Medieval Money in Latvia

Field of science researching coins and banknotes is called Numismatics. Coins are a great source from you can research the financial and monetary system in the past. Coins are also good to explore the state symbols and personalities, for the coin often depicts state prominences and symbols.

Before the introduce of coin, prehistoric people  used barter to exchange various things. Barter was used in many prehistoric societies. When civilizations got more complicated they required a more stable way of exchange.  In Baltic lands, the most valuable piece of trade was amber. Amber is fossilized   tree resin. It originates from deep pre-human times and can only be found on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Most amber is found in Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast Russia and on the shores at Courland, Latvia. Ancient Greeks and Romans found amber very beautiful and useful for jewelry. Ancient Greek scientists found that amber can make electricity.  First signs of amber trade were found Middle Neolithic Stone Age. At the swamp village of Sārnate locals built amber manufacture. They exchanged amber for flint and shale work tools.


In Bronze Age early Latvians already maintained both stockraising and farming economy and craftsmanship. Now locals exchanged cattle, animal fur, amber to bronze casting and bronze tools. First deposits date from this time.

The first coins in Latvia come from Roman Empire. Roman historian Tacitus in his Germania, writes that local Baltic tribes Aesti (probably Balts) receives a money reward with wonder for their amber. It’s probably because local Balts did not know what to do with coin money; they viewed it as just as some pieces of metal. Despite that they kept and made deposits and took them in their graves, believing it could be valuable in the afterlife.  The main Roman value was Libra (pound). After the fall of the Roman Empire and the chaos in Europe Latvia did not receive any coins until 8th century. The main currency was silver which came from Russia and Scandinavia.

At the 9th century Latvia received a large amount of Arab Dirhams. Arabian Caliphate was the main power in that time and it traded with Kievan Russ and the Dirhams came to Latvia on their way to Scandinavia. The museums in Moscow, Stockholm and Tallinn holds much more Dirhams than Eastern European museums. On the island of Gotland 40 000 Dirhams has  been found. In Latvia there has been 2 343 Dirhams located. Only 24 exemplars of Byzantine Empire currency silver miliaries were found in Latvia.

In 10th century first Western European coins arrived on Latvian land. Silver Denars from Germany, Denmark, Moravia and Hungary. In Western Europe main silver mines were located in Germany and England.  There were many types of coins because the rights of coin forging were for not only Kaisers, but also for dukes, counts and bishops. At 11th century the monetary crisis again made “no coin” period in Latvia. The main currency was silver bars. At this time the most deposits were found.

At 13 century when the age of Crusades emerged the new power re-established coins in Latvia. The new Livonian Confederation issued a Gotlandic currency the Marc of Riga (marca Rigensis).  From the middle of the 13th century the main coins were one-sided Pheninngs. On coins were depicted the keys of Riga and crossed swords.

Because of the inner political crisis in 14 century the coin forging was temporally stopped.  When restarted the new currency was Lübeck Pfennigs. Lübeck was the center of the Hanseatic League, and Livonian cities were part of it. In 1422-1426 monetary reform came into effect and Livonian Monetary Union started its work.

Currencies in Livonia were many. 1 Marc was 4 Verdins or 36. Shillings. Sometimes in Livonia silver Dalders and golden Ducats.


Phening issued by Bishop Albert

The monetary freedom of Livonia were canceled after the fall of Livonian Confederation. New powers, Poles, Swedes and Russians issued new currencies. It will be discused in future.

Selected Sources

Ducmane, Kristīne. (2004). Nauda : enciklopēdija par savu un svešu naudu Latvijā no seniem laikiem līdz mūsdienām. Riga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Ducmane, Kristīne and Veciņš, Ēvalds.(1995) Nauda Latvijā. Riga. Latvijas Banka.

Paiders, Juris. (2002)  Arābu laiki Latvijā. Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.


Comments Off on Medieval Money in Latvia

Filed under Historical Articles

Comments are closed.