Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Reversed directions: New ideas on sceattas and the economy of North-western Europe in the first half of the 8th century

Lecture by professor Frans Theuws (Leiden University).

2019.09.24 | Mette Lang

Date Tue 22 Oct
Time 13:00 14:00
Location Centre for Urban Network Evolutions (UrbNet), Aarhus University, Moesgård Allé 20, 8270 Højbjerg, Denmark (Building 4230-232).


Sceattas are one of the most enigmatic and intriguing coins in the numismatic history of North-western Europe. The large majority has no legends and the coins themselves do not disclose who was responsible for their production and where they were produced. They were lost in great quantities in a fairly short period of c 75 years in the later 7th and first half of the 8th century before they fell victim to the coin reforms of the middle of the 8th century in the Carolingian Empire and the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms. The enigmatic coins resist a clear typological ordering because there is a great variability within to some extent homogeneous groups indicated as Series. Many dies must have been used to produce the large body of sceattas. Sceatta production seems to start in England but up till today it is believed that the largest three series were produced in the Netherlands (Series D and E) and in Ribe (Denmark) (Series X). Sceattas are crucial to understand the economy of North-western Europe in the important period of transition of the Merovingian to the Carolingian world each characterised by economies of their own. I will examine the basic presuppositions behind the idea that central control determined the production of sceattas are examined. Moreover I will deal with the economy of North-western Europe and the role of sceattas therein in this transition period. The dataset on which this study is based was brought together and analysed by Wybrand op den Velde and Michael Metcalf.

It is argued that there are no strong indications that central control determined the production of sceattas. The immense variability rather suggests a decentralised production in which for instance English minsters played an important role. The sceattas may have been created to organise their new ‘minster economy’. It is also argued that there are no strong indications that sceattas of Series D and E were produced in the Netherlands. The theoretical backgrounds on which this assumption is based are analysed and critically evaluated. It is argued that the sceattas of Series D and E were produced in England and that they got to the continent in the context of long-distance exchange especially the import of wine to England for a fast Christianising society. A more theoretical approach will be dealt with shortly because it has yet to be developed further. The concept of value will be set against the observation that on the  continent sceattas remained almost exclusively within the circuit of the traders and developed ‘overlapping values’ related to the values of that network next to systems of valuation related to the church which may have brought the production of sceattas about.

I hope that a lively discussion on sceattas will develop and the audience look at these ideas in a critical way.

The lecture is followed by an informal wine reception. All are welcome.

Lecture/talk, History and archaeology