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Money in Middle-Earth

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

Apr 21 2017, 9:18pm

Post #1 of 18 (2113 views)
Money in Middle-Earth Can't Post

Now the read=thru thread below had a sub-thread about money which got me thinking and so I thought to post a thread on the topic. Now, in the Hobbit and the early chapters of Lotr we do hear quite a bit about money. It is the main motive - for the participants anyway - for the quest for Erebor, we hear about trade, Dragon-gold, even gold fever etc. And in Fotr we have Bilbo and Frodo been wealthy, talk of businesses, Inns, they must have used money for trade. But then later on all talk of coinage drifts off. Is this just because in times of crisis the countries of Rohan and Gondor ignored money altogether? Did they ever have it? Did a Rider of Rohan ever have use for money or where they just all living in some kind of national commune?
And how did this money work exactly? We hear of Gold and Silver pieces, where they literally made of Gold and Silver? Or did poor folk have to make do with simply metal or even wooden tokens? And if we have money do we have middle-earth banks? Now, if Tokien liked to have the Shire as akin to rural Shires in his youths, banks would have been there even if he did not like to mention them. The Bank of Shire perhaps? And what about the rest of the countries. Did the Rangers ever get paid or use money for example. If they did, maybe Isengard had a financial arm to it. In the Bank of Isengard we trust!
Speaking of evil characters would money or bribary have worked upon them? Someone like Bill Ferny seemed willing to do anything or sell anyone good or bad for a few pennies and he was probably not the only one. Some of the Dwarves where probably go betweens for financial transactions and the cleverer ones no doubt profited from this. But what about say the Orcs? If one was captured by Orcs, but had access to a bit of money could one bribe oneself out of trouble? Would Orcs or Goblins even appreciate or understand the concept? I think that Tolkien once said that they did a little. Anyway, just a few thoughts about all things financial!


Apr 21 2017, 10:52pm

Post #2 of 18 (2065 views)
I suppose we can assume both barter and coin [In reply to] Can't Post

http://www.thefinertimes.com/...the-middle-ages.html Money in the Middle Ages

Gandalf makes reference of a gold coin for Barliman.

I would imagine coinage would be locally minted within specific realms. Rohan probably counted horses as more a sign of wealth than coinage. The Shire I imagine used a lot of barter.


Was There A Coinage During The Dark Ages?
The Place Of Money In Post-Roman Britain

"The one thing the peasant had to do in Medieval England was to pay out money in taxes or rent. He had to pay rent for his land to his lord; he had to pay a tax to the church called a tithe. This was a tax on all of the farm produce he had produced in that year. A tithe was 10% of the value of what he had farmed. This may not seem a lot but it could make or break a peasant’s family. A peasant could pay in cash or in kind – seeds, equipment etc. "

(This post was edited by Eruonen on Apr 21 2017, 10:57pm)


Apr 22 2017, 12:26am

Post #3 of 18 (2061 views)
Money [In reply to] Can't Post

The Men of Gondor and Arnor essentially continued the monetary system developed by the Númenóreans. This system was adopted by the Hobbits of the Shire and persisted in the North in the Shire and Bree. The Dwarves probably developed a system of coinage based on that of Men, but it might have been the other way around.

The Rohirrim probably had little use for coin among themselves, though they could use money dealing with the folk of Gondor and elsewhere. I imagine that money was also used in Dorwinion and other places in the East and in Umbar at least. Barter and trade seem to have been commonplace throughout Middle-earth.

There is a section on money and coinage in the HOME volume The Peoples of Middle-earth. I'm going to have to find a copy of that for myself one of these days.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


Apr 22 2017, 2:31am

Post #4 of 18 (2052 views)
Think of the potential inflation if the Dwarves had suddenly flooded the [In reply to] Can't Post

primitive economy with their gold hoard. But, dwarves being dwarves rarely parted with more than they had to.


