8.3.3 Coinage and bullion

The evidence of coin-use in the SESARF region is small but significant, showing participation in the wider Northumbrian economy. Beginning with a few stray finds of the 7th and 8th centuries, coins began to circulate in the region in the 9th century (Bateson 1995; Bateson and Holmes 1997; Pirie 2000; Holmes 2013; Holmes 2016; Blackwell 2018). Two 7th-century coins, among the earliest coins found anywhere in Scotland, come from the SESARF area. A gold Merovingian tremissis was found near Coldstream, and an early silver sceat from Denmark came from excavations at Dunbar (NMS X.1997.784; Blackburn 2000; Blackwell 2018, 292). They attest to links with the vibrant trade zone spanning the North Sea, connecting market sites in Denmark to the eastern seaboard of Britain as far north as Portmahomack, Easter Ross (Blackburn 2016).

In the 8th century, coins began to be minted by Northumbrian kings based in York. Early sceattas from this phase are rare in Scotland, but include one from Aberlady (NMS X.1995.4; Bateson and Holmes 1997, 556). It is only with the development of the distinctive styca coinage unique to Northumbria that coins begin to appear more widely. The series of coins from Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway, in the western extent of Northumbria, shows that coins circulated through the entire region (Pirie 1997). Ninth century Northumbrian stycas have been found in small numbers at Dunbar, Coldingham and Jedburgh. At least 12 stycas have been found by metal-detecting in Aberlady, which along with numerous other early medieval finds from this productive site, make it a leading candidate for an early marketplace (SESARF 8.3.5 Pre-burghal markets). A lost hoard containing coins of the ‘early Saxon kings of Northumbria’ was found near Coldingham, while another lost styca hoard from Jedburgh suggests that the major church sites in the area were the main recipients of coins.

The royal mint stopped production with the fall of York to Scandinavian warlords in 867 and did not restart minting coins until the 880s. None of these ‘Anglo-Scandinavian’ issues have yet been found in the SESARF region, indicating fraught relations with the Northumbrian dynasty based at Bamburgh which maintained control of the area in the 10th century. Coins did not stop arriving into the area altogether, but until the establishment of a royal mint under David I, they come from a variety of English sources (Bateson 1995). The few 10th-century coins in the SESARF area include stray finds of Æthelstan from Jedburgh, Eadgar from Bonjedward, and a lost hoard containing ‘a considerable number of coins of Æthelstan’ from near St Helen’s Church, Cockburnspath. Coins of Aethelred II (1009–17) have been found in a lost hoard from Jedburgh Bongate, and another from excavations at Jedburgh Abbey (Lewis and Ewart 1995). Although 11th-century coins of Cnut have been found in neighbouring regions to north and west, none have yet been reported in the SESARF region. The only coins of William the Conqueror yet found in Scotland are however both from this area: two from excavations at the monastery of Auldhame, and one worn example from the Isle of May nearby (Holmes 2013). A small but significant series of coin finds from the Isle of May monastery shows that coastal sites were the likeliest entrepots for Northumbrian and foreign coinage in the 9th to 11th centuries. Again, an association with ecclesiastical sites thus far is notable.

If the coin supply seemed to diminish for a period of time after the late 9th century, there is only scant evidence that it was replaced with a Viking Age bullion or hacksilver economy. In a bullion economy, payments could be made according to metal weight rather than the face value of coins. In Britain and Ireland, the evidence for this comes in the form of hacked silver objects, the production and hacking of bars or ingots of metal, and the use of balance scales and lead weights for weighing of bullion (Graham-Campbell 1995; Horne 2021). In contrast to Scandinavian-controlled parts of northern Britain, there are no balance scales and very few scale weights in the SESARF area, including simple, undecorated lead weights from Maxton, Scottish Borders (Graham-Campbell 2008, 199) and a recent metal-detected find from Coldingham topped with insular metalwork (TTDB2022/0016). The only Scandinavian-style hacksilver hoard in the region is from ‘Cadger’s Cairn’ in Gordon, Berwickshire (Graham-Campbell 1995). There are only rare finds of silver ingots, including one from Maxton and another from Whitmuirhaugh near Sprouston (NMS X.2016.30), but they are difficult to date closely (Graham-Campbell 2008, 199; Shiels and Campbell 2011). Like the above lead weights, they seem to cluster in the area that would later become Roxburghshire.