Monetary Systems

History Of Monetary Systems

Book: Chapter IV: Gothic Moneys

Author: Del Mar, Alexander

Chapter IV: Gothic Moneys

Chapter Contents

Proofs that the earlier sagas were altered in the mediaeval ages - Among

these is their frequent mention of baug-money: an institution which did not

survive the contact of Norsemen and Romans - Progressive order of Norse moneys

- Fish, vadmal, and baug moneys - The baug traced from the Tartary to Gotland,

Saxony and Britain - Gold baugs acquired a sacerdotal character - This was

probably immediately after Norse and Roman Contact Subsequent relinquishment

of baug-money and the adoption of coins - Proof that Caesar encountered Norse

tribes in Britain, derived from his mention of baugs - This view corroborated

by archaeology and philology - Subsequent Norse coinage system of stycas,

scats, and oras - Important historical conclusions derived from this study.

Gothic Moneys

It needs but a cursory examination of the earlier sagas to be satisfied

that they have been grossly mutilated. They jumble together events hundreds

of years apart; they mingle details which belong to communities as yet

ignorant of Roman customs with the affairs of communities well acquainted with

them; they resurrect the Turkish or Scythian forefathers of the Norsemen, and

set them down in the midst of mediaeval Christian saints; they omit all

mention of Rome or Roman affairs, or the Roman religion, or the causes of

difference between the Norsemen and the Empire; they eschew dates, ignore the

calendar, and commit the pagan festival to oblivion. The silly explanation

which has been offered to us of this disorder is that the sagas were popular

songs, ^1 which were repeated by word of mouth for centuries before they were

committed to writing, and that this custom produced the confusion, omissions,

anachronisms, and other defects which now characterize them. There might have

been a time when such an explanation was sufficient, but the class of people

who offer them forget that the world grows and that knowledge is cumulative.

We now know that language without a written literature to fix its terms and

meanings is too ephemeral to last for centuries, indeed, that a few

generations mark the utmost time during which it will remain unaltered. It

was reliance upon this principle that led to the distrust of Macpherson's

forged "Ossian," and that compels us to regard as mutilations the Eddas as

produced by Saemund Sigfusson and Snorri Sturlason. ^1

[Footnote 1: Tacitus ("Germania," iii.) mentions the folk-songs of the

Northern tribes.]

[Footnote 1: The historian of Iceland (A. D. 1056-1133) and his

foster-grandson (A. D. 1178-1241).]

In the present connection the liability of unwritten language to rapid

mutation proves one of two things - either that the earlier sagas are

mediaeval fabrications in Latin, translated into the mediaeval Norse and

re-translated into the vernacular, which is precisely the case with

Macpherson's spurious "Ossian;" or else they are mutilations of early Gothic

or runic originals. Their repleteness of historical materials and local

coloring belonging to the earlier centuries of our era, leads at once to the

conclusion last named. ^2 It is this local coloring which marks the

distinction between a mutilation and a forgery out of the whole cloth.

Macpherson had no historical dates before him, therefore he was forced to

forge his entire work; Sigfusson found plenty of history in the old written

sagas, so he merely mutilated them, and, with the sobriquet of "The Learned,"

achieved that immortality which is ever the reward of virtue and fidelity. If

any further proof than that afforded by the nature of language itself were

needed to corroborate these views, it will be found in the frequent mention of

anachronical moneys in the sagas. An example of this sort will be quoted in

the present treatise from the Egil Saga; others will appear as the argument


[Footnote 2: Charlemagne made a collection of these sagas, but these are now

"lost" (Note to Murphy's Tac. "Germ.," iii., probably from Eginhard).]

