The settlement at Kaupang has proved to be uniquely rich in dirhams, quite on its own on the North Sea coast of Scandinavia. From stratigraphical evidence and comparative numismatic studies it has already been shown that dirhams were circulating in Kaupang in great quantity by the second half of the 9th century. These finds of individual coins differ from the evidence of hoards from Southern and Western Scandinavia, which on the whole appear only from the beginning of the 10th century. The coins found at Kaupang are in fact consistent with the dirhams found in Eastern Europe and around the Baltic of the 9th century.
This chapter seeks to analyse and to explain the individual finds of dirhams at Kaupang within a wider geographical and chronological perspective, taking account of the hoard finds from Northern and Eastern Europe. This study shows that the use of dirhams as silver bullion differed as it developed regionally, specifically in respect of the conventions and procedures established within the networks that were responsible for the distribution of silver. Thus the evidence of the dirham hoards not only provides evidence of contacts, but testifies above all to the acceptance of dirham silver in the particular region.
A regional analysis of finds, in which the inflow of dirhams is phased, is used to argue that the use of dirhams in Kaupang forms part of a longer-term sequence that began in the Southern Caucasus and Eastern Europe towards the end of the 8th century. The use of dirham silver gained a foothold in the Baltic area in the second quarter of the 9th century. In the course of the second half of the 9th century the use of dirham silver expanded to the West, to appear in a few coin hoards on the Continent and in Britain. It is further proposed that the significant upswing in the hoarding of dirhams after c. AD 860 reflects an increase in the inflow of silver from the East. The common notion that there was a silver crisis is challenged on methodological grounds.
As a result, Kaupang may be regarded as a local entrepôt at which dirham silver was used in a way that probably increased in tempo during the second half of the 9th century and then lasted to early 930s at the latest. At Kaupang, dirham silver was handled in various ways, as weighed silver bullion in relatively small units or in the production of larger units such as ingots. In this way, Kaupang played a crucial role in the distribution of silver in such larger unit-forms beyond the settlement during this period.
Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2008. 199-252 p.