Let's pretend its, oh, 1000 BCE, and we are inhabitants
of the swampy land around the mouth of the Thames in
England.  Most of us are farmers, but we are good with
boats, and some have gone adventuring on the waters.  A few
have sailed east, up and over the Danish peninsula and into
the Baltic Sea.  All along the coasts of Germany and Poland
and beyond our adventurers came upon people who had amber to
trade.  We gave them bronze things that we got from the
Phoenicians who came to us for our tin.
 The farther east our sailors went the ruder became the
peoples they met, and the fewer of them they found.  The
land was rich, with lots of agricultural and economic
possibilities, but 3000 years ago the Baltic coast was wild
and undeveloped.
 Trade tended to concentrate at a series of wonderful,
sheltered harbors conveniently placed at intervals along the
southern Baltic coast.  Using modern names, these gifts of
the Gods started in the west with Luebeck, then came Danzig
and Memel, and half way up the eastern coast was a large,
enclosed body of water, ice-free for most of the year, the
Bay of Riga.  The bay was fed by several rivers, and the
land around the mouth of one of them, the Daugava (Dvina),
was nice.
 Almost everyone came to Riga by boat.  Overland was a
very long haul.  If you were a Greek or a Phoenician it was
so far away it might as well have been China.  Riga was was
about a thousand miles from Troy, the territory between
filled with bad tempered horse barbarians and dwindling
tribes of the Old Stone culture who had spread throughout
Asia thousands of years before.  It was easier to go by sea,
or better still, to let the English do it.
 Riga was a long haul from the rest of Europe, and
people would rather do their business in Danzig or Luebeck
if they could.  An economy of scale was always in play as
far as Rigan economics went.  Everything that happened there
was necessarily on a smaller scale than further west.
 The region was also subject to the disruption caused by
the mass migrations of late ancient times.  Over a
millennium or so various peoples wandered through the plains
surrounding the Dvina.  In the early centuries of the Common
Era these included tribes of Teutons, Finns (the Livs, who
gave their name to medieval Livonia, but who have otherwise
disappeared), and Letts.  The agricutural potential of the
region was good, and all of the wandering tribes left
representatives behind, giving the area something of a
polyglot character that it retains to this day.
 Trade prospered in the early centuries of the Common
Era, as first the Romans and Persians, and later the
Byzantines and Arabs brought their gold, bronze, iron,
spices, glass, etc. to exchange for amber, furs, and exotic
blond slaves.  In the 8-10th centuries the Baltic, including
our region of interest, was effectively under the control of
the Vikings.
 German culture began to experience a vitalizing phase
in the 11th century.  Cultural, military, religious, and
econonomic development occurred at a rapid pace.  Merchants
of Northern cities like Luebeck and Hamburg were launching
large joint ventures, sending trade missions all over the
Europe, including up the Baltic for the amber.  In 1158 a
team from the Saxon city of Bremen established a permanent
settlement near the mouth of the Dvina, and took control of
the nice harbor.  That was how the city of Riga got started,
as a German trading station.
 The inhabitants of Latvia at that time were
propitiators of nature spirits and worshippers of a pantheon
of rustic gods.  The Germans sent priests and soldiers to
make the Letts into Christians.  An Augustinian monastery
was established in Riga at the close of the 12th century,
and this monastery ruled the city for some eighty years.  I
think it would be reasonable to characterise the monastic
rule as oppressive and self-serving.  The citizens revolted,
formed a civic administration, and joined the Hanseatic
League in 1282.
 Riga was German, but its hinterland, Livonia, was not.
Letts, etc. were typically treated badly by the Germans, who
by and large made them into serfs and bondservants.  Such
unequal and exploitative relationships between groups of
people require military occupation, which in the case of
Livonia was carried out over several centuries by a branch
of the Teutonic Order, appropriately known as the Livonian
Order.  The Hanseatic merchants, the local church nobility,
and the Teutonic Knights spent several centuries jockeying
for advantage.0
 By the 14th century the Knights had obtained paramount
control and organized the region into a coherent state.  In
1346 they bought Estonia from Denmark, and for the next 100
years Livonia was run more or less as a private estate for
the benefit of the Order.
 Russia entered the picture in 1558, launching a massive
attack on the Baltics in an attempt to obtain an outlet to
the Baltic Sea.  No port was taken, but the Russians did
succeed in smashing the Teutonic state, and the region came
under the sway of Poland, who kept it for about half a
century, when it was taken by Sweden.  The Swedes held it
until 1721, when it was taken by Russia, in whose ungentle
grip it remained until the 20th century.
