Florent Audy, Suspended Value: Using Coins as Pendants in Viking-Age Scandinavia (c. AD 800–1140)

Florent Audy, Suspended Value: Using Coins as Pendants in Viking-Age Scandinavia (c. AD 800–1140), Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2018 (Université de Stockholm)

Résumé/abstract :

The use of coins as pendants is a common practice in the Scandinavian Viking Age (c. AD 800–1140). About three per cent of the coins circulating in Scandinavia show signs of having been adapted for suspension, either with a small hole or a loop. Modifying coins in this way changes the nature of the object. The pierced and looped coins move from having an economic function to having a display and symbolic function, at least temporarily.

After being long neglected by both archaeologists and numismatists, the reuse of coins as pendants has started to receive attention in recent years. This arises mainly from a desire to approach coins from perspectives other than purely economic ones. Coins, like any other archaeological object, are part of material culture. It is therefore also relevant and necessary to investigate their social and cultural significance.

The aim of this thesis is to understand why coins were adapted for suspension and worn as personal ornaments in Viking-Age Scandinavia. Unlike most ornaments of the time, the production of which necessarily involved craft specialists, the Viking-Age coin-pendants could be produced directly by their owners. Their study can thus provide unique insights into how the coins of which they are made, and the messages they carry, were perceived by those using them. What made coins so meaningful that they were often turned into pendants?

The point of departure adopted here is the object, the ‘coin-pendant’ itself, but this object does not exist in a vacuum. Particular attention is paid to the different contexts that the coin-pendants have navigated throughout their lives, such as minting, use as currency or use as ornament. This contextual approach is combined with a semiotic one, so as to better understand how the meaning of the object was constructed.

The relationship between coin-pendants and owners of coin-pendants can be explored by investigating several processes that reflect the owners’ intentions, such as coin selection, modification for suspension, orientation of the motives and combination with other ornaments. These processes allow us to understand how the coin-pendants were valued by those using them.  However, it is not possible to fully understand this relationship without putting it into perspective. This means studying: (1) the wider social, economic, cultural and religious framework in which the practice of reusing coins as pendants is situated; (2) the objects with which the coin-pendants are metaphorically associated.

The material forming the basis for this study is both archaeological and numismatic. It consists of two main components: 134 Scandinavian graves containing coin-pendants and a random sample of 80 Scandinavian hoards. The hoard material is primarily intended for quantitative purposes while the grave catalogue is primarily intended for qualitative purposes. The importance of studying the Viking-Age coin-pendants both in graves and in hoards cannot be overemphasised. None of these contexts directly reflects the reality of the practice.

The study shows that the practice of using coins as pendants was very diverse and could be adapted to individual tastes. Within this diversity, however, a common denominator emerges: the object ‘coin’. It is clear that there was something special about coins in Viking-Age Scandinavia and that the meaning of the coin-pendants was largely derived from the ideas with which coins were associated.

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