I am frequently asked the following questions and I openly admit to struggle to answer them adequately – the negative side of being a generalist dealer (constantly buying old attic finds and selling oddments from same), as opposed to being a specialist numismatic expert like so many of my much more knowledgeable customers.
- Who ordered the production of the Hiberno-Manx coinage and why ?
- What at was it used for ?
- local commerce, political influence, ransom payment, or international trade ?
- The native Irish, Scots and Welsh were coinless societies, so it is unlikely they were used for local commerce, apart from intra-Viking transactions
- What did they look like, i.e. images and technical descriptions ?
- How does it differ from other Viking coins of the day ?
- Why are so few of these coins found outside of the Isle of Man ?
I hope this article goes some way towards answering these questions.
- According to the source material, there was a mint producing coins on Mann between c.1025 and c.1065 from an imported Phase II, Hiberno-Norse penny die from Dublin.
- There is also a suggestion that derivatives of Hiberno-Norse Phase III and IV coinages might have been produced on Mann
The idea that the Dublin Vikings had influenced or even created a Hiberno-Manx coinage was first proposed by Michael Dolley in 1976, although critics pointed out that he provided little ‘hard’ evidence to support his claims.
- A later, more detailed study by Kristin Bornholdt (1999) strengthened the case for a distinctive and separate Hiberno-Manx coinage but, according to Gareth Williams, she still did not produce conclusive proof – so ‘the jury is still out’ on that one.
- Mark Blackburn also argues that there is evidence of influences from Chester or Meols in the Wirral but admitted that his “attribution is far from certain.”
My initial line of enquiry is as follows :-
- Who ruled the Isle of Man at this time ?
- Did they have any links with the Dublin Vikings ?
- Did they mint the same coins in both Dublin and the Isle of Man ?
- How many Hiberno-Manx coins have been found to date ?
- Where were they found ?
- Where are they now kept ?
- Have any academic papers been published ?
Historical Background in Dublin
Sigtrygg II Silkbeard Olafsson (also Sihtric, Sitric and Sitrick in Irish texts; or Sigtryg and Sigtryggr in Scandinavian texts) was a Hiberno-Norse king of Dublin and, from a numismatic viewpoint, he was very important insofar as he minted Hiberno-Norse coins at Dublin in his name of both Phase I and Phase II coin types.
He was a rather colourful character and experienced mixed fortunes as both king and usurper, possibly reigning from AD 989–994; restored (or began) from AD 995–1000; restored in AD 1000 and abdicated in AD 1036. Sigtrygg’s long reign spanned 46 years, until his abdication in 1036 and his historical highlights include :-
- Sigtrygg was of Norse and Irish ancestry – a son of Olaf Cuarán (also called Kváran), King of York and of Dublin, and Gormflaith.
- In early 999 Sigtrygg first allied with his maternal uncle, Máel Mórda, King of the Uí Fáeláin of north Leinster, when they defeated their cousin the King of Leinster (Donnchad mac Domhnaill) and imprisoned him in Dublin
- In late 999 the Leinstermen, historically hostile to domination by either the Uí Néill overkings or the king of Munster, allied themselves with the Norse of Dublin and revolted against Brian Boru but were subjected to a crushing defeat at the Battle of Glenmama
- In 1000 Brian Boru plundered Dublin, burned the Norse fortress and expelled Sigtrygg. As Sigtrygg could find no refuge in Ireland, he eventually returned, submitted to Brian, gave hostages and was restored to Dublin
- Brian’s daughter by his first wife was married to Sigtrygg,
- Brian in turn took Sigtrygg’s mother as his second wife
- In 1002, Sigtrygg’s soldiers served in Brian’s campaign against the Ulaid and ravaged their lands. His fleet raided Ulster, and he plundered Kilclief and Inis Cumhscraigh, taking many prisoners from both.
