30 July 2017

Archaeologists Uncover Viking Army Camp in England

There have been several articles from a number of sources on this large Viking town, or winter camp in England. Each has a little different take on the site, new photos, and new theories to digest.

So, here is another for your edification. (Ed.)


Archaeologists Uncover Viking Army Camp in England

May 19, 2017 by News Staff / SourAD

A long-held archaeological mystery has been solved as researchers have revealed the exact location, extent and character of a huge winter camp of the Viking army at Torksey, Lincolnshire, of AD 872-873.

A 21st-ADntury view looking east across the River Trent to the prominent bluff and the Viking winter camp. Image credit: Dawn Hadley & Julian Richards / Antiquaries Journal, doi: 10.1017/S0003581516000718.
The Vikings established the winter camp at Torksey, on the banks of the River Trent in Lincolnshire, as they prepared to conquer 9th Century England, according to a team of archaeologists from the Universities of Sheffield and York, UK.
The camp was used by thousands of Viking warriors, women and children who lived there temporarily in tented accommodation.
They also used the site as a base to repair ships, melt down stolen loot, manufacture, trade and play games.

“The Vikings’ camp at Torksey was much more than just a handful of hardy warriors — this was a huge base, larger than most contemporary towns, complete with traders, families, feasting, and entertainment,” said team leader Professor Dawn Hadley, from the University of Sheffield.
“From what has been found at the site, we know they were repairing their boats there and melting down looted gold and silver to make ingots — or bars of metal they used to trade.”

“The Vikings had previously often raided exposed coastal monasteries and returned to Scandinavia in winter, but in the later 9th century they came in larger numbers, and decided to stay,” said team member Professor Julian Richards, from the University of York.
“This sent a very clear message that they now planned not only to loot and raid — but to control and conquer.”

The exact location and scale of the Vikings’ camp in Lincolnshire has been debated for decades. It is now thought to be at least 55 hectares in size, bigger than many towns and cities of the time, including York.

There have also been more than a thousand finds by metal detectorists and archaeologists, including several hundreds of coins.

A selection of metal-detected finds from the Viking winter camp at Torksey, UK. Image credit: Fitzwilliam Museum / Dawn Hadley & Julian Richards / Antiquaries Journal, doi: 10.1017/S0003581516000718.
“It is the metalwork and, specifically, the coinage, that allows the assemblage to be dated so precisely and which confirms this as the site of the Viking winter camp of AD 872-873,” Prof. Hadley, Prof. Richards and co-authors explained.

“More than 350 early medieval coins have been recovered, including 40 English silver pennies, with a notable concentration from the 860s and early 870s, which is striking given that coin finds of the early 9th century are generally more prolific than those of the middle and later parts of the century.”

“Remarkably, there are also more than 170 Northumbrian copper-alloy stycas, which did not circulate widely outside Northumbria and are generally only recovered in Lincolnshire as single finds.”
“There are also 124 dirhams from Torksey, the largest concentration on any insular site. These had all been cut into smaller fractions, indicating that they had been retained for their silver content rather than their monetary value.”
“These dirhams had clearly been brought to England from the Middle East via Scandinavia, and similar concentrations of dirhams have been found at Scandinavian trading centers such as Birka in Sweden and Kaupang in Norway.”

More than 50 pieces of chopped up silver, including brooch fragments and ingots have been found along with rare hackgold.

Evidence has been found that these items were being processed at the camp — chopped up to be melted down.

Other finds include the 300 gaming pieces, iron tools, spindle whorls, needles and fishing weights.
“Metal detectorists have also found more than 300 lead game pieces, suggesting the Vikings, including, women and children, were spending a lot of time playing games to pass the time, waiting for spring and the start of their next offensive,” Prof. Hadley said.

The research was recently published in the Antiquaries Journal.
Dawn M. Hadley & Julian D. Richards. 2016. The Winter Camp of the Viking Great Army, AD 872–3, Torksey, Lincolnshire. Antiquaries Journal 96: 23-67; doi: 10.1017/S0003581516000718

08 July 2017

Friends, Vassals or Foes: Relations and their representations between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age

This excerpt from a Master's Thesis, brought to us through Medievalists.net, alludes to proof that the Vikings had contact with the Frisians. This contention is not surprising given that the Frisians were a Germanic people that occupied the coastal areas of what is now much of the Netherlands, northwestern Germany, and southern Jutland in Denmark. Given their proximity to much of Scandinavia, contact and trade with various tribes of the Vikings must have been continuous.