The evolution of Norse monetary systems, whether in Iestia, Saxony,

Scandinavia, Frakkland, Britain, Russia or Iceland, usually proceeded in the

following manner: - First, fish and vadmal (cloth) money; second, baug, or

ring-money; third, imitations of pagan Roman coined money; fourth, Norse pagan

coinage system (partly derived from the Roman system) of stycas, scats, and

oras; fifth, intrusion of Moslem coinage system of dinars, maravedis and

dirhems; sixth, replacement of the last by Christian Roman coinage system of

L. s. d. This progression did not occur simultaneously in the various

countries named, because the Goths used coined money in Britain before they

employed fish-money in Iceland; it was the usual order of progression in each

country or petty kingdom by itself. From the period of their original

settlement in Britain down to that of their contact with the Brigantes, the

Norsemen used no coined money; indeed, they had little or no commerce, and

lived chiefly by hunting, fishing and plundering. After each raid upon the

enemy the plunder was "carried to the pole" and there divided. It is evident,

from numerous analogous examples in the sagas, that in case of dispute the

rival claimants fought it out at once, and the survivor took the lot. This is

a custom, not of trading communities, but of predatory bands.

The first money of the Norsemen in Britain was probably fish, as was the

case in Norway ^1 and in Iceland down to the close of the last century. Sild,

hring, or herring, is still used to mean money, ^2 and the scad or scat

(corrupted to scot), a fish of the same genus, has the same meaning in North

Britain. ^1 There are suggestions of fish-money in the expressions

"Rome-scat," "scot-free," "scot-and-lot," etc. Following fish, the money of

the Norsemen in Britain was vadmal, a homespun cloth, measured by the arm's

length; still later they used baugs, or ring-money. It was not until after

all this that they began to strike coins.

[Footnote 1: Frostathing Laws, xvi., 2.]

[Footnote 2: Poole, "Anglo-Saxon Coins," i., 7.]

[Footnote 1: According to Mr. T. Baron Russell's "Current Americanisms"

(London. 1893) "scads" is still used for "current coin" in some parts of the

United States.]

Baugs were anciently that money of Scythia, northern China and northern

India of which a reminiscence still survives in the baugle or bangle. ^2 At a

remote period baug-money was introduced from Scythia into Egypt.

Representations of it appear upon the stone monuments of Thebes. As for

dates, Egyptian chronology has been so ruined in the various attempts made to

fit it successively into the mythologies of Assyria, Greece and Rome, that no

reliance can be placed upon it. The baugs engraved at Thebes are round rings,

which are represented as being placed in the scales to be weighed. No

peculiarity of form and no stamp-marks distinguish them in the sculptures -

facts that, coupled with the weighing, led the author in a previous work to

doubt that they were money. Since that time "dozens of rings (stamped), with

the names of Khuen-Aten and his family, and molds for casting rings" have been

found in the ruins of Tel-el-Amarna. ^3 It cannot now be doubted that such

rings were money, and we may also feel tolerably confident that they formed

the principal circulating medium of Egypt during the time of the Hucsos or

Scythian kings. From Egypt baug-money made its way down the eastern coast of

Africa, where the early Portuguese and Spanish navigators found it, the latter

giving to the rings the name of manillas or manacles. They were used in

Darfoor (latitude 12 Degree north, longitude 26 Degree east) so late as 1850,

for Mr. Curzon saw several chests full of gold baugs from that country at

Assouan in 1854. They are still used on the West coast, from whence the

present author had one of copper, shaped like the letter C, that is to say,

with the two ends of the ring left apart. ^1 Another line of baugs is

traceable from Scythia to Gotland, where they are mentioned in sagas, which,

although in their present form belonging to an era subsequent to the

employment of baugs for money, are evidently mutilated versions of more

ancient texts. ^2 Egil having been paid two chests of silver as indemnity for

his brother, "recites a song of praise," in which he alludes to the indemnity

as "gul-baug," or gold rings, meaning money. ^3

[Footnote 2: The pinched bullet-money of Cochin China also appears to be a

modification of the baug.]

[Footnote 3: Address of Dr. Flinders Petrie, before the Oriental Congress,

London, September 6th, 1892. Khuen is evidently the Tartar "kung," or king.

Ridgway mentions the baugs of Mycenae found by Dr. Schliemann, while Madden

alludes to the baugs of Syria, mentioned in the Bible.]

[Footnote 1: "History of Money," 133. Baugs, or ring-money, are mentioned by

Pliny ("Nat. History," xxiii., I).]

[Footnote 2: Baugs appear to have been also used by the tribes of the Baltic

coasts after the Goths conquered or assimilated with them, for the term was

employed by the Salic Franks, and is still employed in French to mean rings.]

