Friday, 18 September 2009

The Vikings: barbarian raiders?

by Kathryn Hadley

The Vale of York Viking Hoard, the most significant Viking treasure found in the UK in 150 years, went on display today, September 18th, at the Yorkshire Museum.

The hoard was discovered in North Yorkshire near Harrogate in January 2007 by two metal-detectorists, David and Andrew Whelan. The last time that a similar hoard was discovered was in 1840 in Cuerdale in Lancashire. The Vale of York Hoard was jointly acquired by the York Museums Trust and the British Museum last month. It will remain on display at the Yorkshire Museum until November 1st and will thereafter be transferred to the British Museum whilst the Yorkshire Museum is closed for a major refurbishment project.

The hoard has been valued at £1,082,000 by the independent Treasure Valuation Committee. It contains 67 precious metal objects, including a gold arm-ring, ingots and chopped-up fragments known as hack-silver, as well as 617 coins. The highlight of the display is a gilt silver vessel, which is believed to have been made in what is now France or western Germany around the middle of the ninth century. Most of the smaller objects were hidden inside the vessel, which was protected in another lead container.

The origins of the hoard are unclear, but it is believed that the silver vessel was used in church services. It may have been looted by the Vikings or given to them as a tribute. Were the Vikings really merely barbarian looters and raiders? Were the treasures all stolen trophies from aggressive raids in Anglo-Saxon kingdoms? Were some of the treasures, instead, of Viking origin and the product of a distinct skilled Viking craftsmanship? Some of the objects do have a distinct style which suggests that they may have been crafted by the Vikings themselves.

The hoard is certainly testimony to the widespread influence and impact of Viking campaigns and to the extensive trade links of the time. The objects originate from all over the medieval world, from Afghanistan and Uzbekistan to Ireland, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe. The 617 coins include coins minted in York and coins relating to Islam, the pre-Christian religion of the Vikings and to Christianity.

In AD 927, the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan (924-39) reconquered the Viking kingdom of Northumbria, which had been under Viking control since AD 869. Athelstan’s campaign was followed by a period of unrest and the hoard may have been buried for safety by a wealthy Viking leader in the mid-tenth century.

For further information on Anglo-Saxon and Viking Britain, visit our new Anglo-Saxon Britain focus page.
For further information on Anglo-Saxon art, read Mildred Budny’s article Striking Gold: The Golden Age of Anglo-Saxon Art, 966-1066 published in History Today in January 1985.

Yorkshire Museum & Gardens
Museum Gardens
York YO1 7FR
Telephone: 01904 687687
- objects from the Vale of York Hoard
- gold arm ring
- silver gilt vessel
(Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum)


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Daniela said...

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