Sukhino-Khomenko, D. Thrymsa, a coin [not] in circulation in northern England»: Source criticism of archbishop Wulfstan’s Norðleoda laga and its monetary systems in the way of social history (England, 10–11th centuries), in: Proslogion: Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Social History and Culture, 2021. Vol. 6 (1). P. 8–41.
Denis Sukhino-Khomenko, PhD-student at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), Department of Historical Studies (Institutionen för historiska studier, Lundgrensgatan 5, 412 61 Göteborg, Sverige)
This article spotlights the thrymsa (OE þryms/trimsa/tryms) as a supposed monetary unit in pre-Norman England and the importance this individual case study may hold for research in early medieval English social history. In the main, Anglo-Saxon monetary system was meticulously reconstructed by Henry Chadwick (1905), but in it the thrymsa appears an anomaly, as it gets only a few mentions in independent sources over the whole documented Old English period. Due to various correspondences in the texts (as, dragma, ¼ stater, (⅓?) solidus, three pence) establishing the thrymsa’s exact value stops at the etymological stage (< Lat. trēmis(sis)). On the face of its marginality, numismatists are for most part little interested in the thrymsa.Nevertheless, its presence in the so-called Norðleoda laga («The Laws of the Northern People», element in York archbishop Wufstan’s (d. 1023) «Compilation on status» believed to contain older material) as the expression of the sums of wergilds has given rise to interpretations of these wergilds with far reaching implications. The article offers an original explanation of the reasons for the thrymsa’s presence and function in the Norðleoda laga. Departing from modern textual analysis of Wulfstan’s works, the author arrives at two consecutive conclusions: first, as an early loan from Latin thrymsa never assumed a stable value in the English monetary system likely due to the quick disappearance of coins of this name from circulation; second, Wulfstan deliberately used this term for stylistic reasons and archaization of the text as part of his ideology of an «orderly society». Some immediate consequences of this interpretation can be, first, a reappreciation of the Norðleoda laga’s source potential, and, second, retiring this text as a primary source at face value for studies in social history. This particular case study may further illustrate the ever-present necessity for a textual and source criticism in monetary history when the latter is taken as a steppingstone for broader historical conclusions and interpretations.
Key words: numismatics, monetary history, Anglo-Saxon history, source studies, wergild, Wulfstan, Northumbria, Mercia, Wessex