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Aethelred II Helmet Penny


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Aethelred II is now known incorrectly as Aethelred the Unready. He was originally known as Æthelred the Unræd and ruled from 978 until 1016.


æðele = Well/good/noble.

ræd = Council/advised.


Æþelræd = Old English for good council/poorly advised.

Unræd = Old English for bad council/well advised.


It was tradition to name sons of royalty with such names as Aethelwulf which means 'Noble Wolf' or Aethelric which means 'Good Ruler'. So a 12th Century monk thought it would be most amusing to give Aethelred the epithet Unræd as a pure contradiction in its rawest sense. Aethelred was known for his poor choice in advisers as many became traitors whilst the rest seemed to pass away shortly after becoming appointed which is suspicious to say the least.




This issue was minted from 1003 until 1009.


The legend on the obverse starts at about 8 O'clock and reads " +EDELRÆDREXANGL." which essentially means Aethelred King of England. Aethelred is depicted as facing left in full armour and a radiate helmet, hence this is known as the Helmet Type.


The reverse legend starts just after 12 O'clock and reads "BRI HTNA DMO EOFR". This essentially means that the moneyer Brihtnoth (BRIHTNAD) minted this coin at York mint (EOFR).


The portrait is implicitly striking in terms of martial culture, one has to remember that this was not the time where diplomats would freely roam across international borders. This was a time when England was paying Danegeld to the Vikings and blood seemed to be the most widely spent currency in Northern Europe. The Anglo-Saxons are notorious for integrating elements of Roman coins into their own designs and this type is of no exception. In fact, it has one of the strongest examples of such a case.


Take a look at this Probus:





This is where the Anglo-Saxon die makers went wrong. They perceived the shield on his left shoulder as his shoulder of armour. This makes poor Aethelred look like he has a hugely rounded pair of shoulders and just makes him look absurd. This goes to show that, although Anglo-Saxon die engravers were vastly superior to nearly all of their contemporaries around the world they were no match for the sheer skill that the Romans held.




On the left you can clearly see the chainmail armour around his shoulder but on the right it is clearly a shield. Bearing in mind the Anglo-Saxons would not have had much to go on I think they did remarkably well to still give their monarch an aura of power and military might, even if the perspective is a little out.


As you can see on either side of the Aethelred II penny, there are plenty of "peck marks". These were caused when people tested the purity of the silver, either by using a knife or biting it. It was usually the Vikings that carried out these peck marks as they were not willing to accept the bust of an English king as guarantee of the coin's purity and so tested it for themselves.


To put an Anglo-Saxon penny into perspective of purchasing power, you would need at least twenty silver pence to purchase a cow. Cows are by no means cheap!!


Unfortunately, Aethelred II was the last Anglo-Saxon monarch to mint coins for a while as we see the Vikings Cnut, Harold I and Harthacnut rule until Edward the Confessor becomes king in 1042, seeing England under Viking rule for 26 years.

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This goes to show that, although Anglo-Saxon die engravers were vastly superior to nearly all of their contemporaries around the world they were no match for the sheer skill that the Romans held.


Clive filled with English pride.


What a great write-up, thanks for all of that.

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Nice write up,article.


Browse in the net.


Didnt seen any coins of ireland and scotland the celtic one.


There currency then is livestock or cow,expensive,nice reference and timeline of purchasing power.


Whoever finish the race up to the end good for them,even if the payment is life or blood they did finish,like a lamb.

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