Desktop version

Home arrow History

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font


<<   CONTENTS   >>

Economic anthropology

Here, the terms ‘market’ and ‘trade’ are used according to their modern, capitalist connotations, due to evidence from sites like Birka, Hedeby, Kaupang, Dublin, and York. In these locations, the regular movement of raw materials from distant regions to sites in which value was added by, for example, the working of the material into products for mass consumption, is suggestive of commerce?

The distances involved between materials and market and the multicultural communities present at these sites speak to exchanges of goods that were, anthropologically speaking, transactions between non-kin individuals and, thus, largely regulated by non-socially embedded market norms.

With different characteristics to Central Places,9 these sites do not seem to have been designed by their (royal) patrons as centres of socially-mediated gift giving, but as controllable areas where taxes and tariffs could be extracted efficiently.1" While relationships would have been created and gifts between individuals and to rulers exchanged, these were unlikely to be core concerns. In any case, royal control continued to provide control of the flow of prestige imported goods used to attract loyalty and followers, demonstrating the relationship between markets and social strategy, and how markets functioned as Central Places, albeit writ large and with less control.11

That these sites with their evidence of commerce and silver currencies can be described as markets appears axiomatic. However, until recently, resistance to attributing capitalism to the Viking Age (if not the Late Norse period) in British and Irish studies was latent, arguably due to Samson’s ‘Economic Anthropology and Vikings’.12 A Marxist perspective, Samson spoke against commercial interpretations, arguing that the goal of Scandinavians was the possession of giftable wealth, not profit. This followed Grierson’s ‘Commerce in the Dark Ages’,13 which placed ‘the burden of proof |...] with those who believed that trading had reached developed forms’.14

While these caveats are important correctives to ‘formalist’ interpretations that attribute little short of modem capitalism to Viking-Age Scandinavians, stripping them of any commercial aims is unsustainable. Indeed, Samson’s position that Vikings only moonlighted as traders in order to gain silver for social strategies at home is at odds with the establishment of long-distance markets at sites like Dublin and York and the evidence for silver currency use and manufacturing at Hiberno-Scandinavian longphuirt and Great Army winter camps.1

Furthermore, historical evidence relating to treaties, such as that between Alfred and Guthrum, and the AD 873 request by Vikings to hold a market on an island in the Loire river, demonstrates that trade was of central importance to Viking army leaders in both England and Francia.16

Silver and market commerce in Scandinavian Scotland

There is acceptance that Scandinavian Scotland was host to market trade and commercial transactions involving silver as a means of exchange, however limited or occasional.1' This tends to be evidenced by metrological equipment thought to relate to bullion, single-finds of silver coin in settlements,18 and the presence (and increasing fragmentation) of hacksilver.1

The ‘regular rendering’ of complete ornaments - which had a central gifting role, usually in the form of rings - into hacksilver is seen as evidence of

‘commercial use’,20 with silver ‘cut up for use as small lumps of bullion in the prevailing metal-weight economy, as and when required to top up the scale pan’.21 This commercial perspective sees internal surpluses used ‘to equip boats for piracy and trade’,22 perhaps for ‘the lucrative trading world of the Norse in Ireland’.23

As argued by Graham-Campbell and Batey, increasing fragmentation and the increasing proportion of hacked to complete ornaments suggests a move from a more socially-embedded (display) role for silver to a more commercial one.24 Not all are convinced by the extent and importance of the latter, however. Moving away from formalist perspectives that stress the importance of silver as a means of exchange within market trade2’ are those substantivists that err on the side of Grierson’s caveats about the significance of socially-embedded uses, arguing that (relatively) small volumes of silver point to the low importance of external market trade to Scotto-Scandinavians.26

This split has been balanced by ‘post-substantivist’ perspectives developed by Skre,27 Gustin,28 and others, primarily via analysis of the economic evidence from Kaupang and Birka. Skre and Gustin argue that economic agency grew in the very specific conditions of such sites. These conditions were the long-term occupation of sites designed to facilitate long-distance trade by a range of social classes who were developing business relationships with people outside their kin group. This ‘market-site dynamic’29 led to increased economic agency among the traders and producers and the export of commercial practice and efficient metal-weight economies to the rural regions that supplied the raw materials.

Observations by the likes of Smyth and MacLeod have enabled the development of post-substantivist models.30 They acknowledge that most interacted with the commercial sphere of exchange only intermittently, but also note the evidence of commercial influence on Scotland stemming from raiding, migration, and trading connections between this region and Scandinavian market-centric silver bullion economies elsewhere.

As discussed below, there is growing evidence in the form of bullion hoards and settlement finds, which suggests that silver had an important role in facilitating market trade, and Graham-Campbell and Batey have shown that there was ‘growth in supply and circulation of silver between the ninth and eleventh centuries in Scandinavian Scotland’.31 While we do not see the volumes seen in England, Ireland, and Francia, this would not be expected, given the disparity in populations.32 Indeed, on an assumed per capita basis, there is no reason to view Scotto-Scandinavians as the poor neighbours.33

Taking into account Williams’ observations that the widespread distribution of single-find coins at small, seemingly remote Scotto-Scandinavian settlements is evidence for the use of coined money in the region from the early tenth century,34 Blackburn suggested that Scotland had ‘something like a dual economy, where arm-rings, hacksilver, and mixed English and Continental coins remained an essential part of the economy, but individual coins could be used within settlements for daily transactions’.35

 
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics