1215 were probably issued by the archbishop of Uppsala (Sweden). The archbishop of Niðaröss (Norway) was given the right of coining about 1220, according to a royal charter, although Norwegian coins of undoubtable ecclesiastical provenance are known only some fifty to sixty years later, when bracteates of a bishop's head facing were issued, most probably by Archbishop Jón rauði ("the red"; 1268-1282). King Eiríkr Magnússon withdrew the coining right of the Norwegian archbishop in 1281, and this right was not restored until 1458, at a time when the Norwegian mints were idle. Therefore, only the last three archbishops of Niðaröss, Gaute Ivarsson (1474-1510), Erik Valkendorf (1510-1522), and Olav Engelbrektsson (1523-1537), were able to make use of this right, issuing coins in the name of St. Óláfr, the patron of the country and the archbishopric. The last two also had their own names, titles, and family arms included in the coin design. The Danish archbishop of Lund (Scania) had a share in the coinage from the middle of the 12th century until about 1400, as had also the bishops of Roskilde and Ribe. The coin types clearly reflect the joint royal and episcopal coinage when the king, through his picture and/or symbol(s), occasionally with name and/or title, occupies one side of the coin and the (arch-)bishop the other. A coin with a crown on one side and a miter reads Anno Domini MCCXXXIIII, thus having a dating unique within European numismatics. The coin may have been struck for Bishop Niels Stigsen of Roskilde. While the bishop of Ribe had to give up his share in the coinage (1234-1280), the Roskilde bishop kept his, and perhaps he celebrated this event by issuing the Anno Domini coin.
Throughout the Middle Ages, foreign coins played an important part in Scandinavian numismatic history as prototypes to coin types and design, but also, especially in the Viking Age and the late Middle Ages, as means of payment. English sterlings (late 13th-14th centuries) and nobles (14th century), and German and Dutch gulden (14th-early 16th centuries) ought to be mentioned. North German coins of lower denominations also circulated within Scandinavia, one group, the "hole Pennies" of the Mecklenburgian (crowned) Bull Head type, so frequently that the the question has been raised if they were (partly) Scandinavian imitations.