The silver hoard from which a silver neck ring came, containing a runic inscription, is especially noteworthy. Like most runic inscriptions the exact translation is a point of contention; however, the runes seem to indicate a proven contact between these Germanic peoples. (Ed.)

Friends, Vassals or Foes: Relations and their representations between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age

Friends, Vassals or Foes: Relations and their representations between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age, late 8th to 11th centuries

By Nelleke Laure IJssennagger

Master’s Thesis, University of Groningen, 2010

A hoard of silver Viking treasure now located in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden. Photo by Marieke Kuijjer
Introduction: We paid a visit to the lads of Frisia. And we it was who split the spoils of battle among us.

So reads the runic inscription on a silver Viking Age neck-ring found in Senja, Troms County in northern Norway, which is dated to c. 1025. Although the exact reading of the text is debated, the one thing that is certain is that it points to contact between Frisians and Scandinavians in the Viking Age (c. 793-1050). This ring is one of very few finds directly and unambiguously attesting to contact between these two peoples, and is therefore significant. Scholars like Judith Jesch and Kees Samplonius have examined the inscription and its context, whilst others like James Graham-Campbell have focused on its material aspects.

In addition, attention has been paid to the meaning of this find in understanding the Viking Age. Whilst the find has traditionally been interpreted as attesting to a Viking raid on Frisia, more recently both Jesch and Samplonius interpreted it as possibly attesting to more peaceful relations. I would like to argue that it is time to look at this ring and other evidence outside the context of Viking raids on the continent only, and place it in a broader perspective of Scandinavian-Frisian contacts in this period.

These contacts, already established before the Viking Age and continuing in its aftermath, changed over the course of time. Especially in the Viking Age, which came with raids and displays of political power, changes occurred. Whether or not these changes meant that the earlier (usually peaceful, trade) contacts disappeared, at least some other kinds of contact were established. In the Viking Age, a new chapter in the history of Scandinavian-Frisian contacts was written, that will be explored in this thesis. I will aim to present an overview of the ways of contact, the people involved and their reactions to these contacts and the consequences in both the short (i.e. transfer of single items, establishment of personal relationships,) and the long term (i.e. changes in attitudes and images, changes in relationships), by assembling textual and archaeological evidence.

The subject can be divided into sub-issues, all part of contact and contact situations. These issues, are exchanged in material and immaterial respects (i.e. trade, gift-exchange, exchange of people and ideas), and the intrinsic aspect of images coming into being. A couple of main aspects are important here: the images of the Self and Other before, during and after contact. Looking at all these aspects can help one understand the processes of contact and its consequences. The main question with which I will approach these issues is to what extent and in which ways there was contact between the Frisians and the Scandinavians throughout the Viking Age, and what this led to.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Groningen

02 July 2017

The Fregerslev Viking From Outside Hørning

The tantalizing part of this find are not the human remains that have been excavated, but that which has been saved for later.

A clue to what may remain for later excavation is the magnificent horse halter/headgear found beside the excavated graves. Nothing quite like it has ever before been found, and it is hoped that the richness and ornate nature of this horse accoutrement indicate the presence of a very important person in the unexcavated grave chamber for future excavation. (Ed.)

Medieval Histories

20 March 2017

The Fregerslev Viking From Outside Hørning

Sensational find of chamber graves from the later part of the Viking Age at Fregerslev south of Hørning in Jutland in Denmark will hopefully witness to the ethos of the Viking warriors in the 10th century.

Fregerslev is a small settlement located a few km south of Hørning in the midst of Jutland near the town of Skanderborg. It lies down to a lake at an old crossing point. At the periphery of Hørning close to the road towards Fregerslev, a Viking burial ground was discovered in 2012, consisting of two inhumation graves and a tomb with two (or maybe three) chambers. While the two inhumation graves have been excavated, the chamber graves were left in situ for later excavation. However, intensive studies carried out using metal detectors as well as electromagnetic surveying left the archaeologists with tantalising glimpses of what might be a very rich picking ground for future excavations. Also, a magnificent headgear for a horse gave an inkling of what hopefully lies beneath. During the next years funding was sought while the find was kept hidden for fear of “night-owls”. Now, However, the time has come.

