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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site

 

The beginnings of money

Money did not start with coinage.

Thousands of years before the striking of the first coins there were comprehensive systems of financial exchange in place. The worth of a material can be based on a number of factors; these can include its availability, versatility or simply its aesthetic qualities. These reasons explain why what a society decides is valuable can differ greatly.

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	The el-Amarna hoard, Egypt, 14th century BC
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    The el-Amarna hoard, Egypt, 14th century BC  

    Keeping account

    In both Egypt and Mesopotamia, sophisticated accounting and payment systems existed long before coins were introduced. In transactions, precious metals were recorded alongside other commodities, usually by weight, suggesting that a wide variety of objects could be used in payments. The sophistication of these systems did not end with the introduction of coinage. In some cases, coins formed part of a complex web of trade agreements in much the same way as other commodities had previously done.

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    Jade stag, Zhou Dynasty, about 1100 BC-901 BC 

    Valuable currency

    In ancient China, jade and bronze were both highly valued materials. Jade was carved into beautiful and symbolic objects. Bronze was cast into elaborate vessels and bells. Many of the jades and bronzes were used in rituals and ceremonies.

    Inscriptions on bronze vessels tell us that strings of cowrie shells were used as gifts, and eventually as payments. The link between cowrie shells and money still features in the Chinese language today, with many modern Chinese characters relating to money including the ancient symbol for cowrie shell.

  • 3

    Cowrie shells, China, 16th-8th century BC  

    Valuable currency

    In ancient China, jade and bronze were both highly valued materials. Jade was carved into beautiful and symbolic objects. Bronze was cast into elaborate vessels and bells. Many of the jades and bronzes were used in rituals and ceremonies.

    Inscriptions on bronze vessels tell us that strings of cowrie shells were used as gifts, and eventually as payments. The link between cowrie shells and money still features in the Chinese language today, with many modern Chinese characters relating to money including the ancient symbol for cowrie shell.

  • 4

    Roman gold bars, late 4th century AD 

    Paying the bills

    Money in the ancient world was used to pay a wide range of taxes, fees and fines. Such transactions were carried out between individuals as well as at the level of the state.

    Taxes were often accepted usually in coins of a controlled standard (for example, gold), and unofficial or local coins might have to be exchanged for this purpose. For the Jewish population of Judaea, the coins required to pay taxes to the Roman authorities were unsuitable for their own religious levies.

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    Silver shekel of the Second Jewish Revolt from Rome, Judaea (modern Israel), AD 133-35  

    Paying the bills

    Money in the ancient world was used to pay a wide range of taxes, fees and fines. Such transactions were carried out between individuals as well as at the level of the state.

    Taxes were often accepted usually in coins of a controlled standard (for example, gold), and unofficial or local coins might have to be exchanged for this purpose. For the Jewish population of Judaea, the coins required to pay taxes to the Roman authorities were unsuitable for their own religious levies.