The Lithuanian Long Currency: When Money Wasn't Coins Only.

The monetary system in the territory of Lithuania formed in the period of XIII- the beginning of XIV centuries. It was customary to melt silver coins (other sources mention silver jewelry or silver items as meltable objects, too) into special bars, resembling human fingers, and that gave rise to the name of the Lithuanian long currency. This type of money was typical to the whole area inhabited by the Baltic tribes from XI century to the appearance of the first coins in the second half of XIV century. The Lithuanian long were really big money-for one such bar one could buy fourteen sheep or one cow while a horse would set one back for one and a half of such a bar (if that is luxury, three oxen would make a good bargain instead of one horse, though one couldn't ride on an ox to war, could one?*). Considering this high value, the long bars were cut into half while in circulation.

The Lithuanian Long Currency. Photo Courtesy of Money Museum. 

There were twenty-two archaeological sites explored all over Lithuania, which yielded about 700 items of the Lithuanian long. The biggest treasure with 530 items dates back to the middle of XIII century and it is believed to be part of Grand Duke's treasury. The average wight of a Lithuanian long is 106 grams and the average length is 13 cm. The cuts in the Lithuanian long were also made to prove that the whole item is of silver without any cheating and-as it has already been mentioned- it also enabled to cut it into smaller "denominations". Generally speaking, the amount of silver in these bars was 85-95% on average, though there are findings with the silver percentage going down to 39% only and that illustrates the activity of money forging. The quality of silver was also checked by flattening the bars at the ends, and then there was no need to make the cuts for the same reason,- the flattened-end bars became the standard eventually. In addition to the Lithuanian long there circulated coins from foreign countries, especially the Prague groschen, minted in Kutna Hora and accepted as the international money (hello, Euro?). Probably in order to avoid forgeries, another type of the Lithuanian long currency appeared with bars reaching 185,7 grams and having three sides. It is believed that the new bars were currency-related to Prague groschen, 50 coins of which made 189 grams. The three-sided bars stayed alongside with the first Lithuanian coins until the end of XV century and were referred to as hryvna or the Lithuanian rouble. These new bars were suitable for international transactions of high scale.

A very comprehensive reading material on the monetary subject in LT and ENG languages can be downloaded as a bi-lingual PDF file from the website of Money Museum at Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės monetos Lietuvos banko Pinigų muziejuje. The museum has an English version of their website right here: Money Museum. This museum has a fascinating display and entry is free of charge. Do weigh yourself at the end of the tour to get your worth in gold, silver and platinum.

*To be honest, some sources give this bar versus cattle value for the Lithuanian long currency, some sources give it to the three-sided currency of later improvement. Given the change in weight and value, the amount of cattle bought with each currency can be different. Working with sources and finding the credible ones is really difficult. So watch out when you are given your change :-)

What is the strangest currency you have ever heard of? Please share it in the comment section.