Viking: rediscover the legend
March 21, 2019
|Found in 2012, the Hingham Hoard contains silver jewellery and coins from the reign of King Edmund, who was killed after losing in battle against the invading Viking Great Army. (IMAGE: Anthony Chappel-Ross)|
A fragment of a 9th-century stone cross from a church in North Yorkshire carries on it a dramatic image: a central figure, armed with a large sword, seemingly drags a captive woman. This scene vividly conjures up a popular perception of the Vikings, but it is far from being the whole picture, as Viking: rediscover the legend – a British Museum and York Museum Trust partnership exhibition, featuring material from the collections of both institutions – explores.
Another stone cross on show at Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery (the exhibition’s final venue) tells a different story. Presenting a mix of imagery, with the combination of angels and interlocking beasts reflecting Anglo-Saxon Christian and Norse religious traditions, the limestone cross from Newgate, York, was carved between AD 925 and 975. Many Vikings in the British Isles adopted Christianity while still retaining some of the beliefs from their homelands. This fusion can be seen also in their coinage, with some showing Christian symbols on one side and pagan motifs on the other. Even the adoption of coins (which were more prevalent in England) in preference to ingots for trade, highlights their pragmatic approach towards commerce and how they adapted to maximise trade in new lands.
Interactions between early medieval Scandinavia and Britain, and the legacy of these Norse newcomers, are charted through spectacular hoards and individual artefacts from the British Museum, York Museum Trust, and Norwich Castle Museum’s own collections. The juxtaposition of iron ship-rivets from Norway with a double-edged iron sword and a gold arm-ring, both found in Yorkshire, offers a neat snapshot of the means and motivation for the early expeditions across the North Sea, as well as the resistance put up by the locals. The 9th-century Anglo-Saxon sword was found by a nine-year-old boy, who was playing next to Gilling Beck, near Richmond; he was later awarded a Blue Peter badge (also on show) for his discovery. The sword’s handle is finely decorated with geometric patterns and plant designs in copper-alloy. The arm-ring from York, containing more than 300g of gold, is a substantial object and an unusual one in its choice of material – silver was much more commonly used in items of this kind. It may have been given by a ruler to an important follower in recognition of their service and loyalty.
|The spectacular Ormside bowl, an 8th-century ecclesiastical vessel presumably looted from a church, was found in a Viking burial in 1823. (IMAGE: York Museums Trust)|