A metal detectorist discovered in the county of Innlandet, in inland Norway, a rare histamenon nomisma (literally standard coin), a Byzantine solid gold coin, minted in Constantinople around the year 960 AD.

The coin was found in the mountains of Vestre Slidre municipality and has been exceptionally well-preserved given its appearance, as it looks practically the same as when it was lost, perhaps a thousand years ago. It is a unique find in the Norwegian context.

The coin was minted in the Byzantine Empire, probably in the capital, Constantinople, and on one side, it depicts Christ holding the Bible, and on the other, probably the emperors Basil II (left) and Constantine VIII (right). Both were brothers and co-reigned.

It was minted in the late reign of Basil II and Constantine VIII, sometime between 977 and 1025 AD, as indicated by the triple dotted border surrounding the coin. It also bears two inscriptions, one in Latin saying “Jesus Christ, King of those who reign,” and another in Greek saying “Basil and Constantine, emperors of the Romans.

Speculation can arise about how the coin ended up in Innlandet. Could it be part of the salary that Harald Hardrada took to Norway after working in the Byzantine emperor’s guard in 1034? In Constantinople, Harald Hardrada was part of the emperor’s guard made up of northern Europeans, also known as “Varangians”.

In the oldest Byzantine sources, Harald is mentioned as Araltes. At that time, it was customary for guards to have the right to plunder the palace and take all the precious objects they found upon the emperor’s death. And during Harald’s stay in Byzantium, three emperors had died.

The treasures he acquired during his time in the emperor’s guard in Constantinople were sent to Prince Yaroslav in Kiev. Among other things, the treasures were supposed to contribute to a dowry so that Harald could marry one of Yaroslav’s daughters, Ellisiv.

The princes of Kiev had family ties to the emperors of Byzantium. Basil II, depicted on the coin, was the great-uncle of Queen Ellisiv.

The sagas tell us that Harald and his men were unimaginably rich when they finally returned to Norway in 1046, with their ships loaded with gold and other precious objects. Harald Hardrada accepted Magnus the Good as co-regent of Norway in 1046, just as Basil II and Constantine VIII appear as co-regents on the coin.

But how did the coin end up in Vestre Slidre? Was it lost on its way between east and west?

We know that Valdres was part of the diocese of Bjørgvin until 1125. And one of the oldest transport routes is called Bispevegen. It is not impossible that one of the clerics lost the coin on their travels.

The ancient routes, the salt roads, were based on the trade of salt from western Norway, so it is also possible that the coin was part of the trade between salt and herring from the west, and iron ingots, reindeer hides, and antlers from the east.

The discovery of the coin occurred so late in the fall that archaeologists have not had time to investigate the site. This will be done when the field season resumes in 2024.


Sources

Innlandet Fylkeskommune


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