Medieval “bracteates”

Regina L. writes: Dear Coin Doc, I am a translator and currently working on a text about Bronze Age discoveries in the bogs of Europe. They mention a one-sided coin (pattern only on one side and blank on the back). The German term is “Brakeat”. I am looking for the English equivalent. Could you help me?

You may be referring to “bracteates”, essentially a minor coinage like a “penny” native to Germany but used in other European countries as well from about 1150 AD to 1350 AD. The term was unknown at the time of use and the coin was contemporarily called a denar or silver penny. In some countries, in this period, this was the only coinage. The term “bracteates” was given to these coins by the numismatists of the 18th century (derived from the word “bractea”, a thin metal plate).

Coinage as a means of exchange is credited to the Lydians from about 700 BC and was a standardized weight of “electrum”, a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver found in the river beds running down from the Tmolus mountain range in Lydia. The coins were a blob of metal, weighed out and stamped with the fore-part of a lion, the official seal. The reverse shows a rough incuse punch.

The bronze age, from about 3000 BC in Greece and China and 1900 BC in Britain and part of Europe, occurred far before the invention of coins and well before the idea of an economic system where coins replaced barter. It wasn’t until the iron age, about 1000 BC, that the technique of heating and forging iron, a necessary skill for creating dies, was discovered.

Like many archaeological digs, past layers of civilization are heaped together as towns were built over towns. It would not be farfetched to find medieval bracteates on or near a dig where Bronze age materials were also found.