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Silver, Butter, ClothMonetary and Social Economies in the Viking Age$
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Jane Kershaw, Gareth Williams, Søren Sindbæk, and James Graham-Campbell

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198827986

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198827986.001.0001

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Vaðmál and Cloth Currency in Viking and Medieval Iceland

Vaðmál and Cloth Currency in Viking and Medieval Iceland

(p.251) 13 Vaðmál and Cloth Currency in Viking and Medieval Iceland
Silver, Butter, Cloth

Michèle Hayeur Smith

Oxford University Press

In medieval Iceland, apparently alone among the North Atlantic Norse colonies, cloth evolved into a highly standardized form of currency within a broader-based commodity-money system imported from Norway. Within the Icelandic economy, the production of currency cloth (vaðmál or vöruvaðmál) was legally regulated and was used within Iceland to pay debts, taxes, and tithes. This chapter presents the first detailed analyses of over 1,000 archaeological textiles stored in Icelandic museum collections. The way in which this ‘legal cloth’ was woven and constructed provides insights into the emergence of standardized cloth currency and its use across Iceland. Analyses challenge the assumption that organic forms of commodity-currency are unavailable to archaeologists studying early economic systems. Cloth currency, produced chiefly by women, emerged around the end of the Viking Age. It was central to the Icelandic economy until the mid 1500s, after which its role progressively declined as Iceland entered into the increasingly globalized trade networks of the early modern industrialized world.

Keywords:   Iceland, vaðmál, cloth currency, commodity-money, standardization, gender

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