[Footnote 3: Egil Saga. The Dutch still give the name of "gulden" to certain

silver coins.]

The suspected mutilations of the sagas are corroborated by the known

mutilations of the laws: "If a hauld wounds a man, he is liable to pay 6

baugar to the king, each worth 12 oras; if an arborin-madr wounds a man, he

has to pay 3 baugar, and a leysingi (freedman) 2, a leudrman 12, a jarl 24, a

kning 48, 12 oras being in each baug, and the fine shall be paid to those to

whom it is due by law. All this is valued in silver." ^4 The text of this law

proves that it assumed its present form at three different dates. The first

belongs to the barbarous period, when the indemnity was fixed in Gothic baugs;

the second to the Roman period, when the baugs were valued in heretical oras,

or Roman sicilici; and the third to the period when the oras were valued in

Christian silver pennies. The original baug appears to have weighed about as

much as three sovereigns of the present day.

[Footnote 4: Frostathing Laws, iv., 53; Du Chaillu, i., 549.]

A C-shaped figure, like that of the African baug above mentioned, is

twice repeated on a stone slab from the Kivikgrave, near Cimbrisham, a

monument assigned by archaeologists to a very remote period. Whether it

represents the baug or not cannot at present be determined, ^1 but there is

some reason to think it does, from the fact that gold baugs seem to have been

clothed with a sacerdotal character. For example, Egil fastened a gold baug

on each arm of the dead Thoroff before he buried him, ^2 and a gold baug was

paid for his bride. ^3 Bagi was also the Parthian name for divine or sacred;

it appears on all the coins of the Arsacidae. ^4 The originals of the

Frostathing laws may have descended from the period before the Goths revolted

from Roman control.

[Footnote 1: Fig. 28, in Du Chaillu, 88.]

[Footnote 2: Du Chaillu, ii., 476.]

[Footnote 3: Frostathing Laws, vi., 4; Du Chaillu, ii., 16.]

[Footnote 4: Geo. Rawlinson, "Seventh Monarchy," p. 66.]

Specimens of Gothic baug-money are still extant. Gold, silver and iron

baugs will be found in the collections of Bergen, Christiania, Newcastle, York

and other centers of Norse antiquities. There are Gothic gold baugs (about

one inch in diameter) and copper and iron baugs in the London and Paris

collections. During the last century "a vast quantity of small iron

ring-money was exhumed in the west of Cornwall, and one of these was deposited

by Mr. Moyle in the Pembroke collection." ^5 After the era of baugs the Goths

used coins. Says Du Chaillu: "A barbaric imitation in gold of a Roman

imperial coin was found with a skeleton at Aarlesden in Odense, amt Fyen," a

district and island about 86 miles from Copenhagen. ^1 A barbaric imitation of

Byzantine coin of the fifth century was found in Mallgard, Gotland. ^2 A

barbaric gold coin, falsely stamped with the image of Louis le Debonnaire, was

found in Domberg, Zealand, and is now in the Paris collection.

[Footnote 5: Walter Moyle's works, i., 259.]

[Footnote 1: Du Chaillu, i., 262.]

[Footnote 2: Du Chaillu, i., 275.]

When, several centuries before our era, the Celts came into contact with

the Greeks, whether in Spain, Gaul or Britain, they began to strike Celtish

coins in imitation of Greek originals. In like manner, after the Goths came

into contact with the Romans, or rather after they had learnt to abhor the

religion of the Romans and despise their arms, whether in Moesia, Saxony,

Zealand or Britain, they began to strike Gothic coins in imitation of Roman

originals. Such imitations are found in the uninscribed stycas, scats and

oras of early Britain - a fact which is deduced as well from the Latin name of

the ora as the general type and composition of all the pieces.

