Viking Age coins found in Finland

Thousands of Viking Age coins have been found in Finland, having been brought to the country approximately between the 9th and 11th centuries. Most of the prehistoric coins come from various hoards, but coins have also been found in graves and as individual finds. A significant part of the Viking Age coin finds in Northern Europe and Finland is made up of Islamic dirhams and Anglo-Saxon and German pennies. Some Byzantine, Bohemian and Danish coins, for example, have also been found in Finland.

The earliest Viking Age coins brought to the region of Finland are Persian drachmas. Drachmas are rare in Finnish finds and have only been found in hoards in Åland. Oriental dirhams are much more common. Umayyad and Abbasid dirhams from the Middle East, as well as Central Asian Samanid dirhams, are the most common types of dirhams found in Finland. Dirhams contain religious text in Arabic, information about the minting location and often also the ruler who struck the coin, and the year according to the Islamic calendar. The average weight of Islamic coins is between two and three grams, and their diameter is approximately 20–30 mm.

As the number of Islamic coins brought to the region of Finland declined in the mid-10th century, more and more Western European silver coins, especially German and English pennies, started appearing here. These pennies weigh approximately one gram and have an average diameter of 15–20 mm. English coins can often be accurately dated, with information about the ruler who struck the coin, the minting location and the moneyer. The minting patterns were also changed regularly, approximately every six years. In particular, many coins struck by King Æthelred II the Unready (978–1016) and Cnut the Great (1016–1035) have been found in Finland.

Of the Viking Age coins, German coins are among the most difficult to identify and date. They are often in a poorer condition than English pennies, and there are thousands of different variations and imitations of them. German coins were struck in several cities in Central Europe, particularly by kings and bishops, but sometimes also by dukes and counts, for instance. The most common German coins found in the region of Finland are so-called wooden church pennies, which were made especially for trade with the Nordic countries.

The coins came to the region of Finland as a result of trade and exchange. Payment was made according to the weight of silver, meaning that the value of money was based on its weight and not on the number of individual coins or their nominal value. Coins could be split into halves or quarters as necessary. Some coins also show other signs of use, such as bends, cracks and cuts. Holes and loops fastened with rivets indicate the use of coins as jewellery.

Reproductions and imitations of coins have also always been made. Around the year 1000, coins were produced in Scandinavia according to English models. Coins were probably also imitated in the region of Finland. However, these imitations were not made for financial gain, but the signs of use on the coins and the fact that they are most often found in graves indicate that the imitations were worn as jewellery. The creators of the reproductions may have made intentional or unintentional mistakes due to a lack of literacy, language and writing skills.

This selection was curated by trainee Jasmin Ruotsalainen in summer 2021.

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The following sources have been used for preparing the selection:

Numista. 2021. Numista, a unique platform to learn, collect, swap and share about numismatics.

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Sarvas, P. 1973. Bysanttilaiset rahat sekä niiden jäljitelmät Suomen 900- ja 1000-lukujen löydöissä. Sarvas, P. & Siiriäinen, A. (toim.) Honos Ella Kivikoski. Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistyksen aikakauskirja 75: 176-186. Helsinki: Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistys.

Talvio, T. 2002. Coins and Coin Finds in Finland AD 800-1200. ISKOS 12. Helsinki: Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistys.

Talvio, T. 2002. Raha Suomessa ennen euroa. Helsinki: Museovirasto.