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Part VI - Economy and Exchange

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

As Vikings in Scotland understood, most Scotto-Scandinavians probably experienced everyday life through the prism of local and/or regional subsistence economies. For elites, environmental evidence highlights the importance of farming and fishing surpluses for redistribution and feasting strategies, which were in turn used as a social and political mechanism for influence and loyalty (see Part V).

Beyond the local, assemblages and hoards suggest some Scotto- Scandinavians also had access, at least intermittently, to ‘exotic’ longdistance market networks and the precious metals used as money within them. Unlike the coin-based economies of England, though, the limited commercial transactions that did occur in Scotland were more commonly facilitated with a bullion (metal-weight) currency popular in Scandinavia and parts of the Danelaw. These economies saw silver, and less frequently gold, used as cash based on weight and purity. Here, silver ornament (commonly arm-rings), ingots and coins were regularly fragmented into ‘hack-silver’ to make smaller denominations, being weighed in balances using specialised weights of the sort discovered on Colonsay and Gigha (Horne, this section).

As Graham-Campbell and Batey discussed, the region’s natural wealth would have created surpluses that underpinned and financed this exotic, if likely rare, form of market-based activity (1998: 226). Over time, elites developed increasingly sophisticated and presumably lucrative trade, such as the exchange of timber or combs (Ashby, this section), perhaps traded directly for fish or textiles, or bought using such products as a form of cash known as ‘commodity money’.

Although no permanent Scotto-Scandinavian market has been discovered outwith Whithorn (Galloway), temporary beach and thing markets (Sanmark, this volume) may have been held in both the north and west, perhaps explaining concentrations of burials around a natural harbour like Pierowall, Orkney. In any case, wealth was certainly entering Scotland, whatever the underlying mechanism: the Galloway Hoard, deposited around 900, contains a remarkable volume of silver ingots and Hiberno-Scandinavian arm-rings alongside artefacts derived from trade routes stretching to Central Asia, attesting to the potential liquidity of at least some settlers and their membership of wider exchange networks (Goldberg, this section).

As outlined above, precious metals used as bullion were likely gained via selling surplus natural resources, combined with shipping tolls and piracy, bringing the wealth seen in thirty-six hoards (Graham-Campbell, this section).

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 249 - 250
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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