When Goth and Roman first met in Britain was when the ring-money was

still used by the former - a period clearly established by the following

passage from the principal work ascribed to Julius Caesar. Speaking generally

of the tribes whom he encountered in Britain (B. C. 55), Caesar says: "Utuntur

aut aere, aut nummo aureo, aut annulis ferreis, ad certum pondus examinatis

pro nummo" - "They used either bronze (money) or gold money, or iron rings of

a certain (determined) weight for money." The bronze metal, Caesar adds, was

imported. ^1 It is evident that this ring-money was not used at the time by

the Celtic or Gaelic tribes of Britain, because these tribes used coined

money, which, as a measure of value, is more precise and convenient than

baugs. The Celts also came from Gaul and Belgium, where coined money was

already in use. Their productions and commerce were too varied for the

employment of so rude a measure of value as baugs. Caesar says their numbers

were countless, their buildings exceedingly numerous, their wealth great in

cattle and cultivated lands, and their industry diversified, including not

only pasturage and agriculture, but also mining for tin and iron. ^2 Baugs had

not been used by the Celtic tribes for nearly three centuries, that is to say,

not since they had learnt the superiority of coins from the Greeks. On the

other hand, their use among the Norsemen at this time or, perhaps, even a

later period is proved by the sagas, ^3 and the conclusion that the ring-money

found in Britain by Caesar belonged to the Norse tribes in the remoter parts

of the island, and indicated their presence there, seems to be well sustained.

^4 When added to the evidences of archaeology, customs and language, adduced

by Wright, Stilling-fleet, Pinkerton, Du Chaillu, Hawkins, Evans and other

writers on the subject, ^1 the body of proof that the Norse settlement of

Britain antedates its Roman settlement becomes difficult to overthrow.

[Footnote 1: "De Bell. Gall.," v., 12. Several readings of this important

passage are given in Henry's "Hist. Brit.," ii., 238. The reading in the text

is from a Ms of the tenth century. Mr. Hawkins discovered that this passage

had been materially corrupted in later copies (Hawkins, "Silver Coins," p. 8,

and Ch. Knight, "Hist. England," i., 15, citing remarks on ancient coins in

"Moneta Historica Brit.," p. 102).]

[Footnote 2: Even after Caesar had ravaged their lands, the Belgians were able

to send him supplies of corn to Gaul ("De Bell. Gall.," v., 19, 20).]

[Footnote 3: The pagan Norse kings who ruled in Ireland used baug-money until

they were driven out of that country in the twelfth century. This is what Sir

John Lubbock, in his article on Money in the "Nineteenth Century," loosely

called the "ring-money of the ancient Celts."]

[Footnote 4: Caesar (v., 9 and 11) alludes to the civil wars which preceded

his arrival in Britain, and which since the Celts were all of one religion

(the Druidical), we may reasonably surmise were occasioned by the

encroachments of the heretical Norsemen.]

[Footnote 1: Doom-rings and numerous other Norse antiquities have been found

in Britain.]

The Norse-British coinage system consisted of stycas, scats and oras. The

styca was a small bronze coin, struck from the composition derived probably

from the melting down of bronzes, and containing about 70 per cent of copper

and 20 of zinc, the remainder consisting of tin, silver, lead and a minute

proportion of gold. The extant stycas are confined by numismatists to

Northumberland, but a coin of similar description, and used as a divider for

the scat, must have been employed in Kent and elsewhere. The scat was an

electrum coin, struck from the composition resulting from the melting down of

gold and silver jewelry. The ora was a coin of pure or nearly pure gold.

Originally containing about 30 grains of gold, it fell successively to 22 1/2,

20, 16 and even 13 grains. The electrum scats weighed about the same as the

oras. The early oras are known among modern numismatists as gold scats.

Sometimes the scats were stamped with the svastica, or with runes - a

peculiarity that does not appear upon any coins issued by the southern kings

of the heptarchical period. Eight stycas went to the scat, and eight scats to

the ora. Owing to the composite nature of the scats, the ratio between gold

and silver is indeterminable. Judging from the numerical relations between

scats and oras, the ratio was intended to be 8 for 1. The coin ora must not

de confused with the weight ora, which was afterwards the eighth of the mark

weight; nor must the money of account, called the mark (of which more anon),

be confused with the weight mark.