First excavation

Reconstruction of horse’s headgear form the grave of the Fregerslev Viking © Skanderborg Museum
Already in 2012, the two inhumation graves were excavated. One was empty of grave-goods, while the other contained a wood coffin made of oak and a skeleton, only partially preserved. This person was lying on his back with his arms at his sides. He was 165 – 170 cm high. Around this tomb, the archaeologists discovered a trapezoidal fence enclosing an area of 21 m2.

Reconstruction of horse’s headgear form the grave of the Fregerslev Viking © Skanderborg Museum
Set apart, the tomb itself was found to hold two, possibly three closely spaced chambers. One of these chambers represents the burial of a so-called “Viking Warrior”; inside the chamber, but outside the coffin, the remains of an astounding headgear of a horse’s harness were found and excavated. With the partially preserved organic remains of leather, it presents a chance of discovering how the different ornaments of gilded bronze and silver-plated iron were fitted to the headgear. Intensive studies and conservation are still going on, but as of now the headgear with a bridle, silver-plated quillons, and cheek-plates have been preserved. The headgear also appears to have been decorated with delicate and beautifully crafted “Viking Bling”. All pieces are decorated with fine ornamentations consisting of geometrical figures caught in chains, weaving, herringbone and annular patterns. The find also contains seven of presumably eight cross-shaped belt fasteners with animal heads at the raised centre.

The potential of this largely undisturbed grave belonging to an elite Viking warrior cannot be underestimated. Though found under flat ground, the tomb has been preserved because boulders may have defended the site against deep ploughing. measuring more than 21 m2 there is ample room for further riches (nad fantasies thereof).

It has been speculated what the chamber-grave may also hold: a couple, both man and woman? Horses and hounds? Valuable grave-goods like those from Bjerringbro? Most of the contemporary warrior-graves were excavated in the 19th century, and a general view of their socio-political status and the composition of their furnished graves are at hand. Nevertheless, the tomb at Fregerslev presents an opportunity to gather new and significant knowledge about these elite graves from the mid 10th century.

Stylistic parallels can be found at Langballigau near Flensburg (Northern Germany), Thumby Bienebek near Schleswig (in the old Danish borderland, now Northern Germany) and Grimstrup near Esbjerg (Denmark). Until now the tomb at Fregerslev was preserved according to the Malta Convention, Article 5.IV and the sensational find of the head-gear kept a secret. However, in April 2017 excavation will begin. During the next months, visitors are welcome on site, while the headgear is exhibited in Skanderborg.

Another piece of the puzzle is the Rune Stone found in 1849 a field near Hørning. Dated c. 970 -1020, it measures 157 cm x 55-70 cm x 45 cm and features a nice and orderly inscription, which tells us about Tóki the Smith who raised the stone in commemoration of Troels, the son of Gudmundr, who gave him gold [?] and freedom. The meaning might be that our Toke achieved his freedom from slavery while at the same time being adopted into his family (“lyst I kuld”). Another reading, though, indicates that Toke received his freedom as well as “gold”, meaning that Toke was not only set free but also taken up as a full member of the hird or household of Troels’ (receiving gold).“ The middle of the inscription seems to form a tree of life, ending in a cross. The stone was found I app. 500 meters northeast of the church at a river crossing (“bro” meaning “bridge”). Here some significant water mills were traditionally active.

We may in all likelihood never know how it all fits together, but there is no doubt each of the different finds will – when considered together – shed light on a turbulent period in Danish history when earls and kings banded together and forged the beginning of anew Christian kingdom.


Vikingen fra Fregerslev – dedicated website
Ryttergaven i Fregerslev. 
By Merete Schiffer Bagge
In: Museum Skanderborg. Årbog 2015
Vikingetidstekstiler. Nye opdagelser fra gravfundene I Hvilehøj og Hørning. 
By Anne Hedeager krag and Lise Ræder Knudsen.
In: Nationalmuseets Arbejdsmark (1999), pp. 159 – 170 (with English Summary)