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18 September 2014
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Anglo Saxon Coins

A silver penny from the reign of Offa, King of Mercia 757-796. Minted in London around 785
A silver penny from the reign of Offa, King of Mercia 757-796. Minted in London around 785. Obverse (left) reverse (right)
The Inscription

OFFA REX ('King Offa') and, on the reverse side, Eð / IL / VA / Ld ('Ethilwald' - the moneyer who authorised the minting of the coin).

An English Emperor

Offa was a formidable ruler. As King of Mercia, he conquered the smaller but rich kingdoms of East Anglia and Kent, and exercised considerable influence over Wessex and Northumbria.

He was a contemporary of the great Frankish king Charlemagne and sought to stand up to him as an equal. He built Offa's Dyke - a 149 mile-long barrier - to shield his kingdom from the Welsh.

The portrait on this coin shows Offa in the style of a Roman emperor with an imperial diadem in his hair. This classical imagery greatly appealed to early medieval kings.

A standardised coinage

Offa reformed the Mercian coinage in the 760s to bring it into line with the new-style Carolingian penny. This broader, thinner silver coin became the standard denomination for some six hundred years. From now on all coins would carry the name of the ruler and the moneyer.

There was more coinage in circulation during the first half of the 8th century than there would be again until the 12th century, particularly around southern and eastern England. The same is true for the Low Countries. There seems to have been a short-lived surplus of silver in northern Europe, possibly from mines in Germany.

A trader's coin

These coins weighed the same as Charlemagne’s and could have traded internationally at the same value. In England, however, Offa prohibited the circulation of Carolingian and other foreign coins so that his coinage would dominate the currency.

In the second monetary reform of his reign, c.792, Offa increased the size, weight and hence value of the English penny, deliberately making it incompatible with the Frankish denier, at a time when Offa and Charlemagne were locked in a trade war.

Coins timeline
First Viking attack on Holy Isle of Lindisfarne
Renewed Viking attacks
Harold II defeated by William the Conqueror - beginning of Norman Conquest

Click on each of these coins to find the tales they tell...

coin 1 -  A gold shilling from the reign of Eadbald, King of Kent 616-40. Minted in London around 630Silver penny minted in Kent (c 720)A silver penny from the reign of Offa, King of Mercia 757-796. Minted in London around 785A silver penny from the reign of Alfred, King of Wessex 871-899. Minted in London around 880A silver penny from the reign of Cnut, Viking King of York c.900-905. Minted at YorkA silver penny from the reign of Athelstan, King of England 924-939. Minted at Winchester around 930A silver penny from the reign of Cnut, King of Denmark and England 1016-1035. Minted at Exeter around 1023-29

Then play the Coins game
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Conquest of Wessex Kings
Viking Conquest
After Viking Conquest
Norman Conquest
After Norman Conquest
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