 I was unable to find a reference to a definitive "first
coin."  It seems reasonable to assume that there were no
officially sponsored discs of precious metal before the
arrival of the Germans in the 11-12th centuries.  I think we
can assume as well that the early colonists brought their
coins with them from Bremen.  I don't know when the mint
right was first granted to the bishops of Riga, but they
were striking coins in the early 15th century.  The Teutonic
Order had been coining in East Prussia (now Poland) in the
14th century, and the Livonian branch in Riga and Estonian
Reval from the early 16th.
 Anyone who tries to find early coins of the Teutonic
Order knows they're difficult and pricey.  The early German
coins of Riga, whether knightly or ecclesiastical, are not
found.  One sees little billon coins from Reval from time to
time, but never Riga.  All I've ever encountered were photos
in the catalog of the collection of Hugo von Saurma.
 Saurma lists a few coins of the period immediately
following the Russian invasion and the collapse of the
Order.  These are civic issues, schillings and so forth,
dated in the 1560s-70s.  I've never seen these coins either.
 In the period that followed a standard set of Polish
types were issued, with, as was normal for the series, the
arms of the local mint city, in this case Riga.  Polish 3
groszy and schillings of this period are generally not rare,
if you're willing to be happy with the products of Kracow or
Thorn, or even Danzig.  But if you must have them from Riga,
forget it.  They just don't turn up.
 You all know what does turn up, don't you?  Right.
Swedish coins.  The little billon solidi of the Swedish
occupation are rather incredibly common.  I've held several
hundred in my hand, and that was an utterly insignificant
portion of the coins that are out there.
 Since these coins are available, it might be useful to
discuss them a bit.  They exist with dates from the
1630s-60s, and these are often abbreviated to the last two
digits.  The monograms of two rulers are found: Christina
and Charles X.  Coins were issued both for the territory of
Livonia and the city of Riga.  All of this information is
neatly engraved, and would be easy to see, save for some
problems in the manufacturing process.  Roller dies were
used to make these coins, and the technique was sloppily
applied, so that one side off center is common.
Unfortunately, the bad side is usually the one with the date
on it...
 Among these coins, those of Riga in Christina's name
are by far the most common.  There are other denominations
in the series, all the way up to thalers and ducats, and
dates recorded up to 1707, but these are not present in the
 The long Russian occupation produced only one series of
special coins for "Livoesthonia."  These were made primarily
for payment of the army stationed there in expectation of
impending war with Prussia.  The outbreak of hostilites drew
off the troops, and later adjustments in the weight of the
Russian ruble increased the exchange value of the special
coins, causing them to vanish from circulation.
 There are two dates: 1756 and 1757.  All of the 1756
coins are patterns.  Only 10 of each were made, and any such
pieces offered should have a solid pedigree for your
inspection.  The 1757 coins show up with modest regularity
in various circulated grades.  They are expensive and in
 Russian rule was not particularly salubrious.  Local
concerns tended to be neglected at best, and several periods
of Russificatory repression helped to make life difficult in
the provinces.
 The 1917 revolution provided an opportunity for the
subject peoples to break free from the imperial yoke, and
the Latvian Republic was established the following year.
Civil war and foreign intervention continued until 1922, the
year of the first republican coins.
 There are exactly 29 coins in the series, divided into
12 types.  Only one coin, the 1923 lats, is rare, and there
are also a few proofs that no one ever sees.  All the other
coins are available.  True uncirculated specimens have been
hard to find.  For many years nice AU was about as nice as
they got.  But lately the minors have started showing up in
bright Uncirculated.
 I'm sorry I can't say where they were struck.  The
nickel coins, with their low relief, have something of a
Brussels look to them.  Would someone please write in with
the information?
 Latvia was engulfed again by Russia in 1940, and
remained submerged until 1991.  The new government lost no
time in issuing its new symbols of sovereignty.  Once again,
I don't know where they are made, but they sure look German
to me.  They are easy enough to obtain, but don't be lulled
by the economic chaos of their former rulers into thinking
the Latvian's coins will come cheap.  They have pegged their
lats at $1.80.  That's that little, nickel-sized coin with
the fish on it.  The silver 10 lati has a face value of
$18.00.  The prices in the SCWC are reasonable.
 I would be remiss if I didn't discuss exonumia, because
there is a bit of it out there.  I hypothesize that tokens
and jetons of various kinds were in minor use throughout the
Middle Ages through the 20th century.  They were used
everywhere else in Europe, why not in Livonia?  But I've
never seen any of these tokens, nor read any mention of such
in my desultory researches.  However, in common with much of
the rest of the former Soviet Union, there has been a vast
expansion in the production of local telephone tokens, and
Latvia has participated in this surge.  Several varieties,
struck since restored independence, have passed through my
hands.  These tokens are available.  The time is now. (Actually,
now in 1998, it's was.)