Early Czech silver coins go on display at National Museum

Some of the earliest silver coins discovered in the Czech lands feature in a new exhibition that has just begun at the National Museum. Many were minted in Prague, and some were found during reconstruction work at Prague Castle. And, says the show’s curator, the coins were used in the buying and selling of slaves.

“Unique Bohemian and Moravian Silver Treasures from around the Year 1000” is the title of the exhibition, which is on at the National Museum’s New Building, just off the top of Wenceslas Square. Its curator Luboš Polanský told me more about the show.

“They are treasures from the beginnings of Czech minting. The era we’re talking about is from the middle of the 10th century to the first third of the 11th century. We have the oldest Czech coin of all, which was made in the Prague mint around the year 960 under Duke Boleslav II, who in those days ruled a great Czech empire from the deep forest in the border area to today’s Ukraine.”

Some of the 2,000 or so coins on display are from other castles and settlements in the Czech lands, though the majority were minted in Prague. What’s more, some of the most valuable were uncovered during renovations at Prague Castle.

“They are very rare. They are some of the oldest copies of Bavarian and Schwabian coins. And one of the most valuable is similar to the coins of the English king Ethelred II and to one of the first coins of the Hungarian king Stephen I.”

The silver coins in the exhibition were probably never in the hands of ordinary people. Rather they were used for long-distance trade in metals and other materials. And, says Luboš Polanský, they would have been used in the buying and selling of human beings.

“One of the main articles sold then were slaves, who were sold to Arab states via a trans-Europe route from Cordoba in then Islamic Spain to the Caspian Sea and the Middle East…Prague was most likely one of the main markets for Slav slaves. It is believed that the economic power of the Czech state then was partly built on the sale of slaves that it acquired during its expansion to eastern Europe.”

By the way, some believe the word slave is derived from the word Slav. The exhibition runs at the National Museum until May 9.

Photo: www.nm.cz