- They served under Brian against the Ulaid again in 1005, and against the Northern Uí Néill in 1006 and 1007. With the submission of Cenél Conaill, the last of the Northern Uí Néill Kingdoms in 1011, Brian was formally recognised as High King throughout Ireland
- 1010, Brian Boru divorced Queen Gormflaith
- Thenceforth, she began to engineer opposition to the High King
- In 1012, relations between Brian and Leinster had become so strained that revolt broke out among the Leinstermen. Sigtrygg aligned himself with the forces of Máel Mórda, leader of the revolt, and the chiefs Ua Ruairc, Ua Néill, and others. Together, they defeated Brian’s ally Máel Sechnaill near the town of Swords
- Gormflaith sent Sigtrygg to win first the support of Earl Sigurd of Orkney, who agreed that he would arrive in Dublin by Palm Sunday with all his host, on the condition that if they slew Brian, he would marry Gormflaith and become King of Ireland
- Sigtrygg then went to the Isle of Man where he sought the support of Bróðir and Óspak – he promised Bróðir too that, if successful, he would be allowed marry Gormflaith and become King of Ireland; the terms of this agreement, however, were to be kept secret
- Óspak was dissatisfied with the arrangement and opted to fight on the side of Brian Boru
- In 1013, the great battle took place at Clontarf
- The Cogadh Gaedhil re Gallaibh records that Sigtrygg was able to observe the progress of the battle and the movement of the battle standards from the ramparts of his fortress and the modern Irish medievalist historian Donnchadh Ó Corráin notes, Sigtrygg “wisely kept within the city and lived to tell the tale”
- However, earlier Scandinavian sources (notably the Orkneyinga saga, Njál’s saga and the Darraðarljóð, composed soon after the battle) contend that he did actually fight valiantly at Clontarf. The Darraðarljóð, the pagan tones of which show the persistence of paganism among the Vikings of Dublin, describes the Valkyries as following the “young king” Sigtrygg into battle. Njal’s Saga records that Sigtrygg was on the wing opposite Óspak of Man for the whole battle, and that Óspak eventually put Sigtrygg to flight
- Immediately after Clontarf, Sigtrygg’s fortunes appear to have declined, even though he emerged with his kingdom intact.
- In 1015, plague struck Dublin and Leinster, and Máel Sechnaill (the new High King) seized the opportunity by marching south to burn Dublin’s suburbs
- While Sigtrygg was able to ally with Leinster for another attack on Meath in 1017, the alliance was dissolved when Sigtrygg blinded his cousin Bróen, Máel Morda’s son and heir, in Dublin
- In 1018, Sigtrygg plundered Kells; he “carried off innumerable spoils and prisoners, and slew many persons in the middle of the church”. These captives would either have been ransomed or sold off into Dublin’s lucrative slave trade.
- When Sigtrygg raided south in 1021, he was defeated at Delgany in Co Wicklow
- In 1022, the Dublin fleet sailed north against the Ulaid, only to be destroyed in a naval battle against Niall mac Eochaid
- In 1026, 1027 and 1029 Dublin was raided and hostages were taken from Sigtrygg but they gave him little security as powerful rivals vied for the high kingship and Dublin was seen as an easy military and financially lucrative target.
- The 1030s saw a revival of fortunes for Sigtrygg.
- In 1030, he allied with the King of England, Cnut, and together their fleets raided Wales – a Dublin colony was established in Gwynedd and for the following years Sigtrygg was at the height of his power – why are there no Hiberno-Welsh coins?
- In 1032, without allies, Sigtrygg won a victory on the Boyne estuary against a coalition of three kingdoms: over 300 members of the Conailli, the Ui Tortain, and the Ui Meith were captured or killed at the Battle of Inbher Boinne.
- In 1035, he plundered the celebrated stone church Ardbraccan in Meath, burned 200 men inside, and carried another 200 off into captivity.
- Also in 1035, Sigtrygg executed the King of Waterford, Ragnall —a grandson of the Ivar, Sigtrygg’s earliest rival, who had contested for Dublin decades before.
