Gold mancus of Coenwulf

Kingdom of Mercia, England
AD 796-821

England's answer to Charlemagne?

This gold coin of Coenwulf, king of Mercia (796-821), is unique, and one of only eight gold British coins known from the period AD 700-1250. It is unusually well-preserved, and must have been lost very shortly after it was first issued. This is the earliest of the gold coins which we can be certain was intended for use as regular currency at home and abroad. Some of the others were certainly intended as presentation pieces, although it is not known whether the famous Offa dinar - minted by Coenwulf's predecessor - was intended for presentation or used as currency.

Coenwulf was king of Mercia, East Anglia and Kent, making him ruler of most of England. We know from letters that Offa wanted to be seen as the equal of the Frankish ruler Charlemagne (769-814). Could this coin show that his successor Coenwulf felt the same? The coin refers to London as a vicus, or trading centre, and a gold coin of Charlemagne uses the same term to describe the major port of Dorestadt, at the mouth of the Rhine. Both Coenwulf and Charlemagne's coins give the ruler's name and title, and both rulers are shown as Roman emperors. The similarities suggest that Coenwulf wanted a gold coinage to rival Charlemagne's.

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More information

Bibliography

L. Webster and J. Backhouse, The making of England: Anglo-S, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1991)

G. Williams and R. Bishop, 'Coenwulf, king of Mercia', Current Archaeology, 194 (October/November 2004)

G. Williams, 'Mercian coinage and authority' in Mercia: an Anglo-Saxon kingdom (London and New York, Leicester University Press, 2001)

Dimensions

Diameter: 20.000 mm
Weight: 4.330 g

Museum number

CM 2006,2-4,1

CMB198471

Acquired with the generous support of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Art Collections Fund, the Goldsmiths' Company and the British Museum Friends, together with a number of private donations

Location

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