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Saxon Bullion and early Sachsenpfennigs

Updated: Mar 22

While this is not necessarily a topic of Saxon Heathenry, the Saxons did have trade and an economic infrastructure before forced Christianization which came along with the Saxon Wars. The Saxons, before christianization, did not mint coins. While they certainly came across coins minted elsewhere, metal was the common form of currency. The Saxon merchants had developed a so-called bullion economy. When paying, silver (sometimes other metals, silver was the most common) was cut into the form of ingots and weighed with scales and weights. The same was done with coins and jewelry. [Walther Haupt: Sächsische Münzkunde, Berlin 1974, p17] Trading non-metal goods for other goods was quite common as well.

After Christianization, the Carolingian (Frankish) coinage became the standard in Old Saxon lands. This was the monetary system that was put upon the Saxons, who were swallowed by the Christian Carolingian Reich through forced conversion. Over the decades to come, Charlemagne’s Carolingian Reich would be divided into three parts after his three male grandsons fought for control of his entire Reich. The “Reich” in German terms was that of “East Frankia”, which included all Old Saxon lands. This empire lasted just over 1,000 years and became known as “The Holy Roman Empire” or “The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.” (Quite the perplexing title indeed, considering that it was "German" and not "Italian" or "Roman") Napoleon crushed and ended the "First" Reich in 1806. Charlemagne’s great empire being divided into three parts had a lasting effect on Europe, as these three divisions are very close to the borders of the modern nations of France, Germany, and Italy.

The Carolingian monetary system, introduced in 793/794 by Charlemagne, was a currency structure which was a major reform, the effects of this monetary reform subsequently dominated much of Europe, including Britain, for centuries. [Helmut Kahnt, Bernd Knorr: Alte Maße, Münzen und Gewichte. Ein Lexikon. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig 1986, Licensed to Mannheim, Vienna, Zurich 1987, ISBN 3-411-02148-9, p. 385.] It has three denominations with values in the ratio 1 to 12 to 240, the units of which went under different names in the different languages, but which corresponded to the Latin terms libra (pound), solidus (shilling) and denarius (penny), respectively. Due to gold not being found in northern Europe at the time, it only be obtained through long-distance trade, while conversely there were quite a few silver deposits in Europe north of the Alps. Therefore, Charlemagne introduced a pure silver currency. The basic weight of the coin became a pfund ("pound"), from which 240 pfennigs ("pennies") could be struck. This Carolingian pound weighed approximately 408 grams.

The pfennig and its corresponding entity in other countries was the most important coin of the Middle Ages. The pfund or pound was already a unit of weight and within this system also became a currency unit. The schilling, like the pfund, was not minted for a long time, but used only as a unit of account worth 12 pfennigs.

Sachsenpfennig (Saxon Pennies)

The Sachsenpfennig ("Saxon pfennig") was a well-known coin of the pfennig type minted in the Stem Duchy of Saxony during the 10th and 11th centuries. It had an upturned perimeter and, next to the Otto Adelheid Pfennig was the most common pfennig type of its time. [Walther Haupt: Sächsische Münzkunde, Berlin 1974, p12-13] Sachsenpfennigs are the oldest and first coins minted in Saxony.

Sachsenpfennigs of different types named after their designs which include the Holzkirchenpfennig ("wooden church"), Balkenkreuzpfennig ("bar cross"), Kleeblattkreuzpfennig ("clover cross") and Krummstabpfennig ("crooked staff").

From Roman antiquity, the talentum was adopted for the pound, solidus for the schilling and denarius for the pfennig. In Old Saxon lands, it was pfund, schilling, and pfennig. The mintmasters used mine-pure silver as the minting metal. In addition, circulating Roman denarii were melted down. Only pfennigs and 1⁄2 pfennigs were minted. The 1⁄2 pfennigs were called obole (Hälblinge"). 1⁄4 pfennigs (fertones) are mentioned, but these were not stamped, but divided from Halblinges. [Hermann Dannenberg: Die deutschen Münzen der sächsischen und fränkischen Kaiserzeit, Vol. I, Berlin 1876, p. 11.]

People were clearly happy to check the authenticity of a coin by biting it, as numerous deformed coins from this period show. If the metal gave way, the coin was genuine, if the tooth gave way, iron had been bitten. [Walther Haupt: Sächsische Münzkunde, Berlin 1974, p12]

The only coins I collect, are Sachsenpfennigs, and coins from historical Old Saxon areas with the Saxonross (Saxon Steed) on them.  The last of the Saxon Steed horses were minted in Germany in Westphalia in 1923.  Westphalia is where the Sass surname was born. Here is a Saxon Pfennig in which I own:

The Otto Adelheid Pfennig (OAP) was a Sachsenpfennig coin type bearing the names of Emperor Otto III of the Holy Roman Empire and his grandmother Adelaide of Burgundy (Athalhet), which was minted soon after 983 as a regional pfennig in the Harz region. Minting took place at more than one mint in the area between Hildesheim and Quedlinburg and lasted unchanged until the middle of the 11th century. A cross is stamped on the obverse side, in the corners of which are the letters of the name Otto, "O-D-D-O", framed by the transcription DI GRA REX (for "Dei Gratia Rex" = "By the Grace of God, King"). The reverse shows a stylized wooden church with the inscription: ATEAHLHT or ATHALHET. Depending on the time of minting, the silver coins weighed around 1.5 to 1.25 g and had a diameter of around 17 –20 mm. I find it sad that the Saxons so quickly turned to christianity, and they absolutely were fond of the Saxon Pfennigs, with churches on one side, and a cross on the other. This happened not long after the Stellinga, like 70 years after the Stellinga, it appears christianity really had replaced the Heathenry of the Saxons, and christian imagery was all over their "new country", the "Duchy of Saxony."

Here is the one Charlemagne period Frankish Denar that I own. Compare it to the Saxon Pfennigs above, most of which were minted in the Old Saxon town of Jever. You can see the clear copying resemblance.


On another note, in the 1600s, the Old Saxon areas did start to put the Sachsenros (or Saxon Steed) on several coins, which lasted through 1923 in Westphalia. Here is one of my favorite coins with the Saxon Steed, from 1669. Thank you for reading, and please consider joining us on the Facebook Group Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry.

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