Deep in a single square metre of trench D at Landsjö castle, on the inner edge of the dry moat, we found five identical coins. Boy are they ugly. They’re thin, brittle, made of a heavily debased silver alloy and struck only from one side; they bear no legend and the image at the centre is incomprehensible. But I love them anyway, because they offer a tight date: this coin type was struck for King Valdemar Birgersson c. 1250-75. And the first written mention of Landsjö dates from 1280, so it all works out.
Valdemar became king because he had an extremely powerful and ruthless father, the jarl Birger Magnusson. Being a jarl meant either acting as viceroy over an area or as the king’s right-hand man in general. King Erik the Lisp and Lame was Jarl Birger’s brother-in-law. When Erik died childless in 1250, his nephew Valdemar, the jarl’s son, was elected king though still a child. Jarl Birger then ruled in his son’s place until dying in 1266. Valdemar ruled on his own for nine more years before being deposed by his more effective younger brother Magnus. King Valdemar is mainly remembered for his dalliances with various women rather than for any political achievements.
So what are these ugly coins supposed to depict? Well, many dies were in use, partly because there were many mints – of which only the one at Lödöse in Västergötland has been securely identified so far. And some of the dies were much more detailed than the one used for our five coins. The most detailed ones clearly depict the crowned head of a carnivore, most likely a lion. And Valdemar’s father’s coat of arms showed a bare-headed lion. So the crowned lion refers to Valdemar himself, or more generally to the crowning of Jarl Birger’s lineage. The dynasty kept the Swedish crown for over a century.
Many thanks to Frédéric Elfver and Kenneth Jonsson for identifying the coins.