Money and Power in Anglo-Saxon England

with Dr Rory Naismith (University of Cambridge)

at Sutton Hoo

Saturday, 7th June 2014


The Anglo-Saxon period in England began with the collapse of the late Roman monetary system, but also saw the eventual establishment of a currency which would become a vibrant and dynamic entity – the basis of later medieval, and indeed modern, British currency. This study day examines how the coins of Anglo-Saxon England can inform us about the kings and craftsmen who made them, and what role they played in society and the establishment of royal power. We will learn how to read and interpret Anglo-Saxon coins, as well as place them into their archaeological and historical context. The aim, in short, is to gain insight into an invaluable source for many aspects of life and culture in early medieval England.

We will begin in the morning with the story of Anglo-Saxon coinage over time, beginning with the end of Roman rule in Britain and the obscure centuries that followed. However, we will look in detail at the re-emergence of gold coinage in the early seventh century: a time when kings were establishing their position and when religion, trade and other bonds linked England to developments elsewhere in western Europe. Following this, we will move on to the appearance and success of the silver penny. This began as a wide range of small silver pieces, breath-taking in their artistic richness. Broad silver pennies appeared in the eighth century, and continued to be the mainstay of English coinage for five centuries. A robust monetary system closely controlled by the king was one of the key Anglo-Saxon legacies to Norman and later dynasties.

In the afternoon we will turn to the arrangements lying behind the coinage. Why were particular kings named or portrayed on coins? What messages did they wish to present? And where and by whom were coins made? Answers to these questions will be discussed in the first session. In the final session of the day, we will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the currency in Anglo-Saxon society: who used it, and for what purposes?

Provisional Programme

09.50 – 10.15:                Coffee on arrival

10.15 – 11.15:                Ends and Beginnings

11.15 – 11.45:                Coffee break

11.45 – 12.45:                The Rise of the Silver Penny

12.45 – 14.00:                Lunch break

14.00 – 15.00:                 Making Money in Anglo-Saxon England

15.00 – 15.20:                Tea break

15.20 – 16.20:                Spending Money in Anglo-Saxon England

c.16.20:                          Thanks and Close


Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading (not essential but may be of interest for some)

Blackburn, M.A.S., ‘Money and Coinage’, in The New Cambridge Medieval History II: c. 700–c. 900, ed. R. McKitterick (Cambridge 1995), pp. 538–59

Dolley, R.H.M., Anglo-Saxon Pennies (London 1964)

Grierson, P., and M.A.S. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, I: the Early Middle Ages (5th–10th Centuries) (Cambridge 1986)

Naismith, R., Money and Power in Anglo-Saxon England: the Southern English Kingdoms 757–865 (Cambridge 2012)

Stewart, B.H.I.H., ‘The English and Norman Mints, c. 600–1158’, in A New History of the Royal Mint, ed. C. E. Challis (Cambridge 1992), pp. 1–82

Williams, G., Early Anglo-Saxon Coins (Colchester 2008)


About Dr Rory Naismith

Rory Naismith is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Clare College in the University of Cambridge, working in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic. He has researched and written extensively on early medieval history and coinage. Major recent books include Money and Power in Anglo-Saxon England: the Southern English Kingdoms 757–865 (Cambridge, 2012) and The Coinage of Southern England 796–865 (London, 2011).