What can a globalized monetary system learn from the coinages of the Viking Age?

Symposium “Mynt, makt och människor – vikingatidens silverpenningar“, Royal Coin Cabinet, Stockholm, March 27th, 2010: “Vad kan ett globaliserat penningsystem lära av vikingatidens myntväsende?


At first sight, it might be strange to ask what a globalised monetary system can learn from Viking Age coinages. For sure, too much time seems to have elapsed since then?

However, not everybody does share this opinion. Benjamin J. Cohen at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of them. He delves into International Political Economy and has brought forward the following, in my opinion highly convincing, idea:

The contemporary economy is exceedingly globalised, a fact that one can’t get around no matter what one likes it or not. Monetary payment is executed throughout the world, without even taking notice of national borders. This results in a substantial loss of function of the nation state. Monetary value is guaranteed by law, and law is only valid within the geographically carefully defined borders of the respective countries.

If one agrees with this consideration, it is only natural to conlude that it is necessary to look back into distant history in order to understand the future. More precisely, one has to concern oneself with the epoch before the 16th century, that is before Jean Bodin formulated his theory of sovereignty.

One of the few trading systems that was by and large globalised was that of the Viking Age. Hence, it seems only sequacious to take a closer look at the functional principle of the Viking Age coinages. For instance, what effects did the possibility to choose between the first “own” Swedish coins and a huge number of “foreign” Anglo-Saxon, Arabic and German coins have? And what opinion might Friedrich August von Hayek have had on that? As is well-known, he advocated a private production of money, where the competition between the private coinages would lead to the lowest possible rate of inflation. Hayek published this idea in a fundamental article called “choice in currency”.

This is only one example of a connecting factor between Viking Age and the present, but hopefully it will do to illustrate the approach of this lecture.