On display

Room 68: Money 

Object details

Weight: 10.4 grammes
Museum number: 1875,1104.1

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Silver six-pence 'offering penny' coin

Wessex, 9th Century AD

This silver six-pence coin bears the name of Alfred the Great and is commonly known as an ‘offering penny’.

There has been significant discussion since the nineteenth century about the purposes of the coin. Edward Hawkins, a former Keeper at the British Museum, suggested in 1841 that it was more likely a medal than a coin. In 1870 both the complete coin and a cut fragment which was found as part of the Goldsborough Hoard in 1859, were suggested to be Denarii Oblitori or coins which had been struck for the purposes of worship.

Alfred became King of Wessex, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the South of England, in 871 following the death of his brother Aethelred. In the ‘Life of King Alfred’ a contemporary biography written by the Welsh monk Asser, Alfred’s piety is often alluded to. The creation of Law Codes outlined in the biography offers examples of Alfred’s development of the idea of Christian kingship. Whilst looking to West Saxon and Kentish law he was also consciously trying to emulate Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance.

This coin is both an expression of Alfred’s religious devotion and at the same time an act of kingship. The inscription on the reverse which reads ELI MO was thought at first to refer to a moneyer, someone who had been given sanction by the king to produce coinage, however it is very close to the Latin phrase of ELIMOSINA, a word which has two possible meanings. It could refer to alms or money given by the king to the needy. Alternatively it could refer to an offering specifically sent to a shrine. In ‘The Life of King Alfred’ Asser mentions gifts sent to both Rome and Jerusalem at the behest of the King. It is tempting therefore to suggest this coin was specifically minted to be given as a gift to the Papacy in Rome and was a physical expression of Alfred’s Christian rule and dedication to the Pope.

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H.A. Grueber and C.F. Keary, A Catalogue of English Coins in the British Museum, Anglo-Saxon Series, London, 1893

R.H.M. Dolley, The So-called Piedforts of Alfred the Great, in The Numismatic Chronicle, Volume XIV, The Royal Numismatic Society, London,1954