Barter and coinage

Coins were used throughout Viking times in the Nordic Countries but their significance and use changed with time.

Much of the trade was based on barter. People would meet at market places and barter the surplus from their own farm for the items they needed. This could be essentials such as tools, clothes or animals, or luxury items such as jewellery and glass. However, up through the Viking Ages, silver became more and more important in commerce. Firstly as a commodity, when payment was made by weight. Later, in the form of coins when payment was made using a certain number. In contrast to the situation today no value was shown on the coins.

The first form of trade can be referred to as a barter economy, the second as a money economy.

For small businesses, where a whole silver coin was too valuable, the silver coins would be cut into pieces. Today, there are many finds of cut up silver coins from the Viking Age. It was also possible to pay with “hack silver” – a silver ingot or a silver arm ring that was cut into pieces of a suitable size and weight.

Fact: Gold was not used for coins but for jewellery and other items.

Silver came to Denmark from other countries – much in the form of spoils from England, the Frankish Empire or other western countries, other as payment for Danish commodities. Some silver also came from Russia and the Orient as booty, the proceeds of trade or payment for the Vikings' work as mercenaries, referred to as sold (pay).

The coins used in Denmark were therefore commonly of foreign origin. Coins were, however, minted in Denmark throughout the whole of the Viking Age. For a long time these were copies of those from other countries; people knew and trusted these. This is why coins from Danish Haithabu can be found bearing the image of the Frankish Emperor, or with illegible characters that are copies of Arabic originals.