Apr 24 2017, 4:36am

Post #5 of 18 (1949 views)
Gentlemen do not discuss finance [In reply to] Can't Post

You raise some excellent questions about a subject that Tolkien idly touches on and then ignores. As you say, The Hobbit and the early chapters of LotR do associate precious metals with monetary value, refer to coins and cash, and generally seem to suppose some kind of price structure above and beyond the basic medieval system of barter goods. The subject disappears from LotR, I think, just as the quest gathers steam, and I think that' s the point: heroes of quests, at least quests of the kind Tolkien was interested in the second book, aren't in it for the money. The hobbits (Baggins, in particular) are bourgeois but are ennobled by their induction as Elf-friends and their decisions to join the other noble folk who seek to save the world. From then on, a discussion of money (in the context of the later Mannish societies we encounter, like Rohan and Gondor, etc.) would simply be vulgar and would lower the tone of the entire book.

But I have always wanted to know who made the coins that Frodo and Merry appear to be carrying with them at Bree! I don't believe they could be survivals from the time of the Kings, which was centuries in the past, yet not just anybody runs a mint.

On the other hand I can well believe that when the Nazgul promises Maggot he will "return with gold" in payment for information, he is referring to the kind of coin that Sauron knows how to make and would find perfectly useful in his dealings with the rest of the world. I notice that in both The Hobbit and LotR, gold coin is associated with greed if not pure evil, except when it is doled out by Bilbo for good causes - and even Bilbo, according to Frodo, felt the gold was evil and needed to be redeemed lest it corrupt him. The irony in relation to the gold Ring is clear, but the undercurrent in the story was there long before the Ring's nature was discovered.

Another anomaly I've enjoyed and puzzled over is Gandalf's remark at the end of The Hobbit that he would be as glad to have a bit of gold money as much as the next fellow:
Not far from the road they found the gold of the trolls, which they had buried, still hidden and untouched. “I have enough to last me my time,” said Bilbo, when they had dug it up. “You had better take this, Gandalf. I daresay you can find a use for it.”
“Indeed I can!” said the wizard.
-- The Hobbit 19

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
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Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

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Apr 24 2017, 9:27am

Post #6 of 18 (1924 views)
It's a literary quilt [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think Middle-earth has a coherent economy. What Tolkien has done is to work with various literary models at different times. It works, I think, because (as squire says) economics is not very important in the tale. So it can be enough for each society to have (by implication) the kind of economics we expect from other literature.


The Shire is a sort of fantasy rural Britain: vaguely 18th to 19th Century perhaps. It has all the idealised social structures and a lot of wealth and manufactured goods, which fits comfortably with that world. It's questionable whether such a fine life and standard of living could actually be achieved by a small, isolated, rather self-important state that wants little to do with it's neighbours (The issue is not un-topical in current British politics Sly ).

Once we're out of Bree, these more 'civilised' trappings drop away. The roads are empty, and our heroes travel through a Gawain-like wilderness: it's great literature but might not work economically and historically. I think it's true that the roads and seaways of Europe have always been well-travelled despite wars, plagues and other disasters. Where is everybody? Only the dwarves seem occasionally to be on the move - but they aren't the traders and bankers of the continent, despite having industries that make luxury goods and no apparent source of their own foodstuffs.

Tolkien's dwarves get their craftmanship, love of gold and suspicion of outsiders from a different literature - the Norse and Germanic myths (I think). But Bilbo and Thorin's pact to go loot Smaug seems quite piratical: hints of a Treasure Island - like expedition as much as a king re-establishing himself.

Yet again, Rohan is more of a Dark Ages economy - noble military service to one's Lord or King brings land, a seat in the Mead Hall and generous gifts (such as the wagon train that Merry refuses from Eomer and Eowyn for his services). But Rohan doesn't seem to exhibit the historical consequences of that model - needing to go endlessly to resort to war, conquest trade or piracy to get more gold and land and give the young bucks something to do.

So I think it doesn't work once you come to think about it! Which is quite interesting: it shows all the stuff you *don't* have to do in a fantasy novel. And of course it's a fun game to try and retro-fit some economics into Middle-earth despite there probably being no 'official' answer.

Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Apr 24 2017, 9:48am

Post #7 of 18 (1921 views)
May I offer you a mint? [In reply to] Can't Post

In Reply To
But I have always wanted to know who made the coins that Frodo and Merry appear to be carrying with them at Bree! I don't believe they could be survivals from the time of the Kings, which was centuries in the past, yet not just anybody runs a mint.

