The Late Medieval Mint Workshops at the Archbishop's Palace, Trondheim

By McLees, Christopher | Antiquity, June 1994 | Go to article overview

The Late Medieval Mint Workshops at the Archbishop's Palace, Trondheim


McLees, Christopher, Antiquity


Recent excavations at the Archbishop's Palace in the city of Trondheim, Norway, have brought to light mint workshops of the period 1458/1483-1537. Surviving internal arrangements, analogous with features portrayed in contemporary illustrations, are uniquely illuminative of late medieval minting.

Introduction

In 1991 excavation took place in the northeast corner of the precinct of the Archbishop's Palace in Trondheim, marking the commencement of a major archaeological project aimed at excavating completely the eastern and southern wings of the palace complex (Bazely et el. 1993). The standing stone buildings in the palace's northern wing date back to the 12th century and the early years of the archbishopric of Nidaros (as Trondheim was also known in the medieval period). Excavation suggests that the palace precinct was created in the mid to late 1400s by the construction of a massive defensive perimeter wall. The first buildings erected in the precinct's eastern wing at this juncture comprised a row of small timber buildings which included at least one firmly identifiable mint workshop. Although it has long been known that the late medieval archbishops of Nidaros issued$their own coinage, the discovery of this first mint workshop, and two successors, nonetheless came as something of a surprise. Indeed, the workshops' good state of preservation and the accompanying range of associated artefacts related to minting make this an archaeological find of rare importance. Excavations in the remainder of the eastern wing in 1992 produced complementary evidence. At the time of writing this material is still undergoing post-excavation analysis, and only brief reference is made to it. This is an essentially interim note; future work may alter details and interpretations.

Minting and the archbishopric -- the historical background

The vast archdiocese of Nidaros (established in 1152/3) incorporated 10 bishoprics, some as far afield as Greenland and the Isle of Man, and was administered from the Archbishop's Palace in Nidaros-Trondheim. While the city's central role in national political events diminished with the king's removal first to Bergen and then to Oslo in the course of the 13th century, the archbishopric continued to exercise an important religious, economic and political influence throughout the medieval period. The present cathedral building was begun in the mid 12th century, and the archbishop's residence and administration were housed from that time in the neighbouring stone-built palace complex. Norway's last Roman Catholic archbishop Olav Engelbrektsson fled the country on the introduction of the Reformation in 1537.

The archbishops of Nidaros were first granted minting rights in 1222. This privilege was revoked shortly afterwards in 1281, and it was not until 1458 that the archbishops were again granted the right to issue their own coinage by King Christian I. Minting may have commenced at this date, although there is no direct numismatic evidence for a local Norwegian coinage prior to the reign of King Hans, and the archbishop's mint may consequently not have entered into operation until 1483 (Nordeide & Skaare 1992).

The 1991 and 1992 excavations produced struck coins, blanks, off-cuts and tools which attest coin production in these workshops during the three final archiepiscopates of Gaute Ivarsson (1474-1510), Erik Valkendorff (1510-22) and Olav Engelbrektsson (1523-37). There are a few extant historical references to the mint and its personnel during the years leading up to the Reformation. In 1520 a goldsmith named 'Master Jacob' is identified as the archbishop's 'coin striker and seal engraver'; he is probably one and the same as Jakob Schult, mint-master here in 1532. In March of that year he is recorded as having taken 21 kg of silver from the mint with him to Oslo as the archbishop's contribution to paying mercenaries hired by Christian II during his unsuccessful struggle against Fredrik I for the throne of Denmark-Norway. …

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