World Coins

Viking hoards exhibit in Great Britain, May to November

Coins play a starring role in a new exhibit opening May 19 in Great Britain.

“Viking: Rediscover the Legend,” a major new exhibition by the Yorkshire Museum in partnership with the British Museum, is slated to appear until Nov. 5. The display features the most significant Viking treasure hoards ever discovered in Britain on display together for the first time, according to the British Museum.

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The exhibit includes internationally significant Anglo-Saxon and Viking discoveries that are used to show how the Vikings shaped and transformed everyday life in Britain.

It includes displays focusing on the most famous Viking hoards ever discovered in Britain, including the Vale of York Viking Hoard, the Cuerdale Hoard and the Bedale Hoard.

Coins play a significant role in the displays.

Andrew Woods, curator of numismatics for Yorks Museums Trust, explained five coin highlights of the display, representing five different major Viking hoads.

Bolton Percy hoard

The Bolton Percy hoard was found by two schoolboys in the 1960s.

It contained more than 1,500 small copper coins, struck for the kings and archbishops of the Kingdom of Northumbria in the ninth century. The hoard was likely hidden in 867 when the Vikings captured York. It is one of the largest coin hoards from ninth century England.

The latest datable coins in the hoard were struck for King Osberht. He was the last king of independent Northumbria, and was killed at a battle with the incoming Vikings.

One of his coins in the exhibit names the king with the legend OSBERHT REX, with some letters upside down. On the reverse is the name of the moneyer, VINIBERHT.

In the Cuerdale Hoard

The Cuerdale hoard is the largest hoard of Viking artifacts ever recovered in Britain, and included more than 7,000 coins.

It was found in 1840 and originally contained more than 30 kilograms of silver, an enormous fortune in the Viking Age.

It was hidden on the route between York and Dublin, the two largest Viking towns. It may have been hidden by someone fleeing York as the Vikings were briefly expelled from the town in the early 10th century.

A coin from this hoard names an otherwise unknown King Cnut who ruled York in the 890s. His name CNVT is divided along the lines of the cross. It suggests that the pagan Vikings quickly adapted to ruling a Christian kingdom. On the back is the legend CVNNETTI, a legend that even 160 years after its discovery puzzles numismatists.

Vale of York penny

The Vale of York hoard, discovered in 2007, is the most significant British Viking hoard of coins and other artifacts found in more than 150 years.

It contained 617 coins carefully hidden in a decorated vessel.

The silver was a mixture of coins and “hacksilver,” broken up silver objects and ingots valued by weight.

The hoard was hidden in 927 when the northern Viking kingdoms fell to Anglo-Saxon King Athelstan.

In the hoard is a unique coin, unknown before this discovery. It names the place where it was made, RORIVACASTR — likely to be modern Rochester, Staffordshire. It was made by a Viking king, and was likely swept up by Athelstan’s armies as they marched north in 927.

St. Peter’s penny

Viking kings in Britain ruled over mixed kingdoms of incoming Scandinavians and local people.

The two groups were initially quite different in customs and beliefs. They believed in different gods, with pagan Vikings coming into contact with Christian Britains. Viking kings mixed pagan and Christian imagery on their coinage to appeal to all the people within their kingdom.

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The St. Peter’s penny was struck in York between 921 and 927 A.D. On the obverse is the legend SCI PETRI MO (an abbreviated form of “Sancti Petri Moneta,” meaning “the money of St. Peter”).

On the reverse is the legend EBORACEI (Latin for York), naming the place where it was struck.

Bishophill Hoard penny

Scandinavian influence lived on for a long time.

In 1066, Harald Hardrade invaded England, trying to conquer the former Viking kingdoms of Britain. His invasion led to several hoards being hidden to protect the valuables from newly arrived armies. A coin from the Bishophill (York) hoard hidden in the late 1060s represents this era.

The coin was struck for the then recently crowned King William I, with his name spelled PILLEM on the obverse surrounding his facing portrait.

On the reverse of the coin, made in York, is the name of the moneyer, OVTHGRIM, a Scandinavian name, reflecting the long-term effects of the Vikings’ conquests in England.

Other exhibit details

Coins are just one component of the Viking exhibit, which also features groundbreaking research by archaeologists and new discoveries by metal-detectorists.

Natalie McCaul, curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “This is a unique opportunity to see some of the best Viking treasures in the UK displayed together for the first time. It will feature stand out loans from the British Museum alongside our fantastic collections, combined with new research, new technology and exciting displays. It will also be the first time the most significant Viking Hoards ever found in this country will be on display together in the same place.”

Additional items in the exhibit include swords, helmets, bowls, and more. A famous highlight is an example of the Lewis Chessmen, a knight from the famous medieval collection of chess pieces unearthed in Scotland in 1831.

The exhibit will be sent on tour around the United Kingdom, to the University of Nottingham Museum; The Atkinson, Southport; Aberdeen Art Gallery; and Norwich Castle Museum.

Details about the exhibit are available at the museum website.

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