Obituary: Dr. Thomas S. Noonan, 1938–2001

by Robert Leonard

Thomas S. Noonan, professor of Russian History at the University of Minnesota, died June 15, 2001 at the age of 63. A Fellow of the Society since 1987, he was a specialist in an area of numismatics so obscure that no one in the West had ever studied it before: hoards of dirhams found in Russia. From exhaustive studies of the dates, mints, and issuers of these coins, over time he was able to reach important historical conclusions, such as changes in the route of the Silk Road and what brought the Vikings to Russia early in the 9th century.

Dr. Noonan was the author of many numismatic papers, six of which were collected by Variorum in 1998 as The Islamic World, Russia and the Vikings, 750-900: The Numismatic Evidence. Among these is “A Ninth-Century Dirham Hoard from Devista in Southern Russia,” ANS Museum Notes 27, 1982. At the 125th Anniversary Celebration of the Society, September 10, 1983, he presented an important paper, “Dirham Hoards in Western Eurasia in the Ninth Century,” summarizing his research up to that point. He also studied the supposed coinage of the Khazars.

In 1983 Dr. Noonan was the first Kraay Visiting Scholar at the Heberden Coin Room, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and the following year he was awarded a royal medal by the Swedish Numismatic Society. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Numismatic Society. On May 9, 2000, he was seen on a Nova television program, “The Vikings,” in which he characterized the Vikings as “almost Mafioso types” who forced their way into markets and developed a trade monopoly through Kiev, primarily so they could become rich and powerful and rule over that area. But without this “vital force,” he said, there would have never been a Rus state.