LARPing Enters the Archaeological Record

spelmynt baksidaHere’s a neat case of self-perpetuating archaeology. Medieval history spawned sword & sorcery literature. This literature spawned tabletop fantasy role-playing games and Medieval re-enactment groups. These games and groups spawned live action role playing. And now the larpers have created a market for faux-Medieval coinage, which they are buying at game stores, using at larps and dropping here and there. Metal detectorists are starting to find coins like the one in the picture and submitting them to intrigued museum curators.

Can anybody tell me the name of the company that makes/made these toy coins?



The Crowning of the Lion

Deep in a single square metre of trench D at Landsjö castle, on the inner edge of the dry moat, we found five identical coins. Boy are they ugly. They’re thin, brittle, made of a heavily debased silver alloy and struck only from one side; they bear no legend and the image at the centre is incomprehensible. But I love them anyway, because they offer a tight date: this coin type was struck for King Valdemar Birgersson c. 1250-75. And the first written mention of Landsjö dates from 1280, so it all works out.

Valdemar became king because he had an extremely powerful and ruthless father, the jarl Birger Magnusson. Being a jarl meant either acting as viceroy over an area or as the king’s right-hand man in general. King Erik the Lisp and Lame was Jarl Birger’s brother-in-law. When Erik died childless in 1250, his nephew Valdemar, the jarl’s son, was elected king though still a child. Jarl Birger then ruled in his son’s place until dying in 1266. Valdemar ruled on his own for nine more years before being deposed by his more effective younger brother Magnus. King Valdemar is mainly remembered for his dalliances with various women rather than for any political achievements.

So what are these ugly coins supposed to depict? Well, many dies were in use, partly because there were many mints – of which only the one at Lödöse in Västergötland has been securely identified so far. And some of the dies were much more detailed than the one used for our five coins. The most detailed ones clearly depict the crowned head of a carnivore, most likely a lion. And Valdemar’s father’s coat of arms showed a bare-headed lion. So the crowned lion refers to Valdemar himself, or more generally to the crowning of Jarl Birger’s lineage. The dynasty kept the Swedish crown for over a century.

Many thanks to Frédéric Elfver and Kenneth Jonsson for identifying the coins.

Coin of King Valdemar Birgersson, 1250-75, provenance unknown

Coin of King Valdemar Birgersson, 1250-75, provenance unknown

Coin of King Valdemar Birgersson, 1250-75, provenance unknown

Coin of King Valdemar Birgersson, 1250-75, provenance unknown

Coin of King Valdemar Birgersson, 1250-75, provenance unknown

Coin of King Valdemar Birgersson, 1250-75, provenance unknown

Coin Challenges Written Record

A fun thing about historical archaeology, the archaeological study of areas and periods with abundant indigenous written documentation, is when the archaeology challenges the written record.

According to the patchily preserved historical sources, Landsjö hamlet was a seat of the high nobility in about 1280 but then became tenant farms no later than 1340. This means that the castle on Landsjö islet was probably in good defensible shape and inhabited in 1280 but not after 1340.

During last week’s excavations we found a previously unknown strong wall delimiting the castle’s high inner bailey, and a likewise strong and previously unknown south-east corner tower or building for this bailey. In one of the floor layers of this plaster-facaded structure, Ola Lindgren found a coin of the strålkransbrakteat type. Within an hour and thanks to portable internet, numismatist Frédéric Elfver told us that this coin was struck for King Magnus Eriksson in Stockholm between 1354 and 1363 – decades after the castle would seem to have been abandoned judging from the written record.

The coin says only that people visited the castle about 1360, not what they did there or what kind of shape the defences were in at the time. But Christian Lovén has suggested a scenario. At the time, Landsjö was owned by Bengt Philippusson of the Wolf family, who was on Albrekt of Mecklenburg’s side in the civil war against King Magnus. Maybe Bengt made the castle islet available to Albrekt’s troops?

I’ve also written about Landsjö in Swedish for the County Museum’s blog.