Money and Power in the Viking Kingdom of York, c.895 – 954
By Megan Laura Gooch
PhD Dissertation, Durham University, 2011
Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to use numismatic evidence to help understand the political aims and achievements of the Viking kings of York, c.895-954. A variety of numismatic techniques will be used and tested for their suitability as a means of historical enquiry. Due to the limitations of the documentary sources for this period, coins will be used to provide an insight into the political workings of this kingdom. Firstly, the iconography and epigraphy of coins made in Viking York will be used to investigate how the Viking kings attempted to legitimise their rule. Secondly, it will be asked whether these coins were produced in sufficient quantity to form a usable currency and how the volumes of these currencies compare with other contemporary coinages, such as those issued by the Anglo-Saxons. Thirdly, to understand where the Vikings ruled and how effectively they could impose coin-use upon their kingdom, the economic influence of the Viking Kingdom of York will be examined by studying the distribution of the coins which were made both in York, and in other kingdoms. Finally, the ways in which coins and other forms of money, such as hacksilver, were used within and between Viking kingdoms will be examined to understand how effectively the Viking kings ruled their economy. It is hoped that this will reveal and refine existing knowledge about the ways in which the kings of York gained and maintained political power in York for much of the tenth century.
Introduction: Despite the best efforts of the eminent scholars working on this body of textual material, the exact chronology of the Viking Kingdom of York is still under discussion, and our understanding of the mechanisms through which the Viking kings ruled their kingdom is limited. The historical evidence mainly consists of annals and histories, with no lawcodes, charters, formularies or other documents of government surviving for the Viking rule in York, and few of such surviving documents for the reigns of Anglo-Saxon kings in the city. The annalistic evidence is focused upon the times when the Vikings lost their kingdom, but takes us no further into understanding exactly how the Vikings ruled this kingdom for so long. The direct references to Viking kings in the texts are instructive, and give some insights into the diplomatic and military means by which the Viking kings attempted to legitimise and maintain their independent kingdom, but do not provide answers to the wider questions of how these invader kings successfully ruled an independent kingdom for nearly a century. There is one source of evidence which, for the Viking period at York, is plentiful, and has not been studied comprehensively to answer the question of how the Vikings ruled York: numismatic evidence. The coins have been examined to understand the skill of the people who made them, to refine the chronology of the kings of York, and to argue various theories concerning the location of mints under Viking rule, but they have not been used to investigate and understand the mechanisms of power through which the Viking kings ruled their kingdom.