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Wholeness and Holiness: Counting, Weighing and Valuing Silver in the Early Viking Period
Gotland University, School of Culture, Energy and Environment. (Landskap i förändring)
2008 (Swedish)In: Means of Exchange: Dealing with Silver in the Viking Age / [ed] Dagfinn Skre, Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2008, 253-325 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

This chapter examines the use of silver as a medium of payment in the Early Viking Period. Kaupang has yielded comprehensive evidence of craft activity and long-distance trade crossing economic, political and ethnic boundaries. The working hypothesis of this chapter is that exchange across such borders was undertaken outside a socially binding “sphere”, a situation that was made possible by the existence of different forms of market trade. It is argued that there had existed standardised media of value, or “cash/money” in Kaupang, which made calculations and payment for goods possible. Such were the circumstances from when Kaupang was founded at the beginning of the 9th century to the abandonment of the town sometime in the middle of the 10th.

The use of “money” at Kaupang is approached from two angles. For “money” to be acceptable as an item of value depends on the one hand upon unshakable reference points that are rooted in an imaginary conceptual world. The value of “money” was guaranteed in terms of inalienable possessions which stabilized and at the same time initiated exchange relationships. On the other hand, money as a medium of exchange relates to a scale of calculation which legitimates and defines its exchange-value. This scale makes it possible to compare goods and put a price upon them.

In this study, it is argued that in the Viking Period there were three different principles of value and payment that were materially embodied in the outer form and weight of the silver object. These were coins, rings/ingots, and fragmented silver respectively. Both coins and rings/ingots were used and valued as complete objects. The wholeness of the object was essential for the concepts of value to exist. The meaning of the coin as an object of value was rooted in a world of Antique-Christian concepts, and its status as a unit of reckoning was guaranteed through seedcorn calculation. The value of the rings and ingots was rooted in the concept of the god Odin’s eternal and stable gold ring, and their character as calculable objects guaranteed through aurar-calculation: i.e. a given number of coins per eyrir (Norw.: øre; “ounce”). Hacksilver, by contrast, has no body, and its meaning as a form of currency was indissolubly dependent upon the use of standardized weights which sanctioned the economic value of this amorphous silver. The status of hacksilver as a calculable substance of value was guaranteed through ertog calculation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2008. 253-325 p.
, Norske Oldfunn, 23
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:hgo:diva-1578ISBN: 978-87-7934-308-5OAI: diva2:550772
Available from: 2012-09-07 Created: 2012-09-07 Last updated: 2016-02-02Bibliographically approved

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