As Viking enthusiasts from around the world prepare to gather in York for the annual JORVIK Viking Festival next February, this year’s theme – exploring the Vikings’ arrival in York in AD866 – has received an extra boost with confirmation that one of the most important Viking hoards found on British shores will be joining the displays at JORVIK Viking Centre.
The Watlington Hoard is believed to have been hidden by a member of the Great Viking Army in around AD879 during their manoeuvres through Oxfordshire. Discovered by metal detectorist James Mather in 2015, the hoard was purchased by the Ashmolean Museum for £1.35 million with the help of a substantial National Lottery grant. It will be on display in JORVIK Viking Centre from 7 February to 21 May 2018.
The hoard contains a mixture of Anglo-Saxon coins and Viking silver, and has provided archaeologists and historians with a clearer understanding of the relationships between Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ceolwulf II. It also provides evidence for how the invasion of the Great Viking Army helped galvanise a unified English kingdom for the first time.
“This is a superb collection of Anglo-Saxon coins, jewellery and ingots, as well as Viking ‘hack’ silver, which reveals so much about what was happening elsewhere in the country as York – which was now known by its Viking name, Jorvik - was growing in stability, strength and power as the Viking Northern stronghold. Facing strong opposition from Anglo-Saxon kings like Alfred and Ceolwulf II, the Great Viking Army eventually retreated back north, to what became the ‘Danelaw’ – but their presence helped stimulate and embolden Alfred to start to work towards a united English Kingdom,” explains director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, Sarah Maltby.
The Watlington Viking Hoard will go on display in JORVIK Viking Centre’s gallery, and will complement existing loans from the British Museum, which has been in place since the attraction re-opened in April. “When we were redesigning the galleries, we worked with top experts including Gareth Williams from the British Museum to ensure that we could provide a showcase for this country’s most important Viking artefacts, and indeed, visitors to the Festival can hear a special talk by Gareth on the hoard and its importance to our understanding of the Viking age. It is a real privilege that we can tell another part of Britain’s Viking story with the loan of this hoard,” adds Sarah.
About the Watlington Hoard
- The hoard contains a mixture of Anglo-Saxon coins and Viking silver, including:
- Over two hundred complete Anglo-Saxon silver coins and a small number of cut fragments
- Two coins from the Kingdom of the Franks (modern day France and western Germany)
- Seven items of jewellery, including complete arm rings
- A number of deliberately cut fragments of jewellery, known as ‘hack silver’
- Fifteen silver ingots
The reason why the hoard was buried remains – as is often the case – a mystery, but it seems likely that it was buried when the Vikings moved from Cirencester to East Anglia in AD879, along a Roman road then called Icknield Street (now known as the Ridgeway) which runs through South Oxfordshire and through the Watlington area. The location is on the borderlands between Mercia and Wessex at a time when the former kingdom was being swallowed by the latter. Few records remain explaining the collapse of the old order, so the hoard provides a contemporary snapshot – including incredibly rare coinage featuring representations of the two kings – of the economics of the period.
“This is one of the most exciting Viking finds of the century so far,” according to Gareth Williams, Curator of Early Medieval Coins and Viking Collections at the British Museum. “The hoard was buried just at the moment that the Viking Great Army turned from raiding to permanent settlement. What is particularly interesting about it is that it shows how history could be re-written within a few years, even then. The coinage shows a strong alliance between Alfred the Great of Wessex and his lesser known contemporary Ceolwulf II of Wessex. Around the time the hoard was buried, Ceolwulf simply disappeared without trace from the historical record, and Alfred and the Viking leader Guthrum divided southern England between the two of them. A few years later, Alfred's court historians re-wrote history to make Ceolwulf a puppet of the Vikings, and Alfred the great hero who saved England. We think of spin-doctors as a modern invention, but this hoard is a wonderful reminder that the story of Alfred and the Vikings that has come down to us is the one that Alfred wanted people to hear.”
The hoard was purchased with the lead support of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which awarded £1.05 million to the Ashmolean Museum for the project Acquisition of the Watlington Viking Hoard in September 2016. The funding also supports outreach and educational projects, of which the loan to JORVIK Viking Centre is part.
For more information, or to prebook a visit to see the Watlington Viking Hoard at JORVIK Viking Centre, please visit www.jorvikvikingcentre.co.uk. Visitors to the JORVIK Viking Festival, which runs from 12 – 18 February 2018 will be amongst the first to see the hoard. More on the festival can be found at www.jorvikvikingfestival.co.uk