Hryvnia/Grivna – Slavic origins of the first European money

For the past couple of days, numerous news outlets have been reporting on a new scientific study that deals with the origins of money in Bronze age Europe. Two archaeologists from the Leiden University in the Netherlands investigated a possibility that neck rings, ribs, and ax blades – often found in hoards, were used as an early form of currency.

In short, the invention of bronze allowed for the objects to be cast from the same mold. The scientists compared the weights of more than 5,000 of these objects and found out that there are clear signs of standardization, especially when it comes to bronze rings. Roughly 70% of these rings were so close in mass, that the discrepancy would be hardly noticeable without a scale.

There is an ongoing debate whether the mass was relevant or they were simply counted, as we would do with modern coins. The ribs and axes were not as uniform in mass, but this study concludes that these objects clearly show “the earliest development of the commodity money in Central Europe.”

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Distribution of the commodity money in Bronze age Europe

Rings and ribs were found in South-Central Europe: the Danubian region of Germany, Austria, Czech Republic. Ax blades appear in central and north-eastern Germany, roughly corresponding to the Únětice culture. In between is an area of overlap.

However, it is the bronze rings that make the backbone of this study, as they were the most standardized commodity. Their weight typically varies between 170-220 grams, but most of them fall within the range of 185-183 grams.

The study concludes that bronze rings were not only decorative ornaments but an early form of commodity money. They disappeared already at the beginning of the Iron age when they were exchanged for pieces of scrap metal of precise weight. This phase was followed by actual coins. However, the standardization of the bronze rings was the first and important step in this development.

Bronze rings as the commodity money of early Slavs

Reading this text, I could not help but wonder what was the connection between these bronze rings and the early Slavic tribes. This is something that went unnoticed by the authors of the study, so let me elaborate further in this article.

Ukrainian currency is called “Hryvnia“. This name comes from “Grivna” – the official currency of Kievan Rus and other Slavic states at least since the 11th century. The meaning of the “grivna” is “necklace, torque” or in other words “neck ring“.

Indeed, in Proto-Slavic “griva” meant “neck, mane”, therefore “grivna” would be an object worn around the neck. This word is archaic, and the proof for this claim lies in the fact that Sanskrit has a direct cognate. Sugriva (beautiful necked) is a famous hero from Ramayana, while grivasana is a neck pose in yoga.

This etymology is not being disputed by historians. However, they are still confused by the fact that the earliest currency of the Slavs somehow relates to the neck. Slavic Grivna from the middle ages was a piece of precious metal shaped like a rib or a rhomboid, not a neck ring. On Wikipedia we read the following:

“The word originally meant “a necklace” or “a torque”. The reason why it has taken the meaning of a unit of weight is unclear. The grivnas that have been found at various archaeological sites are not necklaces but bullions of precious metals, usually silver.

A hoard of rhombic Kievan grivnas at Moscow State Historical Museum

The weight of the Slavic Grivna

Just like in the case of the bronze rings, the weight of the Grivna was not uniform – it depended on the region. The Kievan grivna weighted around 140–165 grams, while the Novgorod grivna had 204 grams. The latter became the `basis for monetary systems of Northeastern Rus’ principalities as well as the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

Interestingly, this weight range of 140-204 grams is not that far from the weight range of the bronze age rings: 170-220 grams, with a peak of 185 grams.

So, the big question is: Was Slavic Grivna modeled on the European bronze age rings? Can we see some continuity here? The etymology of the word, as well as the weight surely point in this direction.

Conclusions

According to official history, Slavs arrived in Europe only around the 5-6th century AD. The early bronze age rings in question are 4-5,000 years old. Therefore, no contact between Slavs and these Bronze age tribes could have been possible, unless the official history is wrong.

As we have seen, there were two main groups in this part of Europe during the Bronze age. One group was identified by authors as the Únětice culture. They used the ax blades as their currency. The other one, which used the bronze rings, remained unidentified.

But interestingly, this other group dwelled around the Danube, in the region of the modern Slavic country of Czech Republic, East Germany, and Austria. This eastern part of Germany was Slavic since the recorded history of the 6th century. No historian would dispute that this region was gradually Germanized only later. The real question is who was there before the 6th century.

The same goes for Austria. Some of the most important cities still carry Germanized versions of the older, Slavic toponyms. For example, the name of Gratz comes from Slavic “Gradac” – hillfort, while the ancient name of Vienna was Vindibona – the white city, or in other words “Belgrade”.

In any case, the fact is that Slavic Grivna relate so perfectly to these Bronze age rings, in both, their name and their weight. And even though the current history of Europe might be tainted by various geopolitical ambitions, these unusual connections will still have to be explained by the official science, sooner or later.

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