The sequence of varieties of the York shilling distinguishes it from other seventh-century gold shillings. The distinction lies in the purposeful regulation of production evident in the northern coinage. With the exception of the ‘Witmen’ type, other gold shillings are occasional, possibly commemorative special issues. Most Crondall types are rare and there is little continuity until the transitional phase of pale gold shillings, where the anonymous ‘two-emperors’ type and the named-moneyer emissions of Pada and Vanimundus are better organised. However, the earlier York group gives every appearance of successive productions over at very least the last six years of Edwin’s reign. This has significance for the distinct, phased monetization of Northumbria. The variety of Eadbald’s reverse inscriptions may show similar intent, but these remain largely undeciphered.
The corpus of gold shillings is too small to distinguish between commemorative and currency purposes. The Roman emissaries, Mellitus and Paulinus, would have been better versed in all the economic and symbolic uses of coinage than their English regal sponsors. The concentration of the northern shilling around a locus of York is clear; the outliers, Bawtry and Burton-by-Lincoln, being within the sphere of influence, certainly of Paulinus if not Northumbria. Indeed, the Soest, Netherlands find hints at wider Northumbrian influence and involvement.
The uninscribed York shillings are clustered around York in a flat oval with a major axis of 25 miles. Including the shillings of varieties B and the related Ci, inscribed SANCTE, the distribution expands the oval north to Thirsk. Significantly, variety Ciii, inscribed for Paulinus, is more widely broadcast, presumably marking his wide-ranging mass-baptismal activity, from Yeavering to Lincoln, and possibly delineating the sphere of Edwin’s protection. Though a significant proportion (c. 60±5 per cent) of the gold coinage current in England, is imported, it is difficult to assess the degree of local control over the gold coinage from such small numbers. Only the Middleham find is accompanied by other artefacts.
Gannon (2003, 27) suggested that the crosses either side of the standing figure are apotropaic. Similar ‘standard bearers’ are not uncommon in the early-penny iconography. She compared the face on the obverse to that on the haunch of the Sutton Hoo bird mount, though other comparanda suggest themselves. Sutherland (1948, 50) suggested that the inspiration may be the Byzantine follis of Justinian I, 527-65, for Constantinople. In discussing the Northumbrian early-penny iconography, Anna Gannon (2003, 126-8) contrasts the lion courant of Aldfrith with that shown in the Echternach Gospel but does not remark on the leonine nature of the cruciform face on the gold shilling.
Abramson subscribes to the view that the obverse iconography of variety C refers to Edwin’s stone church (completed by Oswald). Indeed, the architectural reverse of the uninscribed variety A reflects Bede’s description of that church. Monarchy and monotheism shared a common interest in monocracy, increasingly commemorated in monumental form, in furtherance of sovereignty. At the Bernician royal vill complex of Yeavering, an enclosure, probably a pagan shrine, on the Iron Age hill-fort, was replaced by a roofed ritual structure, probably as an act of syncretism, before Edwin’s baptism, and Paulinus’s mass-baptisms there. It would have been habit, and possibly curiosity, which brought crowds to a sacred place that was now both royal and Christian. In the second quarter of the seventh century, Paulinus and then Aidan travelled extensively throughout Northumbria selecting significant sites to perform mass-baptisms.
From the Spink auction catalogue, # 21050.