Silver and the silver economy in Haithabu

In the 10th Century there is a transition in the economy of the Baltic region from an eastward focus on Russia and Central Asia to a westward focus on Anglo-Saxon England and the German and Frankish Empires.

This transition is deeply connected to the flow of silver. Since Hedeby was an important gateway of the Eastern, Russian, trade and the Western European trade at this time, it is an ideal place to study this transition. The aim of this project is to study silver, primarily in the form of coins, from Central Asia, Western Europe and locally minted coins from Hedeby to learn more about the potential sources of silver and the overall function of the silver economy in the 10th / early 11th Centuries. Lead-isotope data and elemental data will be used to look closely at the movement of metals during this time period. In addition, evidence for the processing and purification of silver uncovered at Hedeby will be investigated to possibly gain information on the value of silver and the importance of silver purity in the economy.
Although this study builds upon previous research, the use of Multi-Collector Laser-Ablation-Inductively-Coupled-Plasma –Mass–Spectrometry (MC-LA-ICP-MS) has not previously be utilized to characterize lead isotope signatures of silver objects from Northern Europe and Central Asia during the 10th and early 11th centuries. It is a promising technology that allows for the microscopic sampling of objects to obtain the isotope information needed to reliably source silver and lead deposits. This study will explore the application of this technique in the analysis of silver objects of the Viking Age, and its usefulness in the study of medieval silver will be critically evaluated.
Isotope data will be collected for approximately 200 silver coins from 7-10 major mints in Central Asia, Germany and Anglo-Saxon England. The particular mints will be selected based on their political-economic importance in long-distance trade in the North and Baltic Seas, significance to the economy of Hedeby and/or their proximity to known or suspected mining districts. About 30 objects relating to silver, gold, and lead metallurgy from Hedeby will also be investigated. These objects are in the form of ingots, slag, cupels, and metal fragments. It may be possible to connect the processing and refining of silver with the locally minted coinage of Hedeby. In the end, 200 analyses are not enough to get a comprehensive picture of the silver economy in the 10th century, but this research will make significant headway in the study of silver extraction and trade in the Viking Age and will form an important basis for future research.


Dr. Volker Hilberg/Prof. Dr. Claus v. Carnap-Bornheim

Prof. Dr. Andreas Hauptmann

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum


Ruhr-Universität Bochum


2011 - 2014


  • Merkel, S., Hauptmann, A.,Hilberg, V. and Lehmann, R., (in press). Isotopic Analysis of Silver from Hedeby and some nearby Hoards: Preliminary Results. In: Eriksen, M.H. et al. (Ed.), Viking Worlds: Things, Spaces, and Movement. Conference Proceedings from the Viking Worlds, 12.-13.03.2013 in Oslo. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Merkel, S., 2013. The relationship of hacksilver and minting in 10th century Southern Scandinavia.’ Metalla 20.2, pp. 75-79.
  • Merkel, S., Sverchkov, L., Hauptmann, A., Hilberg, V., Bode M. and Lehmann, R., 2013. Analysis of Slag, Ore and Silver from the Tashkent and Samarkand Areas: Medieval Silver Production and the Coinage of Samanid Central Asia. Archäometrie und Denkmalpflege 2013. Metalla Sonderheft 6, pp. 62-66.
  • Merkel, S., Hauptmann, A., and Hilberg, V., 2012. Analysis of Technical Ceramics from Haithabu: Gold and Silver-smithing in the Viking Age. Archäometrie und Denkmalpflege 2012. Metalla Sonderheft 5, pp. 106-109.
  • Merkel, S. and Rehren, Th., 2007. Parting layers, ash-trays, and Ramsesside glassmaking: an experimental study. In: E.B. Pusch and Th. Rehren (Hrsg.), Hochtemperatur-technologie in der Ramses-Stadt- Rubinglas für den Pharao. 2007, Hildesheim: Gerstenberg-Verlag, pp.201-221.