- However, in 1036 , Sigtrygg was forced to abdicate by Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, King of the Isles (which included the Isle of Man at that time).
- Sigtrygg died in exile, at an unknown place, in 1042.
- 1010, Brian Boru divorced Queen Gormflaith
The Contemporary Kings of Mann
There were five Manx kings during this time frame but only three had strong links with the Dublin Vikings who were minting their own coins at the time. Curiously, the Scottish Vikings did not mint their own coins, whereas the Irish Vikings and the Vikings in the North of England did. It would appear that this was a contributing factor to coin production and usage on the Isle of Man. Also, the political aftermath of the Battle of Clontarf played a key role – there were Vikings on both sides and Dublin was ruled/occupied by protagonists on both sides thereafter.
Another interesting anomaly is that Hiberno-Manx coins have rarely been found outside the Isle of Man, which evidently represented an ‘almost’ closed circulation pool. More than 90% of the known find provenances of Hiberno-Manx coins are from various hoards from Mann, and the remainder come from Scandinavia, i.e. none have been found in Ireland.
- Is this evidence they were not used for international trade ?
- Is this evidence that Dublin and Mann did not trade between one another ?
- Is this evidence that these coins were not used for local trade ?
- political influence ?
- gifts ?
- tribute payment ?
- ransom payment ?
The Rulers of Mann 1020-70
Håkon Eiriksson, ruled from 1016–1030
Title: Ruler of the Suðreya.(The combined islands of the Hebrides, the islands of the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Man were known as the Southern Isles to the Vikings of the 9th to 13th centuries – as distinct from the Norðreyjar, or the Northern Isles of the Orkneys and Shetlands).
- Håkon was from a dynasty of Norwegian rulers in the eastern part of Trondheim but he ruled the Suðreyar as a Danish vassal of Cnut the Great, while his uncle Sveinn Hákonarson, held some areas as a Swedish vassal.
- He was the son of Eirik Håkonson, ruler of Norway and earl of Northumbria.
- His mother is commonly believed to have been Gytha, a daughter of Sweyn Forkbeard and Sigrid (the Haughty) of Denmark and half-sister of King Knut.
- Håkon does not appear to have had any contact with the Dublin Vikings and, as such, is an unlikely candidate for producing Hiberno-Manx coins from the Hiberno-Norse, Phase II dies cited in the literature.
Olaf Sigtryggsson, ruled from 1030?–1034
Title: King of Mann
- Amlaíb mac Sitriuc(“Amhlaeibh, son of Sitric”) or Olaf Sigtryggsson was the son of the Hiberno-Norse King of Dublin, Sigtrygg Silkbeard and Sláine, the daughter of Brian Boru.
- Sitric issued Phase II Hiberno-Norse coins in Dublin, therefore Olaf is a good candidate for minting Hiberno-Manx coinage from Hiberno-Norse, Phase II dies.
- In 1029, Olaf was taken prisoner by the new lord of Brega, Mathghamhain Ua Riagain, who exacted a ransom of 1,200 cows.
- Further conditions of the agreement necessitated payment of another 140 British horses, 60 ounces of gold and of silver, “the sword of Carlus” (a prestigious part of the royal insignia of the foreign kings of Dublin), the Irish hostages of Leinster and Leath Cuinn, “four hostages to Ua Riagain as a security for peace, and the full value of the life of the third hostage.
- Added to the total, 80 cows “for word and supplication were to be paid to the man who entreated for Amlaíb’s release.
- The incident illustrates the importance of ransoming noble captives, as a means of political manipulation, i.e. increasing one’s own revenues and exhausting the resources of one’s foes.
- Shortly afterwards, Olaf moves to the Isle of Man.
- Did Olaf issue Hiberno-Manx coins for political reasons ?
- Did his father (Sigtrygg) order/finance their minting as Overlord of Mann ?
- His father, Sigtrygg, remained as King of Dublin for another 5 years.
- Olaf was ousted by Thorfinn (the Mighty) and Mann fell into the control of the Orkneys & Southern Isles – it seems, his father (Sigtrygg) was unable to help him.
