Germanic coins

The birth of Germanic coinage is one of the major results of contacts between the →Barbaricum and the Roman Empire. Germanic coins took form as an effect of imitation of Roman coins, a gradual adoption of Roman technology and, as a last stage, of the weight standard prevailing within the Empire.

Germanic tribes started manufacturing the first imitations presumably around the turn of the 2nd/3rd centuries AD. These were imitations of 1st and 2nd-century denarii of which a great number entered the territory of the →Barbaricum during the 2nd half of the 2nd century as a result of political contacts. In the Roman Period and the early →Migration Period imitative denarii are observed across a large area of the →Barbaricum, in both the Western and the Eastern Germanic territory, especially in denarius hoards, and range from Westphalia, Gotland, through Poland (→Przeworsk culture, →Wielbark culture) to the Great Hungarian Plain, Moldova, Ukraine and southwestern Russia (Cherniakhiv/Sântana de Mureš culture). The great number of imitative coins with identical dies that have been found a considerable distance apart suggests they were produced in a single centre. It was presumably located in the →Gothic environment in Ukraine (Cherniakhiv culture), as is suggested by a major concentration of imitative denarii recorded in this region, although the operation of early mints in other areas also cannot be discounted, especially the territory settled by the →Przeworsk culture, which is identified with the →Vandals. In their iconography imitative denarii range from very faithful renditions of the original types to designs which hardly resemble the Roman prototype. In Ukraine some imitative denarii were made of a soft alloy, cast in bronze moulds. Few of the imitative denarii were pierced or looped for suspension; this makes their purpose – especially as their number is much smaller than that of the original denarii – even harder to explain.

After the battle of Abritus in AD 251 we find finds of Roman aurei across much of the territory of the →Barbaricum, perforated from their obverse above the imperial portrait. These coins are interpreted as prestige objects, perhaps reserved for members of war bands (comitatus). Although the influx of original aurei continued until the end of the 3rd century, their number may have been too small to satisfy a growing demand, and imitations started to be manufactured. Some of the first imitative gold coins were struck in Ukraine from original Roman coin dies used for making bronze coins, plundered from a provincial mint in Alexandria Troas in Asia Minor by the Goths during their raid of AD 262. This would explain why at first the weight of the gold imitations was significantly different from that of the Roman aureus. Nearly all of the gold or gold-plated early Germanic imitations were pierced. At the end of the 3rd century fashions changed and perforations were gradually replaced by loops for suspension attached above the head of the emperor. In many of these coins the image is greatly simplified or altered, although there is a certain observable iconographic consistency, especially when it comes to the symbols of power, including elements of the military equipment. The legend is illiterate, as a rule, without any semantic relationship, although a →runic inscription has been identified on one of these coins.

Starting from the late Constantinian period, the development of the Germanic coinage took two directions. In Central and Northern Europe gold coins apparently continue to be used for prestige only. This is true of the gold imitations of Roman medallions of the 4th century and →Scandinavian bracteates with runic inscriptions of the 5th and the 6th centuries. On the other hand, at the end of the 4th and the beginning of the 5th century, parallel to the migrations of the →Germanic tribes west and southward, we observe a continuity of gold anonymous issues. Moreover, in the Middle Danube region, most likely at Sirmium (Sremska Mitrovica), silver coins (siliquae and their fractions) with a monogram of the Germanic king are issued, presumably by the →Gepids. Modelled on the →solidus, a local coinage may be seen to develop in the first Germanic kingdoms (→Ostrogoths, Suebi, →Visigoths and →Langobards) established during the 5th century and later over the ruins of the Western Roman Empire. These coins gradually take on the characteristics of currency. In the second half of the 5th and the first half of the 6th century some of these coins pass to the Baltic region within a wave of Roman solidi.

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This article is taken from the website for the project "Migration Period between Odra and Vistula" and contains links to that site.