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
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
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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”).
The symbols around the legend are a cross, a sword through the middle
and Thor’s hammer, in a very clear mixing of differing religious
imagery found on several coins unique to the Vikings in England.
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
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.