The simplified description in Coincraft‘s `Standard Catalogue of Scotland, Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man’ has only one entry relating to the Hiberno-Manx series. It is obviously a Hiberno-Norse, Phase II imitation and is as follows:-
This issue was struck between 1025 and 1035 AD. The only denomination struck was the penny and the style was greatly influenced by the Hiberno-Norse issues of Ireland which in turn copied the design from the English Aethelred II long cross penny. This issue is very crude in style and should not be confused with issues of Ireland and England; the Hiberno-Manx penny has crude blundered legends, a cruder style bust and minor marks of design which differentiate it.
Obverse: crude bust of the king facing right, a quatrefoil at the beginning of the legend, sometimes a quatrefoil on the king’s neck, four pellets usually behind the king’s head.
Reverse: voided long cross. a small pellet in each quarter.
Mark Blackburn suggests that the Manx coinage was started with a pair of Phase II dies transferred from the Dublin mint in the mid or late 1020s, and the series is composed of extremely crude copies of that one pair of dies.
This series (of Hiberno-Norse Phase II imitations) has been further researched by Kristin Bornholdt (BAR British Series 278, 1999) who has revealed early, middle and late styles.
In a recent find at Glenfaba, Isle of Man, 58 Hiberno-Manx coins have been identified. Early indications are that they are all Hiberno-Norse, Dublin, Phase II imitations. I will add new information as and when I find it.
——————————————————— ATTEMPTED FORGERY ALERT
As usual, wherever there is something of value there is a forger waiting to defraud the unsuspecting public. The so-called Michigan Gang in the USA produced a very poor copy of a Hiberno-Manx penny and tried to sell it via eBay in 2003. It was sold in a Sold in private auction #3306335955 for $127.50 (January 14th to 21st 2003, 12 bids.)
Several people seem to be involved, including one in the UK, so be mindful of private auctions on eBay. These people also forged and attempted to sell Ormonde money, Kilkenny Confederate money, a Blacksmith gold pistole, an Edward IV Irish groat, and a selection of what they describe as “contemporary forgeries during the Great Rebellion of 1841. Irish hammered coin collectors need to be aware of these dubious pieces.
Thorfinn the Mighty, ruled from c. 1035–c. 1058
Title: Earl of Orkney & Mormaer of Caithness
A vassal of the King of Norway and the youngest of the five known sons of Earl Sigurd Hlodvirsson, who was killed at the Battle of Clontarf on 23rd April 1014. Before setting out for Ireland, Earl Sigurd had sent Thorfinn (then aged five) to be fostered by his maternal grandfather, the King of Scots.
- Like Håkon Eiriksson, Thorfinn does not appear to have had any contact with the Dublin Vikings and so, is an unlikely candidate for minting Hiberno-Manx coins from Hiberno-Norse dies.
Echmarcach mac Ragnaill, ruled from 1052–1061
Title: King of Mann
Echmarcach was a mid-11th C Norse-Gaelic king who, at his height, ruled a kingdom which spanned the Irish Sea region, and included Dublin, at least part of the Isles (Hebrides and Mann), and much of Galloway.
- The precise identity of Echmarcach’s father, Ragnall, is uncertain.
- One possibility is that Ragnall was one of two early 11th C like-named rulers of Waterford.
Echmarcach first appears on record in about 1031 or 1032, when he was one of three kings in northern Britain who submitted to Knútr Sveinnsson, King of Denmark, England, and Norway.
- Echmarcach seems to have had an alliance with the O’Brien clan and, as far back as 984, his grandfather is recorded to have combined forces with Brian Boru in a proposed attack on the Dublin Vikings
- In 1032, theAnnals of Inisfallen record that Donnchad mac Briain, King of Munster married “Ragnall’s daughter”, elsewhere identified as Cacht ingen Ragnaill, who may have been Echmarcach’s sister.
