Medieval Coins from “Warmland Pompeii”

Remains of Old-Wartenburg

Partially uncovered remains of the medieval town of Wartenburg in Poland. The city, destroyed in 1354, is known as “Pompeii of Warmia”. © PAP/ Tomasz Waszczuk

Archaeologists have discovered 150 medieval silver coins and numerous weapons during excavations in north-eastern Poland. They lay in the ruins of the medieval town of Wartenburg, which was completely destroyed in 1354 and has since been known as the "Pompeii of Warmia" because of its well-preserved remains. The finds reveal more about the colonization of the region at that time by German-speaking settlers and Teutonic Knights and the battle in which the old Wartenburg was destroyed.

In the High Middle Ages, increasing numbers of German-speaking Christian settlers moved to the eastern outskirts of the Holy Roman Empire. With the support of the Teutonic Order, numerous country estates and towns were founded in “Germania Slavica”. In the 1320s, the settlers also advanced to what is now north-eastern Poland. The castle and town of Wartenburg were founded around this time under the aegis of Bishop Eberhard von Neisse of Warmia and the Teutonic Knights who supported him. It is mentioned in the "Chronica terrae Prussiae", a chronicle of the settlement of Prussia prepared by the Teutonic Order at the time, and was near the present-day Polish village of Barczewko.

"Time capsule" of high medieval Warmia

Only a few decades after the founding of the town of Wartenburg, however, the conflicts between the Teutonic Order and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which expanded its territory to the west and also laid claim to this area, increased. In the winter of 1353/1354 there was an attack by the Lithuanian troops, during which Wartenburg was largely destroyed and depopulated. The circumstances of the destruction of Wartenburg are mentioned, among other things, in the records of Wigand von Marburg, who describes the fierce battles between the Teutonic Knights and the Lithuanians and locals.

Because the town of Wartenburg was later rebuilt elsewhere, the ruins remained largely untouched and are therefore considered "Warmland's Pompeii". To this day, finds from the High Middle Ages bear witness to life and the struggles for this outpost of the settlement policy of these knightly orders at the time. Since 2022, a team of archaeologists led by the University of Gdańsk have been conducting excavations in this “time capsule” of high medieval Warmia. During the current excavation season, the researchers came across numerous crossbow projectiles, spearheads, a long cutlass and the hilt of a sword.

A hoard of 150 bracteate silver coins

A notable find, however, was a hoard of 150 silver coins from the 14th century. These are so-called bracteate coins, as the archaeologists report. These coins, which were common at the time, consisted of thin silver sheet that was minted on one side only. "The coin find consists only of bracteate pfennigs, the monetary value of which was low," explains Arkadiusz Koperkiewicz from the University of Gdańsk. "But it is still valuable for us because it probably includes all types of coins that were in circulation in Warmia in the first half of the 14th century." A closer examination of the minting on the silver coins can therefore reveal whether, in addition to the German Silver pieces from the mints of Torun and Elbląg also included episcopal coins.

The archaeologists hope that the finds will provide more information about the political and economic relationships between the various ethnic groups in medieval Warmia. At the same time, the research team also took the first DNA samples from bones in the Alt-Wartenburg cemetery. Most of the dead buried there probably belonged to the Silesian settlers who settled in this area when Bishop Eberhard von Neisse founded the city. But members of the local, Christianized population from the ethnic group of the Prussians could also be among them. As Koperkiewicz and his colleagues explain, the insights gained in Alt-Wartenburg are valuable because they provide insights into the pioneering days of colonization of Warmia, but also into the time when urbanization began in Central and Eastern Europe with the founding of the first cities .

Source: Science in Poland (DAP)

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