Science

Coins found in Poland may have been bribe to keep Vikings from sacking Paris over 1,200 years ago


A trove of 118 silver coins was unearthed in a forest in northeastern Poland in March that experts believe may have been part of an ancient bribe.

The coins, minted in the 9th century during the Carolingian Empire, are the largest number of their kind ever found in Poland.

Experts believe the hoard may have been part of a bribe to protect Paris from being sacked by Vikings more than a thousand years ago.  

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More than 100 silver coins from the Carolingian Empire were found in a forest in northeast Poland in March. The 1,200-plus-year-old coins may have been part of a bribe to keep Vikings from sacking Paris

More than 100 silver coins from the Carolingian Empire were found in a forest in northeast Poland in March. The 1,200-plus-year-old coins may have been part of a bribe to keep Vikings from sacking Paris

In November 2020, metal detector enthusiasts uncovered a handful of silver denarius, or Roman-style coins, in a field near Biskupiec, a town in northeastern Poland about 120 miles from Warsaw.

They notified researchers at the nearby Museum of Ostróda and, in March 2021, archaeologists returned to the field to investigate.

They uncovered a total of 118 coins—all but one of which dated to the reign of the Carolingian emperor Louis the Pious, who ruled from 814 until 840 AD.

The remaining silver piece was minted during the brief reign of his son Charles the Bald, who ruled from 875 to 877.

It's exceedingly rare for Carolingian money to be found in northeast Poland, which was well beyond the boundaries of the empire, according to experts

It’s exceedingly rare for Carolingian money to be found in northeast Poland, which was well beyond the boundaries of the empire, according to experts

All had the distinctive markings of the Carolingian dynasty, with a cross and Latin inscriptions.

Charlemagne, a Frankish leader, founded the Carolingian Empire in 800 AD and, during the Early Middle Ages, he and his descendants united much of western and central Europe after the fall of Rome.

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But finding Carolingian specie in Poland is highly uncommon, as the region was well beyond the borders of the empire.

Only three Carolingian coins have previously been unearthed in north Poland, at an archaeological site at Truso, about 60 miles west of Biskupiec.

Researchers theorize the coins came from Truso, a Norse trading post about 60 miles from where the coins were found

Researchers theorize the coins came from Truso, a Norse trading post about 60 miles from where the coins were found

The researchers believe this newfound hoard also came from Truso, which in the 800s, was a Norse trading center.

They theorize the money was part of a massive bribe paid by Charles the Bald to keep the Norse from invading Paris, the capital of the Carolingian Empire.

Mateusz Bogucki, an archaeologist and numismatist at the University of Warsaw, told Live Science that it’s too soon to know for certain, but some of the coins can be traced back to Paris.

It's also possible the coins were left in the uninhabited area as a 'drop,' for Vikings from Truso to pick up

It’s also possible the coins were left in the uninhabited area as a ‘drop,’ for Vikings from Truso to pick up

‘If a larger number of the coins can be attributed to Paris, then yes, it is possible,’ Bogucki told the news outlet.

If the coins weren’t used to buy off the Vikings, their presence is a mystery: Biskupiec was uninhabited at the time and Prussian tribes in the region used Arab coins.

Charles the Bald paid 7,000 livres, or more than five tons of silver and gold, to the Vikings for them to not sack Paris, Bogucki told Live Science, and it’s possible the coins found in Biskupiec were part of that ransom.

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‘The functioning of the settlement in Truso and the related activity of the Vikings is currently the most reliable clue indicating how the treasure reached the territory of ancient Prussia,’ Lead archaeologist Łukasz Szczepański told Science in Poland

Carolingian king Charles the Bald (pictured) reportedly paid the Vikings 7,000 livres, or more than five tons of silver and gold, to not sack Paris in the 9th century

Carolingian king Charles the Bald (pictured) reportedly paid the Vikings 7,000 livres, or more than five tons of silver and gold, to not sack Paris in the 9th century

‘In the 9th century, we see a clear increase in the threat posed by the Vikings taking part in the invasions of Western Europe,’ Szczepański added.

The siege of Paris in 845 was the culmination of a Viking invasion of West Francia, he noted.

The treasure was found in the Drwęca River basin, according to Science in Poland,  which lead to the mouth of the Vistula River, where Truso is located.

It’s possible the location was a drop site intended for the invaders to pick up the hoard, but for whatever reason the deal was never closed.

While the coins are clearly Carolingian, there’s little to show precisely where they were minted.

Boguki hopes to discern more of their origins by studying the shapes of the letters in their Latin inscriptions and other characteristics.



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