- Echmarcach is recorded to have ruled over Dublin from 1036–1038, and 1046–1052.
- In 1036, he replaced Sigtrygg Silkbeard, as King of Dublin
- In 1046, theAnnals of the Four Masters state that he was expelled by Echmarcach, who was then elected king by the Dubliners
- After losing Dublin for the final time, he appears to have seated himself on Mann.
- About a decade later, in 1061, Echmarcach appears to have been expelled from Mann
- On his death in 1065, an expatriateIrish monk appears to have styled Echmarcach “King of the Rhinns”, in reference to what may have been his last holding, in Galloway.
Echmarcach‘s reign would have been contemporaneous with Phase III (c.1035-c.1060) of the Hiberno-Norse coinages of Dublin and, in between his two reigns as King of Dublin, he seems to have used the Isle of Man as a launching post for his conquests of Dublin.
Silver hoards uncovered on Mann, dated by their coins to the years 1030s–1050s, may well be the by-product of the intense conflict wrought for control of the island. At some point in the early 11th C, a mint may have functioned on Mann and coins which may have been minted on the island roughly coincide with Echmarcach’s rule.
- These coins are very similar to those produced in Dublin, i.e. Phase III
- They may be evidence that Echmarcach attempted to harmonise the coinage utilised within his realm.
- The production of coins on Mann appears to be evidence of a sophisticated economy in the Isles. In fact, the wealth and sophistication of commerce in Echmarcach’s realm could in part explain why the battles for control of Dublin and the Isles were so bitter
I cannot find images of any Hiberno-Manx coins attributed to Echmarcach mac Ragnaill – I will update this post if I do so in the future.
Murchad mac Diarmata, ruled from 1061–1070
Title: King of Dublin and Mann?
- Murchad mac Diarmata(died 1070) was a King of Leinster and He was a member of Leinster’s Uí Cheinnselaig dynasty.
- Murchad was survived by his fatherDiarmait mac Maíl na mBó (died 1072).
- He was succeeded as King of Leinster by his son Domnall mac Murchada (died 1075), his brother Enna (died 1092) and Enna’s son Diarmait (died 1098).
- The family of Mac Murchadha (MacMurrough) and MacMurrough-Kavanagh took their name from him.
- His grandson,Dermot MacMurrough was King of Leinster 1126–1171, and became known as the man who brought the Normans to Ireland.
Murchad minted the ‘scratched die’ or Phase IV (c.1052-c.1070) of the Hiberno-Norse coinages of Dublin. These comprise a small group that could have been included with Phase V. The coins exhibit one common characteristic in that they have a cross apparently scratched into one quarter of the reverse die.
I cannot find images of any Hiberno-Manx coins attributed to Murchad mac Diarmata – I will update this post if I do so in the future.
Abdy, Richard & Williams, Gareth, 2006. “A Catalogue of hoards and single finds from the British Isles c. AD 410-675″, in Cook and Williams 2006, 11-73
Blackburn, M., 1996, ‘Hiberno-Norse and Irish Sea imitations of Cnut’s quatrefoil type’,
Blackburn, M., 2007. ‘Currency under the Vikings. Part 3. Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man and Scotland in the ninth and tenth centuries’, BNJ 77, 119–49.
Blackburn, M., 2008. ‘Currency under the Vikings. Part 4. The Dublin Coinage c.995–1050’, BNJ 78, 111-37.
Bornholdt, K., 1999. ‘Myth or mint? The evidence for a Viking-Age coinage from the Isle of Man’, in P.J. Davey (ed), Recent Archaeological Research on the Isle of Man, BAR British Series 278 (Oxford), 199–220.
Bornholdt Collins, K., 2003. ‘Viking-Age coin finds from the Isle of Man: a study of coin circulation, production and concepts of wealth’, Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Cambridge. 2 vols.
Bornholdt Collins, K., forthcoming b. ‘Coinage’, in Duffy (ed.), A New History of the Isle of Man: Vol. 3: The Medieval Period, 1000–1405 (Liverpool).