I agree that 'not just anybody runs a mint': it's traditionally a royal power with upstart operations being suppressed. You also have to get the metal needed. Where would the hobbits get that? And of course you need an economy complex enough that money is useful. People need to be doing well enough to have wealth to put aside, and want assets that are portable and widely exchangeable.

Those difficulties aside, I don't think mints are technologically too difficult to set up - a simple form (which at one time visitors could try at the Yorvik viking Museum in York) works by putting a metal coin blank between two stamps and whacking the assembly with a hammer to stamp the coin. Hobbits could do that, I think - hobbit-sized children were invited to do so to make souvenirs when my family visited the museum. So I can imagine a Shire coinage - issued by the Thain or Mayor perhaps (notionally in the Royal name), and acceptable in Bree.

Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Apr 24 2017, 10:38am

Post #8 of 18 (1922 views)
A time-travelling quilt at that. [In reply to] Can't Post

It's as if, when you leave the "19th-century" Shire, you move back to 17th/18th century Bree, then (with interspersed visits to timeless Elvish lands, and the Middle-ages alchemy of Isengard) to dark-ages Rohan and maybe even late-Roman Minas Tirith. Although Tolkien gave up on his "mythology for England" idea, and although he imagines the hobbits' journey moving south and east within Middle-earth, still all the societies they visit resemble ones that existed on the land that's now called England, at different times in history (and pre-history, since the Elves take inspiration from prehistoric Celtic legends). I think Tolkien chose to leave out a lot of practical details, like how money works, not just because, as squire says, it lowers the heroic tone of the later story but also because he's making a world based on many different types of human societies. They all had money or trade of one kind or another, so it's possible to mention silver or gold coins etc. in passing, but trying to work out how a Middle-earth monetary system might have operated is, I think, beyond the scope of what Tolkien was trying to do.

I like your mention of stamping coins in your other post too. That simple method of producing coins relies on the intrinsic value of the metal they are made from, so providing the great families of the Shire were trusted enough to warranty that their coins really were made of silver or gold then it seems reasonable that they could have stamped a local coinage. The worth of the coin is in the weight of silver or gold they contain, unlike our modern coins that have no value of their own, so there's no need for banks etc. to stand behind them. I reckon the Shire hobbits could have come by enough silver and gold by selling goods and services (and pipe-weed!) to passing travellers, or indeed by finding silver and gold in their own rivers as the Celtic peoples were doing in prehistory.

They went in, and Sam shut the door.
But even as he did so, he heard suddenly,
deep and unstilled,
the sigh and murmur of the Sea upon the shores of Middle-earth.
From the unpublished Epilogue to the Lord of the Rings

Grey Havens

Apr 24 2017, 12:04pm

Post #9 of 18 (1917 views)
Wearable wealth [In reply to] Can't Post

Some examples of how the Vikings did it, from the recent traveling Viking exhibit in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photos were allowed so I'm assuming it's OK to post these, but sorry for the terrible quality.) The silver coins in the first photo are from a Viking hoard, but came from Arab lands. The jewelry is an example of literally carrying your wealth around with you and showing it off (including beads which we think of as cheap but which were expensive back then - one silver coin per bead according to one writer).

Another way of passing wealth from one person to another was the Northern tradition of "gift-giving". Tolkien has his Hobbits giving gifts the way we do today - simple presents with no strings attached, but the ancient Germanic cultures treated gift giving almost like an oath, which Tolkien would have known and which puts an interesting spin on some of the other gift giving in LOTR if you choose to look at it that way.


Gold is the strife of kinsmen,
and fire of the flood-tide,
and the path of the serpent.


Apr 24 2017, 7:27pm

Post #10 of 18 (1871 views)
And it makes sense that Gandalf rewarded certain eyes and ears - mostly humans I [In reply to] Can't Post

would assume....like Butterbur.


Apr 24 2017, 8:25pm

Post #11 of 18 (1860 views)
Alchemical Laboratory? [In reply to] Can't Post

Gandalf must have had a few expenses as needful. He might have financed the alchemical laboratory (in Gondor, Rivendell or Isengard? Or maybe in a Dwarf-hold in the Blue Mountains?) where he made his fireworks.

