Northern England’s monetary history was quite distinct from that of the south in the pre-Viking period, and Abramson’s ambitious book is one of the few sustained discussions of it.
Across eight chapters that fizz with new information, he establishes the idiosyncratic framework of Northumbrian coinage in terms of what he (with tongue only partly in cheek) calls gold, silver, and bronze. These three stages of the currency became progressively broader in use: from essentially elite-based gold, to ‘mercantile’ silver, and a plentiful mass of ‘bronze’ currency, traditionally known (albeit mistakenly) as stycas. Abramson assesses these in terms of what he calls ‘co-occurrence’ – the finding of coins in association with other types of artefact. From this he infers that a wider and wider range of goods were used and valued in terms of coin, reflecting its penetration into society, and he notes sharp regional variations in circulation.
There are aspects of Abramson’s methodology and conclusions that may be found controversial, but this important book should rightly serve to prompt fresh discussion.
This review appeared in CA 346.