Cubbon, Marshall. “Some observations on the eleventh-century Hiberno-Manx mint,” in Davey, P. (ed.) Recent Archaeological Research on the Isle of Man, British Archaeological Reports British Series 278. Oxford (1999), pp. 218-220.
Cubbon, Marshall. “A remarkable decade of Manx coin hoards, 1972-1982,” Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society 11 (2000), pp. 29-50
Dolley, M., 1975a. ‘The pattern of Viking-Age coin hoards from, the Isle of Man’, SCMB 1975, 296–302, 337–40.
Dolley, R. H. M. (Various papers)
(652). “The ‘forgotten’ Viking-Age silver hoard from West Nappin, Jurby”, Proceedings of the Isle of Man National History and Antiquities Society 8(1), (1976), 54-64.
(683). “The pattern of Viking-Age coin-hoards from the Isle of Man”, SCMB 685 and 686, (1975), 296-302 and 337-40.
(802). “An eleventh-century Dublin penny found on the isle of Man”, Irish Numismatics 12(72), (1979), 289-91.
(807). “A supplementary note on the 1974 Ballaqueeney find from the Isle of Man”, NCirc87(3), (1979), 123-4.
(819). “Additional light on the 1834 coin-hoard from Kirk Michael (Isle of Man)”, Irish Numismatics 13(74), (1980), 82-4.
(821). “The neglected Norwegian dimension to the 1848 coin-hoard from Bradda mountain (Isle of Man)”, Norsk Numismatisk Forening-Nytt 2, (1980), 7-24.
1983. “The Viking-age silver hoards of the Isle of Man”, in The Viking Age in the Isle of Man, ed. C. Fell et al. (1983), 53-80.
2004b. “‘Danes…in this country’: Discovering the Vikings in Scotland” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 134 (2004), 201-39. – 2005. “The Lost coin of Æthelred II from Rushen Abbey, Isle of Man”, BNJ 75 (2005), 161-3.
Graham-Campbell, James, & Williams, Gareth, 2007, ‘Silver Economy in the Viking Age’,
Wilson, D., 2008. The Vikings in the Isle of Man (Aarhus).
Wilson, D., 1974. The Viking Age in the Isle of Man: The Archaeological Evidence (Odense, 1974).
- Huge Hoard Of Viking-Age Silver Unearthed On The Isle Of Man (2003)via David Prudames
- Finder of Viking Coin Treasure Gets $600,000 (2008)via Coin News .net
Viking Age Manx Hoards & Finds:
1972, at Kirk Michael seventy-nine coins were found in a controlled excavation, incl. Anglo-Saxon, Hiberno-Norse, Hiberno-Manx (a new discovery), and Norman of 10th-11th centuries; three silver arm rings (ring money) were also present. Deposition: AD 1060-70.
2003, a new hoard was discovered in Glenfaba sheading on the Isle of Man, which was to be the largest and most important hoard of Hiberno-Scandinavian coins found since 1836, when the Dunbrody (Co Wexford) hoard was discovered. This new Glenfaba hoard contains 464 coins and is especially important for the study of Dolley’s Phase II and the beginning of the Hiberno-Manx coinage. It is now housed in the Manx Museum, Douglas.
- 326 Hiberno-Norse coins
- 79 Anglo-Saxon coins
- 58 Hiberno-Manx coins
- 1 Scandinavian coin
- 27 ingots / hack silver
I have been unable to find any papers relating to the findings, ie. The 58 Hiberno-Manx coins found at Glenfaba.
I will update this post if I do so in the future.
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4 thoughts on “O’Brien Coin Guide: The enigma of the Hiberno-Manx Coinages of the mid-11th Century”
its absolutely great to have this very readable introduction to this fascinating series of coins,, many thanks
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Thank you for taking the time to read it. I’m still trying to get more info on the Glenfaba Hoard – there was over 50 Hiberno-Manx coins in with the others
Highly descriptive post, I loved that a lot. Will there be a part 2?
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