Way Back Wednesday: Week 2

For today’s dive into our finds archive, we’re cheating a bit: the artefacts in question are actually from just last year! During the clean-up of Brian Hope-Taylor’s backfill above the mortar mixer in Trench 3, two early medieval coins known as stycas were discovered. They were a very common find in the southern half of the trench over many years, often as single coins but once as a hoard. We have numerous single finds in the archive, while much of the hoard is on display in the medieval kitchen of the castle staterooms. We have discussed stycas in the past on the blog, but we felt this was a perfect time to give a little refresher.

Stycas are copper alloy coins from the 9th century of low denomination; their base metal was valuable to an extent in itself but could now be used to purchase smaller things than could be acquired via coinage with precious metals. They initially were struck in silver like their predecessor the sceat (which was basically a penny) but became debased over the decades: the silver content was reduced eventually to nothing by 830AD. These coins were likely being minted in York, but they were only in production for a relatively short time, from the very end of the 8th century to 850AD, but may have remained in circulation until York and finally Northumbria were firmly under Viking control. The latter decades of their use as legal tender saw an increase in forged coins, however. All of these traits make stycas extremely valuable for dating their associated contexts. The word styca comes from the Old English stycce meaning “a small piece.”

These two stycas as yet haven’t been associated with a king or archbishop (whose name would be on one face) or a moneyer (whose name would be on the other). So far the only visible letter is a D on the coin on the right. This bit of surviving text could have been helpful if (1) we could get a clear idea of which face we are looking at to know whether it’s the issuer or the moneyer AND (2) Northumbrians didn’t love names with the letter D (Eardwulf, Eanred, Aethelred…I could go on).

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