The mystery of money in the early Middle Ages has been solved: the movements of silver coins have been studied.

The main source of silver was far from Europe. For decades, historians have puzzled over the origins of the “silver boom” that triggered the economic revival of Europe in the mid-7th century. New research published in the journal Antiquity sheds light on this mystery, revealing the history of international trade and the struggle for political power. DiscussThe mystery of money of the early Middle Ages has been solved: the movements of silver coins have been studied© Ferra

Byzantine trace .

The study authors, led by a team from Cambridge, Oxford and Vrij University of Amsterdam, analyzed early medieval silver coins from England, France and the Netherlands. Using advanced techniques such as laser ablation and lead isotope analysis, the team discovered two key facts.

The main source of silver for these early coins (660−750 AD) was not a European mine, but the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. This discovery refutes previous theories and suggests a deeper trade relationship between Western Europe and Byzantium than previously known. Researchers believe that Byzantine silver may have reached Western Europe several decades before the start of coinage, perhaps as a result of trade, diplomatic exchanges, or even Anglo-Saxon mercenaries serving in the Byzantine army. It is noteworthy that the ratio of elements in the coins was surprisingly constant, indicating a large and homogeneous source of silver.

However, the dominance of Byzantine silver came to an end around 750 AD. The study's authors suggest that members of the elite may have melted down prestigious Byzantine silver objects like those found at Sutton Hoo to raise large amounts of money for “great social change.” This period also coincides with a decline in trade and diplomacy, suggesting that these items were liquidated during a period of need.

Charlemagne and the Rise of Cupronickel Silver.

< p>The second important discovery is associated with the emergence of a new source of silver – the Melle mine in western France. Coins minted after 750 AD. BC, show a clear change in composition, with a lower gold content characteristic of Melle silver. The authors of the study associate this shift with the rise to power of Charlemagne. The researchers suggest that Charlemagne actively promoted the use of cupronickel with silver in his expanding empire, potentially standardizing the production and distribution of coins, as evidenced by historical records.

The research results also shed light on the complex relationship between Charlemagne's Francia and Offa's Mercia in England. Both monarchs actively managed the silver and currency trade, with Charlemagne having greater control due to his larger kingdom and access to the Melle mine. The research suggests that there was a dynamic of both cooperation and tension between the two leaders, with England likely aware of its dependence on Frankish silver.