There is a remarkable similarity between the Gothic coinage system and

that of ancient Japan. There, too, coins were made respectively of gold,

electrum, and bronze; the gold and the electrum coins were of the same weight,

and the relative value of these even-weighted coins indicated that of the

metals which composed them. ^1 On the other hand, the Norse-British systems

were distinctly non-German. Styca and scat are Norse terms, and were not used

in Germany; mark is also a Norse term, and, according to Agricola, it was

employed by the Goths many centuries before it was known in Germany. The runic

letters and svastica are both Gothic and pagan. The Germans did not strike

gold coins. The ratio of 8 for 1 is Gothic; that of Germany followed the

Roman law, and down to the thirteenth century was either 12 for 1 or some mean

between this and the Gothic ratio. Finally, the independent issues of gold

and electrum coins were essentially Gothic, because the Goths, down to the

eighth, ninth, or tenth centuries, were pagans, and refused to acknowledge the

pope; whilst the Germans from the date when their country was made a province

of the Empire, had invariably bowed to its ecclesiastical authority.

[Footnote 1: The Japanese system is fully described in "Money and

Civilization," chap. xx. The reader must, however, not argue too much from

this resemblance. In the ruder societary life of the Anglo-Saxons exchanges

were comparatively few and simple, and the monetary system was of minor

importance; in the refinement of modern Japanese life, it affected the

foundations of equity and civil order.]

The Anglo-Saxon coins were not issued by any central authority, but by

each local chieftain independently of the others. For this reason the

valuation of the coins, and of the metals of which they were made, probably

greatly varied. More important than all, the whole number of coins was

uncertain and subject to the vicissitudes of war. A successful attack upon

the Romans, who, down to the sixth or seventh century, still held many of the

walled towns of Britain, might in a single day have doubled the entire

circulation of a given kingdom; whilst a repulse, followed by Roman pursuit

and reprisals, might as suddenly have reduced the circulation to a moiety.

The reader will bear in mind that the ora described above was the

original Gothic ora, afterwards called the gold shilling (gull skilling), not

what the ora became in later ages. As time went on it continually fell in

weight; the ratio of silver to gold changed from 8 for 1, to 6 1/2 and 7 1/2

for 1, then to 10 for 1, then to 12 for 1; the number of scats - or, as they

were afterwards called, pennies - to the ora, changed from 8 to 5, then to 4,

then to 20, 12, 20 and 16. ^1 In one instance there were 15 minutae to the

ora. "Ora, vernacula aura, Danis ore, fuit olim genus monetae, valens, 15

minuta." ^2 These may have been, not copper coins, but silver half-pence. ^3

It would be tedious to explain the endless combinations to which the changes

in the three terms - viz., weight, ratio and value - gave rise. Eventually

the ora became a money of account, and as the ora weight was one-eighth of the

mark weight, so the ora of account was valued at one-eighth of the mark of

account, which, during the Norman and Plantagenet eras, consisted of five gold

maravedis, each weighing two-thirds of the Roman solidus. This mode of fixing

the value of the ora gave rise to new and still more perplexing numismatic

problems, all of which, however, are readily solved by the guides herein

offered. For example, in the time of William I. there were still some actual

gold oras extant, or mentioned in unexpired leases. These were valued in

Domesday Book at 20 pennies, because their namesake, the ora of account, was

in England one-eighth of the mark of account, and the mark of account was

two-thirds of the libra of account. As the latter then consisted (in England)

of 240 actual silver pennies, so the mark was valued at 160 pence, and the

gold ora was valued at 20 pence.

[Footnote 1: Domesday Book; Ruding, i., 315. The relation of four scats to

the ora was enacted prior to the middle of the tenth century ("Judicia

Civitatis Londoniae;" Ruding, i., 309).]

[Footnote 2: Dolmerus, in Du Fresne, in Fleetwood, p. 27.]

[Footnote 3: The minuta of the Netherlands was the Ies, or Es (Budelius).]

If this mode of calculation, which was employed in England after the

Norman conquest, be applied to the ancient Gothic system, in which the gold

ora was of the same weight and value as one-fourth of the gold solidus or

mancus, it would follow that the mark of account consisted of two mancusses

instead of five maravedis. Thus, if an ora is 20 pence and a mark is 160

pence, then there are eight oras to the mark. If there were four oras to the

mancus, there were consequently two mancusses to the mark. The fallacy of

this mode of calculation, which some numismatists have used, arises from the

employment of the ora in two senses - firstly, as a money of account, which it

was in the eleventh century; and, secondly, as an actual gold coin, which it

was probably from the second to the seventh or eighth century.

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