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Expertise in Early Medieval Numismatics (c.500-1050)

The period of numismatic and monetary history from the fall of the western Roman empire to the eleventh century has generally been well studied, and since the mid-twentieth century in particular coins have come to play a prominent part in general historical and archaeological surveys of the period.Surviving coins are relatively numerous, and therefore an important source, especially when other material from the early Middle Ages is scarce; however, it should be stressed that the scale of the coinage was dramatically smaller than in both the Roman and later medieval periods.

 

In Britain, interest has concentrated on the issues of the Anglo-Saxons, which began in the early seventh century. The earliest known collections including relevant material were formed in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and include the ancestors of leading modern museum collections. The largest of these is contained in the British Museum; other major holdings include those of the university museums of Cambridge, Glasgow and Oxford (the Fitzwilliam, Hunterian and Ashmolean museums). Several regional museums also have significant collections from this period.

 

Scholars of early medieval numismatics have tended to gravitate towards these centres, but there is also a strong tradition of rigorous and significant research outside the formal academic community among interested amateurs such as Christopher Blunt (1904–87). Dialogue between numismatists and early medieval historians and archaeologists has also been particularly successful, above all as pioneered by Michael Dolley (1925–83) and Sir Frank Stenton (1880–1967).

 

It should be noted that for historical reasons the richest holdings of late Anglo-Saxon coins are to found in Scandinavia. Scandinavian scholars have therefore made a major contribution to Anglo-Saxon numismatics since the time of Bror Emil Hildebrand (1806–84) and before, and links with scholars and museums in the Nordic countries remain strong.

 

Dr Rory Naismith (King's College, London)

Gold mancus of Coenwulf (796-821)

© Trustees of the British Museum

coenwulf