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes

(This post was edited by Otaku-sempai on Apr 24 2017, 8:30pm)


Apr 24 2017, 9:06pm

Post #12 of 18 (1848 views)
Lovely pictures - thanks for posting! // [In reply to] Can't Post


Where's that old read-through discussion?
A wonderful list of links to previous chapters in the 2014-2016 LOTR read-through (and to previous read-throughs) is curated by our very own 'squire' here http://users.bestweb.net/...-SixthDiscussion.htm


Apr 24 2017, 9:37pm

Post #13 of 18 (1850 views)
‘Mine, mine, yes and dearly bought!’ cried Saruman' [In reply to] Can't Post

I remembered this as one of the very few times in the later parts of the book when money/an economy comes up. It's in "Many Partings" when the hobbits & the Wise encounter Saruman by accident in Dunland, and he reacts to Merry's offer of pipeweed looted from Isengard. It's when the tone is shifting back toward life in the Shire, and epic events are all over. So Saruman is bringing up grievances over his financial transactions with Lotho amongst all his other grievances?

Then the usual questions can come up: did Saruman mint his own money? (If so, I'm sure it had a tacky White Hand on it.) How exactly did he make money to buy all that stuff from the Shire? Oh, yeah, just don't go down that path of questions where there are no answers. But it seems to reflect the connection of a moneyed economy with the Shire/Bree in the story, and not with other parts.

The one other place I thought commerce was mentioned is rather disguised. It's in "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbits"

‘Aye, curse the Southrons!’ said Damrod. ‘’ Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship.

I infer the "dealings" to be trade, since he says there was no friendship, hence I don't see it as diplomacy or cultural exchanges, etc. But by not saying "trade" or "commerce," he again avoids any mention of economic activity. Maybe they dealt cards to each other and played lots of poker.

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

May 1 2017, 10:11am

Post #14 of 18 (1753 views)
Yes, thanks for that [In reply to] Can't Post

I must also check out Home one of these days. Although I remember that last time I looked at it, I wasn't sure what was cannon and what wasn't there.

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

May 1 2017, 10:21am

Post #15 of 18 (1752 views)
But Dwarves certainly do! [In reply to] Can't Post

Uncouth oiks that they can be. SmileActually, I wouldn't be too sure about coins from the ages of the Kings, remember this is Middle-Earth where magical and strange things can occur. Although of course, not everyone would have access to them. As for any ensigna the coins might have perhaps a face of some Steward and some vague commitment of loyalty to a Lord they don't know who is and certainly don't ever expect to see in their lifetime. Or possibly some where just Gold coins and there was haggle over their worth!

Hamfast Gamgee
Grey Havens

May 1 2017, 10:23am

Post #16 of 18 (1751 views)
Only trouble with barter [In reply to] Can't Post

Is that it does take a lot of effort in working out how many say eggs are equal to one cabbage. Now if one is working on the land or trying to face of hordes of Orcs this would be expended effort people didn't need to do.


May 17 2017, 2:55am

Post #17 of 18 (1596 views)
Barter mostly in the Shire I would think [In reply to] Can't Post

Some coinage mainly silver and copper gold coins being rare except in hoards.
Bilbo's coin from his adventure lasted him his whole life and he still managed to leave Sam some of it
I think the Elves rarely used coin and bartered mostly.
The only place minted coin would be prevalent in use would be from Gondor, the Dwarves possibly but they tended to hoard their wealth.

“I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”


May 17 2017, 7:15am

Post #18 of 18 (1572 views)
Coinage in Eriador [In reply to] Can't Post

The use of coins seemed pretty common in the Shire and Bree, a holdover from the days of Arnor and Arthedain. We can guess that barter was common as well After the fall of Arthedain I would guess that the Shire began minting their own coins based on those of the North Kingdom.

Going by Smaug's hoard, the Dwarves certainly used money, but probably also traded in goods and services as well, especially when dealing with the other Free Peoples. DId they get the idea from Men? Or perhaps it was the other way around?

"He who lies artistically, treads closer to the truth than ever he knows." -- Favorite proverb of the wizard Ningauble of the Seven Eyes


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