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The Silver Coins of England

Edward Hawkins, 1841

Table of Contents


After the final departure of the Romans, about the year 450, the history of the coinage is involved in much obscurity; the coins of that people would of course continue in circulation long after the people themselves had quitted the shores, and it is not improbable that the rude and uncouth pieces, which are imitations of their money, and are scarce because they are rejected from all cabinets and thrown away as soon as discovered, may have been struck during the interval between the Romans and Saxons.

During the Saxon period the earliest coins are those which are known by the name of Sceattae, but whether brought into this country by that people when they first arrived, or actually struck in this country afterwards, there are now no means of ascertaining. They are not of common occurrence, nor does it appear that many of them have been discovered within the limits of this island. They are of silver, and specimens of some are given in plate III. by which it will appear, that, if some were struck before the introduction of Christianity, by far the greater number were struck afterwards. No successful effort has yet been made to explain the types or the few letters they bear. Though the exact period of the issue of the various types of sceattae cannot be ascertained, it can scarcely be doubted that they form the connecting link between the genuine Roman and Saxon coins. The heads upon such as (32), are clearly Roman from the peculiar form of the diadem. The wolf suckling the founders of Rome, (41) is clearly copied from a common coin of Constantine. The strange object upon (42), which, in (43), is improved into a bird, is more probably a very rude imitation of the wolf and twins, and being placed upon the coin of king Ethelbert, (50), shews a traceable connexion between the Roman and Saxon coinage. One or more figures holding a cross is a well known type upon Roman coins, ad it is found upon the sceattae (33), (45) to (49). (47) having one of these figures upon the obverse, has the reverse not unlike in idea to that of king Ecgfrid, (99). (49) having also a figure of this description is very similar to that of king Eadbert and archbishop Ecgbert, (102), (104), (104), while the animal upon the reverse connects it with the coins of the succeeding Northumbrian kings, (103) to (108.) A careful comparison of other sceattae will shew the connexion between the Roman and Saxon coins, and lead to a conviction that they were issued some time between the commencement of the sixth and close of the seventh century.

The average weight of about seventy of these coins, which were put into the scale, was about 17 grains; some weighing as much as 20 grains, others not more than 12 or 13. The value it is difficult to ascertain. The sceattae being named in the same laws with the penny, was probably of a different value; in the laws of Aethelstan, about 930, it is stated that 30,000 sceattae were equal to 120 pounds, it must therefore by this estimation have been one twenty-fifth part less valuable than a penny; in other places it is considered the twentieth part of a shilling, while a penny is the twelfth part, so that in fact nothing is known that can be accurately stated.

When the several kingdoms of the Heptarchy had become established, coins were struck in each with the names of their respective kings; and from that period the coins, assuming a definite form, may with probability be ascribed to their proper localities and personages, and their history generally traced with safety and security. Each Kingdom shall be taken separately, commencing with that of Kent, which was established before the rest, and whose coins are the earliest of this series.

Roman | Table of Contents | Kent - Ethilberht I

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