Medieval Baltic Numismatics
By William Urban
Journal of Baltic Studies, Vol. 24:1 (1993)
Introduction: Medieval coins provide a tangible means of making contact with our past. In them we see part of the culture of former generations–its art, trade, politics, even its human dimension. In them we see important clues to economic and social history in the centuries before written sources became common. However, numismatics is not an easy subject to master. What seems simple and straightforward on the surface may actually be fairly complex when one investigates deeper. For example, studies of the origins of coins from the eighth to the eleventh centuries prove that in that era the Baltic peoples were to a certain extent mediators between East and West; however, archeological excavations of a later era demonstrate the existence of “two economies” and “two cultures,” one essentially Hanseatic and mercantile in nature, the other rural and agricultural. To one looking for evidence that the crusaders disrupted and set back the cultures of the Baltic peoples, this evidence seems damning. To others these studies indicate that the common man made little or no regular use of coins at any time before the fifteenth century and that at all times there were classes which found coins indispensable for trade and adornment. In short, the numismatic evidence concerning the past remains under discussion still today. Moreover, any study of medieval Livonia which fails to take into account the numismatic evidence, ignores an important source of knowledge about the era.